Monday, October 29, 2012

[Music Mondays]: I Deserve

As salaam alaikum,

Nothing much. I just looked at my gchat status, which read, "Just smile for me and let the day begin," and looked at my smiling face opposite the status. It was a picture where I was tired like I am now, a third year medical student on my my medicine rotation, with more moisturized, healthier hair than I've had in a while. It was a sweet face. As much as I do admire myself when I look in the mirror, I can't say I've ever thought of myself before. And coupled with those words, all I could think was,

"I deserve to be loved."

"Just smile for me and let the day begin," is the opening stanza to Jeffrey Osborne's  "On the Wings of Love." This was one of my first favorite songs...probably third, actually. My first favorite song was "Stand by Me," by Ben E. King, especially the violin interlude. I must have been under five when I liked this song. My second favorite song was, "With You," by Tony Terry, when I was six.

When I was seven, "On the Wings of Love" was my favorite. I remember sitting on the beige couch in the living room of my childhood home, my legs hanging over the edge and not reaching the floor beneath my feet. My family didn't have our first CD player yet, not for a few more months. It was 1992. My parents were going through their records and playing songs. For some reason, they decided to play, "On the Wings of Love." I heard the song and I was instantly transfixed. I loved it. The song was 10 years old at that point, but I didn't know. I just knew it was the most beautiful song I'd ever heard, and I asked my parents to play it again, and a third time. I listened to it and stared at the dark wood paneling of our family room with a feeling of transcendence, contentment, exhilaration, like I was let into a secret at that moment that everyone comes to know in life.

And it wasn't really the lyrics. At seven, I wasn't worried about love. Not as worried as I would be at 12, maybe because of growing up with lyrics like these. But not at 7. It was the instrumentation, it was the vocals, it was sitting between my parents and them both liking the song, and me being one of them. One of the lovers of this song. It was everything at once. It was childhood being so full and new and replete for me, it was the contrast of the twinges of embarrassment I felt from my brother with autism sometimes, it was tension in the string cords, it was a pop song that was fully orchestrated like they already weren't anymore.

All things I wasn't able to put into words at 7.

It would be my favorite song until I was about 19, even after Janet got lonely, after Lauryn reminded us not to forget the deen, until Stevie suggested that I, too, should be overjoyed, the first time I would identify so completely with lyrics of a love song.

I had a hard night last night. I think the nearby recent seismic activity set a lot of women in labor. Or it was a full moon. Whatever the reason, I worked nonstop from 11:00pm to 8:30am. I saw 8 women in triage, pushed with and assisted 2 deliveries, and tended to my laboring women. I put so much into my work that I sometimes feel emotionally drained at the end of a day. I came home feeling like retreating into myself and not coming out. I imagined not talking to my friends and co-residents anymore, only being present when social activities were required. Working removes completely one of my dimensions, the dimension in which I most often reside at rest. There's little energy left for that dimension after work.

I was tired, but before I went to sleep, before I could start feeling sorry for myself and before I could, once again, begin to despise myself, I saw the Jeffrey Osborne lyric on my status, and though I know the lyric well, I had to see it completed.

And then I saw my face next to it. My tired, smiling face, probably like how I looked for much of the night. And for the first time in my life, I had a glimpse for just a few seconds of how I must look on the outside, to others.

I don't know if it was the depersonalizing experience of being a physician or the fact that I took two Benadryl just before and was getting sleepy.

Music sounds different when you're sleepy and in the dark, by the way.

But that was a sweet face of a sweet girl. And how sweet that you hover over my status and see my smiling face and get the message "Just smile for me and let the day begin." Even though most will not get the reference.

And I looked at that girl with that face and knowing as much about her as I do, all I could think was, "You deserve to be loved."

And I've never been able to say that about myself before. And I've never felt it so sincerely.

And I'm not talking about up and above the clouds love like Jeffrey belts about. Just love. Because life is precious, and by extension, so am I, and independently, by God's grace, so am I.

I can only imagine how I looked putting my hands over my patients contracting belly, breathing deeply with her, closing my eyes ans I felt the contraction to feel its strength, to evaluate her labor, and all I can think is, she deserves to be loved.

I can only imagine how I looked pulling my patient's newborn son from the birth canal, setting him on her chest on the blanket laid out by the nurse as his red lips trembled and mom trembled and as I trembled as I collected cord blood and I think, she deserves to be loved.

So, just smile for me and let my day begin. I really do love a smile.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Only Liable Limitation

As salaam alaikum,

First of all, Eid Mubarak to my Muslim family!

In 2002, I was introduced to the hauntingly symbolic song and video by OutKast, "The Whole World." What could be dismissed as just another goofy OutKast song for me as a 17 year old was full of social commentary. The song's chorus for me symbolized the plight of the black man in the United States over time.

The whole world loves it when you don't get down...Michael Jackson, by then no longer remembered as the Prince of Pop but as a child molester.

And the whole world loves it when you make that sound...every eye-bucking, shucking and jiving or just trying to make a living in the guise of buffoonery black comedian ever.

And the whole world loves it when you're in the news...OJ Simpson (umm, who can write a doctoral dissertation on the racial dynamics of the OJ Simpson trial? Many of us can...).

And the whole world loves it when you sing the blues...

I'm not sure why it struck me so much as the black man at that time, but I realize it could also apply to other celebrities. In general, people love to be entertained by the lives and misfortunes of others. And the video, with the all-black circus backdrop and the mainly white male cooperate audience clapping in unison really gave me that feeling...

Meanwhile, while the show seems to be all for the entertainment of this off-putting audience, Dre and Big Boi (can't say much for the guest artist who wins the prize of fitting as many sexual references and as much double entendre as he can into his section) drop a lot of critical analysis at the time.

The one lyric that hit me recently that has a lot to do with where I am now, spiritually, is the following:

"The only liable limitation is yourself."

The only liable limitation is yourself, huh?

Let me tell you about me being my only limitation for becoming all I want to be...

I think that, in the years since becoming a more practicing Muslim, I've too often looked outside, to others, to complete my identity as a Muslimah. I came into practice seeking a community to help me. There were many communities that I've been a part of or was at the fringes of, but none of them in particular helped me. I tried to hard to be a part and in the process lost some of myself and my original motivation for practicing more along the way. I ended up spending many years morphing myself into what I thought others wanted me to be instead of actually nurturing my natal spirituality.

While God reminds us that we are in loss, "except for such as have faith, do righteous deeds and join together in the mutual teachings of truth," that joining together in the mutual teachings of truth does not have to be within a discrete Muslim community, and it does not have to be with Muslims only. We Muslims, after all, do not have the market cornered on Truth. Truth has many dimensions, and as a Muslim without a Muslim community at this point, it would be negligent of me to ignore those other dimensions of Truth while not in the company of my coreligionists.

I can live the Truth that is our purpose in help each other through life, with others than Muslims. Insha'Allah I do this daily through my profession.

I am my own liable limitation. I should not have waited with bated breath for a community to embrace me for my identity and practice as a Muslimah to be complete.

When a community that I fit into seemed out of my reach, I then looked to marriage. I didn't need a Muslim community per se if I acquired a good Muslim husband and therefore built a Muslim family. Maybe the husband would come with a community I could thereafter fit into. Then not only would my identity as a Muslimah have been complete, but I would be fulfilling my duties as a marry and build a household dedicated to Allah (swt).

I didn't realize that this had nothing to do with my practice as a Muslimah, either.

I am not limited by a lack of community or the lack of a good, pious, egalitarian, professional, whatever other adjective Muslim man seeking me for marriage. I didn't seek practice as a Muslim to join a group or to get married. I thought they were necessary, but really, we are born alone and we die alone. The community or husband I wait upon to complete my life will not be there to vouch for me when I die, that I was a good Muslim. It just is and has always been me, myself and Allah (swt).

My non-Muslim co-residents, when I talked about my long-standing discomfort in praying in public places that are not mosques or my own home, offered 5 locations on campus where I could pray. And I've been using them with comfort, alhamdulillah. Some of these people who offered me places to pray don't even believe in God, and yet they respect me and my beliefs. And we can be colleagues together, living the Truth that is the guarantee of health care for all.

I love being in the company of a man who has always respected my beliefs and practices and perhaps has a greater understanding of them, having been raised with a Muslim background

It has never been more evident to me that I am my only limitation in being the Muslimah I want to be. I may never have that Muslim community or that Muslim husband that unifies my practice, but I will have a community and insha'Allah a husband that complement, not supplement, me as I nourish my natal spirituality.

I have always been my own limitation. I drew boxes on a plane in two dimensions and tried to fit myself into them, but I'm three dimensions. God have mercy on me if the way that I choose is errant and leaves jagged edges on my soul, but God please guide me aright anyway, though I err. Ameen.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I Hate to Admit it, but...

As salaam alaikum,

I hate to admit it, but...

I'm still slightly freaked out by E.T. I saw the updated poster for the movie...his arm looked too skinny. I didn't like it. I had to navigate away from the page for fear of having a movie nightmare.

What is a movie nightmare?

A nightmare where you are watching a movie you've seen several times and you slowly realize that it's not going as you remembered it, just to come to a head near the end of your dream when things are terrifyingly different and someone tries to force you to continue looking at the screen as scary music starts to play in the background.

Insha'Allah, I will not have such a dream tonight! I'm praying on it!

Since childhood, I've had odd dreams and odd things I've found scary. Monsters? I never had a schema for those. When I was a 4 year old, I was afraid of microwaves and VCRs. VCRs in the 1980s had horrible tracking, sometimes manual tracking, and sometimes VHS tapes did not withstand the test of time or children under 5. So sometimes the video would be messed up or (worse) the sound would be warped. And I hated that...I used to have nightmares about that.

And microwaves...something must have happened as a kid, but I still have a specific phobia surrounding things I can't even discuss for fear of my throat beginning to close up.

The movie nightmare is a dream sequence that has stood the test of time in my scariest nightmares. I've had dreams that I've been pursued by murderers, that loved ones are dying, that I'm in a car accident, but nothing is so scary to me as the movie nightmares and the likes of them.

Anything that warps and bends reality in a way that is nonsensical. I mean, I could get into a car accident, or a family member could die.

But E.T.'s body being too skinny or the wrong color or his voice sounding completely different in a dream of the movie that I'm watching...I hate those! It takes me so long to get back to sleep!

That's why it amuses me so much that other people were afraid of such logos as this when they were kiddos, and how many of them post these on YouTube.

I'm not the only weirdo scared by odd things! Sweet!

...insha'Allah I'll sleep like a log and not be scared in my sleep...

Monday, October 1, 2012


As salaam alaikum,

This is adapted from a letter I wrote to some of my closest cousins.

Relating to another person has made me realize how much I lived within myself, or at the very least in my own discrete, alternate reality. The longer you live there, the harder it is to get out, the harder it is to convince yourself that anyone but someone who fits into that reality will work out.

I lived in a world informed by 60s-90s soul music, musica popular brasileira and post-bop jazz. I lived to the beat of samba and New Jack Swing. I lived in a world where the way that I thought was the essential reality and everything outside was complementary at best, extraneous at worst.

Relating to someone who won't automatically understand why I sometimes utter the lyrics, "A gente quer ter voz ativa, no nosso destino mandar, mas eis que chega a roda viva, e carrega o destino pra la..." is a given. I've lived by myself, in myself for so long, so much of me only makes sense to me. So much of me is garbled and nearly unintelligible. So much of me related to watching the play "Turandot," and hearing Turandot utter that she was a daughter of Heaven and there her soul resided, just to be reminded by her aspiring lover that her soul may be in Heaven but her body was right there with him.

It's not that I bethought myself a daughter of Heaven or thought that my soul transcended this earth. It's that...while my spirit is not as easily accessible, my body is very accessible.

I'd been waiting for a man to relate to my spirit, which I fretted would never happen because it would seem so hard to do. What would a man do with a waxing-and-waning practicing Muslim woman who belts out to Stevie and Elis and cries at the end of Black Orpheus with tears of joy as the children dance after the death of Orpheus and Eurydice?

And I didn't realize, he doesn't have to.

He doesn't have to dig deep or travel far to access my soul. My body's here with him. My soul remains my own.

So I'll still believe that "We want to have an active voice, command in our own destiny, but along comes the wheel of life and carries destiny far away..." and listen to the very 60s style song by Chico Buarque by myself, in my car, blasting it down the highway and be content that no one else understands why I love that song so much.

And he doesn't have to.

And for the first time, that's okay.