By Mesha Oh, New Age Islam
14 December, 2014
At the age of 10, I was sent to a boarding-school, which was located some 1500 kilometres from where my parents lived. It was one of those old-fashioned sort of schools that followed strict military discipline. We had only the most minimal contact with our families. Email, mobile phones and other forms of instant communication were still half a century in the future. We couldn’t even talk to our parents on the phone, and were permitted to write to them just once a week—or was it once a fortnight? If I remember correctly, our contact with the outside world was so controlled that the letters we wrote and received were carefully censored by our ‘house-masters’. We were allowed to visit home, for a short break, only twice a year, after every six months.
It wasn’t at all easy being torn away from home like that. While many boys thought that being homesick was ‘wrong’ and ‘unnatural’, I didn’t agree. I was homesick for much of the time, almost till the next round of holidays began. I can still feel—almost five decades later—the tremendous excitement with which a fortnight before the holidays were to commence I would start packing my suitcase! And the day I boarded the train on the two-day journey home I could hardly contain myself. There was nothing more in the world that I could have asked for then than being at home!
I had heard about death, of course, even at that tender age, but it was something, I thought, that might happen to others but never to me. At school and at home, no one talked, or even wanted to think, about death. But now death, including my own, is something that I don’t feel the need to avoid recognizing. I’m not obsessing about it, though. Nor am I hoping that I die this very instant or that the world comes to an end today, so don’t think I’m in a major depression and require urgent medical help or counseling. It isn’t that I’ve given up on life, lost all interest in living and now want to end it all and that that’s why I am thinking of death. Far from it! While the hate and strife that abounds in the world can sometimes appear overwhelming, and the challenges that one personally encounters can occasionally seem almost insurmountable, it doesn’t mean that in letting myself sometimes think of my death I am being an escapist. To the contrary, in being willing now to think about death off and on, I am helping myself to get a better understanding and appreciation of life, of a very fundamental aspect of it that I’ve deliberately sought to ignore all these decades. After all—and you will agree with me—our own death, and everyone else’s, is one of the few things that we can ever be sure of. That’s why I now know that I can’t—and don’t need to—keep trying to escape thinking about it. I have to recognize, I now understand, that that I must pass through the door of death one day and then enter the life beyond, heading to a home that I might occupy for all time to come. And that’s the place, I now realize, that I could call my ‘real home’, a place where I might stay for eternity!
Yesterday, an interesting thought came to my mind: “If my real home is the one that I shall occupy after I die, possibly for all time to come, why is it that I don’t feel the same sort of heart-wrenching homesickness for it that I used to about the home where my parents lived when I was a young child at boarding school? If the homes we inhabit in this world are just temporary shelters that we must leave one day for good and never return to, why is it that most of us are so attached to them but care nothing at all for the homes we might live in forever that await us when we die?”
I hazarded a few guesses for this as far as my case is concerned:
1. Maybe I still want to remain in denial of death, and so just don’t want to think about the home I will live in after I die.
2. Maybe I am too attached to this-worldly pleasures to allow myself to think about my death and my eternal home.
3. Maybe I fear that the home I might occupy after my death isn’t located in heaven, but in heaven’s opposite (you know what I mean), and that’s just too scary to want to contemplate.
4. Maybe I don’t want to admit that life continues after death and that I would occupy another home after I die because that would demand that I completely transform my life and lead it the way God wants me to. I think this is a major reason why many of us want to convince ourselves that God is a fiction, that we are dead for good after we die, and that heaven and hell (whether understood literally, as physical places, or figuratively, as states of mind or being)or rebirth are ‘unscientific mumbo-jumbo’ and simply ‘old-wives’ tales’.
5. Maybe I am not fully convinced about God, or perhaps I really don’t love Him as much as I should, otherwise wouldn’t I be longing to meet Him and to settle in the home that He has arranged for me after I die?
As I type these lines I whisper a prayer: “God, please lead me to be homesick for my real home!”
I can’t manage to develop that sort of homesickness myself, through my own efforts, I know. It is a gift from God, one that He gives as He pleases.