I remember quite clearly the point at which I realized that teeth got worse when you got older. I was eight or nine, and we were still living in our apartment on Elmdale. I had been playing in the bedroom and I’m not sure whether I had come back from the dentist that day or whether it had been a few days before that, but I do know that I had not enjoyed it. I decided then and there, that when I was a grown-up I wasn’t going to tolerate any of this drilling business. I was going to have all my teeth removed in one go and either
a) wear dentures like Grandma did, or
b) have new fake teeth screwed into my jaw.
I’m not sure where I got the idea of fake teeth, but I did know that fake teeth didn’t get cavities and therefore couldn’t be subjected to a drilling.
Then, as time progressed, other things starting going down hill- I got sick, I got chubby, I passed through the ugly adolescent years and came out on the other side of awkward young adulthood. I got migraines, acne, and a little down the road, my appendix removed. Then I moved into independent adulthood and got stress-induced gastritis, stretch marks, more migraine, and my knee torn up in a car accident. (If you’re looking for me in Dubai, I’m the one with the headache, the limp, and the antacid in my purse. Also, two kids.)
Through all this, I’ve carried with me a nagging, niggling discontent about the fragile nature of the human body. (I’m supposed to go at least fifty years with this thing, I thought, and it’s falling apart now?) I managed to keep myself out of the realm of ingratitude by reminding myself that God never gave us warranties, but that was a just a bandaid, not a cure to the discontent.
The good news is, I haven’t started visibly aging yet, so I can’t complain about crow’s feet. The better news is, I’ve had an epiphany, and I think I’ll be ok when the crow’s finally do that rolling hoppity-skip into our world.
Are you ready for it? The Epiphany? It’s sort of obvious, and I know alot of people will wonder what took me so long and how I managed to not realize this ages ago, but still- it was an epiphany to me, so here it goes:
This is Hadith Qudsi (a hadith where the Prophet, peace be upon him, said that Allah said “…”) that basically takes my malcontent, crumples it into a little ball, and then drop-kicks it across the room. I’m not allowed to complain that my teeth are sagging and my bones are groaning and my bits are falling off because these are the vicissitudes of Time. They aren’t proof of shoddy construction or lack of manufacturer warranty. They’re not a flaw in the system, they are the system at work.
The ‘ravages of time’ do their part in this world, which would be unfair, if this world was it. Alhamdulillah, it’s not. This is the battle ground, the gauntlet, the litmus test of faith and fortitude, and as such, we do the best we have with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got is designed to fall apart, because that’s part of the test.
I read this Hadith years ago, and it was filed away without being fully synthesized. Back then, the “Vicissitudes of Time” seemed to be more like the rise and fall of civilizations maybe, or the loss of pristine beauty on earth due to man’s presence, or the crushing erasure of life through natural disasters- and it’s not that these too, don’t fit into the description. It’s just that my limited understanding came to the conclusion that things that tested your faith had to make mountains crumble or ecosystems perish, not just your teeth fall out.
So yeah. In my tiny soul, in my petty universe, once upon a time, life wasn’t fair because I got migraines and ulcers and had to pray sitting down because my knee was irrevocably damaged.
But yeah, I’ve had my epiphany. I understand now, Alhamdulillah, that my health is just one of the cards I’ve been dealt by a Just and All-Knowing dealer. It’s part of the game. When we all get up and leave the table, we’ll be on the same terms- there will be no more sickness, no more trials, no more tests to pass. Man will stand alone with nothing but his deeds, his own heart, and his own soul as proof of how well he played the game. Regardless of the cards he was dealt.