We need that sharpener alongside the pencil. At different times, we will peel the skin of the pencil. Be it the most expensive or the cheapest, it is bound to be sharpened. The pencil has to endure the pain. Why? To fix a broken tip. Or to become sharp and elegant in writing again. Either way, the pain, the sharpening, has benefitted the pencil. And this life is no different. We go through trials and tribulations. We suffer from calamities. But this is our sharpening. If we have been good, these calamities will make us better. And if we have been wrongdoers, just like a broken tip, the calamities will fix us. Life is not meant to be easy all the way.
Everything around us speaks to us. But how often do we hear what they say? A moment of contemplation can go a long way. If we pay closer attention, we can hear the unspoken words of all that exists in this world. It is these unspoken words that we often ignore.
Of the many things around us, there is one item that we seem to overlook. We deem it insignificant. We treat with carelessness at times. We rarely stop and ponder about the wisdom embedded in it. Yet, we see it every day. We use it every day. It is with us as children. It is still here as we grow up. We call it the ‘pencil’.
And in this article, the ‘pencil’ confesses. So let us consider the advice of the ‘pencil’ in light of the teachings of Islam.
The Pencil: I make mistakes. I can be easily erased. I can be easily corrected.
We find pencils today used for very important and detailed tasks. We use pencils without worrying much about spelling mistakes or an extra stroke here or there. Why? Because we have erasers. Whatever the pencil does, we can erase. We write in its place what is correct.
When we look at our own selves, we find that we make mistakes. We go on tangents every now and then. We are prone to sins and going astray. But who said we should be the ink that is hard to remove? We can be pencils whose mistakes can be erased. And we have that guarantee from God.
In the Qur’an, Allah says, “…Those who repent, believe and do righteous work – for them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And is Allah always Forgiving and Merciful.” (25:70)
In another verse, Allah says, “I will surely remove from you your misdeeds and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow.” (5:12)
And there are many more examples that show that we humans can be forgiven for our mishaps and mistakes. We are like the pencil. Our negative deeds can be erased, God-willing.
The Pencil: I come in different sizes, shapes, and designs, but what matters is what I have inside of me.
There are over 6000 languages spoken in the world. We humans come from different nationalities, backgrounds, families, places, societies, etc. We come in all shapes and colors. But by no means has our race, color, shape, language, or family ever defined how we think or how we act. Yes, we are influenced by our surroundings. But society is built upon relationships. We are social beings, and without interacting with one another, our communities cannot continue to exist.
So the basis of relationships is what matters. Our external shapes will not define how we treat the poor or the needy. Our actions will show it. Our clothes will not tell us anything about how our relationships with our relatives are. What we drive does not reflect our own intelligence.
The outside is important. The outside can bias an opinion. But what exists on the inside is what matters in the longer run. Just like pencils. The flashier ones may cost more. The decorated ones will be sought after. But in the end, a generic pencil will write the same as, if not better than, a fancy pencil. In fact, a well sharpened but plain-design pencil is more efficient than a beautiful pencil that has a broken tip.
And this is another pillar Islam established. Allah says, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you.” (49:13)
The verse acknowledges our different ‘styles’, ‘shapes’, and ‘designs’. The verse also emphasizes that what matters stems from the inside.
The Pencil: I will become blunt. I will not look good. I will be sharpened. I will be in pain. But I will look great again.
We need that sharpener alongside the pencil. At different times, we will peel the skin of the pencil. Be it the most expensive or the cheapest, it is bound to be sharpened. The pencil has to endure the pain. Why? To fix a broken tip. Or to become sharp and elegant in writing again. Either way, the pain, the sharpening, has benefitted the pencil.
And this life is no different. We go through trials and tribulations. We suffer from calamities. But this is our sharpening. If we have been good, these calamities will make us better. And if we have been wrongdoers, just like a broken tip, the calamities will fix us. Life is not meant to be easy all the way. Even our Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) says, “No prophet was hurt the way I was hurt.” (Bihar al-Anwar)
So we should withstand the pains of this life and be very patient, so we can succeed in this life and the next.
The Pencil: I will be used. I will become shorter. And I will be thrown away. But what I have written will remain.
The pencil cannot just go on forever. That is why we use of lots of them. It will become so short that we can barely write with it. It may break beyond repair. It may get lost. The pencil is bound to an end.
And when we think about humans, who is not bound to end? Allah says in the Qur’an, “Everyone upon the earth will perish.” (55:26) No matter how strong we are or how rich we are, a grave awaits us. People may never remember us. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) says, “Everyone who is born has to die, and once dead, he is as good as having not come into existence.” (Nahj al-Balagha)
With the end in mind, our deeds and their effects will live on. People will remember our achievements. Some characters are famous for being good. Others are notorious for being evil. Just like the pencil. Yes, it will wear out. But if it was used to write falsehood and lies, the falsehood will remain even after the pencil is disposed of. The pencil’s mark will continue to exist.
We should aim to leave a very good mark on this world before our time comes to end.
The Pencil: On my own, I am worthless without the hand that uses me and the mind that guides me.
The pencil is an object after all. It is a nonliving thing. It will not write unless a force makes it write. It will not do its job if there is no guide for it.
And we humans are no different in that regard. We may have some free will in this world, but none of our achievements or everything we do is possible without having a guide. That guide is God.
God gave us the ability to walk, to talk, to write, to see, and to learn. Even when we are able to thank Him, it is because He has given us the ability to do so. Without God, we are worthless.
In the Qur’an, Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) says, “Our Lord is He who gave each thing its form and then guided [it].” (20:50)
The pencil surely says a lot. This insignificant object contains a lot of wisdom. It is up to us to realize it. It is up to us to learn from it. And more importantly, it is up to us to apply it properly.
But remember, the pencil is not the only object we can learn from. Look around you. What other confessions can you hear?