She remembered the day when the world stopped being beautiful.
As a child of 11, Rebecca thought she was going blind. There was a Japanese plum tree in her front yard, and its leaves seemed duller than they had the day before. Looking down, the grass didn’t seem quite right either. Neither did the sky. There seemed to be an invisible filter over her eyes, a slightly cloudy lens that made colors less colorful. It wasn’t just colors, either... things that had been painfully shiny, like a baby’s eyes or her swimming pool, suddenly seemed normal and unremarkable. A dullness had descended on her world. It was a subtle change, maybe imperceptible to some, but the shift in her perception bothered her. Maybe she sensed that it was a spiritual rather than physical malady. However, she told no one, and later forgot to worry about it.
Years went by and Rebecca became a romantic teenager. As she walked to classes at university, she looked around at the ivy-covered brick buildings, the oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, the students laughing and talking or hurrying to and fro, and she felt her heart would burst. In those days, her heart could break in under a minute. She felt so much love for the world, such joy at occupying her small corner of it that she couldn’t help but be very, very aware of how fleeting it all was. She remembered then her odd experience as a child. Had that been a rite of passage, the moment that a child’s eyes become an adult’s? She grew into a woman who valued intellectual honesty and emotional generosity. It annoyed her how others blindly accepted conventional wisdom, or how they were too self-centered to be counted on.
More years went by, and Rebecca descended into a deep, desperate unhappiness. Most people she knew seemed so satisfied, which made it worse. Those who were religious did not look too closely at any logical or metaphysical cracks that might appear in their chosen worldview. Those who were irreligious seemed content to look at the world through their own eyes, apart from organized religion. Rebecca took to reinventing herself from time to time. She became a bit of a chameleon, vacillating between ideological extremes, a bright “love-me” smile under sad eyes. But there was something incomplete about each philosophy she tried on, something fractured within that intensified the eternal hole in her own heart.
Rebecca felt she owed it to herself to find the most perfect perspective; obviously, it must adapt to new information. People often ridiculed her for her wanderings from libertarian to Marxism, from church to yoga. She, too, couldn’t understand herself. She couldn’t recapture her earlier mindset: she had changed, her perception had shifted, and no memory, photo, or diary could take her back to the way she’d felt. It was as if those memories were of someone else entirely. She was evolving because she hadn’t found “it” yet: her place in the world, the meaning of life. It seemed to her that, just out of her reach, was an absolute truth, an ultimate reality.
As the search for God devolved into a search for significance, her personal troubles began to overshadow the metaphysical ones. She struggled to sleep, and had vivid, disturbing dreams. She no longer felt comfortable, even with family or friends. She was uneasy even in her own skin, and felt she did not belong anywhere. Academia appeared to dismiss the spiritual dimension of the human experience, while religion appeared to dismiss intellect. But to her it was too arrogant to forge her own path, to create her own philosophy: how was it possible that in thousands of years, billions of human souls had not yet hit upon something more absolute and eternal about the meaning of life? As she wrestled with the answers, she nearly drowned a thousand times in her own despair - why was there starvation, genocide and war? Why had her father left? Why could no one love her as she needed to be loved?
Could belief in God and worshiping Him be an option? Reading the holy scriptures
was at first a foray into the unconventional, a little excursion into something foreign. Later it made Rebecca uneasy: their warnings to the followers of other faiths, their recurring admonitions to unbelievers-“will they not see?” They claimed to be a direct communique from the Lord, God. It scared her to keep reading, and yet it scared her more not to know what it said.
Sometimes it feels like our personal, unstable world is constant, like the general world, and we imagine ourselves to be immortal; we embrace that world with intense emotions; then we drown in it and depart. Such love is boundless torment and trial for us, because an orphan-like compassion, a despairing softness of heart is born of that love. We pity all living things, we feel sympathy for all beautiful creatures which suffer decline and the pain of separation, but unable to do anything, we suffer in absolute despair.
Thinking over these, Rebecca would file them away, unaware that little seeds were growing and piercing the soil of her heart. She thought of praying to God. She felt each of the prayers was related to a season and stage in human life. Praying at dawn reminds us of spring, the freshness of youth. Prayer at noon reminds us of summertime, the vitality of adulthood. The afternoon prayer reminds us of autumn, and the weakening of old age. The sunset prayer reminds us of winter and death. The night prayer reminds us of the grave.
Rebecca’s heart was touched by words, but even so, to Rebecca they might have remained mere ideas, words in a book. It was the day-to-day examples of a number of observant believers that breathed life into faith and made it viable. They were kind, thoughtful people who spoke of God with both familiarity and reverence. Their eyes would light up at the sight of a lovely child, and they would breathe, “It is God’s will.” Their smiles were so warm, their hugs so tight, their hearts so giving; she felt she had found the community she had searched for. Muslims believe God’s mercy is limitless: like the waxing and waning of the moon, God forgives His people over and over and over again, and again and again. All people will stand before God and be held accountable for the good and bad they brought forth in this life. Life, therefore, is a test-for the human to overcome their evil-commanding soul and submit to the will of the Eternal and Absolute.
Beauty came suddenly, a few months after Rebecca have experienced these transformations in her soul. It was a hot summer day. She was sitting in a comfortable silence with her husband in the shade of their back porch, and she realized that the world was violently bright- almost Technicolor. The grainy contacts she’d been wearing since she was 11 were gone. The sky was so shockingly blue; the trees were so startlingly green. Her eyes filled with tears suddenly. She knew. She had been born completely surrendered to God, and had lived that way for almost a dozen years. She wondered if the day when the colors grew dull was the day she had left that perfect state of human nature. Perhaps now she had returned to her innate knowledge of God’s unity, and submitted herself to His Sole Divinity. It seemed God had called her back to Himself, and filled overflowing the hole in her heart, returning to her the colors of the world. Praise be to God, she could see again.
Jennifer Knight-Ari is an MA student in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program at the University of Central Florida.