It all flashed right before my eyes, right across the street from the tailor’s shack in northern Bangladesh.
My aunt and uncle were having a salwar kameez, a traditional Bangladeshi outfit, tailored for me. After purchasing the material, we dropped the fabric at the tailor’s shack. The simple shack was made of wood and tin, located directly across a green pond. I stood there, observing the scene, while the tailor took measurements for the clothing.
I saw a rickshaw peddler cross the dirt road and step into a shop nearby, parking his rickshaw cycle next to a tree. Every rickshaw has its own unique design and I marveled at its exquisite beauty, especially since these designs and vehicles are hard to come by in America.
But its beauty quickly unraveled before my eyes. Nearby, a stray cow had wriggled loose from a tree, dragging her rope behind her. As she walked past the tree, her rope tangled with the wheel of the parked rickshaw. Feeling the tug of the rickshaw, the cow screeched and began to run in fright, dragging the rickshaw behind her. The colorful rickshaw had toppled over a dozen times like a spinning top, landing into the green pond across the dirt road, shattered and totaled.
People had stepped out of their homes to the scene of the incident. All eyes were on the peddler, who had darted over to the pond as soon as he heard the cow’s screech, followed by a crash and splash. He knelt beside the green pond, covering his face in frustration and tears.
I looked sympathetically towards the poor man. This scene seemed to be a common phenomenon in Bangladesh, because my cousins were laughing mercilessly. I was sixteen at the time and had nothing to offer this traumatized individual. I can only hope and pray that he has recovered from his loss.
For an average pedaler there, his only means of income is from his rickshaw. Even then, a mile’s worth of transport labor is barely compensated with twenty cents. Inside the rickshaw seat box, barely two feet long and less than a foot wide, holds all of the pedaler’s possessions. He even sleeps on the rickshaw, somehow balancing himself on the tricycle. Knowing this just made it that much more painful for me as I saw that in that instant, the pedaler had lost everything he ever had; his income and his possessions.
I can only imagine the thoughts that raced through the peddler’s mind at that moment.
During moments of utter desperation like this, I realized that nothing can really be done except to raise one’s hands in the air and express that, ‘Allah alone is sufficient for us, and He is the Best Disposer of affairs for us.’ The test of life is in expressing gratitude in the time of ease and patience during the time of difficulty, all while having a firm conviction that with every challenge in life will come a divine form of relief.
Allah is certainly the Master of Affairs, the Best of Planners of fate and destiny. Even within a simple and seemingly safe scene as that of the tailor’s shack, it should be realized that whatever life throws at us is inevitable. Perhaps our lives are comparable to that of the cow, always trying to loosen the grip of this world, trying to break free from the burden of livelihood. With a small mind and a selfish heart, we intentionally and unintentionally hurt those around us, causing a boundless disaster. In the process, we all lose whatever little we have in this world.
Everything we supposedly possess in this world isn’t even worth nearly as much as the moral we learn from the story of the shattered rickshaw and its scattered pieces: when everything is lost in this world, whether physically or figuratively, it should only be a reason to turn to Allah with renewed hope. And even when life is a bright and sunny day, it is still a reason to raise our hands up high with sincerity and say, “All Praise is due to Allah Ta’ala alone.”
Under given circumstances, we make decisions according to our best interest – that is the reality of life. The circumstance is the effect to the cause of our decision, and controlling it is usually beyond the human capacity. Thus, Allah is the Most Just. He does not hold us responsible for that which is beyond our grasp. Even if the wrong decision is made, we are told that the one who repents from sin is like one who has not sinned.
Therefore, our focus should be directed towards our reaction to the effect of our decision, rather than the decision itself. When a calamity befalls us, do we bang our heads in frustration, or do we fall to the floor in prostration? When we are angered by an individual, do we retaliate, or do we forgive? Similarly, when a bounty is endowed upon us, do we express gratitude to Allah, or do we consider it a self-accomplishment?
The peddler’s story is within all of us. Our rickshaws – full or empty – are run by His grace alone. It is this realization that gets us across the dirt road.