Sunday, October 09, 2005

Faith & the Hill

Excerpt from an e-mail to a dear old friend, who has been a great listener of my life's stories over the years:

Btw, there is an athletic ritual called "Sa'ee" in Umra (in Masjid-e-haraam, Makkah). Sa'ee means "effort, endeavor" in Arabic and Urdu. It's a 3.15 km run between two hills, now paved with marble. So one actually paces up and down an air-conditioned gallery 7 times from the hill Safa to hill Marwa. It is to commemorate Hajra's run b/w the 2 hills for the search of water and food for Ismael.

It's a tough run after other Umra rituals. While I was doing it a second time in 3 days, I just gave up after the second round. My right foot is bent inwards due years of back injury and strain. I almost thought of the wheel chair rides that are available. (The ritual is a must, of course. And one can't quit in the middle and go home, though we can rest as long as we want anywhere on the route and on the two hills, now covered with air-conditioned domes.) I sat down at Safa the first hill and cried. You can cry without shame in that place. People don't really notice. And they think you're crying for the love of God. You know. I cried because I felt very disabled. Then I realized the Hajra didn’t run here in Nike runners, in an air-conditioned gallery.

That's when the lesson of that ritual was clear to me: MAKE AN EFFORT. The story goes that Hajra's effort was rewarded by the miracle of the issuance of water from between the hills - now known as the Water of Zamzam. So after a half hour of crying and massaging my feet and back, I got up and walked. I just then remembered something I read in 7 Habits: that just after an athlete has reached the limit of pain, s/he is rewarded with a tremendous release of energy that compensates for that muscle ache. I gave it a try. I limped. It is ugly to have to limp when you're so young - and it's hard when the pain is just jolt-jolt-jolting through the body. (I guess no one can know a backache and a headache until they have one.)

Then I noticed an old Pakistan man, around 70, pushing his wife on a wheel chair. And I noticed many other people. And I visualized these mountains, 1000s of years ago, naked, hot, scorched. And I imagined I am running between them barefoot, looking for water. (I passed up the temptation of the many sprays and coolers of Zamzam that line the corridor.)

It was stunning the effect that visualization had on me. Suddenly, my pain was much, much easier. My feet were actually thankful. (The entire Umra is done barefoot.) I also felt that making an effort is something that comes with, well, effort. I realized that I have so many gifts, as a person and not just socially, that hardly anything has been an effort for ME - though it might have awed others. It was time, finally, to test my character.

There are seven rounds to be made between the two hills, and the total walk is 3.15 km according to one estimate. I had an unbearable pain by the fourth round, to the extent that my mind was blacking out. But I held on to Stephen Covey's wisdom, and my life's wisdom, if any, and the visualization of Hajra. The blacking out helped, perhaps, as I imagined a huge rock in the place of Ka'aba, and the real scene disappeared. To my memory, it still seems that I ran on bare, sun-hot rocks.

My foot was ever so slightly bent inwards, but whenever I walk fast, there is a feeling of a tight string about to break from my back to the toe, and this has prevented me from extensive walking for the past many years. By the fifth round, while I was struggling to straighten my long-bent foot by placing it firmly and evenly on the ground , something happened.

My mind was really blacking out, when I thought I had completely lost it, and the pain wasn't like THERE for a second. And suddenly, a click-click sound came. Some long-displaced bone just fell in place. My foot was okay.

Do you remember the Forrest Gump's moment-of-release from his leg braces? It just happened! My foot just fell in place! What I read in 7 habits about an actual athletic phenomenon really happened. There was suddenly a tremendous rush of energy and whatever was blocking energy (blood and oxygen to be exact and more scientific) just let go of its ugly grip.

It was one of the deepest emotional moments of my life that happened without a drum roll. It just happened, and I had no one to tell this to. I walked on. Whenever I now have an "uphill" task in front of me, I will remember the little lesson of Sa'ee and of having a little but helpful amount of faith.

A little faith in a better tomorrow makes the present a lot easier, for us and for our loved ones. :)

Warm regards...

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