Learning From The Past

My father has just celebrated a key milestone of turning 80. And so I celebrated with him – along with three generations of our family.

January 27, 2023

He told me before the party he was intending to make a speech. He would summarise his life experience, sharing some pithy words of advice with us, the next generations.

Click here to listen

I wondered what he was going to say. How on earth he would convey 80 years’ worth of learning in a way that would resonate with us all. Sure, we shared the common context of being part of the family for many years – we had fond recollections. But we weren’t all around for all parts of family history. There was 61 years’ difference in age between the oldest and the youngest person in the room. And attention spans were quite short so he would have to keep his talk concise too!

He decided to tell stories.

My father’s tales were specially selected examples. Of difficulties that were resolved – like the time he chose a different religious path to his parents. Of strong character – like the time I adamantly refused to do a drawing for my school, aged just 4. Or of wisdom – like the time my brother as a young child was in a group of adults unexpectedly experiencing a power cut, and surprised everyone by producing a torch. Some were stories we had forgotten or indeed we never knew. All of them were anecdotes we could learn from.

Muslims believe God tells us at the end of the story of Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him), “In their stories there is a lesson for those of understanding…and God goes on to say…as well as guidance and mercy to those who believe” (12:111). The Qur’an is full of stories about different people, addressed firstly to the people of that time and place and then to all those who come afterwards. I felt each tale in the Qur’an was shared for a specific reason; so that by learning about, reflecting upon, and understanding these snippets, I could take lessons which will help me in my own life.

It’s inevitable my father will not be telling stories in another 80 years, but as JK Rowling says, “the stories we love best live in us forever”.