Sunday, February 21, 2016

“The Sand Timer,” by Shazia Afzal

She walked into her bedroom closet, flicked on the switch, scaring the darkness away and looked at her clothes. Her abayas (long gowns) were hanging at the end, followed by traditional Pakistani dresses and then pants and shirts. Maybe she could take one of her shalwar qameez (pants and shirt) for show and tell.

She believed in being true to herself, so when she’d come to Canada twelve years ago, she had decided not to change her cultural dress just to get a job, and it was a good decision because the public school board readily hired her. Her clothes represented her, but not anymore. Maybe she should give them away in charity so someone else could benefit from them after her death.  

She raised her gaze towards the top shelf, where religious books were lined up that had changed her life. They couldn’t change her life anymore or lengthen it so maybe she should donate these books to the library, too. She jerked her head as if trying to get the thoughts of death out of it, turned off the light leaving her personal belongings in the dark and walked slowly to her study room, putting her hand on the wall for support. The fatigue from the chemotherapy sessions was still hindering her normal activities.

The assignment for the writing therapy class was to find an object that represented her and to write about it. Maybe one of her professional books would work, so she looked at her bookshelf, tilted her head to read the titles on the sides. The more she read the titles, the angrier she got. What use were all these books and her education or her teaching skills when she couldn’t use them anymore? 

She sat on her knees to see the picture books collection in the bottom shelf. She pulled out her favourite book Ruler of the Courtyard by Rukhsana Khan but shoved it back, knowing that she might not have another chance to read this book to children.

She struggled to her feet and turned towards the closet, opened it and looked at her junk collection that she wanted to use in her Montessori classroom. What good was all this material now that she had to quit her work and didn’t know if she would ever go back to it? 

She clenched her teeth and took deep breaths so she could stop herself from crying, and instead turned all those emotions into anger. This writing assignment wasn’t healing her, it was causing her more pain to go through her belongings probably for the last time. Maybe she should just not go to class this week. Maybe the chemotherapy was enough to heal her disease.

She shook her head again, determined not to give up so fast; if she had gotten a job wearing the shalwar qameez then she could surely find an object to share with her class. She pulled out a metal box labelled miscellaneous to see if any trinket would be worth relating to. 

There in between knick knacks was a sand timer that had come with a word building game years ago. She pulled out the timer, placed it on her desk and stared at the yellow sand flowing from the upper bulb to the lower one. As the upper bulb was getting empty, she felt anxious about the passage of time, her life. She had been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer and the results of further tests would decide whether she should undergo treatment or just go for palliative care.

The timer represented her life, except that she didn’t know how much time she had to live. She picked up the timer and curled her fingers over the upper part of the tube so that she couldn’t see how much sand was left. 

As her mind was racing, so were her hands as she taped a white strip of paper around the timer and then turned it over, hiding the upper bulb with the paper and started looking at the sand trickling down. 

A smile spread over her face. She had found something to share with her cancer-mates and talk about.

She opened her laptop but before she could start typing she saw a news alert on her homepage. A twenty-five-year-old woman was hit by a car and died at the spot in Mississauga. The thought of death came to her again as she leaned back in her chair and looked at the timer. Did the woman know she would die in a car accident? How was her life different from that woman’s except that she was forty-one and she was still alive.

Somehow her positive thinking bulb went on as she sat up straight, took a deep breath and started typing for her show and tell:
My life is like everybody else’s. No one knows how much time they have. I have decided not to worry about how much time is left, and instead focus on doing what pleases God and what benefits others. If I am destined to die of cancer, I can do nothing about it. The only thing I can control is how I spent my life. I choose to live happily and help others in any way I can.

The clicking of the keyboard kept going on and so did the healing.
* * *
 Shazia Afzal is an elementary and Montessori teacher and a cancer survivor. After attending a workshop with Brian Henry on writing memoirs, she joined the creative writing class. She wishes to write picture books for children and a memoir of her cancer journey. She lives in Mississauga with her husband and two children.

 See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Alton, Barrie, Bracebridge, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, St. John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Ingersoll, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

28 comments:

  1. I love this piece. Beautifully written, wonderful imagery, very real. Congratulations and thank you for sharing.

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  2. Shazia, this is beautiful masha Allah! Well done!

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  3. Oh, this is so beautiful i could actually picture the whole scene in my mind, wish it wouldn't have ended so abruptly...

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  4. Let the future 'celebrity Story writer' come out and make a statement :)
    I find this piece of writing speaking of a gift that Allah has given you. Guess what, it wasn't going to come out and shine except thru this challenge you are braving ! Bravo !
    And happy story writing !

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  5. Shazia Baiti,We are proud of you. Though for a father it was hard to read and for a mother it was hard to listen.

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  6. ShaziA, you inner emotion felling expressed touched my heart.life has to go on by accepting what we receive from God.
    Vimala bangalore

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  7. ShaziA, you inner emotion felling expressed touched my heart.life has to go on by accepting what we receive from God.
    Vimala bangalore

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  8. Ms Shazia we are proud of you.We knew your inner abilities and fighting spirit. We were very positive that one day you we come out of this with your postivity and inner strength because we and the children need you.You are a fighter and you proved that.We are so happy to see you healthy.God bless you and you keep showing your creativity and path to the coming generation.

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  9. Woow! Really positively written mA. Could really feel the exhaustive energy and then the positive reaffirmation as the story moved on. Really well done!

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  10. Dearest Shazia, thank you for sharing your journey. Your writing is very powerful and touched my heart deeply. May Almighty Allah grant you good health and peace.

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  11. Such a BIG FAT REALITY of the life exposed in such a beautiful way
    I wish we all remember it all the time
    Cancer or No Cancer every Life has an end
    Great Message through Great Skills:)
    Keep it up
    Both
    the Positiveness and the Writing:)

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  12. Awesome writing of a very personal experience which can be both easy and hard - and you handled it with the grace we have all known you for. BarakAllah feeki. Thank you for letting us peek into your experience and teaching us from it. May the healing continue. Ameen

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  13. Beautiful writing by a beautiful person Masha Allah tabarakAllah. Looking forward to reading more from you Shazia. May Allah swt continue to bless you with more skills and a good health. Keep it up dear sister !!

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  14. Hi Shazia, your expression of your inner feelings was amazing!! It was touching and inspirational. May God bless you!! Keep it up!! Good efforts!!

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  15. Hi Shazia, your expression of your inner feelings was amazing!! It was touching and inspirational. May God bless you!! Keep it up!! Good efforts!!

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  16. MashaALLAH really uplifting to read and know that the source of strength comes from knowing that all of us have limited time .It's how we spend our time and that's what counts .You have inspired many by your frankness and ALLAHSWT is the one who helps us no matter what the hurdle .May your writings inspire many others with hidden talents that are unknown.

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  17. As I read this story, I could feel the emotions of the character, and feel myself being drawn into the tale, it is very well written! I had no idea of any personal connection to cancer. Much love and many duas Sister Shazia. You continue to inspire me, thank you so much for sharing this with me. I look forward to reading more of your work!

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  18. may your healing process continue my dear and may your writing always carry your meaningful thoughts and feelings to benefit others who read what you write, be it prose or poetry -- and thank you for reminding me that I ought to be happy and grateful to have enjoyed my seventy plus years in health and happiness surrounded by loving family, friends and partner; we all need to reminded sometimes that we can CHOOSE to count our blessings, rather than our misfortunes

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  19. may your healing process continue my dear and may your writing always carry your meaningful thoughts and feelings to benefit others who read what you write, be it prose or poetry -- and thank you for reminding me that I ought to be happy and grateful to have enjoyed my seventy plus years in health and happiness surrounded by loving family, friends and partner; we all need to reminded sometimes that we can CHOOSE to count our blessings, rather than our misfortunes

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  20. Very well written. Shazia, you need to keep writing more. May Allah give you health and keep taking more work for His cause, Ameen

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  21. Asa wr...
    I just wanted to keep reading... I wish your piece of writing didn't end..
    JAk for sharing from your heart... May everything you write become the best of sadqa jaariya for you... Aameen.
    As Allah heals you with your writing..He is also healing us by reading it..surely this life is the name of facing ailments..one or another..but Allah is always with us.
    Fi aman Allah,
    Sameen F (we met for the first time this week.. And subhanAllah your eemaan,manners and cheerfulness mA blew me away..and then today came this..!)Alhamdullilah..

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  22. Awesome work,
    Amazing reflection of Life 's biggest Challenge, purely done with positive response.
    Allah ST knows best.

    Lastly, it was pleasure knowing you again after a while,
    As my child first K. Teacher.

    UmaSafa/ Sadaf

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  23. Beautifully written dear Shazia baji, may Allah make all your work a source of sadaqah-e-jariyah for you. -Wedad

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  24. السلام علیکم ورحمه الله وبرکاته

    im one of your students mom( apreceative)
    of what ever we have learnt from you i cant just explaine !
    i was always looking up to you , of your dealing with the kids , your patints & love with them it has inspird me allot.

    thank you dear teacher , my son abubakr and i loved you and will always do so .

    my to you that allah swt hears all your duas and grant you the firdaws ameen .

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  25. Allahu Akbar, my dear Shazia!
    Beautifully written and very moving!
    May Allah count you among Alsaleheen and Alsabireen...Ameen.
    Yes, we all should strive, no matter what, to enjoy living the moment by moment with the Divine Presence of Allah Almighty and fully put our trust and real Tawakkul on Him.
    May Allah grant you, your family and all of us tranquility, prosperity and good health... Ameen

    Yours,
    Nermeen

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  26. Very well written.I am deeply touched.May Allah give you complete health n happiness.Keep writing please

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