Tuesday, November 27, 2012

All of My Stuff, Revisted

As salaam alaikum,

I was suddenly reminded of this poem from For Colored Girls when talking to a friend a few days ago. I looked for the entry about a year ago when I quoted it, and I read it, closed my eyes and remembered where I was, and thanked God how far I have come.

Here's the excerpt I then most identified with:

somebody almost run off wit alla my stuff
& i waz standin
lookin at myself
the whole time 
& it waznt a spirit took my stuff
waz a man whose 
ego walked round like Rodan’s shadow
waz a man faster
n my innocenc

waz a lover
i made too much 
room for
almost run off wit alla my stuff
& i didnt know i’d give it up so quik
& the one runnin wit it

don’t know he got it
& i’m shoutin this is mine
& he dont 
know he got it
my stuff is the anonymous ripped off treasure
 of the year
did you know somebody almost got away wit me
me in a plastic bag under their arm
danglin on a string of personal carelessness...

At the time, I know I didn't feel as if I had recovered everything back yet. I said it, hoping to claim it, but there was still desperation in my words. Why are we women like this, I wondered.

One year after I wrote that first entry, he has nothing of mine. Not a strand of my hair nor my taste in his mouth. My body and my spirit are all my own, all my own stuff that God gave me and I'm not letting anyone take it away anymore, not under their arm, stuck to the sole of their shoe or tucked in their butt crack.

And it's a very liberating thing to realize, in the midst of what had been angst and longing for the day where I wouldn't hurt...to not be hurting.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What is Marriage Now?

As salaam alaikum,

I thought about my desire for motherhood being perhaps at odds with my faith, my faith in God's will, and I thought about what marriage means for me now, and how that's different than before.

Because I haven't sat and thought what marriage means for me now. Not yet. Not until now.

The first thing that comes to mind is that marriage, for me, when optimum, is the optimum environment for raising a family. And, as I mentioned in my previous entry, one of my greatest aspirations is to be a good mother. And as a good mother, I desire my partner also to be a solid parent. If not, I'd rather him not involved. Okay.

...and, what else do I want in marriage? Now?

Because before, it was different.

In the height of unrequited love, marriage was all these lofty words and phrases, the likes of Djavan's "Doidice," not believing that I existed in a world he also existed, wanting to live in his blue like Elis' "Só Tinha de Ser Com Você." The Carpenters' "Close to You." Like that feeling would last forever and whatever life threw at us, whatever God ordained for us, we would survive because of that...love.

In loveless, pragmatic but admittedly still hopeful times, marriage was esoteric. There existed no soul mates but there was right. Or fit. Whichever one's pleasure. There was most importantly spiritual compatibility, commonality in the most essential values between us, shared aspirations, mutual admiration, mutual attraction. This was the optimum. And as long as I prayed, God would provide this for me.

But none of these, is in fact, marriage. I don't know what marriage is, and I won't know until I live it. These are, at best, the ideas of mine that would lead to me wanting to marry someone. Fair enough.

What would it take now? Do these things still apply?

I wanted to say no, but as I thought more about it...yes, they do.

I wanted to say that real relationships are not limited by the expansive love vocabulary of my unrequited love experience, and I wanted to say that my pragmatic view was also limiting. And I do think that's true. But I know many a loving couple who would describe their relationship, sometimes, with that expansive love language, and many times speak of their relationship pragmatically, in terms of compatibility and mutual attraction.

I know there are people who do believe that they've found their soul mate, so it is, in fact possible, and my wanting anything less than what is possible for me, yes, would be settling, even though I tried to tell myself otherwise.

Marriage, for me, has not changed, has not become some more circumscribed, realist version of its previous self. It is children and gushy love and fit. Its some balance of those things, not the perfect balance, but the balance that works. Above all, it's a partnership with some sort of shared notion of the arrangement, the contract, the relationship, however its viewed by the couple.

I have no idea how I'm going to get there, but insha'Allah, I'm going to get there, or bust!

Friday, November 23, 2012

[Uncensored]: Want At Odds

As salaam alaikum,

As I walked home from the hospital this afternoon, wishing that I could fly (like, literally, with my own wings) instead of walking home in the rain, though well-equipped with my Boston umbrella and my boots, I had two thoughts for entries.

One was about my feelings about my getting married one day, how those feelings have changed and current threads of ambivalence.

But before that, I think I need to talk about this.

I was born Muslim and raised Muslim by a Muslim mother, a fact that I still unfortunately feel like I have to defend. But never mind that. Separate from that upbringing, I embraced Islam as a teenager and young woman. I guess I still am a young woman. Young womanhood is a long road.

Anyway, I embraced Islam so tightly for a simple fact. It was in line with something that is really important to me: being a good mother.

Separate and prior to my understanding of the importance of motherhood in Islam, one of my greatest aspirations in life was to have children. Marriage itself usually waxes and wanes depending on various subjects of attraction, but the want to have children has remained pretty much a constant. In the time when I had no particular object of attraction, marriage was simply the (very necessary) means to the end.

And Islam was entirely compatible with three of my core desires: to have strong faith in God, to be a good mother, and to do things the most right.

One could say this about other of the monotheistic faiths. If my mother hadn't been Muslim, maybe I would have been Christian or whatever other religion. But, my mother was Muslim, and I came to understand Islam as the way to do things the most right, including motherhood. Within the Qur'an and in Sunnah, I came to understand, existed an irrefutable formula to live the most right, to be the best mother I could be on this earth, and to have the strongest faith in God as possible. The more I followed this formula to the letter, the more I could be assured that I could have my three core desires.

The problem is, in life, just as in Islam, there are no guarantees. It's all insha'Allah.

Secularly, you can't always get what you want. Sing along!

As a young woman, I wanted to do everything the most right. I am still a young woman, and I still do. I wanted to marry young, meet a good Muslim man and start a family. After all, everything I read and everyone I knew told me that this is what God wanted us to do...this was our nature. Marry, raise families, raise them to follow the Straight Way.

...so why was it not happening for me? I was praying, I was striving, shouldn't it have happened? Maybe I wasn't making my prayers timely enough and maybe I hadn't reached a level of striving...

And then came the stark realization, after years of praying, Ramadans passed with that one prayer remaining unanswered, crying and begging and pleading and wondering if crying invalidated my prayers.

It's all insha'Allah. It's not a definite.

I came into a way of life because it was compatible with my desires. But, as part of this way of life, I have to recognize that I may not get what I want, even if it's ordained for us as human beings, because it may not be God's will. As a Muslimah, I needed to learn to be content with being alone with the prospect of never having children...when that's never what I signed up for.

But we much less sign up for life than religion, and the secular perspective is much crueler. Life's a bitch.

What becomes complicated is when you realize that your Islam, your way of life, is not as compatible with you as you would though. That in your efforts to try to do things right, that one of your greatest desires, you could actually be precluding something else that you want, which is something pure and good to want...to be a mother, and a good one. I say this because I have lived so long in a way that totally precludes my ever marrying, or every marrying in time enough to have my own children.

Being a Muslimah means sacrificing what I want that may be the thing that drew me to Islam in the first place in favor of a greater good, greater purity, greater goal...

And I found myself in desolation and desperation because my wants were at odds with my faith.

Which they can be for any of us at any time.

Because if we are extremely fatalistic, anything we want that we don't get is clearly not God's will, because we didn't get it. This breeds struggle at best, disbelief at the other extreme. Especially when the things we want are reasonable things, things we feel entitled to as believers, as human beings...

Want at odds.

Would I rather be a mother or a Muslim? I'd rather be Muslim.

Would I rather be a good mother or a good Muslim? I'd rather be a good mother.

Would I rather be a good mother or a Muslim? I'd rather be a good mother.

Of course, I don't believe the latter two statements to be mutually exclusive. Yes, the latter two.

I just...months ago I found myself in a conundrum, where I believed that in order to have sufficiently strong faith, I should rather be single for the rest of my life with no children than to have a family and be a good mother, what I most want, which in itself is farther from guarantee than having children itself.

And I couldn't say that. I couldn't rather be single for the rest of my life with knowledge of my strong faith in God. So I'm not.

The fact remains, nothing is guaranteed. It's all insha'Allah. I'm less guaranteed to be a good mother than a mother at all. I chose a way of life that was compatible with my own personal desires and many of my values. My way of life may be compatible with those desires but does not guarantee those desires much more, if any more, than if I had existed in my native state, outside of my understanding of Islam, within the innocence of the religion my mother taught me.

But it's relatively illogical that I should desire so much to bring children into the world. For what? For them to suffer through some of the same emotional and spiritual struggles that their mom has and did, and those of their own? Why are some of us so intent on reproducing ourselves?

This led me to question what I saw in marriage, besides securing someone with whom to reproduce.

Next time, though...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Carne e osso / Mindfulness

As salaam alaikum,

I'm on a string of three nights. Three nights at the beginning of the block, three nights at the end. It's not bad. I admitted three patients last night, none of them particularly sick. We'll see who of them is still here.

I'm drowsy. I'm status post Benadryl to help me sleep the five hours that I did, and I've been napping intermittently since. I slept for 15 hours yesterday and the night proceeding, together, so that usually explains why I'm not able to get the full 7 hours in the next day. I'm sleepy and its the perfect mindset for a ritual de mis piernas type of exercise, Neruda style. I'm in bed, my own body, carne e osso, is before me. No one else to regard it but me. The pale of my winter-coloring skin, the fat of my thigh, the bend of my knee is all there before me. And there's nothing magical about this moment. I'm just a woman in her pajamas, looking at her body, a body that is not so remarkable, not so much unlike any woman else's.

And I reflected on how life, for me, has slowly lost its mystical nature, and in a way has been reduced to the very carnal, very temporal nature of my own body, my own legs. It's like spiritual atrophy, and I'm not sure I like it.

Have I been much more emotionally stable because of it? Absolutely. But did I take that stability in exchange for my sense of wonder and awe at the transcendental nature of life? Not intentionally.

It all started when I attempted mindfulness, something that was not a new concept to me as I begun residency but something that was reinforced by one of our faculty members. Mindfulness. Living one day, or even one moment, at a time. Recognizing things for what they are. They are what they are, essentially. If you're having a bad day, it's just a bad day. There are bad days and good days in life. Don't whip yourself into a frenzy, thinking about the significance of this bad, or beating yourself up for not being happy all the time. Happiness at all times is not a characteristic of life. Tristeza não tem fim, felicidade sim, though not exactly. Both are temporal, both wax and wane as a matter of life. Live in the moment, don't stress too much about the future...not next year, not next block, not tomorrow, not even next shift.

Living so much in the moment has driven so many of my decisions in the last five months. It's been transformative and has led me to a place of emotional stability that I have not previously known. I'm no longer beating myself up if things feel too hard, if I have a bad day, or anything else. I no longer presume my own fundamental insufficiency as a human being is at the bottom of my bad days...or that my own prowess is responsible for my good days. Life is ebb and tide. I love obstetrics, but there were days of the rotation where I was fine not delivering another baby, ever. Doesn't mean I don't have what it takes...it means I was tired, I was under a lot of stress, and it's okay to feel that way.

I used to live life so differently. Not only was my eye constantly to tomorrow, the next block, the next year, my eye was fixed on the Hereafter. My life was constantly projected out to some place I never was. Future career, future husband, future children, future self. I was rarely cognizant of who I was in the moment.

And if I stopped to notice, I would have been more aware of who I actually am right now and what I actually want, now. Not who I believe I should be, for which my current self is never enough. My should be self was the image on which I based everything I wanted, everything I wanted in the future. But maybe, just maybe, I was never meant to be this image of future self.

Maybe the point of it all is that I should take what I've been blessed with and work with what I have.

Mindfulness does not have to be the antithesis of spirituality. My first passes with it were that way, though. I'm not sure why.

I guess it's because my version of spirituality, as much as I decried it, was unbalanced between the now and the Hereafter. In my spiritual vision, we weren't gifted now for nothing. Now is not simply a trial or a temptation. There's a lot of now that matters for our creation of self, a self that, yes, will transcend this time, space, this carne e osso, this ritual de mis piernas, all of these limited dimensions.

So how will mindfulness instruct my spirituality?

I live in the moment. I live right now, in today. I pray every day, for what is now, for what is in front of me, for what I am most capable of sensing and experiencing. I cannot sense my future or my final destination. I pray for guidance and protection each day. I pray for continued mercy each day. I do concern myself with the Hereafter, but no longer how my future self can attain it. I focus on what I can do, in each and every day, to elevate my own soul.

Mindfulness, I think, will actually revamp my spirituality. Mindfulness, I think, is better than my former mysticism, of a world where there was a mysterious and hidden balance of acts and consequences, of intended and predetermined pathways drawn out, and we're just along for the ride, sometimes able to find the deeper meaning in our everyday, in our path. I still believe that this is true, but it doesn't behoove me to think this way. It's very anxiety provoking when every interaction, every event in life has some sort of spiritual, cosmic meaning that is making me into who I am supposed to be. By the grace of God, I will become who I am supposed to be.

But in being so farsighted, I miss out on the little things, the little deeds of each day. The little ways I can be a better person.

And eis que chega mindfulness. I am living right now. I submit to God right now. Instead of thinking how I can submit better tomorrow, or in the future, and stressing about how I'll get there, and propping myself against other invisible entities, like community and future husband, to get me to that sweet spot, how can I submit right now? Because right now is what I have. I never have tomorrow, not only because it's not guaranteed, but because it is not yet tomorrow. Tomorrow is a nebulous thing and is the reason why we can procrastinate so much, because there is always another tomorrow.

I have right now. For me, submitting is being in all ways a better human being to myself and those around me. There are very little ways I can do this each day that I ignore because I live too far into the big picture, into an ideal that I will, in fact, fail to realizing if I don't live where God placed me. In the body He placed me, in the time and space He placed me, in the context.

When I embraced mindfulness, I let go of a woman I will never be and embraced the woman that I am. And I'm being real with myself in a way I never have. And I'm reconstructing a religious and spiritual paradigm that works for me, that is still compatible with praying in jammah but is altogether particular to me.

The spiritual realm reenters my life but is no longer synonymous with the self-oppressive paradigm it used to be. The self limiting. I'm my only liable limitation. No one else makes me an inivisble Muslimah but myself. I am so blessed to be my only limitation. Not everyone is so free.

I know who I am, I know who I ain't. And I'd never be satisfied with just being carne e osso. Living in now is an awesome exercise, but it doesn't take away my belief in the dimension that exists outside of space and time, making my now irrelevant when I'm able to transcend these limits upon my separation from this body.