As we international students know all too well, our time at any location is a sweet bomb. A ticking time-bomb that can go off at any second and destroy all we care about, demolishing hopes, dreams and aims. But also sweet, because we experience wonders first hand—subtle things that are easy to miss.
My bomb recently exploded.
When I found out that I was moving, it cracked me. There really is no other way of explaining it. I had always known that my time was running out, but I had pushed that thought away and enjoyed ignorance. But hearing the shook me. It is amazing that things that are known to be inevitable can be the most surprising as well.
The next day at school I felt like a dead-man walking. I was looking at my friends, greeting teachers and walking to and from class; but it was all a big fat lie. I was leaving all of them, so why did I care about any of this? No, not why—how can I go on caring so deeply for something that I know will end in a month? All I had worked towards seemed to end in vain. The relationships I had, work that was underway and so on… everything just fell apart and my life was in pieces.
Acres of regret sprang up in me. If only I had one more year, then things would have worked out so nicely; if only I had gotten to know that person better; if only I had worked harder in that class; if only I had joined that club earlier; if only…
It’s amazing how I cared for things which I also didn’t matter at the same time.
What really broke my heart was people. I’m the person who stopped watching most TV series because I would get too attached to the characters. What then of my heart’s attitude with real people?
If a person had been warned ahead of time *you will die 2 months from now*—how would they feel? Exactly like I did when I was told about moving. This whole experience was exactly like death! To die is to leave this world, just like I left all my friends, work and plans. It can be hard to understand the reality of death, but it’s easier to imagine moving to a new place and relate the resulting feeling to our understanding of death.
One can spend money wisely only by realizing it’s limited. Similarly, without facing how limited a lifespan can be, how huge death is, and our own fragility it’s almost impossible to life life well. (This is why people often change their lives for the better after a near-death experience.) The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Remember often the destroyer of pleasures,” ie. death.1
It is by remembering death that humans are able to live. Oh, how few of us are alive! Seneca describes this beautifully:
It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.
But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it.
I cannot doubt the truth of that utterance which the greatest of poets delivered with all the seeming of an oracle: “The part of life we really live is small.” For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.
Vices beset us and surround us on every side, and they do not permit us to rise anew and lift up our eyes for the discernment of truth, but they keep us down when once they have overwhelmed us and we are chained to lust. Their victims are never allowed to return to their true selves; if ever they chance to find some release, like the waters of the deep sea which continue to heave even after the storm is past, they are tossed about and no rest from their lusts abides.2
If this does not shake us, we are lost.