As my father and mother age more and more each day, I cannot forget God's graceful words in the Koran about how we should treat our parents as they enter the last decades of their lives: "And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: 'My Lord, bestow on them your mercy as they did bring me up when I was small.'" (17:24)
The other day I found my 80-year old father sitting in the midday sun with a look of deep sadness and heavy thought on his face. Instantly I understood his sadness; he was recognizing the sense of mental and physical loss due to aging and its effect on his dignity and independence.
I took his hand into mine and gently kissed it.
"Baba, don't be sad and don't be worried," I said tenderly into his ear. "I will always be here for you. I will care for you like a mother cares for her child."
It must be very difficult for anyone to recognize that he or she is losing control of mental or physical states. My father's face that day bore witness to the robbery of age on a human being. When I see my father at this junction, it is then that God's words settle more deeply in my heart.
I look upon aging as wonderment, sadness and opportunity. I'm amazed how the cycle of life slowly circulates from parent to child, then from child to parent. Our parents sacrifice their youthful years in order to raise us. And, when our parents become older, we then become their caretakers.
At times it can be very sad to watch our parents grow older. As adult children we have stored memories of youthful parents being strong, independent and energized. There is a sense of loss when they begin to reach their hand out for help in standing up.
A sense of compassion and humbleness comes to heart when we remember the vibrant individuals that contributed to life without any assistance.
Although extremely challenging, the opportunity to serve our parents should be embraced as a blessing with gratitude for their sacrifice in raising us.
For most grown children, it was our parents who sacrificed themselves for us. Dad spent countless overtime hours at work to provide for the family. He made sure we had all the comforts and pleasures in life.
Our mom nurtured and protected us. She spent countless nights without sleep, worrying about our fevers and broken bones, and perching herself by the window until we safely came home at night.
Mom and Dad cheered and cried as our names were called at graduation ceremonies, and cried even more when we married and made them grandparents.
The "wing of submission and humility" is a tribute to their life. It is a small portion of what we owe them. God is not asking of us to discipline or instill values into them. He wants us to be merciful to them as they age. That is the least we can do to repay them for their sacrifice in raising us.
Watching my father that day is a reminder to the years that may await me one day. In fact, God turns my attention to my own destiny.
And I wonder about whether my children will care for me then the way I care for them today. Will they sacrifice their lives in the way that I am sacrificing my life for them today? I am most certain that our children learn from our examples.
I cannot ever imagine ceding the care of my elderly parents to the hands of others. I do not think that anyone can replace the tender touch of my hands, the attention of my watchful eyes, nor the love and compassion that I have for my parents.
Just as they cared for my vulnerability as a child, I too will care for and honor them in their final years.
FATMA SALEH is an author and board member at the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa.