They say turning 30 is a milestone. As much as I’m an advocate on living out the quality in life, I’m not going to dismiss the importance of what turning 30 means. But rather than share every bit of what I’ve learned in the past 29 years, I wanted to pen what I chose to do on my birthday. Normally, I keep my deeds between God and I, but it was a person I met that day whose response compelled me to share this story.
After Friday prayer ended, I heaved the last bundle of rolled-up prayer mats outside into storage. With the sun beating down mercilessly, I wiped the sweat off my brow as I headed to my car. A verse from the Qur’an offered in the sermon echoed in my mind: “Thus, We have made you a justly balanced community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you.” (2:143). Balance. Moderation. The Middle Path. These were prescriptions that the Prophet ﷺ lived and advocated throughout his life. So when I entered the garage to my home to escape the heat, I spotted an empty cooler yearning to be filled. Within 8 minutes, it contained a pound of ice, a handful of water bottles, and little storage bags of cut apple slices. “Maybe there’s people in D.C. that are in need,” I said to myself as I drove to find out. No matter the place, the world is forever in need of those that can give their presence and time. But little did I know that the opportunity to give isn’t measured by the distance traveled but by throwing away the ruler. And when I did, a park near my home became a beacon that innately drew me in.
Carrying the cooler in hand, the park was filled with parents, kids, and soccer teams practicing under the blazing sun. To each adult I passed, I introduced myself, and asked if they’d like some cold water to drink or some fresh apple slices to eat. Some were eager to take up my offer while others declined respectfully. Either way, I carried on with a full cooler only to find a pair of soccer team managers observing the kids practicing with their coach. After introducing myself to them, they took some water to drink and curiously asked why I was doing this. “I’m just a neighbor that lives a few streets away,” I said. “It’s my birthday and I just wanted to give back to my community. Would it be alright to give some to the kids?” “Absolutely!” they replied, “But only if they can meet you to know what it means to be kind.” When it was time for a break, the kids rushed towards me carrying wide smiles along the way. I asked every single one of them their names before giving them what was in the cooler. “I love apples!” one excitedly shared. They didn’t let me go without singing “Happy Birthday.” How could I take away their desire to give? And that’s when one of the managers decided to share something personal with me. “For you to do this on your day while you could have been with your family has changed my view on how to give. You’ve forever inspired me today. Thank you for teaching the kids and all of us a valuable lesson in giving back to the community,” she said.
I don’t know what it means to be 30, but I hope my age never lets me forget the meaning of a balanced community. It’s about embracing all those people near you outside your home regardless of the label they choose. We consume all sorts of media and get ingrained with stereotypes without actually getting out there and knowing one another. If you want to give, just give. The color of their skin, what they believe in, or who they support politically shouldn’t be the filter to your giving. How else can we change the world if we don’t start changing our own.
Heavy thoughts weighed on my mind as I drove to Friday prayer in the afternoon. But if they didn’t, I wouldn’t be much of a thinker. From family matters, to distant friends, to career challenges, and to an uncertain future, they’re not just fleeting thoughts that are undeserving. They’re the gateways to understanding my own humanity. Each serves as its own unique start to a conversation I have with the Unseen. So as I sat within the congregation to listen to the sermon, I allowed the history and tradition of my faith to renew the silver lining to my experiences. I was reminded by Imam Zia that even when investing in family, friends, career, and future, never forget to invest in yourself by investing in the service of what’s good. Maybe that’s why God says, “Is there any reward for good other than good?” (Qur’an 55:60).
When prayer ended, I continued to offer my own careful whispers to Him for further guidance and clarity. As I lifted my eyelids, a brother whom I never met approached me with a giving smile. You could almost feel the light that emanated from his sincerity. He wanted to thank me and said I was a valuable part of the community. As gracious as I was taken aback, I asked what I did to deserve such kindness. He said the words I shared with the MakeSpace community during Ramadan about the strength in vulnerability still resonated with him, from the story of embracing my father without words as he prayed in weeping remembrance of his own father that passed away to the story of my grandmother renewing my courage in the present as she faced her own decaying future. The brother assured me he wanted to share this sentiment sooner, but I told him he couldn’t have shared it at a better time. Maybe that’s why God says, “Is there any reward for good other than good?” (Qur’an 55:60).