“It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse.”
It’s below freezing here in Atlanta, and for the past few days the winds have been strong and unrelenting; they bring with them a bitter chill, one that makes your teeth clattering, one that makes you wrap your arms around your loved significant other in search of warmth and comfort, one that makes you enshroud your children in layers to keep them from getting sick, one which constricts the muscles and thickens the blood – a stark cold your bones would soon like to forget, a cold they will remember even as the seasons change.
It’s 2012 – an even, divisible year much more poetic and easier on the tongue than its odd, prime, younger, more gauche, more foolhardy brother 2011 – and with the new year begins the cold, the cold my bones will remember; and with the cold come lessons in retrospect, lessons I pray my bones will also remember as well.
The past year for me – and indeed, for the world as a whole – was as awkward as the numeral with which it was christened in the Gregorian (solar) calendar. I thought on this cold night to reflect, briefly, on what has transpired in previous year and what I garnered in the way of sagacity and knowledge. I won’t write all of my reflections down; it would take too long, it would be too clumsy and cumbersome, it would either be too many words or not enough, it would not do them justice: somethings, as the old saying goes, are better left unsaid, and given the limitations of language, especially mine, many things can’t be said at all. Perhaps it’s better like that: to leave them as repositories of wisdom inside the heart and the mind, to let them blossom in your nafs – the whole of yourself – and to let them become apart of you than to profane them with meager words. There’s, however, a small bezel of wisdom I’d like to share. Maybe it’s worth pondering over…
I went home, back to Pensacola, Florida, with the intention of giving some paperwork to our lawyer, and what I got instead was some closure and a sliver of history. As qadr (usually translated as “fate,” the decree of God; it’s, however, to my understanding, very different the Western conception of fate and doesn’t lead itself to fatalism, as many Orientalists interpreted it) would have it, my mother’s house fell into foreclosure. The entire situation brought me to the brink of despair, also to tears: I felt like a derelict, remiss and helpless. With the help of a friend and my aging grandfather, I rarefied the lawns, raked the leaves, and removed the trash on the outside during the blazing summer (no easy task, a week long one at that!), but since I lived so far away and since the house had no utilities and since I could not afford reactivate them being unemployed, I couldn’t clean the interior. Moreover, because of the housing market and because the neighborhood where I spent half my life is in a troubled area and thereby not prime real estate, cleaning and selling her house would have been an exercise in futility, as would renting it as the environment would have created more problems than solutions. I hated myself for how everything played out. I blamed myself. I felt as if I hadn’t done enough to avert the situation. I felt like I failed my mom, the women who brought me into the world.
I decided to confide my feelings to my grandfather. He had seen my hands grow calloused (they’re already pretty rough anyway) and my skin turn dark from doing yard work in the hot sun. He has been on this earth for eighty-four years and counting. Surely, I figured, he could slake my consciousness.
I paid him a visit on my birthday (I’m a Christmas baby, which, since I’m Muslim, means absolutely nothing whatsoever). We struck a conversion over some good Southern cooking: yellow rice, roast beef, black-eye peas, and green beans. While listening to my grandfather talk about being a Sharecropper, about the good ‘ole days back on the farm in deep woods Alabama when life was apparently much easier, about his Crow Indian mother who had long black hair any Desi woman would envy and who could spit chewing tobacco the entire length of a man with remarkable precision, about living off the land without modern amenities, he offered me some simple words of advice which reverberate in my mind.
He said, “Shit son! Do what you can do when you can do it. Ain’t no shame in that.” He rubbed his tired eyes and continued, “It’s probably better if they take it anyhow. You wouldn’t get nothing out of it no way.”
“You think mama would be mad with me?” I asked him.
“Nah!” He replied. “Shit no! Yo mama wouldn’t be mad at you. It ain’t yo fault, son. That’s just how it worked out, ya see. Let’em take that damn house, so we can all move on.”
Wisdom from my family always has this flavor: pithy but with a pinch of mild profanity for seasoning. 😀
It’s 2012, and I’m now twenty-five years old, an age where I’m old enough to know better and younger enough not to care, an age where I’m still young enough to play games and old enough not to do so, an age where both I have plenty of time to spare and not enough time to waste. My mom only got forty-nine years, way short of the average seventy-five year life-span for women; there’s no guarantee but death. There’s no promise but death –
Lord, guide me and give me strength –
Yet, verily, thou art bound to die, and, verily, they, too, are bound to die.
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
~Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”
It’s 2012, high time to let go and move on. I’ve been Muslim for eight years, more than a quarter of my life thus far, and I’ve been through Hell and back it seems as a result of my conversion. Much of my pain has been self-inflected. I’ve been a prisoner to both my own inner, dark demons and jinn (ethereal spirits) and ugliness of the outside world for much of it. They ran amuck; they had a goddamn field day; they left my psyche looking like a tornado rolled through it. They left my spirit drained, my soft heart hardened and scarred. I let them do this, but what can I say? I only human – all to human. Gotta learn somehow, someway, right? –
Lord, have Mercy on my soul –
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its
heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the
daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem
less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart,
even as you have always accepted the seasons that
pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the
winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within
you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy
in silence and tranquillity:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by
the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has
been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has
moistened with His own sacred tears.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, “On Pain” or “The Physician”
It’s 2012, and no one really follows their New Year’s resolutions anyway – not really. I learned to no longer care…and yet, I care all the more. There’s work to do, people to help, children to teach, books to read, essays to draft, worlds to build, injustices to thwart, moves to learn, flips to bust, kicks to perfect, asses to kick, hugs to give, kisses to blow, hands to shake, words to write, poems to speak, equations to solve, programs to code, problems to solve, sins to forgive, prayers to answer. You cannot do it all, so – shit! – do what you can do when you can do it! “Nothin’ beats a failure but a try,” my mom used to say. Tie your camel and leave the rest to God to do as He wills with it: this is qadr! Life is so short, so invaluable. Treasure it. Grasp – and let it go – exhale –
Lord, save me from the Fires of Hell –
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
~T.S. Eliot, “Ash Wednesday”
It’s 2012, and heaven still rests underneath the feet of our mothers, and I massaged my mother’s swollen feet as she was dying. Maybe my spot in Paradise is secured. Who knows? I remember my Lord, though I do sometimes forget. I want the pleasure and validation of my Lord. I’m pleased with my Lord. All else fades into oblivion –
Lord, please don’t forget about me –
so remember Me, and I shall remember you; and be grateful unto Me, and deny Me not.