The Nobodies

They’re everywhere, yet it’s as if they don’t exist. There are millions of them, yet they go unnoticed. There are over ten of them in every single day of yours, yet you look right through them. They are not angels or spirits, yet it’s as if they are invisible.

What do the prim lawns tell you as you walk to class every morning? What does a plate of roti canai say as you enjoy it? What do the new colors of the HS cafeteria say to you? Do you see something more than a clean table as you sit to eat or study? What does a clear road say as you drive along it? What about the bus that takes you to class?
Somehow, strangely it seems, our toilets are cleaned, our roads are cleared, our lawns are trimmed, our food is fresh, our walls are painted, our tables are wiped, we get to class on time… it all just happens. It’s all done.
By the Nobodies.

Thousands of us walk past them as they sweep early in the morning, but not even a handful can bother to smile at them or greet them. They drive so many of us to our classes, but it seems only a few of us don’t choke at the door and turn to say “Thank you, abang“. Yes they’re paid to cook our food, but why do the rules of courtesy not apply to them? Or perhaps they should have an ‘Honors Degree in Asian Cuisine’ from Harvard, then we’d thank them even if they burnt our food. As we talk about Ethics for Everyday Life over lunch, a nobody perhaps our mother’s age carefully cleans our messy table, wishing she understood us educated people. If she only knew how less we understood our own words.

Behind every stroke of new paint in HS is a person struggling to make ends meet and feed his family, behind every clean road is a person who always dreamt of owning a motorcycle, behind every washed toilet is a person juggling work, family and health, behind every hot meal are burnt hands… behind every comfort of ours are nobodies who wish to be noticed by the blind people they work for.

May Allah bless the nobodies of our world through whom He makes our lives comfortable. May He ease their burdens and cure our blindness. May He bless them with provision and us with the ability to be grateful, Aameen.

[First published in 2009]

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Who’s Life is it, Anyway?

Let’s see, what do we need for a life again? Air. Breathing apparatus (your lungs basically). An object to contain that breathing apparatus (this would be the physical you). A reason for that object with the breathing apparatus to exist. Well, you don’t make or supply your own air so that part of your life isn’t yours. You didn’t make your own lungs neither your body, you were made with materials belonging to someone else (guess Who), and if robots are copyrighted then you definitely are, so you don’t own your physical self either. But since you use them, it means they’ve been given to you, you must know by now that NOTHING is for free in our world (not even the ‘free’ ketchup!), so unless you remember buying your own lungs, etc. or renting them, you can successfully conclude that they’ve been loaned to you. And they all have an expiry date.

Now let’s talk about the reason for you to exist. This reason can be anything, unlike our lungs and our air and our body, we’re free to choose the design, quality, depth and beauty of this reason and thereby determine the value of our life. Ultimately, life is the execution of this reason. Since you determine this reason, you can safely say that at least this part of your life is truly yours. Or is it? Take a look at everything that you do. Is what you own what you require or what is socially accepted? Does dressing up go beyond the natural and civil requirement of being clean and presentable? Or does it involve dressing up (or down) for the pleasure of someone else, and hence living that part of ‘your’ life for someone other than yourself. Does getting a degree mean fulfilling a job requirement or developing yourself? Does learning mean passing an exam or increasing your awareness? Does talking involve regular showers of swear words that add nothing to the point you’re trying to convey? Does your sense of modesty change with changes in location? Do you sacrifice your own comfort just to beautify your walk? Are you ashamed to say you’re unaware of the latest shows and music? Do you smoke because you’re not a man if you don’t?

How much of what you use, speak, watch, eat, wear, spend or do is because it really makes you more valuable? How much of your life have you lived genuinely for the benefit of your own self? How much of your life have you let others own, determine and destroy?

We all need to work on our lives, large parts of which aren’t ours anymore. If our ancestors were physically invaded and enslaved; our very identities are the slaves of the massive consumerist and hedonistic empire of the modern world. Freedom is not the right to do what you want, but the liberty to do as you should. Go back to your Creator’s Book. It will show you the depth and beauty you can give to your life and will free you from being possessed by this world.