I made a straight line for the sauna and cried for good couple of minutes today…
Today was Wednesday. On Wednesdays the crazy nazi Aqua-fit trainer gives classes. The woman is a killer. Makes you work until your limbs feel as though they are about to fall off your body. But she makes the whole process so enjoyable that you suppress that physical strain and continue to push yourself to your limit. Unlike other trainers, she actually jumps into the pool and goes around each lady making sure they are all doing the exercise correctly. “For God’s sake woman, push the noodle down with ONE foot – not both! For God’s sake!” she would correct to which I laughed quite heartedly. Her physic is inspiring. Most wouldn’t even know because she is veiled in public. But let me assure you, though she is 39, she has a body fit for an 18 year old (maybe even better). I found myself staring at times thinking just how badly I wish I could sculpt a body like hers.
At the end of class, she stood around speaking to some of the other ladies while I continued to do one of the exercises she had shown me underwater. She made her way to the hot tub along with a number of other ladies who had also participated the class. I joined them eventually. I sat in the corner of the tub listening to all them express their appreciation for the trainer and how much they wish she would teach more often (twice a week was not enough). She seemed flattered but confessed that sadly she would not be able to and, in fact, would be leaving work sometime next month. Everyone seemed heartbroken – myself included. She had become one of my favorite trainers. One of the ladies asked her why. She smiled and said that she would be going into surgery shortly after her leave. ‘Surgery?’ was my first thought. Why would she possible need surgery? A look of puzzlement fell on all our faces. “For what?” someone else probed.
“I have breast cancer.”
As she continued to casually explain about the recurrence of a tumor in her breast and how she was going to have it removed, my mind was having a difficult time processing the information it had just received. Like the word ‘Voldemort’ in the world of Harry Potter, ‘Cancer’, in Middle Eastern culture, is one of those words which must not be spoken. As if the mere mention of the word will suddenly increase your chances of contracting it. I was stunned by her upbeat, matter-of-fact tone.
“Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), this is a mercy from Allah. This is life. We should never be upset by the things that befall us. It is good – all of it - but we just don’t know.”
I was immediately reminded of one of the observations made by Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessing be upon him) when he said: “Strange is the affair of the believer. Verily, all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him he thanks Allah and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him he is patient and it becomes better for him. And this is only for the believer.”
We all wished her the best and that the All-Mighty would return her health. Nevertheless, some of the ladies looked shaken. The trainer went up to the most distraught and gave her a warm hug and told her not to be sad and that inshAllah (God willing), things would turn out alright. She then stepped out onto the deck and continued to assist the other ladies in the swimming pool.
Eventually the rest of the ladies left the hot tub and I sat alone for a few minutes trying to make sense of what I had just witnessed. So many of us, myself included, have a tendency to fall into despair when calamity strikes or when things don’t go quite as we had originally planned. We are quick to ask, ‘why me?’ as if we have made a deal with our Creator or fate that no discomfort should ever befall us. There are even some who believe that their piety should have shielded them from such troubles and cannot comprehend why their Creator would do this to them. Then I remembered the words of our Creator:
“Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, “We believe”, and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.” [Al Ankaboot (29):2-3]
I felt ashamed. Ashamed for complaining. Ashamed for the times I’ve let myself dwell in sadness for longer than needed over relatively trivial matters. Here before me was a woman who was experiencing one of the most frightening calamities any woman could conceive and she remained in good spirits. She may have gone through some dark moments; however she did not allow herself to fall into despair and remained ever grateful to her Creator.
I could feel the tears build in my eyes. I discretely stepped out of the tub and made a straight line for the sauna where I allowed myself to cry for a few minutes.
“So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?” [Ar-Rahman (55):13]