As we come to the start of a new year, many of us will be reflecting on what we have learnt. For some, last year was full of joy, achievements, new opportunities and perfect Snapchat moments. For others, the end of the year brought a huge sense of relief. For many, it has been difficult, especially with the added pressure of work, exams, bills to pay, health issues or children to look after. Certainly, the political world has shocked us with the outcomes of the European referendum and the US presidential elections. It can be very easy to move on, ignore everything and look forward to the New Year and a fresh start. However, for me, last year has brought with it tears, frustration and gratitude – moments that I will never forget and lessons that I will carry with me forever. This piece goes out to the people out there who have had a difficult year and are seeking inspiration.
In September 2015, I started teaching at a new school; it was a daunting experience starting at a new job but I embraced the challenge positively and was excited for the new journey I was about to embark on. However, leaving my son after nine months of maternity leave was extremely difficult, something I had completely underestimated.
The previous month my sister had brought me a bottle of Shloer (sparkling juice) and I told my husband I would open it once I had signed a contract with my new work place, and so I left it in the fridge. This did not happen. The bottle of Shloer sat in my fridge anxiously as months went by without any luck, despite my best efforts chasing up my manager and HR. This was a problem for several reasons. My husband and I had sold our flat, a move we would later look back at with a pinch of regret. Without a contract, it was extremely difficult to get a mortgage offer and with house prices increasing rapidly, our anxiety and stress grew.
One day as I was cleaning the fridge, I accidentally dropped the bottle of Shloer that had been waiting for months to be opened. It smashed into tiny pieces and scattered all over the floor. At that moment I knew I had something to fear about the coming months. The bottle smashing was a sign for me, it was symbolic in some cliché way. I had planned to use it to celebrate an achievement which was no longer just a hiccup in our misfortune.
By January, we had completed the sale of our flat and had no other options but to move in with my parents. I know many couples who do this and I praise them for their continuous patience in their own personal situations. For us, moving day was a disappointing development. Our search for a new home and for me to get a signed contract at my workplace continued. Every time we found something decent, the rejection of our offer was another door slamming in our face. Every day that went by without security and stability at my work was a step further into a nauseatingly dim future.
I know many people out there who have struggled with difficult situations last year, whether it was finding work, a home, a spouse, their health or having children. We have each dealt with tears, frustration, stress and anxiety. We have each woken up in the morning questioning why we are being tested. It is indeed a test, a test to see how you overcome the situation you have, whether it will make you stronger or weaker.
Gratitude never comes easy.
We are a generation used to consumerism and technology. We do not live a humble or minimalistic lifestyle because we are swamped by social media and advertising, making us blind to what is truly important. We each have our own plans for what we aspire to do in the future, but we are not the only ones who plan our lives. Of course, our plan is very different to that of Allah (swt).
People always tell you that things happen for reason and to have patience because something better will come along. I know how irritating it can be to hear this constantly from family and friends, it almost becomes a ringing chant. The truth of the matter is that they are right. The support we had during our year was incredible, our parents, family and friends rallied around us helping in any way they could. It was what drove us to persevere in our journey and I will be eternally grateful for it.
As the months went by, we managed to secure a property but trying to get a mortgage became increasingly difficult and our vendor became frustrated, giving us an ultimatum that he would pull out of the deal if we did not produce a solid mortgage offer. After weeks of negotiations and constantly sending documents back and forth, the mortgage fell through. That day is one I will never forget. We both felt helpless and empty, all our hard work had achieved nothing.
There is a quote I stumbled across years ago by Oscar Wilde that I always remember and it perfectly describes this moment in our lives. “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.” I understand that we all endure difficult moments in our lives but one thing that made us not want to give up that week was faith in Allah’s plan for us. You see, the week that the mortgage fell through was followed by me finally signing a contract at work after eight months of waiting. Things rapidly started to fall into place like jigsaw pieces in a puzzle. Our vendor agreed not to pull out, we switched to a different lender and our new mortgage broker managed to get us a mortgage within the week.
The month of Ramathan became one blessing after another. We managed to negotiate a better interest rate with our lender; we exchanged contracts a week before the end of Ramathan and received the keys to the house a few days before Eid. Our initial aim was to spend the holy month in our new home but we spent it at my parents, focusing on spirituality, surrounded by family and to my pleasure, my mother’s home cooking.
One thing that made me feel guilty about my dreams was those who are less fortunate. The pictures of refugees fleeing their homes in search of a better life were constantly on my mind during this year. The image of the little boy, Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach after drowning at sea, will always haunt me. But for those of us here, what can last year teach us?
We worked hard to achieve our goal and although many may see our journey as simple or excessive, for us, our achievement was a symbol of hope for the future. It represented our journey and all the lessons and values we learnt along the way. Yet, thinking that life would go on without any other trial is naive. I remember my husband and I discussing the subject of ‘happiness’ one evening, surrounded by our new furniture. We wondered whether a person can stay stress free and without worry for the rest of their life. Can someone guarantee happiness forever? As the months went by and we drew closer to the end of the year, we continued to face other trials just like many people out there.
The cycle of life does not stop when you have achieved your goals. It continues to test you every day, to remind you that life is a journey of which we are only a temporary passenger on board a train. Sometimes the train goes too fast and we forget to breathe. Sometimes it goes too slow and we feel stuck. Regardless, of where we are in our journey we must remember that happiness is not attained by simply achieving our goals. It is not a checklist. Happiness is attained by being content with what Allah has chosen for you. Knowing that despite your struggles this year and the hardships you have faced, you will overcome them. By believing that your plans are not being ignored, but adjusted to make you stronger, grounded in your values and beliefs and more humble and by understanding that there is a beautiful equation written for all of us, a balance between the good and the bad days.
What does happiness really depend on? Our trust in Allah (swt).
Happy New Year to you and yours!
by Zynab Al-Bahrani