By Sally Jo Gilbert de Vargas

“He is the One who sends down rain 
After they have lost all hope  
And unfolds His Grace.”      (Qur’an 42:28)

“Love Dogs” by Rumi
One night a man was crying, “Allah, Allah”
His lips grew sweet with the praising
Until a cynic said, “So, I have heard you calling out,
But have you ever gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that. 
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the Guide of Souls, 
wrapped in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?” Khidr asked.
“Because I’ve never heard anything back!” said the man.
“This longing you express is the return message.
The grief you cry out from draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup.”
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs no one knows the name of.
Give your life to be one of them.”    

Several years ago my life was thrown into tumult by a series of difficulties which seemed insurmountable and unbearable.  Being a person who is generally high-spirited, energetic, positive and happy, I was in a state of shock and did not want others to know the extent of my despair.  Hiding behind a mask of normalcy, I poured my soul into my journal, increased my spiritual practices, and took to the prayer rug many times a day, crying out to Allah to alleviate my pain.  My depression only deepened, and I found it harder and harder to get up in the morning. In my heart I believed that only God could cure my broken heart, which had shattered into an infinitude of pieces.  I wanted to believe God loved me, but I couldn’t find God or hear God. I wanted to love God, but how could I love God when I hated myself? I repeated the verse above over and over in my mind and heart, telling myself, “The grief you cry out from draws you towards union.  Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup.” I counseled myself to be patient and persevere, as the Qur’an advises over and over again.  

It happened at the same period of time that a dear friend of mine had entered into stage four cancer, which was spreading all over her body.  She was in intensive treatment, living alone, going in and out of the hospital and suffering terribly. I set up a regular time to visit her every week after work in the evening.  Sometimes I felt like there was no way I could get there, coming from the depths of despair, but I always went. I would sit quietly with her, massaging her feet and hands, trying to help alleviate her pain, help her relax.  We spoke very little, sometimes ate a small meal together. What surprised me was how healing those visits were for me.  No matter how awful I felt when I left home, when I came back I always felt renewed and uplifted.  One might think it was because I compared my life to hers and told myself how lucky I was. No, it wasn’t that at all.  I saw such love and appreciation in her face, and she was always visibly relieved and soothed by my visits. The act of helping her helped me in a mysterious way I cannot explain.  I was reminded of words my mother used to say to me when I was a child, and I would complain, or appear to be in a bad mood.  She would ask, “Who have you helped lately?” Somehow my mother must have discovered this secret of healing and hope. 

When my friend passed into the mysterious realms, I worried about how I would survive without her presence in my life.  By grace of God, little by little, my life came more into balance, and my despair lessened. I continue to remind myself that hope comes from within and without, when one turns in the right direction, over and over, and patiently strives to do righteous deeds in service of God’s creation.   

Have you ever found yourself being healed and given hope, when helping or healing another? 

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