Thursday, August 13, 2009
To Allah we belong, to Him we return: Rest in Peace
To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return: Rest in Peace, Firas
I woke up. Like any other day. I go to my office and I decide to drop by the secretary for a morning chat. As I walk in she tells me: “did you read your email?” I tell her I’ve been escaping work-related emails all day yesterday. She tells me come here and read it. I do.
A campus wide email has been sent to announce the death of one of my students in a car accident while driving to Jordan to begin his summer vacation. He was 19. He died on Monday and the email went out later this week.
…. you know, he used to hate it when in the beginning of the term I would forget his name. I have two students named Firas so I would always forget which one he was. “Misssssss”, he’d say in a playful way, “you always forget my naaaaaame”, then he would put on a pout, jokingly.
The last time I saw him was ….different. He had come to my office to pick up his essay draft so he can correct his mistakes and write the final draft. There was a line-up outside my office and then it boiled down to him and another student. So he let the other student go ahead of him. He waited outside and the door was open.
He heard it all while I busted the chops of the other student who had cheated on his paper. I was rough, stern and especially unforgiving that day. I remember clearly my words to the other student: “You know, I don’t work hard at my job so you can go buy your essay off the streets. You want an 80? Everyone wants an 80 and 90 and 100! But you know what, I know other students who take the 60 and the 65 and accept it even though they feel they deserve more. Integrity. Honesty. This is what I teach you!”
I went on and on. Firas is not used to me being this way and when he walked in I could see his face a bit shaken up. So. I remember smiling at him. As if to say calm down little one, this is not about you. I remember his face until this moment as he was asking me questions about his essay. All diligent and dedicated.
When I read the email about his death at the secretary’s office, I ran down to my office. I cried while I hurriedly went through the piles of essays that the students handed in, hoping that maybe, just maybe, he handed his early so I can have it. Have Firas’s essay…. It wasn’t there. As I look into my folders, I see that I have no marked essay or quiz or draft of his. He was to hand them all in on Tuesday, the day after his accident.
Like dream and reality become one, I can still hear his voice and see his face. I have his emails, as recent as last Friday. “Miss”, he writes, “when can I come pick up my quiz?” …
Inna lillah wa inna ilayhee raj’oon … To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return.
Sometimes, one person’s tragedy is another person’s reminder. In some ways, and in a certain sense, Ramadan is coming, and I couldn’t have started in a better way. I’ve been shaken up hard by Firas’s passing away, and I’ve never prayed with so much heart right after I got the news.
Sometimes, it takes a good shake-up to place things into perspective and nothing like death can remind us more strongly of this.
As a teacher who sees her students every day of the week and is with them for hours and hours on end, watching them grow and push and strive and break boundaries or light up when they figure out something that’s hard, or shrink in frustration when they can’t understand something, and when I help them and they overcome the frustration – all this makes for a teacher-student bond that no words can describe.
Especially when the student is dedicated, creative and promising like Firas. I truly feel a loss. My duas during Ramadan inshAllah will be with Firas.
Many of us, like Firas, may not live to see this Ramadan, or the next one. Let us take nothing for granted.
While I sat in my office after getting the news, another student came in to drop off his essay.
Him: “Heyyyyyyy missss how are ya!”
Me: “I’m good, a bit sad too”.
Me: “Your classmate passed away, have you heard, Firas …”
Him: “I heard something but wasn’t sure who he was”
Me: “come on, he was in your class”
Him: “which one… is it the tall guy with spiky hair”
Me: “no he was dark skinned with short hair, he sat about two seats away from you”
Him: “oh yeah yeah yeah the guy who would always come to your office when I came, and he was tall and short haired and would come with his friend…. Oh my god, I can’t believe it’s him”.
This student, who did not know Firas, who had to remember how he looked like, ended up finding out who Firas’s brother is, got his phone number, and gave it to me so I can give my condolences by phone to Firas’s family in Jordan. Your classmate won’t forget who you are now, Firas ...
Please take a moment to make dua for my student, and then, please take this as a reminder of what we want to do with our lives while we’re still breathing.
Even though death is sudden, the impression we leave behind ripples through the days until eternity. May Allah swt forgive us all and guide us towards the best way to lead our lives. Ameen.