By Mohammad Zafar
I distinctly remember an incident that had a lasting impact on me when I was around 11 or 12 years old. I was with my family staying at our cousin’s apartment while my cousin was outside in the hall with some friends. I, of course, stayed inside, not wanting to invite myself. By chance my cousin came and asked if I wanted to join him and his friends. I was hesitant at first but deep down really wanted to come, so I eagerly—yet nervously—tagged along. As I stepped outside the door I still remember smiling uneasily, wanting to just feel accepted and enjoy hanging out with others.
But as the door opened, my initial awkward smile quickly disappeared. I had barely taken a step outside when one of the boys saw me and immediately made a rude remark at my appearance, essentially mocking me in front of everyone else. It was complete rejection at a young age—at an age when one cannot make sense of one’s surroundings. He made fun of my nose which, as a result of an unsuccessful surgery at age 6, now appeared deformed. My family would tell me they barely noticed it but virtually everyone else and kids at school who constantly made fun of me seemed to see it just fine.
I did not want my cousin’s friends to make fun of me. I had enough people doing that to me in school. Extremely upset and disappointed, I hung my head down, not even bothering to look straight, and cussed back at the boy. He returned the favor. As we continued to exchange extensive grade 5 vocabulary insults, at some point I decided not to talk to anyone anymore and simply made my way into the apartment.
I wanted to be in a place where people at least put up with how I looked even if they disliked it. So I entered the apartment and went into the corner of one of the rooms, feeling embarrassed of how I looked, who I was, and what purpose I was serving on this cold planet. This was not a one-time incident; by now I was used to hearing insults, but I could not adjust to the pain those insults brought with them.
But much to my surprise, the kids in the hall had all come back. The older brother of the boy who made fun of me came to apologize. He insisted his brother was an “idiot” and wanted me to come back and join them. I just kept saying “No, no. It’s okay, I’m not upset. I just don’t want to.”
Finally everyone left and there I was alone. Alone–a place that always welcomed me.
The incident left a very sour taste in my mouth. This was not like those days when a kid at my school would throw a basketball at the back of my head to make others laugh or laugh himself. It was not like those days when I would be at a wedding while adults stared at me with what seemed like pity and sometimes even disgust. It was not like those days when my best friend would make fun of me to raise his status amongst the cool kids at school. No, this time the pain felt different.
All I wanted to do that night was belong to a group that accepted me for the way I was and the way I looked. I could not change my appearance; I just wanted to feel welcomed, play with the guys that night and feel a part of a group for once. I did not want to be alone. I did not want to be left out.
I had tried and tried to fit in on many occasions before, but since I could not change my appearance, I was rejected again and again. And the more effort I put into fitting in, the worse the rejection felt. So it was at this point where I told myself, “I don’t want to try anymore.”
This is a moment I hope no one, especially those who are young, ever succumbs to. I did not want to try anymore, and I really meant it. Essentially I gave up on life. I gave up on people. I gave up trying to look for good in this world. I even gave up thinking there was any good in this world. For people like me—I convinced myself that night—there was no good! It caused me anger, resentment and disregard for others. These feelings would only grow from there. I became extremely anti-social. I figured at that point the pain I felt when trying to fit in was not worth the hassle, so perhaps if I stayed away from people altogether I would not feel that way anymore. My room became a sanctuary where I could always go and know no one would push me out and make me feel unwanted.
I hope no one ever has to face a time like this.
Things did change, however. I had surgery to repair the issue on my nose. Starting a couple years after that and continuing well into my adulthood, I now feel that I talk too much at times! But I wrote this piece because strangely enough, I found Allah’s love and company through incidents like these. If anyone has the right to complain about life being unfair, then I think I would be one of them. But today I have no complaints, and as an adult I am actually glad I went through these experiences.
The pain that these experiences brought never made sense to me until adulthood. But if it were not for this pain, I would not know what rejection felt like. I would not know what a shattered heart felt like. I would not know what days and nights of unbearable loneliness felt like. And perhaps I would never have come to know my purpose on what sometimes can be a very cold planet.
I always had a wish to grow up and help others. How else could I understand or relate to someone’s struggle if I had not experienced it myself? I decided to go into counseling or teaching after I finish college so as to put what I learned to good use.
This is why it is so important for us all to think positively of God, because only then will one find the gems hidden in the most difficult trials of their life. You may not see the fruits of your labor or even why you were put through such difficult trials until perhaps years later. But based on my own firsthand experience, I can say with certainty it is never unfair. In fact, it is always worth it.