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.

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