Saturday, April 20, 2013

Finish Line

As salaam alaikum,

A year ago from Monday, I was sitting in front of my classmate and former roomie's apartment building, watching runners cross St. Paul Street on Beacon while sitting on her ottoman. She swiveled next to me in her office chair. We weren't running but at least I was dripping in sweat. At the heat of the day, it was 91 degrees, and after a few hours, the sun was just so the shadow of the building behind us receded and no longer sheltered us.

I looked at the white sitting on the median with their bare legs reflecting the sunlight and wondered if their skin hurt like mine did from the direct sun. It was April and already I was getting bronze. I broke out a spaghetti string blouse that now smelled like sweaty me and probably wasn't that cute.

But it was a great day! We got there early enough to see who would likely be the winners of the marathon, the finish line less than a mile away. We saw everyone who was in it for the run, probably people who'd run it every year. I shouted "Braseeoow!" every time I saw a runner from Brasil, hoping they'd hear me. And I cheered for several groups of runners as they made their way steadily, as I saw people slow to a walk, drink water.

But honestly, I don't remember it all. I remember it was a hot day and after a while we took the office chair and ottoman back into her apartment and went somewhere to eat. Five years living in Boston and I finally had a real day off to go to the marathon that several classmates ran every year.

Monday was my brother's birthday, tax day, Patriot's Day, Marathon Day. I had friends from Boston and not from Boston running the marathon. I planned to wake up from being post call to maybe glance at who won this year, as I did last year, and recall fondly that hot spring day foreshadowing a hot summer in the city that I lived in for five years.

Instead, I woke up to a text from my mother, asking me if I had heard about the marathon bombings.

It's different when you see such chaos at a familiar site.

It happened a block from where I used to get acupuncture, a place I've walked many a day and night and felt completely secure. The thing that got me about the image of the first explosion were the flags from all of the different countries that whipped in the wind after that with the backdrop of terrified screams. It made me cry the first time.

I would never, ever expect such a thing to happen during the marathon.

Fast forward these few days, lives changed, bodies mangled, the false accusations, the brown men framed, the hate crimes, the murdered MIT police officer outside of the window were a former classmate worked, the explosives out of the SUV, the city on lock down.

I don't know what to say.

And I really don't have anything more to say than what has already been said in other blogs. Scratch that. I have less to say.

I pray for everyone affected, and insha'Allah I'll pray some more. Not only my friends and virtual fam in residency in Boston, but for everyone. I came of age in Boston. I became a doctor in Boston. I had a lot of firsts in Boston and made family in Boston. I'm all the way on the other coast and had tucked it away as a past phase in my life but I find myself wanting to call it my city. It hurt my heart to see my city without the T running, with no one at Downtown Crossing, with no one in the financial district...

That terrorists are again Muslim feels to me like all the time criminals are again black. Condemn and distance is the way to go, I feel. These days I'm not feeling like too much of an apologist. All I can say is, the reality of these people, whatever crazy thing it is, is so distant from my reality, so distant from where I was last year on a hot spring's day, sun painfully bronzing my shoulders as the runners, swift, lean and agile, dripped sweat on Beacon as they ran to the finish line.

Friday, April 19, 2013


As salaam alaikum,

For some reason in my late 20s...or, let me be real, like, now...I've become a voracious reader. I don't know what spurred the change. I went from coming home after a long day at the hospital and wanting nothing more than watching a couple of episodes of Daily Show or Colbert report or whatever random show that I follow on the internet, and then I'd go to sleep blissfully unaware of the world around me.

I think sometime between fourth year and the start of residency, I started reading more.

From the likes of The Atlantic and The New Yorker to just plain news stories. From sites like AltMuslimah to CurlyNikki. From my favorite bloggers to articles about my favorite authors. From best-sellers and their books status post successful TED talks to books I heard about years ago and am just now getting to.

I'm currently reading three or four books at a time right now...slowly because my current schedule affords me about three hours between work and sleep to eat, bathe, catch up with family, friends and SO...and read.

But in addition to those three or four books (and another that's pre-ordered for my Kindle, just waiting for me to tear into it), I have several tabs open with articles and stories I want to read that I will get to, insha'Allah, just given enough time.

Just like I was "a girl too late" at 19 when I fell in love with MTQ, I'm a sudden voracious reader. And I never have been, perhaps paradoxically.

I've heard all my life that good writers must, as a rule and perhaps by second nature, read a ton. Like, really, read everything they get their hands on...and like it. My mother is a great writer and she was a voracious reader until the stresses of being Sandwich Generation caught up with her and both have simmered into almost nothing. But she was my inspiration. I wanted to be like her.

I was an early reader and by age group a strong reader but I was not the strongest reader. My mother read aloud with me and helped me with some of the things I struggled with. I would often miss words that were critical to comprehension of the sentence, sometimes because I was rushing. I specifically remember thinking it was a big deal to be able to read several sentences, maybe even a paragraph, without mistakenly mispronouncing a word or stumbling in the sentence. In fact, I don't think this was a skill I truly obtained until after college, after poor and informal speech training. I remember feeling such satisfaction at being able to read without "messing up."

And I'm one of those people who, for years, read aloud in my head. I did so in both English and Spanish. Somewhere between medical school and now, I no longer do that. It's so weird that I hardly remember what it was like to read aloud in my head. I think I still do sometimes, especially when I'm the one who's writing. But I think years of being a medical student and frantically more-than-skimming articles in a short time where I was expected to know the answer in a detailed enough way but get this information in a limited time did the trick, and shifted into my pleasure reading as well.

But on top of all of these things...I don't know, I never got the pleasure of reading that my mother described. She talked about hiding herself in her 12-person, 2 bedroom household and reading anything and everything she could get her hands on. Because of my mother, I read The Secret Garden and A Wrinkle in Time. On my own, as a 10-year-old, I read Roots. I read the Jurrasic Park trilogy with much gusto after having seen the movies, opining that the books were better, but by the time I was 12, I was writing maybe three or four stories at a time, and reading mainly what was required for school.

I didn't rush home to read my latest find from the library or get excited about books that I wanted to read next. I got very excited about characters I wanted to come to life, stories I wanted to put on paper, scenes that I laughed about in my head for days that were even greater than...once I got them on paper.

But a good writer must read a lot, or at least sufficiently to be a good writer.

I didn't want all of those story ideas and characters to go to crap because I was a bad writer because I didn't read enough.

And honestly, that's what drove me to read from high school until I'd say the end of medical school. I never really read something because it was was more because I should. That classic that we didn't get to in my high school Humanities course? Must read. That new book by that black author that has crossover appeal? Must read. Things Fall Apart. Not only have you not been to Nigeria ever but it took you how long to read that?

And so on.

So it surprises me to be quite satisfied with not starting a new writing project and having three books that I want to read, a little heavier on the non-fiction than the fiction.

What happened?

I'm changing.

That's right, I'm changing. I'm becoming no longer the person I used to be. I think it's called growth.

I'm expanding. My world has been branching out and tending toward entropy and I'm all spread out now. I'm no longer running to catch up with should and I finally am. When you're no longer chasing should and just are, you have more time to observe the world around you. I'm more curious. I'm more inquisitive. I'm more wanting to understand things that I left behind because I didn't have time to learn about it, was on to the next thing, no one asked so I didn't reveal that I didn't know.

That's happening to me in medicine. I'm going back and reading and understanding things I've only marginally understood for too long, in part because I realize that I'll need to know it at critical points when no one will be there to explain it. It's also because of actual interest, knowing that I'll face similar situations someday and being more confident in my own mental reserves.

Similarly, on the outside, in my everyday life, I've have allowed myself to be long enough to want to know more about everything. And while I blame some of my lack of reading for being born in front of a television, essentially, and half of my childhood memories being television shows, and half of my story ideas being inspired by television and movies...I find myself seeking information. Non-fiction...I wanted to learn more about The Great Migration, more about the female sexual experience, more about resilience training for physicians. More about education for kiddos with special needs and not leaving these kids behind. More about discipline and children in the 21st century. More about the origins of Islamic Jurisprudence. More about writing novels.

I find myself searching for stories. Not because I should, but because...sometimes there's no better way to learn about and identify with love than reading a fiction piece. Learn what it means for someone else to be a black women though their fiction. Learn about aspirations and predilections...through fiction.

The more I've lived, I think, and the more I allow myself to live now instead of chasing should, my interests expand beyond should and the more I seek. The more I read.

Because while documentaries I argue are still ideal for the likes of music genres, record labels and recording artists, there's so much more that can be said about slavery and non-existent reconstruction, about race in Latin America...than can fit into a documentary. In that case, I don't need a soundtrack. I'm there with a book.

...granted, the writer in me rarely lets me read a book for more than 10 pages before I'm compelled to write a 10 page reflection of my own about one sentence, sometimes one word that's said. When I was a college student, this would happen all the time. I got the reading done, always, but...I've always been a slower reader...

And maybe I still read slow. But I'm no longer concerned that I should read fast.

And here I am.

...I'm also rereading RMD and enjoying it. Insha'Allah, I'm going to edit it one more time and send it of these days.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


As salaam alaikum,

I once wanted something for myself, but then I'm pretty sure I gave up because I was convinced that it does not exist. I still believe that it does not exist. Or do I?

I don't think I believe that it doesn't exist anymore. It's just that, after wanting it so much, convincing myself that it was perfect for me...I realized that I didn't want it once I convinced myself that it didn't exist.

And now it exists again, and I don't want it.

This wouldn't be a problem if I hardly knew who I was anymore. And it's not residency specifically that has depersonalized me. It's the ebb and flow of life and making decisions before I have the time to ruminate over my thoughts in a thousand words in a word document, or in a blog entry. I've moved faster than the estimation of myself.

I've even started questioning if I want to be a wife and a mother. I have to remind myself at intervals, of course I do. Do I? Yes. I manage women labor, put their babies on their chest, constantly imagining what I would prefer when I'm delivering, how I hope I am able to handle labor, imagining my husband at my side. Of course I want that...

...or do I?

Life for a while was a constant quest of me searching how to be. How to be optimally, to earn the most love from Allah (swt). And in the course of mindfulness, I learned to be enough, enough right now, enough for myself, to be myself. But in the background, there's the historic me who thought that there was no such thing as being oneself. To be oneself was to be satisfied with the innate mediocrity that we are instead of striving to be better. To never be satisfied with oneself was to be striving. To struggle daily because marriage was not in site was a worthy struggle, because I was struggling in the way of God and what He wanted for me in such a relationship and not settling for less. Prayers were much more cathartic that way.

There was baseline worthiness that I thought would be accomplished by being a baseline Muslimah...five pillars, the minimum, modesty at the minimum. And I never got there...never all at once. And I didn't feel worthy unless I got there.

And probably I was still single because God knew it would be best for me to get there instead of looking for spiritual and religious guidance too much in a man, a future husband. He wanted me to rely on myself, I told myself. I prayed for the best husband I could have on this earth, and it's taking so long because that's what I prayed for, I told myself. Meanwhile, each prayer became like a plead and my pain and depression etched battle scars into my being, that which I thought was worthy, worthy and the struggle for God.

This is the way we are all supposed to live, ultimately, I told myself, if we only knew. Life is struggle enough, but if we're putting it in the right place...I may not understand it now, but it'll only reap rewards for me. This is why God constantly reminds us that the next life is better than this...

...and so I lived a life not so much for the next life but for the next moment and the next stage of being.

I wanted very many things, actually. A certain type of being, a certain type of husband so I could raise a certain type of children, all that would fit into what I already had going for my career. I imagined a being where I was more fit than I am, thinner than I am, hair healthier than it is, clothing my own brand of modesty and elegance as it's not. I hoped to redefine myself into this woman upon entering residency, and instead, I remained as I've always been. Jeans and a blouse, sometimes dry and matted puff on my head.

I acquired a man who loves me, and I him, who will not be that certain type of husband. Nor do I want to be.

I wanted very many things for myself that I convinced myself at one time did not exist and now that I'm over them and I see that they do exist, I no longer want them.

I still want to live God-conscious, but I'm finding a more organic way to do that than molding myself into what I should be to be enough, when we are always enough. God did not create mediocrity. My paradigm is partly the pleasure of God but it's also the understanding of a life that is supposed to bring us the most benefit and equilibrium.

...or is it that I still don't want it?