Somerset, Jean Valjean and the Old Man

I was 22 when I watched Se7en. The movie was a hit and it is considered till today one of the best movies. While everybody raved about how great the movie and the acting were I was thinking of one particular character. It wasn’t the serial killer or any of  his seven victims. At 22, I found the life of Detective Somerset, played by Morgan Freeman, to be odd. Somerset was an old detective. He had no family and lived alone. For some reason this life style was not believable to me. I thought how come someone at this age has no family or friends.

In our 20s, we perceive life differently. We are still dependent and very close to our parents, brothers and sisters. We have many friends, the more the better. Going out alone is unacceptable. It is against the social norm and no one wants to be seen in the cinema watching a movie alone.

Now, in my mid 40s, Detective Somerset is one of the three fictional characters that are the closest to me. The two others are even closer and we have more things in common than I would like to admit. The Old Man in the Old Man and the Sea and Jean Valjean from the Les Misérables.

These two characters are my favorite by all means and their stories are the closest to my heart. I feel their pain, loneliness and guilt. My favorite movie scene of all time is when Jean Valjean felt free for the first time.

Middle age is a tough time in men’s life. It is the time, they notice dramatic changes around them. Younger people start addressing them with Sir, Uncle, or Hajj. Flirting with 20 something girls become creepy and with 30 something become sinful. It is the time, men notice they are getting old.

I was always fascinated by the lives of the Old Man and Jean Valjean. I read their stories when I was a teenager and the older I get, the more I relate to their lives. Some people believe loneliness and happiness are a choice, I don’t.

The saddest people I have seen are men in their 40s. Maybe in their 50s, men become comfortable with their age, but in their 40s, they live in denial of who they became.

 Jean Valjean and the Old Man lived a miserable life, but they determined to continue with their lives.

A friend once asked me “is it possible that a person may live their entire life miserable?” I answered: “No. God will eventually give them peace of mind.” Is happiness guaranteed before departing this world?


Waiting death

Yesterday at the food court, I noticed a father and his son. The son, maybe 9 or 10, was wearing a medical blue mask and a baseball cap that covers his shaved head. The father in his late forties or maybe life denied him a graceful aging.

I was sitting at a table eating lunch while the father and his son were checking out what sort of food is available in the food court. I could tell it was up to the child to make the decision. He chose one that was at the end of the food court, but I could still see them.

I can’t forget the father’s face. I kept staring at him, more than what courtesy allows. Even without seeing his son you can tell how much this man is in pain. As if his face never experienced happiness before. He might as well be angry.

I don’t know why at that moment my body felt shaken. I was trying hard to keep my tears from appearing in public. When the father and son sat on a table, I was done with my lunch and went to the restroom to wash my hands. While walking my eyes started getting wet. I walked faster and saw the father was heading to the restroom as well.

We both were washing our hands at the sink. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t. He went to grab paper towels and I was behind him. I wanted to put my hand on his shoulder and say something nice, but I didn’t know what should I say. He left without our eyes meet. I felt bad not saying anything to him. Then I thought what could I say, “Everything will be okay.” It may not be okay, I thought.

I don’t think it is the first time I see a kid in such situation, but maybe it is the father who moved me more. His sadness looked painful. I don’t know if he was angry or not, I assumed he was. I know why, but if so at who?

Humanity felt sorry for the gassed children of Syria, I don’t share the same level of empathy. I know these children will have a better life than if they were to live. My empathy goes to the parents of these children that I can’t fathom how they will live after such thing. I feel sorry for these parents more than for the ones that left this so called life.

The father left the restroom before me and I walked slowly behind him thinking:

Does he ask God to take his life and keep his son’s?
Does he ask God why He did this to his son?
What questions he asks God at night?
What dreams he had for his child before this thing?
Does he still have hope?
Does he still have faith?

Reflection · Religion

Our complicated relationship with God

Some conversations never fade away. One in particular I have been pondering about for more than a decade. I don’t know why this particular conversation has always been in my mind. Maybe because I want to find an answer or maybe because I have never heard something like it.

The conversation took place at Panera Bread in Columbia, MO. I went there for lunch with a Jordanian friend after the Friday prayer. It was my first semester in Columbia, MO. That was in 2004. At Panera, my friend saw someone he knows and we sat together. The other person was a white American. I learned he was a Muslim convert (or revert as American Muslims like to call themselves) and a PhD student in Philosophy.

The American friend was talking about a subject that I don’t recall, but in the middle of his speech he said “I believe 98% in God” or maybe he said less. My Jordanian friend interrupted him, saying “but you should believe 100%.”
We all paused for a moment. Then the conversation continued.

I will never forget that moment. I never thought of believing in God in percentage. I thought believing in God is like “love.” It comes as a whole you don’t love your child 99%, do you? I always thought either you believe (100%) or you don’t (0%). I of course was wrong.

Situations and experiences in my life made me not a 100% believer. At least not all the time. What I mean is that sometimes I am 100% confident with what I believe in and other times I am not. Until my thirties, I had never questioned my belief. However, it is not the same anymore. Unfortunately, the more I live and experience life, the less confident I am with what I know and believe.

Sometimes I can’t imagine my life without God. Why in the world we would continue living if there is no God, I ponder. Nevertheless, there is a teeny-tiny thought that started appearing in my head a few years ago. What if there is no Super Power? What if we are on our own? After all, nothing makes sense in this world, does it? Everything seems random. What plan God has for Aleppo people? Is there someone in the sky, listening to their prayers? Or are we delusional, living a fantasy, as atheists call us.

If I ask my Facebook friends how much do you believe in God, they will all (the believers) answer 100%. And I know some of them will criticize me for asking such question. I sometimes ask myself how much I believe in God. Do I believe 100% or 99% or maybe I believe 90%. Does not believing 100% make you less pious?

I believe that although most of us say we believe in God 100% I don’t think it is true. When you say you believe 100%, it means you have no doubt whatsoever in God. If you truly believe 100%, you never feel anxious about losing your job or getting one when you are unemployed. You trust God in everything you do. You know he got your back every second in your life. There is nothing to fear about in life, but who among us never felt scared.

I think our relationship with God falls into one or more of these emotions:


Some people have so much love for God. I have seen it among Muslims, Christians and Hindus. If something good happens to them, they are thankful and if something bad happens, they are thankful no matter how bad it gets. They have so much love and believe in the Almighty.


Some others fear God so much. They say they love God, but their actions say otherwise. These people always warn of God’s wrath, but never mention his mercy. They follow their religion script out of fear of God’s punishment. Unfortunately, in the extreme case this fear may lead to bad consequences. One obvious group that has been terrorizing the world is Da’esh. Their souls are empty of any love for God, others and themselves. They are terrified of God’s wrath.


I read that after WWII, many Jews and Christians in Europe stopped believing in God. The magnitude of their suffering made them certain that there was no God. They believe if there were a God, He would not have allowed such thing to happen. However, not all of them became atheists. Some continued believing that there is a super power, but they hated this power. I am sure the mindset of some people in Aleppo, toward God, has changed as well.


It is not always the case that people hate God or disbelieve in Him after a catastrophe hits them. Some people’s faith becomes stronger in such situations.

Regardless of how we feel toward God (love, fear, or hate) there is the predicament of doubt. Whether you love, fear, or hate God, you still believe in Him. The question is how much you believe.

Doubting is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it makes you search and think more. It makes you try to find answers. If you have the perfect system or relationship, you will never try to develop or improve it. When your relationship with God is not at its best, you try to find ways to make it better. At least you think about it more.


Even when I have my doubt moments, I tell myself I can’t live in a world where there is no God. I don’t know how Atheists do it. It makes sense not to believe in God. It answers many questions. For me, I don’t believe in God because I am smart. I believe in God because He wanted me to believe in Him and I am forever thankful for Him.


We convince others and ourselves that we love and fear God to the same extent. However, is this possible? Some of us love God more than we fear Him and others Fear Him more than Love Him. Our feeling toward God is not always the same it varies from time to time and for this, I say it is not true that we believe 100%. Maybe there are people who believe 100%, but these people are the exception not the norm. This percentage is what makes humans different than Angles. Angles are created not to doubt. Humans are created to doubt and seek answers.