By Kashif Ghazanfar
Today I met a man. Red in the face and haggard, his eyes seemed to be made of glass. Alcohol lingered around him like a ghost. He confessed to me that he had ruined his heart by drinking; that it was now a wicked and desolate place buried beneath so much sinew and bone. I tried to console him. I said maybe redemption is always at hand—we just have to look a little harder. He staggered into a delicate smile. His son had killed himself the day before, he said. I could offer him nothing. Words fell around me like so much useless debris. I just clasped his hand and gave him a glass of water.
He stumbled out the door of my menial job, adrift on grief, looking like Coleridge’s Mariner except no bird hung around his neck. Instead, his hanged son bore down on him with an impossible weight as he dragged his feet and slowly disappeared down the boulevard.
He may well have been a terrible father, but that is not my business. That is between him and the Lord of All Things. I wish, though, that he could find some sober light and read Antonio Machado’s profoundly simple poem, The Wind, One Brilliant Day, to help dispel the darkness around him. It offers so much regarding God’s forgiveness with such remarkable brevity that it’s almost a miracle:
The Wind, One Brilliant Day
The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
“In return for the odor of jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.”
“I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.”
“Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters from the fountain.”
The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
“What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”
Our trespasses confound us, slowly condemning us to ruin. Allah seems an impossible distance to traverse toward. But there He remains nearer to us than our own jugular vein. Our faith remains seemingly small and insignificant among the dark menagerie of our supposed sins and our bilious despair. Hopeless and alone, we convince ourselves that sin is the opposite of faith so that when our transgressions become legion, we abandon faith entirely.
This needn’t be the case, my fellow friend and traveler. The antipode of sin is not faith, but forgiveness. And forgiveness needn’t be a fairytale. Forgiveness without measure, contract or compromise, as infinite and indefatigable as The Lord of All Things that offers it, without any need of recompense of any kind.
Fallibility is an inherent aspect of our ontological makeup. The crimes, the pitfalls, the terrible things we do, all define us as hopelessly human. This does not have to be a cause for doleful consternation. Rather, it is a truth that beckons us toward a greater sense of humility. Our sins, large and small, cannot, ultimately, be atlas stones upon our shoulders when Allah’s Mercy and Forgiveness abounds. The recognition of this disallows us from being vexed by our failings, neurotically obsessing over them with a furious angst against the world and ourselves:
On the authority of Anas radi allahu `anhu (may God be please with him), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ (peace be upon him) say: “Allah the Almighty has said: ‘O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me, and hope in Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds in the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I shall forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with an earthful of sins and were you then to face Me, without having associated anything with Me, I shall grant you an earthful of pardon.’” (Tirmidhi)
Even if we find ourselves painfully trudging through an endless maze of gutters for much or even most of our lives, we may slowly, arduously, transform, moving constantly forward toward Allah’s Glorious Light. Amen.