|The only photo I could find of Muzammil. This was his profile picture on Facebook. He is on the left. I was not added to him on Facebook so I cannot enlarge this photo or make it less blurry.|
Two weeks ago, I had received the news that you were hospitalized seeking diagnosis for a sudden illness.
When I heard this news, my initial reaction was a sudden "Who?" to my Dad.
For a slight moment, your name had slipped my mind and I almost felt like I never knew you at all, and then I interrupted my Dad again before he could begin to elaborate who you were.
At first, I was almost going to tell him that I didn't know who he was talking about - it had been so long since you and I had spoken with each other - but then once I remembered you - I couldn't believe he was talking about YOU.
"Muzammil...? The one we used to live near in Philly...? The one who used to come to our Eid parties at Faisal's house...? The one whose mom works with Faisal's mom?" I began to reminisce.
"Muzammil... is in the hospital?"
To be honest, 10 minutes after my Dad had told me that you were in the hospital, I had forgotten he had even spoken to me about it. I just went on with my day and didn't even consider searching for more information.
That week my Dad continued to call your father to ask about your condition, about what was happening, whether he needed help, assistance, or guidance.
Out of general curiosity, I kept thinking of asking my Dad what was wrong, but, again, after just a moment of time, I would forget my thought of you and continue to go on with my own day.
Perhaps it was because our relationship wasn't that close that I initially didn't feel a need to worry. Maybe it was because it had been almost five years since we last saw each other, and my memory of you was fading.
On Friday, February 3rd, at around noon, I received three text messages in school - one from my Dad and two from my cousin, Arslan (who was much closer to you than I was). They all carried the same message.
"Muzammil has passed away..."
I stood there in front of my locker, in absolute shock. I felt a tingling sensation in my heart and I got goosebumps.
"He was only 19, Aadil." read the text message my Dad sent me.
I walked towards my cafeteria and one of my teachers saw me, and I guess he saw that my face was filled with shock and worry so he asked me if I was okay.
That's when the emotions finally hit me, that's when the empathy filled my heart. I mean, call me sensitive or whatever you want to call me, even though we barely knew each other, the fact that you were in risk of death had never reached my mind, and when your news of death came, I was in complete and total confusion.
I looked at my teacher and I began to tear up, and I told him that you had passed away.
After I had calmed down, he let me go into the cafeteria and I sat down at my table and started to eat my lunch, but as soon as I put one piece of food in my mouth, my stomach felt a deep disgust. Thoughts were racing in my brain of the time back when we were kids when my cousins and I would make fun of you and not talk to you because we thought you were weird. I remember at my cousin's Eid party when you told us you were 15 years old and we laughed at you because you looked like you were at least 21. We never really wanted to talk to you, we always secluded you from our conversations.
Maybe it was because we were immature and young, but as I was sitting in my cafeteria trying to eat my lunch after I received the news of your death, I just couldn't restrain from feeling guilt for being so immoral and so hypocritical.
I was in such shock that I couldn't even talk to anybody for the rest of the day because these pessimistic introverted thoughts rushed in my brain of how hypocritical I am and how my preaching of morality contradicted my actions and the way I treat people and treat myself. I felt condescending, egotistical. I felt a deep sense of sadness in knowing that I treated you with disrespect only because at the time when I was younger, I felt I was much more "cooler" than you.
I felt egotistical because I remembered when my Dad had told me about you two weeks ago and after only 10 minutes I had totally forgotten what he had even said. I felt egotistical because I went on with my day and didn't even have the decency to ask my Dad how you were - or even call you or your father myself.
When I came home after that long day, I had finally asked my Dad what had happened.
A couple of weeks ago, you caught a fever and a rash, and went to the nurse on your college campus. She didn't know what was causing this and recommended you go to the doctor, so you did. The doctor initially thought you had pneumonia. However, after doing multiple tests and scans, they had discovered a significantly large-sized tumor on your heart. You were only 19 man. I can't begin to imagine how you took the news, the emotions you felt when you were told, the rush of thoughts you had about your dreams and goals in life. When my Dad had called your father a couple days before your death, your father said you were in a coma, and that he had put earphones on you and attached them to an MP3 player that played the recitation of the Holy Qur'an.
I'm not going to sit here and lie by saying "If only I knew earlier", because truly I deserved the emotion rushes and thoughts that plagued my brain. I needed a reality check... but I knew I wasn't the only one. Everyone needs a reality check.
Everyone who figured out began to say "Sorry for the loss of your friend", but in reality, I didn't LOSE a FRIEND. I honestly wish a FRIEND was what I lost, but instead, I lost the opportunity of becoming one. I lost the opportunity of becoming a better person. I lost the opportunity of treating you with the respect you deserved.
I didn't lose a FRIEND. I lost someone who I should have respected, because everyone deserves RESPECT.
I won't use my age as an excuse for my immaturity - I never will. Just because I was 11 years old last time we spoke to each other doesn't give me the right to have judged you and treated you with disrespect. Those were certainly not the morals my parents were teaching me. But because of the way I treated you when you were younger, as a young adult I didn't have the decency and dignity to show even the least bit of empathy.
This is not the letter I expected to write in my wildest dreams. You have impacted me to take deeper consideration of the way I treat people and also to remind all the people reading this letter on my blog to also treat others the way they treat themselves.
I want to preach this following message and be content with the way I am practicing it:
It doesn't matter what the color of your skin is, the religion you practice, the way you dress, the way you speak, the country you are from, or the illness you suffer from - EVERYONE needs to follow the universal moral compass that has been ingrained beneath our hearts.
Muzammil, even though we didn't know each other that well - and I want you to know how deeply I grieve that fact - I want to thank you for teaching me the lessons I needed to learn, the lesson everyone needs to learn about morality and ethics.
Reciprocate manners of respect. Do not judge others without judging yourself.
My prayers are with Muzammil's family and friends,
"Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon - Surely, we belong to Him, and to Him is our return."