Friday, February 27, 2015

Unconditional Love

As salaam alaikum,

As I said a short prayer to myself before walking into colposcopy clinic this afternoon, I suddenly realized why people over time have been pulled to pray to their ancestors.

One of my friends, who is Christian, once told me that she equally regards most faiths, including Islam, and including worship of ancestors. As a Muslim who acknowledges my own faith to be the one right path for me and not necessarily for everyone else, I could intellectually understand where she was coming from, but did find the view to be peculiar. The way I understood it was that the bounds of her faith would allow for a syncretic existence in which ancestors would be revered close to God for consult and comfort. I couldn't imagine that for myself.

And I still cannot imagine that for myself, but I understand it a little bit more now. And now that I understand it a little bit more, it's making me rethink my imagining of God.

I understand it a little bit more since my grandfather died. As I heard the news of his passing last year, July 16 and shed my first tears, I was instantly filled with hope, calm and reassurance. That was from God. I knew that Grandfather was with God. I knew that he had gone to the Good Place. I had no doubt, and I grieved easier.

In fact, I was so reassured that I struggled to pray for my grandfather in the way that we're supposed to when someone passed because, in a way, I was like, "God's got this." And for the weeks following his passing, I felt him very present with me, as I felt that he had now come to know the truth of all things, and his soul was set at ease for all of the things he despaired about in this world. I also felt like he was getting to see me, all of me, in a way he'd never imagined me as a granddaughter.

That feeling slowly passed with the noor of Ramadan as the month ended, but since then, I've struggled to relate with that closeness. Grandfather's absent in this realm but very much present spiritually for me. My aunt says she talks to him sometimes. She has talked to deceased relatives all of her life. I don't do that. I took issue to that because I figure who better to talk to, effectively pray to, than God. So I pray for my grandfather but I don't talk to him.

But as I walked to clinic today, I thought about how proud Grandfather probably is of me, now that he knows everything about me and exactly what it takes to be a physician and what I've done, probably more than he understood when he was on earth. And then I faced the thought that always deters me from spending too much time in this paradigm: Grandfather also knows my sins. If Grandfather knows the truth of all things and is privy to the current happenings of this world, Grandfather knows all that I've done wrong. Not only that, but knowing the truth of all things, he knows better than me the cumulative consequences of my wrongs.

And that gave me very brief pause. I knew I wouldn't be upsetting a man who is basking in his life's reward, but I wondered if Grandfather's disappointment in those things that I had done wrong outweighed his pride for the things I'd done right. And while I was still in this slippery paradigm, I though, well, Grandfather would love me, anyway.

And I stopped there, and turned to God in prayer.

I realized at that moment that I saw my Grandfather as unconditionally loving, whereas my conception of God is not that, at all. Of course my memory of Grandfather, which is not at all the representation of the whole man that he was, is of an unconditionally loving patriarch. If Grandfather on this earth knew everything there was to know about me, of course he'd love me anyway. It would balance out. I project that to whatever form his soul has taken/will take/had taken in the outside realm.

But while God is Merciful (in that way that, at times, is so difficult for us to grasp), God's love is not unconditional in my conception of God.

I came of age believing in a God who loved charity, service, kindness and good matters and hated all that was evil, from murder to the sometimes vague perversion. So if I committed evil, I would not be loved by God. That is the condition.

Whereas for Grandfather, we'd have to be pretty shitty people before he no longer loved us, for God it seemed sometimes uncertain how much any particular good or bad weighed.

When put before an omniscient, inconceivable but reportedly merciful and just Being and your loving Grandfather, it would be way less intimidating, if it were an option, to go to your grandfather for guidance.

But as a Muslim, I believe that no one can help me or hurt me but God. And by extension, I also believe that God can and would hurt me, if indicated.

Grandfather wouldn't.

But without belaboring that point, whenever I find myself in that space, I extract myself and return to God. Grandfather, insha'Allah, I'll see on the other side and I can learn about the man I'd come to love in his 60s, in the latter years of his life. I look forward to that day but will complete my term in this world gladly, day by day, year by year, and prayerfully with many more.

But God is Greater. And maybe my imagining of God doesn't do justice to God's mercy and love. Not that I'm going to reduce God to a big grandfather in the sky or anything, but...

If I were too intimidated to come to God, who could I really go to?

I know why it is. It's the language of our Book. A God that doesn't need our prayers or reverence. A God that can replace us with beings that are better than us. God doesn't need us, but we think of people who love us as needing us a little bit.

So I understand how it would be nice to worship a center of unconditional love, but that's just not the way I believe.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Reclaiming Myself

As salaam alaikum,

Happy New Gregorian Calendar Year!

It feels silly to say it now because this year barely felt like a new year, except that it is the first year that I am not sharing a realm with my grandfather. I heard the song that I heard years ago upon waking from a nightmare to daytime in my grandparents' home and I cried because one of the comforting elements of waking up in that environment was gone.

It's also silly because it is 26 days into the month of January, and life has gone on, much as before. It's almost the month of my birth. I turn 30 this year.

I don't have any specific New Years' resolutions, more like continuations of the goals I've had in the months prior to the New Year. But one of the major things that it happening this year, insha'Allah, is that I'll be graduating from residency. And for the first time ever, I'm not tacking on an extra thing, so no fellowship. I am graduating, taking 3 months off, iA, then I'm going to start working in an FQHC (federally qualified health center). All insha'Allah. So soon enough, I will no longer be a resident. And soon enough, I will have time to write as I have not had for some time. I have posted minimally during residency, and it is not for lack of topics.

My life has also been very active, not only in terms of residency training, but in terms of relationship and family stuff. And out of respect for my father and my SO, I keep the discussion of most of the themes of that outside of my blog. So that makes for...not as much to talk about, publicly, at least.

On the other hand, it makes a lot to think about on my own side of things.

So this year, probably not until after June, iA, I plan to revamp this blog, to post more, to be more reflective on residency (that has been challenging, and not just in subject matter), relationships and my life in Islam. For now, I will only be able to deposit little nuggets here and there.

In the meantime, I'm ready for the year of 2015, thirty years after my birth (wow) to get up on out of here!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

They Don't Care About Us


As much as I love the Brasil version, this one is the more powerful. No wonder it was banned in the US at the time (and still is?).

And bashed in the NYT. How can saying that "they don't care about us" be bigoted. I don't understand that. To say that such an expression is bigoted is to evoke shame in one who reveals that their benevolent leader is less than caring.

No, "they" don't care about "us," and if we sleep too long, no movement, no matter how strong will keep "them" at bay from destroying "us."

Throughout history, that is the way it is. By time, man is in loss. We have to be constantly vigilant to protect ourselves and those we love from essential slavery, whether it is physical, emotional or mental.

I hear people have been playing this during marches. Some of us just now realizing what's been going on under our noses for some time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Retrospective

As salaam alaikum,

As predicted, residency (and life) swallowed me in a way that did not allow me to post (or even write) that often, but that is soon going to be history! I am now a third year resident, and in six months time, I'll be graduating and taking a 3 month break before I start working for real. What I do in those three months are dependent on how much money I save up moonlighting in the next year, but that's another story.

Anyway, for me, the year is hardly over, as my SO is flying down tomorrow to meet my parents, which will get a little notch in my year-in-review, but I figure I may be pretty busy the end of this year so I'd better get in my retrospective now while I'm ahead.

So, this was my 2014, roughly, and maybe not exactly chronologically, but in order of things that stand out to me.

Grandfather: The last time I saw my grandfather fully lucid in this realm was around Christmas of 2013. There was a big ice storm in Flint and surrounding northern communities and it resulted in a prolonged black out. My grandparents were staying at my Uncle Maurice's place because the power was out in their house. My grandfather talked about how much he appreciated what we did for him, an old man, and he started crying. Early this year, he likely had another stroke and went into a fast decline that almost ended in his death in March of this year but ultimately ended in his death early in the morning, July 16, peacefully in his sleep. I love that man with all of my heart and I eagerly but patiently await the day when I hear the rest of his stories in Jannah, iA.

Auntie and Uncle: I met my Nigerian Aunt and Uncle for the first time this year. My uncle, who my father had not seen in over 30 years, and his wife traveled to the United States for the first time and stayed with my family. I cried when I saw the brothers together, reunited. They stayed for four months and I visited with them two weeks out of those four months. I would love to travel with my father to Nigeria one day and visit with the rest of the family. I could say much more about this visit, but that will have to be for another venue.

Sayulita, Nayarit: I still feel like we totally pulled a coup in our residency by taking this trip. For our second-year retreat, instead of the usual long weekend in Leavenworth, we took five days in Mexico with our favorite faculty member in March. It was a coup because those five days did not count towards our paid time off, it was "conference/educational time." So we were paid for five days in which we did maybe 4 hours a day of therapeutic small groups (which were excellent!) and spent the rest of the time as beach bums, wandering around this semi-hidden jewel resort town. I actually got sunburned on this trip. Yes, black people can sunburn. Skin peeled from every exposed surface over the next couple of weeks and I felt like I was molting. So those times I wore sunscreen in the Dominican Republic were not in vain. The 12 of us and our faculty member spent 5 glorious days sharing a house on the hill that overlooked the beach. It was definitely a second bonding point for my classmates and I fell in love with them again.

Jamaica: I had never been to Jamaica, and at first felt conflicting going there to attend a wedding in July, not only of people I had never met before (my SO was best man, and I was his date), but also as the only black person in the party. Yes, I felt conflicted going to a majority black country with a group of white people. This was only the second international trip (Sayulita was the first) that I've made that was not part of a service project. And then to go to a resort where I felt like I may be inherently exploiting the people who work there? It was challenging until I got there and realized that over half of the patrons at this particular resort were black, many of them Jamaican, having conferences or spending a relaxing weekend at the resort. There were also a lot of African Americans there. And I realize that supporting tourism in a country like Jamaica is probably more productive than any of the service projects I carried out in other countries the past, though I still found it polemic. At some point, I finally just let myself relax. I was welcomed by my SO's friend and his wife warmly into their wedding party and was pulled in to do some Serbian dances during the reception (courtesy of the groom's family). Minus the sand flies biting the left side of my body, it was a good time. This is another place I have to go back to. I love going to countries with majority black people!

Stevie Wonder: I attended Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" concert as he toured the country. He actually made a stop in Seattle on December 3. So many performers and performances skip Seattle (like Motown, the Musical), but he came by. I was chief on Family Medicine Service at the time, and though I tried to switch my call days, I ended up on call on the day that our service went from tame to crazy. After that day, we would continue to admit patients and eventually cap out our service. My call days usually saw me staying at least until 8:30pm most days, and this day was no exception...exactly why I wanted to switch my call day so I could make the concert! In the end, I'm glad I didn't switch my call day because Friday (the day I was going to trade out) ended up to be a busier day. The concert started at 8pm, I got out of the hospital at 8:30pm and made it to the concert by 9pm. The people next to me lamented that I had missed "so much," though I got there as he did "Pastime Paradise," and knew that he had much of the album left, though I had missed "Sir Duke." I had heard from my cousins, who went to the concert in Detroit, that it went on for three hours. And Stevie did not disappoint. Our concert went on for four hours, which means I got to jam with Stevie for a full three hours after sliding in an hour late, until midnight! And, after four hours of sleep, I got in to work the next day, saw a full set of patients during my half day in clinic, and realized that age really is just a number. I thought that my days of staying up that late and then being fully functional the next day (without coffee) were behind me. At 29, I surprised myself with the stamina of a 19 year old while working full time. And Stevie, of course, was awesome. He sang each song from the album exactly as it was in the album. And his daughter Aisha Morris was one of his backup singers! And I could go on, but it definitely made my life to see my favorite artist in concert.

Nephew: My best friend from medical school had a baby boy in September, and I got to visit him in November when he was 6 weeks old. I've never witnessed someone I'm that close to have a baby, during those very new periods, someone that I knew before she met her husband when we were both very much single young women. And now seeing her as a mother, watching the transformation she and her husband have made...all I can say is, it's real. It's the only thing that gave my baby fever a pause. Not because of the job they were, they were doing excellently. It's just that I see that the struggle is real, there is no magical transformation. I was watching them as they were learning and adapting with a newborn. That is how life is, and that is how my life will be when, one day, iA, I have one of my own. Hopefully a girl. I already have some names picked out. Okay, so baby fever was on pause, did not completely go away.

Babies, babies, babies: This was the year of the babies. I think I delivered more than 20 babies this year, most of them being my own patients'. I just delivered one a few days ago, my patient's gorgeous baby girl. I have three more of my own patients due and then my residency adviser cut me off from deliveries. It's just as well. I've more than exceeded the number of continuities I need for graduation. My poor SO is tired of me talking about labor and delivery, and babies. He states that he could probably deliver a baby at this point from my descriptions of it.

Licensed Physician: I took (and passed) Step 3 earlier this year, officially completing USMLE and becoming a licensed physician. Seriously, exam taking in medicine feels like the "Song that Doesn't End." I started medical school and heard about the boards, and then learned about what would be the hardest exam I'd take in my life, disconcertingly named "Step 1." Disconcerting because if there is a step 1, there is probably a step 2, and maybe it goes on. Each year, I learned a little bit more about the exams I was going to be in for. Depending on one's specialty and if they go on to fellowship, there are a whole list of exams besides the USMLE steps that one had to pass to become not only licensed, but also board-certified. As I've chosen family medicine, I have an every-10-year board exam that I will have to pass and certain amount of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits that I have to keep up with to maintain board certification. The family medicine boards through the ABFM is the last exam I'll take in residency, and the last exam I'll take in life (unless I lose my mind and go for more education or more board certification). But, in February of this year, I took and passed step 3, making me a licensed physician, able to practice independently (thus, moonlighting).

That Full Circle Moment: A couple of weeks ago in clinic, I had one of my first full-circle moments in family medicine. I went into the clinic counseling a pregnant woman on some cramping that she was having. She planned to do her prenatal care elsewhere, so it was going to be a simple visit. As I entered the room and began talking to her, I noticed there were tears in her eyes. She then told me that I was the doctor that told her that her grandfather was dying. Back in my intern year, when I was completing a night float rotation, I led a family meeting at 1am for a family whose beloved grandfather, who I had admitted hours earlier, was passing. It was the defining moment of my residency. I laid myself bare for that family as they looked to me to prognosticate what I couldn't with numbers. People were rolling on the floor, crying. I myself felt completely spent and cried after that interaction. I had never put so much of myself into a patient interaction in residency, and that was a great transition point for me. I actually didn't remember that woman in the sea of family members that were there, but she remembered me. Together, in the exam room, after I reassured her that there was no threat to her pregnancy at present, we remembered her grandfather. I shared with her that my grandfather had also passed that year, so I understood what it felt like to lose someone who had lived a long, complete life but who was still very beloved. We shared that moment and that continuity in a 15 minute visit. And so at the beginning of residency I saw the end of one life I was there at the beginning of another in the same family.

Saturday Thanksgiving: The last three Thanksgivings, I have been working. The first year, I was on the Family Medicine Service and served on a skeleton team that included my seniors and the chief and rounded on all of the patients of the day. My second year, I was on maternal child and covered the team's OB service. This past year, I was again on FMS, this time as chief, and I covered for my interns so they could all have the day off and me and one of the second years covered service for them. My first year, I wanted to prepare a turkey, so I made a full Thanksgiving meal on the day that I had off--Saturday. Since then, I've made Saturday Thanksgiving a small tradition for my residency class. This past year included one of the newest additions to our residency family, one of my co-resident's baby girls.

Death of a Cousin: In January, one of my second cousins lost his life senselessly. He was an anesthesia tec in his hometown in Ohio and he was paged in to work to help with a transplant. His car was in the shop so he couldn't drive there so he walked to catch a bus early in the morning and was robbed and shot dead, in cold blood, his body left in front of the bus stop where it was found shortly thereafter. This Christmas, my cousin, his father, a pastor, is celebrating his life and mourning his only son, the father of his two grandchildren.

A lot more happened this year on the smaller scale that is more tedious to recount. Overall, it was a good year, a year of challenge, growth and transition. And here I find myself.

And here I am.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Long Time


It's been a long time since I've liked a popular song this much. Maybe 7 years or more. Maybe more than that.

The voice is an incredible instrument. It's also incredible how many unique melodies can be created over time.

Otherwise, I'm in a pensive mood tonight. I'm stuck on a presentation I have to make on Tuesday but don't want to do any more work on it tonight. And so many other things on my mind.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Reason to Go


I need to sleep because I need to be up in about 6 hours. But I did want to reflect on this.

I now have a reason to go. Not only to die, but to aim for heaven.

I want to see my grandfather again, and I know that he's there.

And while I want to live a long life, and see my own children and grandchildren, and maybe even great grandchildren like he did, I have no reason to want to be here indefinitely.

He's there, with his father and mother, because as he was dying he called to them. He's there, with my grandmother's parents, and my grandmother will join them. When I hear nostalgic music or remember my childhood, I remember when everything was good and that was when he was in it, when he was a constant, a given, before I knew death, or life, really.

I was listening to Luther Vandross' "A House is Not a Home" and reflected on how many people were alive for the majority of my life so far who have now passed, most of them not at all close to me, and then there was Grandfather.

I think the feeling that he is not gone, that he just exists in another realm, in another the pull of heaven a little bit more urgency.

I pray that I can be everything he dreamed of for me and more.

And insha'Allah I'll meet up with Grandfather again, someday.

And I won't just feel his essence when I'm quiet or when I listen to New Jack Swing from the early 90s or gut-bucket blues from the 1930s and 40s.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


As salaam alaikum,

One of the last things about my grandfather that he lost in the months leading up to his death was his personality. Or, I'm unsure if it was his personality per se or more his unassuming nature. I'm not sure the two are the same. They could be. I'm not sure how much of this is an artifact of my grandfather's upbringing, in a small, Southern Baptist family in the South, how much has to do with growing up during Jim Crow and having to choose deference to white people or face certain death, and how much was just his gentle nature. But my grandfather, in the time I knew him, was very unassuming.

"Oh, don't worry about me, baby." "You don't have to do that." "When you're not busy, could you..." "I'm sorry to bother you, but..."

So while my grandmother, in her heyday, would absolutely dominate all conversation in the room, my grandfather was often silent. Even after his death, my grandmother confided in my mother that she worries that he won't speak up for himself on Judgement Day.

When I learned of grandfather's death, I immediately cried but instantaneously felt a nur that could only come from God, and I was blessed to feel his presence. I knew he was not far, and that he was not suffering, and that he was with God, and it was fine. And it's been fine. And though I missed him at the family gathering after the funeral, the chair that he would occupy inside the house during such gatherings empty, I felt his presence in all of us, his offspring.

And one of the things I either got from him or learned from him is how to be unassuming.

Because I am unassuming in my daily comings and goings. I sometimes don't advocate for myself. I think more than that, I purposefully don't try to stand out in certain situations. Sometimes I feel that I do the spiritual equivalent of shrinking myself as small into a corner as I can. And I don't know how much of this was left-over, learned Muslimah jeito from college, but I try not to be too loud (though I have a naturally resonant voice), too boisterous. I try not to take up too much space, consume too much energy around me.

As a result, I feel as if sometimes, people don't really know me, or that the traits they do know me for are artifacts of the unassuming nature.

Then I worry if I'm not really nice, understanding and a good listener.

I've thought about this more as I've begun to speak up more for myself, let my opinions be known, speak before getting a chance to pour over the intent of my words so much. Sometimes, I don't feel myself when I do this, although it is certainly necessary when assuming an authoritative role, like senior resident, recruitment chief, or later, attending.

I've been thinking about this as I've contemplated my career and the various leadership roles I'd like to take, and as I see that if I don't advocate for myself, few people will. People are ready to assume mediocrity, perhaps in part because my unassuming nature. People are ready to dismiss me or consider me someone not worth knowing.

I'm not bland. I'm not boring. I'm just different. And if I spoke of my interests with as much fervor and pride as some of my friends do, as if all of our base interests are universal or at the least theirs are the ones worth sharing, then I'd be in no way dismissed, ever.

But there's something to be said about humility.

I think there's a balance. One can advocate for themselves and influence their own environment while still being humble and kind. I just have to make sure that when I'm unassuming, it's not to my own detriment while being of little benefit to those around me I'm trying not to offend.