This afternoon, I was a part of a funeral for the first time in my life. As a child, I had seen a burial. As a young adult, I had prayed the janazah prayers (the prayer portion of the Muslim funeral ritual). As a student in the health sciences, I had even seen someone pass away. But never once had I lifted a shovel full of dirt over a body resting five feet below the ground and buried it in the same Earth that it came from.
Today, we brought the little girl that passed away during the early mornings hours of Saturday to her final resting place. As her body reached its final abode, we prayed for her, for her family, and for all the living and the dead. Some cried. Others hugged. But everyone felt the pain, a pain that seemed to reverberate through the small crowd of family and friends.
The burial of a child is like no other burial. Children find their rest in holes that might not be as wide or as deep as adults, but the holes they leave behind in the hearts of their loved ones ares infinitely larger. And as this young child found her final resting place, her mother’s screams filled the air. My daughter. My daughter. You’re leaving us forever. Those are words you can’t just hear. Those are words that you feel. Those are words that shake you and change you in a way that isn’t easily reversed. Those are words that will stick with you longer than any quote from a scholar or line from an article. Those words, they are words of true, honest pain.
As is our custom, each one of us took turns placing the dirt on top of this resting body. Led by father placing as the head of the household, each one of us would soon follow. Eventually, it was my turn to grab hold of the shovel. And as I stood over this body some five feet under ground, I found myself shaken. The shovel I held would forever separate this child from this world. This shovel would separate this child from her mother and her father for the rest of their lives. This shovel would carry with it everything that differentiated the living from the dead.
And as I stood there, fulfilling my duty, I realized what it was the shovel carried—dirt. We come from dirt and we return to dirt. Both literally and metaphorically, dirt is what separates those of us who walk across the Earth and those of us who rest below it. Six feet over, we live. Six feet under, we die. It’s a painful reality, one that’s difficult to swallow. But it’s a reality that’s often beneficial to remember. In our tradition, we were given a reminder:
“You should visit graves, because they will remind you of the reality of death.”
Yesterday’s passing of a child served as a reminder of how precious a day can be. It was a reminder to treat every day as your last—with love, with kindness, with sincerity. But if yesterday brought the what, today brought the why. Today’s burial brought about the lesson that our moments are fleeting. Each moment we live, each breath we breathe, brings us that much closer to our death. Muslim or Non-Muslim, Theist or Atheist, each of us is approaching our death. To say it is a grim reality would be to take a fatalistic philosophy when, in fact, each day brings us a new opportunity.
Some say everyday bring us one step closer to our death, but they forget that every day also brings us one step forward. Every day we are given one more step, one more day, to do good, to love, to succeed. Every morning, we wake up to a full day of opportunity. But it is up to us to take advantage of it. It is up to us to be cognisant of the temporal reality of our lives. It is up to us to spend our lives living.
One day, we will all find ourselves hearing the cries of our loved ones and feeling the weight of the dirt as it is packed above us. We will be on the other side—six feet under the same Earth we walked across for decades. But for today, we still stand above it. We will continue to hold the keys to our lives. We will have an opportunity to do just a little more good. So today, as someone who watched the dirt slide off a shovel and onto a young child, I beg you. Take advantage of your day.
“Every soul shall taste death. And We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. To Us must you return.”