A few thoughts on community

community

I’m often humbled by God bringing people into my life who truly care when I least expect it.

Just this morning, when I logged onto Facebook (I’m just as surprised as you all are – sometimes Facebook does accomplish that whole “bringing people together” mantra), I was humbled by the extent of this care and concern.

I suppose it’s no surprise that the place I’ve most often felt a sense of community has been online… or with people I have only known for a short while, relatively speaking.

I suppose it’s the chance to present who I am today and be shed of the past that has been ascribed to me, whether justified or not.

That’s not to say that I don’t feel a sense of community from people I’ve known my entire life. I’m blessed to have these individuals, truly.

But I grew up thinking “family” was all that I ever needed.

Recently, I’ve realized that having known someone your entire life doesn’t necessarily mean that they really understand what you’re going through right now. And that’s okay. I think I’m finally learning to accept this.

But being able to connect in some ways with people that I’ve never met or have only known for a short while makes me feel a) that there’s nothing wrong with me per se and b) the vastness of God’s creation, in this case, human creation.

Breaking out of my bubble has been the most beautiful thing in my life. It’s not been easy, but the people I’ve met have given me a sense of hope and reinforced my commitment to the following Qur’anic verse:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (49:13)

A great way to start my Friday! :)

“Why her?” A pseudo-philosophical ontology

Two days ago, a young student at the school I work at was fatally struck by a school bus. She was someone from the Muslim community, though I didn’t know her and had never seen her before. But I know people who knew the girl and her family.

The fact that it happened right in front of the building I work at and that she was a hijabi made me think about her death more than any other everyday death would have. I couldn’t help but think, “what if that were me?”

First of all, I don’t at all think this poor young lady was targeted because of her faith. I think the driver was just distracted. But I am a bit shocked, because bus drivers are supposed to be safe drivers. From preliminary reports, it seems the girl had the right of way when the bus driver hit her while she was crossing the street.

I don’t know the full details, but whatever facts do eventually surface, it doesn’t change the fact that a young girl died.

One of my friends texted me asking if I had heard what happened. I hadn’t until I came home later that day. She later told me that she went to visit the girl’s family to give condolences and mentioned that the look on the mother’s face seemed unbearable.

I can’t imagine the pain her family is going through. I am not a parent, but I would assume that no parent wishes to see the day where they outlive their child. It seems to go against the natural order of things. It’s tough when you lose someone you love, no matter how old they are. I still to this day think of my maternal grandmother and my uncle Baba from time to time, even though they were in their 70s and were suffering from illness when they died. I have such vivid memories of both. With the former, I still feel so much guilt for not having had the kind of relationship a granddaughter ought to have had with her grandmother and with the latter, gratefulness to have had the love of a “second father” in a world where blood is thicker than water.

This young girl however was so young (18 or 19 years old), presumably healthy. It’s particularly sad to hear about someone this age dying and so unexpectedly at that. She’d been on this earth long enough to have affected people, made experiences, but not quite long enough to experience the full life cycle. She won’t get to graduate from college, get married, or have kids one day. For some of us, that will never be our reality. But this girl won’t even have that opportunity.

As a Muslim, death is not something to fear or avoid talking about. Actually, our scholars tell us to think of it often. YOLO is not an acronym any practicing Muslim should live by (although when it comes to cake, it seems that I subconsciously do). Death should be a reminder for us all that the life we live in this world, our actions, our intentions, do matter.

In some ways, this girl is being saved from the ugliness of this world. She was young and more pure than many of us still living. That’s what a eulogy written by a friend of hers on Facebook seemed to suggest. And while I do believe it’s true… I think it’s also natural to want to have a good long life in this world, too.

Why did God decide to take her and leave me and the rest of us still living on this planet? We won’t ever know. And if you don’t believe in God, I don’t think your answers are any more rational than mine. In fact, I find the very fact of death to be faith-affirming. I’m sure there are some that would argue that believers cling to God in the uncertainties of life because it makes us feel better, but I say to them…. *Googles for 10 minutes* Man, I remember reading a great defense of this failed logic for a class! I did, I know I did! Was it Descartes’s ontological argument? I can’t remember! DARN IT! I know it wasn’t Anselm’s. UGH. THIS IS VERY FRUSTRATING.

Okay, I’m alright.

What was I saying?

If anything, death reminds me to be grateful for all the things I do have, two loving parents and siblings, a husband whom I love even if he is messier than I would have preferred, my friends, even if I met most of them within the past 5 years, etc. I have a lot to be grateful for. We all do.

I can spend hours ruminating over why God chose to keep me and everyone else still alive. Maybe it’s because we all have more things to achieve in this world. Maybe it’s because God wants to give us more time to come back to Him. Maybe it’s both… I don’t know. But in the midst of trying to rationalize the why, I’m reaffirming my faith in God and that there are some things we human beings can never know. That doesn’t mean we stop asking, just that we learn to accept our limitations and the limitlessness of God when we find no answers.

Waiting for my muse

I’m relatively new to the world of writing. Though I’ve been blogging since 2003 and have always felt an affinity for writing over, say, public speaking, I only started feeling like a writer last year.

I no longer introduce myself as an aspiring writer. But I do hesitate to tell people that I even do write. I know the first thing they’ll ask is: “Oh yeah? So, what have you written?” I could point to the numerous articles I’ve written for various online publications and even my short story. But until I’ve written a book that’s on its way to be published, the term “writer” feels hollow, fraudulent even.

For one, I don’t make a living off of my writing – although funnily enough for work today, I did write a letter of recommendation on behalf of someone.

I “know” that one doesn’t have to be a prolific novelist to be considered a writer; but in the world that we live in, it’s the only example we see.

That, or being a journalist.

I do not want to be a journalist (I know that now)

What I want to do is write my own stories.

But I’m having difficulty actually writing them.

I thought I would do what I do best – or, naturally, rather – and write a memoir. Luckily, as I’ve learned, you don’t have to be a celebrity to write one. I received encouragement from a couple of writing instructors that neither my age (I just turned 30 in February) nor a lack of truly shocking experiences (I have not fought in any wars nor am I a poverty-stricken cancer survivor) should serve as a deterrent. I still have a story tell: my story that no one else can tell.

For one, I spent most of my childhood and adolescence being the “fat kid” and then lost over 100 pounds when I was 22. I’ve more or less maintained this weight loss since then, which, believe me, is NOT easy.

I am the daughter of immigrants and a Muslim woman living in a post-9/11 America.

I come from a traditional family where I assumed the only way I would get married was if it was an arranged marriage. But I ended up marrying a man I met on the internet — and my family was totally okay with it.

I know that any story can be an interesting story, as long as it is written well.

But there are darker moments in my life I just cannot share. It wasn’t until I started writing my memoir – I’m about 7,000 or so words in – that I realized this. To write an honest and genuine memoir, I would have to share stories that I know loved ones won’t appreciate being shared with potentially the rest of the world.

Feeling stuck and mulling over what to do, I decided that I would give fiction another attempt. I guess you can say finally having my short story published has given me the courage to do something I told myself I do not have a mind for. But given the writing I do most naturally, I know I can’t create a world that is completely alien to me. I still want to weave my life into this book – I want it to be a fictional tale inspired by my life.

But where do I begin?

Just this week, I’ve started jotting down thoughts that could potentially turn into something. But every idea I have thus far come up with just plain sucks. It’s too cliche. It’s not literary enough. It’s too YA.

I’ve started following writer websites left and right and have even turned to watching vlogs! I’ve never done this before.

Still. Nothing.

Is this common? Is this a rite of passage I must endure? Or is the lack of any real ideas a sign that I should just continue with this blog and be happy with what I have? Am I being too ambitious? Am I being too hard on myself?

Oh, future Muse, wherever you are (if you do exist), please make yourself known soon. Please and thank you!

I got 99 problems – and dishes are number one

Before I begin, I’d like to preface by adding that I dreamed I wrote this post.

Well, actually, it was more along the lines of: I had just prayed fajr and wanted to go back to sleep; but in between that wanting-to-sleep and unfortunately-I’m-awake zone we all tussle with each morning, I started writing out my anxieties in my head.

I practically dreamed it, okay?

Lately, my number of volunteer commitments has gone up – and along with it, my level of anxiety. I love it when people ask me if I’m stressed. I’m like, “You should be more concerned if I said I was not stressed about something.” It’s not that my life is any busier than an average North American living in the 21st century, but I do have anxieties that I would guess most do not.

Since we’ve moved into our house late last year, it’s been on my mind the number of couples Mr. Rafia and I MUST have over for dinner. I feel like I’ve leached off of our friends’ kindness for far too long. I’m starting to think that our friends may be thinking we’re holding someone hostage in our non-existent attic and basement (Richard Simmons? No, sadly, I do not have him).

But the truth is, I’m stressed as heck at the prospect of hosting a dinner party. Hosting is so not my personality. The only reason I’m having this conversation with myself is because of guilt. My parents taught me by example that it’s better to give than to take. The problem is: What if what you have to give just plain sucks? To cook for others and have to be all host-y? How would I even go about doing that?

I always dreaded my parents’ what-seemed-like weekly dinner parties. My parents were such good hosts, too, and it was expected that their children would put on a face and not bring the family name down by being their usual selves. My brother and me anyway. I suppose it wasn’t such a stretch for my sister, who has followed in my parents’ footsteps – in fact, rivaling their hosting skills. My mom was/is a great cook. But my sister is an artiste.

dinnerparty
Granted, my sister did this for my bridal shower and not just any dinner party. But her usual dinner party arrangements aren’t that much different.

I like to marvel at nice decor, but I am happy with just marveling. I don’t care enough to actually do it myself. Further evidence can be found in our house, which is as bare bones as you can imagine. And I’m honestly okay with that. I really, really hate dusting.

And cooking. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. I did get into the whole “I’m going to cook for my husband” thing for about a month or so after we first got married. But now that I’m no longer on Instagram, I see no point.

For serious though, I’ve figured out how to bake boneless chicken and with one or two exceptions, that’s all I’ve made for Mr. Rafia in the past few months. To be fair, he’s not eating carbs on purpose. But like, if I can’t make carb-laden dishes, there’s no joy in cooking.

Furthermore, cooking is still new for me. I never really cooked until I got married. I’m not confident in my ability to even microwave leftovers without some kind of mishap. I can’t in good faith (attempt to) make multiple dishes for people when I cannot guarantee they will even be edible. It’s bad enough when the one dish I do make for Mr. Rafia is all red with hot sauce by time it’s on his plate and ready to be eaten.

Whenever my parents would have anyone over, they’d always make a point to say “no formalities” to their guests. But I knew that’s because it’s the gracious thing to say. The truth of the matter is, the house would be vacuumed twice, mopped, and broomed, two bottles of bleach would be used (instead of my dad’s usual one) to clean all the bathrooms and kitchen. My mom would start cooking days before, because each Hyderabadi dish she’d make would require at least one full day to prepare and cook. I’m pretty sure my dad had to give me a pep talk a few times beforehand that when people come over, I should smile and talk, offer to take their coats, be sure to help my mom and sister in the kitchen, and ask if the guests want chai after dinner. Pep talk might be putting it lightly. I was a very anti-social kid.

The fact is: these “no formality” dinners were the very epitome of formality. And I feel like I must follow in my parents’ footsteps, because I am after all, their daughter. To do any less would be dishonoring their good name. I would be dishonoring all of Hyderabad!!!!

It’s funny. Before marriage, I never thought along these lines. In many ways, I know I won’t be continuing many of the traditions that my parents followed and still do follow. But being a good host is one way in which I can continue their legacy – okay, they’re still alive, but you know what I mean. I want to take after the very many positive traits and characteristics of my parents, but I’m fighting this personal inertia. I guess what makes it even more of an existential crisis I’ve turned it into is that Mr. Rafia thinks I’m being very unnecessarily perfectionist about it all. No big deal. We should have them over sometime. We don’t need to buy more plates. We could use paper plates! 

Help me out, folks: Do you think hosting dinner parties is a rite of marriage? Is this a legitimate worry of mine? Is it okay that I’ve been married for 15 months and still have not had anyone over for dinner? Do you know of any pro bono therapists looking for new patients?

Stop Asking “Why”

One of my friends was right to point out that for someone who is otherwise very open about her life, I can be quite puzzling at times when I blog. Be forewarned: this is going to be another one of those posts.

God, I can be so bi-polar at times, ranging from the highest of highs (in the midst of eating cake) to the lowest of lows (when I inevitably realize I’ve eaten all of the said cake), all in a matter of minutes.

This week(ish) started off with some highs. Suma Fiore and I have signed a writing pact – legalese and all – and I’ve commenced work on my memoir… which I am doubting will ever be published. But that’s OK. The point is: I have started writing “The Girl Who Never Went to Disneyland (Or World).”

But there have been some lows, as well. Just yesterday, I spent pretty much the entire day crying, feeling useless, and incapable of doing anything I’m proud of. Who knew I was such a reservoir of tears?

We all have those moments of “WHY?” I don’t think we’ll ever truly know. I like to think I’ve made peace with all most of the whys of my past. But there are some whys that I find to be quite the little pests. For example “Why did you do your Master’s in Religious Studies and then just stop there?” is one that likes to pay me visits from time to time.

Asking “why” doesn’t really add much to your peace of mind, I don’t think. As someone who believes in God, I know that God is not beholden to provide me ANY answers. That theology might not be palatable to a lot of people, but I’ve never been one to ascribe to the idea that faith can be broken down into little bits that satiate us and make us feel good. That’s not what faith is about. I’m not saying that I should become a defeatist and sit around in my PJs all day. But “why” is not the response. Instead, what we (I) should be doing is asking ourselves (myself): “What can I do about that thing that’s making me go ‘Why?’ Have I learned any lessons from this ordeal? Can I help others who might be going through similar struggles?”

Hey, I know I’ll never be Oprah. But I do know that the only way I can make peace with the less than ideal parts of my life is if I do something positive about it. It’s like my cousin Asiya (of Chocolate & Chillies‘ fame) used to say to me, “Turn that frown upside down.” That’s a pithy of way of saying, “Take that sucky part of your life and do something positive with it.” The results might not be what you had envisioned, but life is so much more interesting at least when things don’t go according to (your) plan. I, for one, thought I would be fat for the rest of my life, be married off to some guy my parents chose for me, and never go to Disney World.

Okay, the last one is still true. But instead of asking “Why,” I have taken this fact to serve as fodder (hehe) for my writing.