The children held up their thumbless hands and showed their neighbours.
“We must always remember that our problems are very small compared to other peoples. There are people around the whole world who are in very difficult situations, who are going through tough times that we can’t even begin to imagine. So instead of complaining and whining, we must be grateful for all the other things Allah Ta’ala has blessed us with. How many things do we have?”
I looked around the room, my gaze running over each face as I saw the mental wheels in their heads turn as they pondered over my question.
“A lot of things!” a seven year old exclaimed.
“How many? Can we count them all?” I asked, posing my next question. Over a dozen pair of eyes stared back at me. I loved these moments, not because they were focused on me, but on my words. I could hear them thinking, contemplating what to say.
“This many!” a little girl in a pink hijab said from the front row. She held out her arms as though she was holding an invisible beach ball. I smiled.
“We can count them but it will take ages,” a little boy’s voice said from the far end of the room. He tilted his head to the side, a mop of blonde curls falling into his eyes.
“Yes! We would be counting for a very, very long time. Okay, I want you to hold up your thumbs. Yes, like this,” I said, holding up my right thumb. A few giggles and exchanged glances erupted across the room as they excitedly held up their small thumbs. “Now imagine for a minute that you didn’t have this thumb. Imagine one day you woke up and your thumb disappeared. What would happen?” I asked, tucking my thumb into the fold of my palm and holding up my hand.
A noisy discussion broke out in the room as the children held up their thumbless hands and showed their neighbours. Some of them laughed amongst themselves while others studied their hands looking confused and bewildered. When the session ended and the kids started to pile out the room, one child stayed behind and sat quietly in his seat.
“Hamzah, don’t you want to go home?” I asked as I put away my laptop and cleared the desks.
“I do, but I wanted to show you something,” he said, getting up and closing his bag.
“Really? All right, come on. Show me.”
He walked over to where I was sitting and stopped just a few feet away. He wasn’t holding anything – no paper or drawing or writing - so I was a little surprised and curious regarding what he was going to show me.
“You know when you asked us to pretend we didn’t have any thumbs?” I nodded. “Well I found out something: when you have no thumb, you can’t hold anything,” he said, his big eyes wide with wonder and newfound realization. He held up his thumbless hand and demonstrated how he would try to hold something. “Look, how would you hold a pen? Or a cup?”
Something big dropped to the pit of my stomach and settled there. I stared down into his small face, into eyes which had yet to see so much of everything and I couldn’t help but smile. This was exactly what I wanted the children to realize.
“And you can’t even open doors without a thumb. How would you twist the handle?” I added and then watched as he raced to the door and tried to open it with his thumbless hand. We both burst into a fit of giggles at his helpless attempts.
“It’s such a small thing isn’t it? Yet it plays such a massive role in our lives. We wouldn’t be able to do so many things without it,” I told Hamzah as he held his bag and we walked out of the classroom. He nodded.
“Every night when I lie in bed, me and my mum look at the ceiling and my mum tells me to remember all the things we have to say thank you to God about. Tonight I’m going to say thank you about my thumbs. I’ve never done that before,” he told me, his voice filled with innocent excitement and childhood dreams.
The truth is that if we were to start counting our blessings we would never be able to stop. We have so much to be grateful for, every breath and step, for every sight and touch, for every loved one and everything. We must be grateful for every movement and every moment, for every day. For every daylight we get to witness and every night we get to sleep.
As Allah says in the Quran, “Therefore remember me, I will remember you. Be thankful to me and do not be ungrateful to me” (2:152)
Wait. You can’t leave just yet! I want you to hide your thumb away and think of other things you can’t do.
Yes, you heard me.