Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Glow

It is a cold grey day… walking alone in unfamiliar streets, looking around into the eyes of strangers to find no glow. I am tired, I feel so cold. The colourless sky matches my gloominess and emptiness of heart. I still have an hour to spend on my own before I go to another sad endeavor that will lead me nowhere brighter. Oh how heavy it is to wait for something you know it will hurt. Seeking refuge in this café might help a little; I went directly to the desolate corner that suits my solitude.

It is warm inside, compared to the cold loneliness outside. The guitar playing knew exactly what to say; heartrending tones moaning gently and in dignity. I felt safer inside, away from the crowd of unappreciative strangers passing by swiftly.

I sat in front of the corner window. It was a table for four, I placed my things on one chair, left one unnoticed and faced the last empty chair where someone should have occupied. I ordered my favorite hot drink and asked for a magazine to hide in. Somehow my cup came alone, without the magazine, forcing me to hide elsewhere.

In the nearest table occupied, sat a beautiful couple. I was able to see the face of the girl, while her man gave me his back. She was a gentle soul, her face showed how delicate she is, while her eyes spoke to him in tender passion. She had beautiful small hands playing with the curls of her neck scarf. Their generous glow reached out to me, lending me some of the warmth of their company.

My eyes strayed outside the window. The hostile truth started to surround me; I am alone here. I am sad, cold, and ill. My heart is heavy with anticipation. I can no longer see anyone sitting in the empty chair in front of me. Holding my cup with both hands, hiding most of my face behind it, I looked away. I looked into the faces of every single person passing by, imaging what they say and where they are going, seeing only one episode of long stories that started long ago and which I won't be able to continue. I wanted to connect with them, dissolve in them, to be felt and noticed. I do not want to be alone, I am so fragile, my lonely heart is about to break.

I kept on looking… a lady came and parked her car in a nasty way in front of my window, she left the car in a hurry and held her daughter's hand and disappeared after a few steps. Cars kept on turning around the corner with different faces. No one noticed I was looking at them. A taxi came along, with one passenger on board. A young man was sitting beside the driver, he was like me looking away. He looked at the café, his eyes first fell on the joyous couple in the distant table, and kept on moving towards me. I thought at first that no one can see through the glass from outside, and that I cannot be seen. But he looked directly into my eyes, and smiled. I looked around to see who he is smiling at, but to my surprise, it was me. I felt like I've seen a friend. His gentle smile could easily see through my lonely heart. I could not believe he could really see me and feel my sorrow. He raised his hand and waved goodbye as the taxi went away. I put down my cup and smiled at my friend who was leaving.

I stayed a while longer in the café, with a persistent smile on my face, full of warmth and glow. I stopped seeing the empty chair in front of me. I went out confidently, capable of facing the coldness outside. I looked around at the lonely people passing by, seeing how cold they are. I wished that my inner glow could reach out to them, to lend them some of the warmth of my company.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The character shield

Five questions…she started writing on the board:

What’s your goal in life?
What do you do when you are not working?
I am the kind of person that….?
In 5 years from now I would like to have….?
The two things that I would take with me on a deserted island are?

This was our instructor’s idea of having us introduce ourselves to her and to each other. We knew each other already for this was our second semester together and that was our third class in a row in which we say the same old, same old about who we were and our background. The catch this time though, was to answer those questions by drawing a picture! Then we were to stand in front of the class and explain those drawings! I was mortified, "What?"

1- I do not have an answer for all that in the first place!
2- Even if I do, each is a deep concept that no drawing can symbolize.
3- My drawing is nowhere near beautiful!
4- And to stand in front of the class and talk? Who, me? The one who alienated herself because of the difference in age, background and everything really and who comes from a completely different world?

Well, I guess by now you got the picture. And until the very last moment I almost didn’t know what to do.

But then, that instructor started by herself, answering those questions one by one. “The Character Shield” she called her paper with the drawings.

Then to make it even harder, she asked us to come address the class without giving us any specific order to follow. Whoever had the guts to start did, followed by the less so. They are all more than a decade younger than me and they live in a culture quite different than where I came from so it was normal to have them state in simple and really sweet terms sometimes how their goal is to be happy, to have a home and lots of cash in five years, to take “satellite phones” with them in the island and knives and guns to secure food and protect themselves. They went on to describe what kind of persons they are; mainly happy sociable ones who like to party, drink, laugh at silly jokes and just be around people merrily.

I was almost surprised that I was the last one to get up and talk. One more please to come before me? “Help people?” I prayed secretly. But of course every one by then had already talked with the rest of the class laughing with him or her and clapping out of courtesy for encouragement.

So what did I have on my paper?

Well, a sun was my answer to the first question. “It is not that I like the sun per se,” I started, “cause I had a lot of that in Egypt where I come from. But to me the sun symbolizes light, guidance, warmth and help and this is what I would like to be giving to my dear ones. I volunteer and try to make a difference and this to me is more gratifying than money.”

“The computer here,” I went on, “is basically what I do in my life when I am not with a book reading or listening to either to study or for pleasure. This is where I do my volunteer job that I have committed my life to. This also is where I have the pleasure of talking to my close friends in a couple of both remote and close areas of the world. This is where I share my life and thoughts, since I don’t have friends here in Canada.”

“That person with question marks here is me. I am a person who thinks and questions life around her. I see ideas and images in everything around me and enjoy turning stones for hidden treasures.”

“What I would like to have in five years? Well, I think I have everything I need and cannot ask for more. But what I would really like to have in five years is my first book. This is a dream I have always had and you never know; it might come true one day.”

The last question was the easiest to answer really. “I would certainly take with me to that deserted island an endless supply of lotion. Facing the elements is not such a good idea, and I’m sorry people, I can’t live without my lotion! But what would really help me there is to have a copy of Qur’an with me. I am a spiritual kind of person and I know that having our (Muslim’s) holy book will make me feel God’s company all the time and I would then never be alone.”

And they clapped, with gusto I guess, as if I gave a speech or something. And as I sat back next to a classmate of mine he said, “Hey! That was really good. I feel like I know you well.” “Hello! Of course you do, we worked together on a group project, remember!”

Today was a different story though. Something must have happened in class that left me feeling down that when it was over I went out walking in an opposite direction from that of the rest. I simply wanted to be alone wishing their voices would disappear so that a loner like me is left in peace.

As I was walking, a polite classmate of mine came after me saying, “Hey stranger!” I said, “Hey there, see you Saturday?” “Yeah,” he said, “but remember what you said yesterday when you were talking about yourself and addressing the class?” “Oh that? I seem to have said a lot of stuff yesterday!” He said, “But you said that you didn’t have any friends here in Canada, remember?” “Yeah,” I said. “Well, you do. You certainly do!”

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Forgiveness; the Price of Life

O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do? Great is hatred in the sight of God that you say what you do not do. (61 [As-Saff ]:2-3)

I wrote before about
'Embracing Change', and I preached a lot and thought that I am wise and strong enough to give advice to others. I know now that it is utter arrogance and ignorance. I thought that when change comes knocking next time that I would be ready and prepared to implement all the things I have been saying, which though seemingly right and beautiful, are definitely very hard to actually do. Very soon afterwards, I was sent a test by God, which I’ve totally failed! It was like, here you go, you talk so well, prove it! And I could not prove it, I admit. I was humbled by knowing how easy it is to talk while you are not in the midst of the struggle. So, this time, I will not be as foolish as before, and I will descend the podium. I will not say what I cannot do.

Allow me this time to talk about the concept of forgiveness, without preaching.

Forgiveness; such an easy word to say, it passes on the heart with a soothing effect that is so pleasant. It is very tempting to advise others to forgive and forget; don't we all want God to forgive our sins? Then this is a very good reason to start forgiving others ourselves. Yes, true, I agree. I kept on reading about forgiveness in the Qur'ān, and although I was very convinced, yet I still could not bring my heart to do it. A particular verse, in An-Nūr chapter (the light), moved me deeply:
"...and let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that God should forgive you? And God is Forgiving and Merciful." (24 [An-Nūr]:22)
However, when you have been deeply hurt, you will not find this in any way possible to do, even if you desperately seek God's forgiveness. Sometimes anger stiffens the heart and gives you an illusionary feeling of strength that allows more fire to burn inside and bitterness to fester and totally take over your thinking. With more anger, disappointment, and lack of relief, we harbour more darkness and negativity. Sometimes we choose not to forget, to keep the pain alive. We choose not to forgive, as a silent way of avenging for our wounds.

It is so sad to watch how we sometimes make the wrong choices, carrying such heavy hearts loaded with bitterness and an inability to forgive. Despite being ordinary people who are inherently good, we allow dispute to break us apart and ruin even the good memories that used to be. We start to feel paralyzed, unable to make things better, because of the great pain, wronging, and abuse we've been exposed to. Sometimes, we might wish things were not as bad as they were, yet remain crippled with our wounds. I have seen when death approaches, how every angry memory just fades away. How foolish it is when life is that short to give up on people and surrender. But when you can do nothing, when words lose their meanings and promises lose their glow, when you are the one who has been wronged, what shall you do? You will have to go on and work on your heart. If you are a strong person, you will not surrender to the destructive thought of revenge. Yet, you stand in a fork, with two paths ahead. In both roads life will go on, as it always does. So, you can either walk on thorns that you keep watering, or save yourself.

For a while, I have chosen the first thorny path. I became so different from the one I used to be, like a butterfly that cannot fly anymore after her wings had been touched. I could no longer have the ability to embrace life with open arms or be the joyous person I used to be, I felt so incomplete. Even after getting over the sense of loss, something inside seemed to have been broken. It is no more the wronging that keeps nagging; it is this precious lost part of me that hurts the most. It is when I lost trust, when beauty became colourless, because I am no longer… myself. With a New Year unfolding, I wished I could start with a clear heart that has no memory. Yes life goes on, in whatever shape or form, but even when it does go on, we continue to keep our wounds bleeding by stepping barefooted on the poisoned wreckage of our own hearts.

Then I discovered that for me to lead a normal life, I have to get rid of the bitterness that is darkening my heart. It keeps growing pushing away all the light in its way, making everything looking bleak and colourless. I realized that for me to go on, I have to forgive first. I have to shatter the bitterness that is ruining me. Such darkness is smothering me, and I cannot carry it anymore. I choose to save myself. I do not want my heart to dry out. I do not want to end up with a heart of stone. I do not want Satan to win over me in this battle. I do not want any more loss.

"Has the time not come for those who have believed that their hearts should become humbly submissive at the remembrance of God" (57 [Al-Hadīd]:16)

"Then why, when Our punishment came to them, did they not humble themselves? But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made attractive to them that which they were doing." (6 [Al-An'ām] :43)

Forgiveness is very hard to reach. It takes more strength than love does. It is easy to be angry; fire can eat up a whole forest in seconds, but it takes so long to put it out, and takes much longer to grow the forest back. We should learn how to reconcile with ourselves. If others do not appreciate you, learn to appreciate yourself first. If they have wronged you, do not wrong yourself by allowing bitterness to ruin your heart. Forgive others, for your own sake; for the light to befriend your heart again, for warmth to replace coldness, for beauty to overcome ugliness. God is Merciful, yet He is Just. Nothing goes down the drain, when things are left totally for Him to judge. I have learnt that anger is not strength. What takes more courage is to conquer your fear and beat your anger; to truly believe in God's comforting light, and that He will guide us throughout the journey.

"And be patient, [O Muammad], for the decision of your Lord, for indeed, you are in Our eyes. And exalt [God] with praise of your Lord when you arise." (52 [At-Tūr]:48)

"If you pardon and overlook and forgive - then indeed, God is Forgiving and Merciful."(64 [At-Taghabun]:14)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Words of wisdom

Using up the present moment to be consumed with something that will happen in the future over which you have no control.

Using up the present moment to be consumed with something that already happened over which you no longer have control. People who are consumed with guilt chose that over taking action or learning from it. The guilty person cannot learn from mistakes. Learning from mistakes is not to be immobilized, depressed, or in despair over what happened. To get over a more grandeur and spiritual view of it you realize everything you did or everything that happened, happened for a reason; that there are no accidents, that all of those things that you did at a particular time had a lesson in them. So, look for the lesson.

There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.

Dr. Wayne Dyer
The Universe within You