Thursday, March 19, 2009

Leo Tolstoy-What Men Live By? (Part 2)

Finally.. another weekend :D so I can continue the interrupted story from last weekend :P. Anyway.. Where were I stopped last weekend? Oh.. ok I stopped at the three questions

1. What dwells in man?
2. What is not given to man?
3. What men live by?

What dwells in man?
It is love.

At the first encounter with Simon and also Matryona, Michael could only saw and learned their egoistic side. He saw that their face looked terrible and covered with death. However, both of them quickly realized their mistake and start to aware of Michael`s suffering. Then Michael saw changes on their face. Death no longer dwelt on their face and he could felt love that originated from God. Thus he smiled for having found out the answer of the question.

I believe God has created human of the best stature (Qur`an 95:4) and love become an inseparable part of it. But somehow often our prejudice prevail over our sense of love, such as demonstrated by Simon and his wife in their first meeting with Michael. Moreover, more than once we (Especially myself -_-) mismanage our love. Blind love only lead to disaster

What is not given to man
It is to know his own needs (in the future)

In the story, the man who came to Simon workshop had expected that he will have shoes that last for a year. He even threatened driving Simon to jail if his work cannot last for that duration of time. However, Michael knew that the man would die before sunset because he saw his comrade, angel of death, followed the man. Michael smiled because the man hadn`t known his own need in the future. It was slippers instead of boots that he really needed in the future

We often act like the man. We plan what we will do in the future but we forget that the future is still beyond our reach. Does our plan suit our need in the future? Will it be good for us in the future or will it ruin us?

In the midst of this uncertainty, there is a glimmer of hope. A hope that is described as "mellow light coming from beyond pessimism" and "heroic feeling of not of a hero but of an ordinary man who has done his duty and accepted his destiny" by Alija Ali Izetbegovic, former president of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is called submission to God or "tawakal" in other word.

In conclusion, there is nothing wrong in planning our future. It is even said that failure in making plan means we plan our failure. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that after all things have been planned, we submit ourself to God and hope that our plan will suit our need in the future. Or we hope that God will replaces it with the better one.

What men live by
It is live by God

Near the end of the story, we learn that Michael was punished for refusing to take the twins mother life. He felt worry because he had thought the twins wouldn`t survive without their mother. However it turned out that God had other and even better plan for the twins. After heard the Lady`s story, Michael smiled and realized the truth behind the old proverb which says "One may live without father or mother, but one cannot live without God"

The question on what we live by has strong connection with another question, that is what we live for. In every journey there is destination. In every task, there is objective to fulfill. And the same thing also apply to more general case, the human life, it must also has a goal. It might starts with short term goal and then moves to mid term goal, long term goal, and so on. Finally after all of these can be achieved, questions will start to emerge.

"Is it all?"
"have we achieved our goal in life?"

As a Moslem, we should know the answer of these big question in life. It has already been written in our guide book, the Qur`an
"And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me"
(Qur`an 51:56)
To be a good servant of God, that is the answer. The goal has deeper meaning more than just doing daily routine prays. It has concern with every aspects of our life. How do we do our work everyday, deal with other people, eat, sleep, make a family, and much more. These activities must be done based on our goal, which is to be a good servant of God. By knowing the answer on how we live for, the reason behind why we must live by God could be more understood.

I found this story is enlightening through the three questions. However it should be noted that according to Islam, angel wouldn`t disobey God`s order. And the idea of "He who has love, is in God, and God is in him" is alien in Islam because the creator an the created one must be in different entity. Nevertheless, it is still a good story to contemplate ;)

Al Qur`anul Karim (English translation by Yusuf Ali, Pickthal and Shakir)
- Izetbegovic, Alija. 1989. Islam Between East and West. Indianapolis American Trust Publications.
What Men Live By in Project
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Leo Tolstoy-What Men Live By? (Part 1)

What Men Live By is one of Leo Tolstoy`s short stories. I remember read it for the first time in one big book entitled "Leo Tolstoy Collected Short Stories" (forgot the exact title of the book, but sounds like that :P) which I borrow from ITB library.

It tell us story about Simon the shoemaker who encountered a neglected mysterious man in the middle of cold winter night. He then took the man to his house and got hostile reception from his wife, Matryona, who felt the man as an "additional expense" to their poor family. However Simon successfully persuade Matryona to accept the man presence. Matryona even felt touched with the man`s suffering and became fond of him. After she showed her kindness to the man, Suddenly, the man smile at her.

Simon decided to train the man (who at this time only introduced himself as Michael) as his assistant. Michael proved himself as an skilled assistant and help established Simon reputation as the best shoemaker in the area. Despite this, Michael seemed to have his own world. He rarely talk, joke or laugh. He even never smiled again since he had smiled to Matryona.

One day, A Gentleman came to Simon workshop with a fine leather. He wanted Simon to make him boots that will last for a year. Simon accepted the offer after consulted Michael. Strangely, at one moment, Michael stared at the corner of the workshop right behind the gentleman and suddenly smiled. His second smile after one year working with Simon. After the gentleman had left the workshop, Michael started working with the leather, but instead of making boots, he made slippers. Simon became worried because the gentleman had threatened to punish him if his work weren`t acceptable.However, it turned out that Michael had done the right thing because the gentleman passed away that afternoon and what he need is slippers instead of boots

Year by year passing by, Now he had lived for 6 year with Simon. As previous years, Michael still behave strangely and smiled only twice for all these years. One day a lady with her twin girls came to Simon workshop to have their shoe made by Simon. One of the girls was crippled. At that time, Simon became amazed with attention that Michael gave to the twins as if he had known them before. When Simon asked the Lady about the twins, She explained that they weren`t her daughters. She had adopted them because their mother had died after giving birth while their father had passed away three days before. One of the twins was crippled because her mother incidentally rolled over the baby leg when she was dying. Since then, The lady took them and treat them as if they were her own children. After hearing this, Michael started to smile.. his third smile and led to the conclusion of the story

At the end, it is explained that Michael was an angel who had been punished for disobeying God. He was sent to earth as a human and must learned 3 things before he God forgave him.

1. What dwells in man?
2. What is not given to man?
3. What men live by?

He smiled three times because he had learned the answer for the three questions through his life with Simon and his family.

So what did Michael learn from the three questions?
And also, what have I learned from the three qustions?

Lets find out in my next post.. :P
(It`s already too long for a post, so I think it would be better to separate it into 2 posts.. :D and hopefully I`m not too lazy to write this weekend.. *sigh)

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Contemplation..

It was 11.30 PM at one rainy night. A man was sitting on balcony of his rent apartment while staring into the rapidly descending path of water. He slowly slurped a glass of hot milk and then put the glass on the balcony wall. His minds flew back few years ago when he had read the hadith for the first time

Ali Bin Abi Talib, The Prophet's cousin and the husband of his daughter Fatimah reported that the during a funeral in what is now known as Jannat-ul-Baqi in Madinah, The Prophet PBUH (Peace Be Upon Him) approached the Companion and sat among them. He had a stick with him and he thoughtfully scratched the earth with it for a while, and then said,“There is not one amongst you for whom a seat in paradise or hell has not been allotted, and about whom it has not been written down whether he would be an evil person or a blessed person”. A companion asked,“Allah’s Messenger, should we not then depend on our destiny and abandon our deeds?” Thereupon, The Prophet PBUH replied,“Acts of everyone will be facilitated in that which has been created for him. So, whoever belongs to the company of the blessed will have good works made easier for him, and whoever belongs to the wretched ones will have evil acts made easier for him.”

The man stood still on the balcony and started questioning himself.

Would he be a part of company of the blessed?
or part of company of the wretched?

He was then contemplating about his destiny and his fate in the afterlife. Would it be like a "choose your own adventure" storybook? He smiled and remembered reading such a book in his boyhood. The book was different from ordinary children storybook. At certain point of the story, he must choose what the main character of the story would do. Would Pinocchio choose to go to the circus instead of going home? or would Pinocchio stayed aboard the ship instead of jump? (He only had Pinocchio in his collection of choose your own adventure book :P) Thus instead of linear storyline, it has multiple storyline and also multiple endings. Then he imagined about his own "choose your own adventure" that God had created for him. The difference is he couldn`t turn back into previous chapter if he had met an unsatisfactory ending..

Flash of memories were passing by inside his head. Some were good, some were bad, some put smile on his lips, some made him closed his eyes and wondering why on earth he had done it. He realized that too many sins he had made... Too many mistakes and blunders he had done.. Too many people had their feeling hurt by him

He felt gloomy.He didn`t know whether he`d be part of company of the blessed with such many sins...

"Khauf wal raja.... fear and hope..." He heard the sound from within himself

"It must be balanced, between fear and hope", he thought. "It is good to worry about my sin but I must try to be an optimist so that I could be better in the future", he talked to himself

He slowly recited the pray,

"God, forgive my sins in the past... It such a plenty of sins that brings me closer to the company of the wretched"

"Help me to distance myself from company of the wretched.. Grant me uneasiness if I close to doing sins"

"Help me to get closer to the company of the blessed.. Grant me easiness to do a good deeds"

"Yaa muqollibal qulub tsabit quluubana ala tho’atika. O, Allah, the turner of the hearts, turn my heart to Thine obedience"

Rain droplets were still falling from the dark cloudy sky.. Droplets by droplets fell as if they recite praises to God..
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