Ibn al Jawzi in his book ‘Awaking from the Sleep of Heedlessness’ describes the different stages of life.
The first stage – starts from birth to puberty and that is 15 years.
The second stage – starts from puberty until the end of youth, which is until one reaches 35 years of age. This is deemed as the stage of youthfulness.
The third stage – starts from 35 years of age until 55 years of age. This is the stage of maturity.
The fourth stage – Starts from 55 years of age until the age of 70. This is the stage of old age
The fifth stage – Starts from 70 years of age until death. This is the stage of decrepitude.
When I look at these stages, I find that my children, all 4 of them are in the first stages of life, whilst I, their father am in the 3rd stage. In other words, they have just boarded the train, whereas I am half way to the destination.
There is a reality which has dawned upon me. I am now in my 40’s and I am realising that my youth has now left me and I have entered the mature years of my life. Over the past few years, much to my bemusement, the number of people that now address me as ‘uncle’ has increased. Then I have the grey hairs in my beard. I remember a time when my kids used to sit on my lap and count them. Now there are too many they can’t be bothered to count them anymore. My hair is receding. My barber looks at my bald patch, shakes his head and asks ‘what has happened to you?’ Like any man does, I tell him ‘it’s the wife and kids’, but, in reality this is life, we were not meant to stay young forever.
The Prophet (pbuh) in numerous narrations stressed the importance of utilising your youth before it disappears.
Ibn Abbas narrated that The Messenger of Allah (pbuh), said, “Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death.”
Youth is a time when we are generally healthier, have more time and less responsibilities. When we get older, our energy levels deplete quicker, our time gets occupied and our responsibilities increase. It’s analogous to being a juggler in the circus, just when you start to cope with juggling 2 balls, someone throws you a 3rd, 4th and 5th. The extra balls are our responsibilities. As you get older you have to manage juggling marriage, children, work, bills, ageing parents and so on, and they all demand your time.
My increasing grey hairs are a constant reminder for me that I have exited the stage of youth and have entered the stage of maturity. This is a new stage of my life. This is the stage where I should be reaping the harvest of the seeds that I planted in the early years and the fruits that grew in my youth. However, when I look at my basket of fruit I find that it is not full and not all the fruit is ripe and juicy.
When each person looks at their life, they will all feel a sense of regret at loss. In a consumer society many people regret that business opportunity that past them by. In the Bollywood era some people regret the loved one that slipped them by. For others it may be not spending quality time with their children. For some is may be misspent youth in disobedience of Allah (swt). Everyone will have regrets, none of us are immune from regrets. When I look at my half full basket of unripe fruits I also have a sense of regret.
Unfortunately many in the community are affected negatively by regrets. There is a tendency to lament lost opportunities and suffer from despair and defeatism. Others, who regret, will look at people who have attained their goals and become envious until they start to wish bad for their brother or sister.
It is important to start looking at our regrets in a positive manner and use them as a means to get productive in life. When I look at my life now that I am in my 40’s, am I content with how my time is focused and prioritised? When I look back at over 15 years since my reversion to Islam, am I content with my Islam and my relationship with Allah (swt)? If the answer is NO, then I should use that regret to refocus my life, reorganise my priorities, allocate the required time, stop procrastinating, stop making excuses, start planning and act .
There is a saying that ‘age is only a number’. In reality that is true, but it is a number that keeps on increasing until it matches the number that has been set, by Allah (swt) for my ajal (lifespan). Irrespective of the past, the time for acting is now. The regrets of the past should focus me to act now and shape the future to how I would like it to be, for both myself and my family. Often as families we get caught up in the daily grind of life. It is easy to get stuck into a routine and forget about whether our daily family life is in line with the objective and purpose that Allah (swt) defined for our lives. Often we find a disparity between what we view as important and how we actually live. Reflection allows us to realign. Perhaps things will not go as planned, but at least we will not regret not trying.
Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab (ra) once said: “No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future. Go easy on yourself, for the outcome of all affairs is determined by Allah’s decree.”
Allah (swt) is reminding me through my grey hairs that He (swt) is the one who gives life and takes life away. Grey hairs are a reminder for the one who is contemplative that an opportunity exists which will eventually come to an end.
If Allah (swt) wills and I pass through the years of old age and enter into the years described by Ibn al-Jawzi the state of decrepitude, I wonder what my regrets will be. When I lie in the stillness of the night and I think of my life that has past, what will I regret?
Will it be the lack of cars, houses and other material things? Or will it be that my head lay comfortably on a pillow during the night instead of laying on the ground prostrating to my Lord (swt)? That fear that prevented me from enjoining the good and forbidding the evil? That my heart remained in this world instead of seeking the hereafter?
Mu`adh ibn Jabal (ra) narrated that the Prophet (pbuh)said: “The People of Paradise will not regret except one thing alone: the hour that passed them by and in which they made no remembrance of Allah.” [Bayhaqi].
May Allah (swt) allow us all to be from among the People of Paradise.