Sleep: the great escape

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I’ve been there before: the kind of hurt that is so intense, it makes you want to sleep forever. It is the worst feeling, to be alive yet as dead inside as a hollowed out trunk.
Every second you spend awake is another second in mind hell. It keeps repeating itself over and over in your head, this pleading…”please make if go away, please make it go away, please make it go away.”
You sleep for 10 hours and wake up exhausted, depleted of hope and a will to face another day. You get on your knees and cry the angriest tears you can summon deep from the cavities of your chest. You pray for strength to endure the next 5 minutes.
You live.
And before you know it, one day goes by. Then a week, then a month, then a year. And just like that, you wake up one day with purpose and hope. And joy, not because everything is wonderful, but because the sweetness of life is greater for having tasted the most bitter side of your existence. Those that stood by you in your darkest hour become your greatest blessing, and those that left teach you a lesson in humility. Either way:
You won.

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My lover, my roommate

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If you’ve been reading my blog regularly or know me personally, you will have noticed that I am a sucker for all things ‘love’. I enjoy reading articles, books, and posts on this subject and am always fascinated to hear other people’s take on what the word means to them and what, in their experience, changes it from a mere noun to a verb beating with life and passion.

So when I recently came across an online article titled ‘14 Ways to Create the Best Relationship of Your Life,’ I had to take a peak. The article was good; the comments even better (nothing beats a collection of diverse voices offering different perspectives on the same topic). One comment however stuck itself like a sticky note in my head and stubbornly pleaded to be examined with greater attention:

“How about we rent a house together + split the cost & I live in one room and he lives in the “other” and we are lovers when we feel like it…He brings me chicken soup when I am sick. I bring him chicken soup when he is sick. Most of the time we just allow each other “space”…….”

My first reaction after reading this was ‘sign me up!’ It sounded like a clean and uncomplicated arrangement. What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours, and we can come to an agreement on what to share between us. The idea of having my room-my very own private life wrapped neatly in its own tissue paper and tucked carefully next to another neatly wrapped life-tasted enticingly of………freedom. It sounded so nouveau; so chic and worldly. Imagine the luxury of not having to put up with the mess, both material and non-material, of your lover. Imagine the convenience of not having to constantly share yourself with someone else!

The longer I visualized this living arrangement however, the more I started to doubt it. For one, the notion of being lovers when you feel like it kind of defeats the purpose of love itself. Is love meant to be clean and tidy and uncomplicated, or does its genuine existence come in the form of chaos, disorder, and a tangled mess of complicated emotions? Isn’t love the very definition of ‘whoever gets the privilege of sharing your worst also enjoys the privilege of sharing your best’? Despite the risk of pain that it carries, is it worth it to turn a romantic relationship into a roommate living arrangement?

I cannot profess to know the answer to these questions, but I know that the kind of love I believe in is based on the everyday, otherwise ordinary interactions with my partner. The subtle facial cues of thought and emotion, the body language that fuels chemistry…..heck, THE PRESENCE, are all that transform ‘me and you’ into ‘us.’ I am by no means advocating that we should be in each others’ faces all the times, and I happen to think that allowing each other personal space is, in fact, necessary. However if you have too much of it, your once prized tango-of-two can slowly become awkward and clumsy. Separateness can breed foreignness: the familiar can slowly evolve into the unfamiliar, and the one you thought you knew so well can gradually transform into a bewildering alien that you make love to. This is, I believe, how strangers are made in the most intimate of places.

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.

-Rumi

The random stranger and the cloth on my head

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The other day I was on my usual bus commute to work in the morning. The fog from my head still hadn’t completely cleared up and I was struggling to stay awake in my seat. I was staring straight on, completely lost in my hazy thoughts when the bus stopped to allow some morning passengers to board. In what would have ordinarily been a mundane moment in my day, a middle aged woman sat next to me and immediately sent a chill down my spine. I could feel her piercing stare on the right side of my face. I would have ignored this, but her eyes soon felt too uncomfortable so I turned around and gave her a smile.

“Are you new here?” she asked, not so much a polite question as an intimidating interrogation.
“Erm, no.” I answered, shifting uneasily in my seat. I could feel my face grow hotter as the seconds passed.
“Where are you from?” She continued probing, without the least bit of concern that she was on the border of crossing personal space. Curious to see where this was leading to, I told her to take a few geographical guesses.
“You are Muslim. Are you Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim or some other Muslim cult?” Her eyes had narrowed into angry slits now and the menacing glare behind her clumpy mascara-ed lashes had turned her into an evil witch; an inquisitor of sorts riding high on some special kind of a hate-laced drug.
With my heart now galloping, I let out a deep breath and answered as calmly as possible: “You asked me where I was from, not what religion I belong to.” Her eyes continued to bore into mine and without as much as a blink she declared “Whether you are from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Ethiopia, I don’t appreciate you people coming to my country and trying to lay shariah law on the land. I know your type and I’m watching you.”

Well, I just had nothing to respond to that. It’s not that I had nothing to say back to her. Sure, I could have tried to correct her on her misconceptions of where I really was from, or asked her why she had made the jump from country to religion so fast, or given her a brief speech on the co-existence of Islam and the West, but I could tell that she really wasn’t after learning. She was just after hating. For about 3 seconds, I stared at her face in silence in an attempt to find a shred of love in her being. It just wasn’t there.

Her face was a representation of the many memories I had gathered throughout my life as a Muslim woman. She reminded me of the horror stories that my friends had told me of: the time Mary (a new American convert) was yelled at by a man in truck and told to ‘go back to the dunes’, and of Sarah (a gentle Eygptian-American) whose headscarf was yanked from her head while she was studying in the library, and of Camila (another convert) who cried everyday because her devout Christian family was close to disowning her because she chosen to wear the niqab.

That woman’s face also reminded me of my fellow Muslims: the ones that constantly pointed out how I wasn’t wearing the hijab properly because a piece of hair was showing, or that I wasn’t a true Muslim because I don’t wear the abaya, or that women are inherently evil and so my chances of going to heaven were slimmer than my own brother’s simply because of my gender.

All those memories in one face were a bit too much to handle so I looked the other way and swallowed the painful lump in my throat. I could still feel her hateful stare at the back of my covered head and my quiet recitations of dhikr (remembrance of God) were all that I had to keep me from letting the salty tears flow from my eyes.

(Fa inna ma’al ‘usri yusra) Surely with difficulty is ease.
(Inna ma’al ‘usri yusra) With difficulty is surely ease.
(Quran 94, 5-6)

I let out a sigh of relief and felt myself relax into my seat. The warm morning sun gently caressed my face and my heart was beating at its normal pace now. I knew deep down that every trial, big and small, had a purpose to serve and that this incident was no different. I fiddled with my phone and quickly wrote this status on my Facebook page: I have just experienced my first religious hate comment/threat in this country. It’ll take a long time to erase this moment from my head. — feeling sad.

After a few bus stops, my seat mate stood up to leave and I looked back at her and smiled.
“Have a wonderful day” I said.
“You also have a wonderful day” she answered back harshly.
And just like that, she was gone.
I was still trying to digest what had just happened when I reached for my phone again and found these comments underneath my status:
• really?wow! Sorry. some lowlife idiot maybe and a sun paper reader
• I am so sorry.
• Alhamdulillah.. my Allah protect you all and make their hate turn to Love..
• So sad to hear that. I’m very sorry!
• It cuts deep but understand that you aren’t the problem, they are. *hugs*
• I am so sorry to hear that
• I am so sorry
• Sorry to hear that but Allah will reward you for that.
• It’s tough but you are tougher… Don’t let them get you only you can control your emotions and how this makes you feel and I would chose to chalk it up to ignorance! So sorry you had to go through that… Hugs!
• I’m sorry to see this honey, I can go and kick some asses, you call it…
• I can only imagine how awful that must be. So sorry you were the recipient of someone’s ignorant and despicable hate. May love cover and protect you. Sending you my big hug!!!
• Unfortunately there are ignorant people everywhere. I had an incident @ Heathrow that really shook me up. It was a long time ago. Don’t take it to heart. Most people aren’t like that.
• so many people without knowledge in this world, don’t let them frazzle you. live in peace.

And in that moment I realized that for every 1 person that spews hate, there are 10 others that radiate love. It may have been Facebook but those comments made me feel like I was getting enough love to neutralize my negative encounter, and tonnes left over to last me through future personal battles. I said a prayer of gratitude, picked up my bag, got off the bus, and walked to work.

(photo credits:http://www.aimislam.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/hijab.jpg)

She died a thousand deaths, but lived nontheless.

She watched him shrug his shoulders, casually ignoring her pleas for acknowledgement of her existence.

Her heart beating fiercely, almost too violently. It might just explode right out of my chest, she thought to herself. That would be funny, her imagination wandering on, how people would look over my casket, “tut-tutting”, their tongues knocking their front teeth with sad amazement of how a person so young could literally die of a physical broken heart.

When her mind came back to reality, she was still standing in the same spot. By the doorway of the kitchen. The onions had been sliced, the meat diced, the tomatoes awaiting their fate on the chopping board.

She didn’t know whether to go back to the hissing pot of oil over the roaring flame of the stove, or to drop everything right there and then and just leave. Quietly. Without much of a fuss. She wondered if he would even notice her absence.

Each day-each day of this vicious cycle of love and war-she had died a few thousand deaths.

Yet she was still there, standing. On the very floors that held her solid body in place. Age might have given her a few more lines around her her eyes, but it had also given her wisdom and a constant rebirth that only the Lord could finalise.

She thought of her children. The pain of childbirth almost killed her, but she survived.

She survived to hold her children in her embrace, thus giving her a daily reason to live.

Slowly, she turned back to the stove and gently shoved the slices of onions into the pot. She reached for the wooden spoon standing defiantly in the chaos of the stainless steel cutlery holder. For a brief moment, she allowed herself the pleasure of feeling the worn-out grains, her fingers running carelessly against the magnificent organic knots of the warm wood. How wonderful this spoon is, she remarked to herself. Humble, yes. But oh, so beautiful and strong.

She stirred the onions, allowing them the pleasure of turning a golden caramel brown. In went the tomatoes, then the meat. In a half an hour, dinner would be ready. Family fed, children bathed, house brought back to equillibrium, she would drag herself to sleep.

Today, she had triumphed. Today, she chose patience. Today, she loved.

Explore. Create. Give yourself as much room to fail, as well as the room to succeed. Use a little of the old while ushering in a whole lot of the new. Develop into your own opinion leader. Need no approval. Be courageous. Be humble. Be loving. Be respectful. Learn about everything. Remember there is more than one truth. The best armor in life is self-love and respect. Don’t trap yourself with the desire of wanting to be liked. Be respected. Trust yourself to be your own confidant. Tell yourself yes more often than no. Don’t take this world personally. Know that every person you come across has something powerful to teach you, especially enemies. Never fail to deliver on your word. Never make yourself smaller for ANYONE. This world is yours in any way that suits you.

Jada Pinkett Smith, via Facebook.