I got into the car hurried, absent-minded, and heavyhearted. That morning I woke up to the question ‘What would Mom have thought of me if she saw me today? Would she be proud? Would she be shocked?’ Though it had been five years since I lost her, I found myself missing her even more than I usually do in October. I thought to myself: If I just had a chance just to tell her that I’ve pursued my dreams, I would be so happy. It would ease the feeling of being robbed of a lifetime of memories with her.
But I didn’t have the time to dwell any further. I had to be at an interview with a world-renowned scholar and a legend in his field. He had been cited 91,000 times to date! I was excited and ready for a dose of inspiration. I got into the cab and made notes of all the questions I would ask. Perhaps a photo with the scholar would be nice.
And suddenly the words flowed like music from a mysterious source. He began with a story of how when he was on the road earlier, he saw a Ferrari zoom by making an obnoxious sound – only to be caught in traffic behind a taxi. The arrogant Ferrari had no choice but to come to a sudden halt and wait. This was much like our lives, he said. We focus so much attention on showing others what we own and what we can do that we lose sight of what is a few steps ahead of us. We can be forced to stop and accept that the façade can fade in the blink of an eye.
I knew this was going to be an inspiring evening.
He spoke of how he started out with nothing -with all the odds stacked against him growing up with no father and no money in a remote village; no one thought he would amount to much. “What’s your secret to success?” I asked.
“There are people who have millions yet suffer through sleepless nights. I go to sleep each night with the ease of a child. I am content. It begins with surrounding yourself with a very small group of highly positive people. People from whom you can learn every day and who can help you grow constantly. I assume that everyone I meet is better than me in one way or another and so I learn from them. You need to focus on what you have, and not on what you are missing.”
Oh Please! Not this cliché positive thinking mantra! This stuff doesn’t work.
But he went on to explain: “If you treat everyone as though they are your family, then love will constantly follow you. Love is the essence of the universe. If you can love everyone regardless of race, religion, nationality, you will make your dreams come true. When you release positive energy into the world, it comes back to you; it begins to show you what you have. It opens doors and windows where you didn’t know any existed. But you should never force the universe to give you what you want. Instead ask that it give you what is best for you and give it with blessing”. “What universe?” I asked. “Some call it God, others call it Allah, and others simply call it the universe. It’s like seeing light but looking at it from different places. It’s still the same light”.
“It’s easy to be positive when bad things haven’t happened yet. I used to be positive until I lost my mother” I explained.
He gently said “I have to tell you this now because I don’t know if I will ever get the chance to do this again. You must first accept that nothing in this world lasts forever. Money, health, youth; it all goes. Parents, too, must go. But love is an energy; energy is neither created nor destroyed. Your parents’ love for you is never gone. You must not think that your mother’s physical absence means she is unable to see all that you are and have done today. Your life is a continuation of her love. Her hopes and dreams for you live through you. With that much love surrounding you, how can you think of the physical part you no longer see? Focus on what you have, not what you don’t”.
In between tears I had to ask “Do you have children?”
“Yes. Spiderman, superman, and little wrestler.”
“Oh, so three boys?”
“No two boys and a girl. But I haven’t told her that she can’t be a superhero because she isn’t a boy. I teach her how to wrestle everyday”
“So, what’s the secret to a happy home?” I asked.
“Well, you need to realize that if you think you will find someone who is perfect all the time, you will die alone. When you find someone you love, you need to accept them whole as they should do for you. I am blind to my wife’s flaws as she is with mine. When we disagree, I think of all that is wonderful about her and suddenly, the disagreement seems silly. I also never put anything above my family. I work so that I can live with them comfortably – I don’t live to work. When you have this attitude, money follows! You can’t take careers or money to the grave but the love you leave with your family will go on for generations.”
It was time for me to go.
“One last thing. always remember that God speaks to you in everything. Don’t wait for a booming voice or a strike of lightening – God speaks to you through everything that surrounds you, if you open yourself to it”.
Positivity. Gratitude. Love. Openness. I knew I was going to hear life-changing words this evening. I wanted to listen for hours more. I was in awe.
But it was time to leave the car – I was late to the interview. Although after what Mohammad Ali, the cab driver, had just told me, the scholar had a tough act to follow.
A little about Mohammad: Mohammad is from Pakistan and came to the UAE 4 years ago as a security guard. With hard work and blessings [as he calls them], he was able to bring his family with him and eventually purchased the luxury car that he was driving as part of the Uber service. He spoke flawless English with a hint of a British accent which he taught himself by speaking to his clients and with the help of the internet. In his words “with all this technology there’s no excuse for anyone not to better themselves”. He spends his free time reading the work of great Arab philosophers [Ibn Hazm being his favourite] and the biographies of the likes of Einstein – though his formal education did not go past high school! The words above are quotations that I wrote immediately after our conversation.