Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Remembering Life

One of the events that was a part of my life before I started this blog was a part-time job I had as an English tutor in the commercial section of the American embassy in Baghdad (late 2004). That was an interesting experience in itself, with me heading to work every day not telling my relatives where I really worked, or what I really did; and me heading out of the Green Zone every day waiting for a car to notice me and hunt me down. I came from America, and I didn't feel like I was being a traitor doing this work. And the one cousin whom I felt close enough to to tell about this job position bashed me left and right for taking on this job. We did come to a conclusion at the end that we come from different cultures and have different feelings on all things America.

One of my Iraqi students was a young man named Firas. He had switched over to this job from another job for which he had been targeted and almost assassinated by gunmen outside his home. Only by the grace of God was he able to escape with a bullet shot to his (neck? shoulder?). He survived, but knew it was an off-chance. And he was thankful.

I left Baghdad and the tutoring job, with Firas being engaged and considering applying for his TOEFLs to study abroad. I later found out that he made it to the Sorbonne for his PhD (don't know in what field). But I also found out that his family received a special visa to travel to the States. And his mom found her death, not in bloody Baghdad but in bloody NY (see earlier post).

I posted about this tragic story earlier, but my near , near call with death in a recent car accident reminded me of Firas's story. It reminds me that death will come to you only where it is proscribed upon you, and only at the time it is prescribed for you. I hope i'm brave at that time, and ready for it. It also reminded me of the life of the great general in Islamic history, Khalid ibn al Walid, who died on his death bed with a thousand wounds, but none a mortal wound; he died a regular man's death. Fight a thousand battles, face a thousand enemies, take a thousand courageous stands, life and death will come to you only when it is time.


I like to record serious events in my life that had an impact on me, even for a few seconds, just to be a constant, written reminder of how exactly I was feeling when it first happened-so I will not forget. Because humans are forgetful, even when death stares them in the face, and they see it, and it strips them of all their power; once it's passed, they forget.

Yesterday was the strongest near- death experience I've had; not the first one, but the scariest, the one that most left me weak to my bones, strained in my neck, unable to move.

I was visiting a friend in Germantown MD to console her on her mother in law's loss. Driving back home with two of my sisters, we found ourselves lost for a bit and following a longer route home. We were laughing and talking and having a good time togeher. At Democracy Blvd, off of 270 South, I noticed that the dark highway was unusually empty, and I was relieved. I hate driving at night on busy, unfamiliar roads, with night lights blinding me, and me not knowing if I'm changing lanes into an empty lane or whether the car is actually two lanes over.

Past that Democracy Blvd exit, I was stuck behind a slower moving truck, perhaps going at 50 mph. I finally broke free and switched over to the left lane, pressing on the gas and keeping a bit of a distance from the truck on my right, and inching a bit closer to the concrete highway median to my left. I noticed a car behind me, and some lights in front of me. Smiling, my mind made me understand that these lights were from the cars driving down the other side of the highway. It was dark, but there were two white headlights lighting my road.

And then my mind realized that my sister Maryam was moaning, 'Fatima, watch out.'

It clicked.

Those two headlights were heading straight down the dark highway towards me. I was going 70, it was going fast, steady, straight down that highway. I had just passed the truck to my right, but I had no other choice. I violently pulled my steering wheel to the right, then quickly back to the left to keep out of the truck's direct path. I had no idea what was happening around me, but my SUV swerved right and left and right and left till we had passed danger.

I was spent. I could not believe what had just happened. The truck behind me slowed down to 10 mph, the car behind me too. That's all i saw in the rearview mirror. I was shaken. I couldn't press the gas, i couldn't keep my hands steady. Slowly, those two cars overtook me and long passed me. But I stayed at my 30 mph on the highway speed. My voice shook as I talked to my sisters. We couldn't believe what had just happenend. We hashed and rehashed what had just happened. I tried to steady my shaking voice; I thought I was the only one so scared. Had to toughen up.

We called 911 and they switched us over to the police dispatch. He informed us that they had gotten 3 other calls on the same car. Good. But they hadn't yet done anything to stop him. What was he? How the hell did he get on the closed highway? What was he trying to do? Suicide? An automotive version of Russian roulette? Gang or fraternity initiation? Probably not drunk. He was heading straight down that lane. No swerving left or right. Steady.

By the time I got home to my parents, I thanked God that it wasn't three deaths at once. All I could think of was that a head on collision like that would have flipped my car far, far ahead and killed us all, starting with my kid sister in the back seat with no seat belt. All I could think of was, Allah Lateefun bi'ibadih. He saved me from a violent, ugly death. And He truly saved me. He guarded me from in front of me, from the right of me, from the left of me, from behind me. I swerved from that car's way, but I swerved right into another vehicle's path. I was going for the lesser of the two evils, for a seriously scratched up car, but God had better plans. He protected me, He gave me another chance to thank Him, to realize His Mercy, His Gentleness, His power.

alhamduilllah rabbil 3alameen.