Throw together a few words with a full stop as the only bridge between them, and the reader is still able to understand what they’re being told. For example, “Happiness. Grief. Love. Hatred. Repentance. Fear.” You know that these are feelings. You recognise them.
In this picture, four of the people I’ve willingly – and lovingly – chosen as my family sit together like those words. Each one unique, and yet, still connected. Somehow.
It was a gorgeous Wednesday. The afternoon sun glistened fiercely over warm smiles. A lot of young laughter and some grateful sunny faces sang away to memories as dreams and ambitions peeked out from the window of a cosy apartment by the sea. The salt in the air. The sea out there.
When the sea and the sun meet, their orange is the colour of what you see when five girls count five years as they grow into their womanhood, together. It’s such a lovely shade because it’s not a mere figment of our imagination; it’s real and it’s tangible. We can feel it in the protective way we guard each other – physically, mentally, emotionally – and the honest loyalty that has our back always. We can feel it in the way we find our way back to each other after foggy evenings, in the peace we find in a mehfil of Gluco and Zeera biscuits and Chocolato dipped in warm cups of tea followed by one samosa after another. We can feel it in the way the air brushes our hair as we drive across the city to a playlist as unpredictable as it’s weather. We can feel it in the promises of not letting time and life and responsibilities get in the way of these five years.
When you’re standing in front of the freezing burst of the air conditioner, shivering a little uncomfortably – but not enough to be noticed – all you can think of is how to turn that damned machine off. A few seconds of good luck that reappear after every minute or so, strikes and the direction of that freezing blast of air moves away from you, leaving you in that very welcome warmth of comfort. It makes you very much comfortable. You may even sigh with relief. And then the cold air comes again.
Unfortunate incidents and bumps in the road are like that; they last for a few days before there’s the warmth of happiness again. Then something else happens to give you another sleepless night before there’s a smile of gratitude. So just like the cold air booming out of the air conditioner, happiness and peace also play hide-and-seek with us.
But what I’d like us to remember is the very comfortable warmth of Love that hugs us. The sunrise after a dark, stormy night of thunderstorms. The laugh mixed with tears. Like a dear friend said, the Madni phase after the trials of Mecca.
I often wonder how a *dua makes its way up above the seventh sky; a little fluffy ball weighing our hopes, desires, fears, and happiness.
There’s probably more than one layer of ozone that it needs to fly beyond.
There’s the hurt resting heavy on people’s hearts, slowing down our duas. Then there are our own follies – mistakes big and small – and disobedience (do we ever really listen to what He so lovingly says?) that slow them down. There’s fear – and it’s the deadliest of all – that hunts down our duas like vultures prying over a dead animal; fear of our duas going into that empty space, the black hole of the universe.
So, you see. Our duas ascend upwards – it’s a video game! – and there’s fear and unashamed sins, and the sad, broken sighs of humans who may be once-upon-a-times; all attacking our duas from left, right, centre, up and down. The dua gets scared. Who is there to protect it? But there is, isn’t it? Repentance and Tawakkal. So from down here, our hearts launch a missile of both, powering the impossible. Up and up and up. Something just like this. And if it’s powerful enough – a couple of megavolts, maybe – the dua shoots up; beyond the stars and stardust and the misty clouds and the seven skies straight up to fall down and prostrate by His throne. And with the grace that is only His, He picks it up, ever so lightly.
And that is how we have little secrets with God. Beautiful secrets. Life-changing secrets.
A few minutes ago as I was tidying up my closet, a delightful thought arrived (just like how epiphanies do – amidst the chaos of our daily chores) and my heart smiled. I could picture the twinkling stars in the dark sky covering up the fairy lights set up gaily by humans like ourselves, to lighten up a simple dinner on a hot and humid day.
As I carefully hung one shirt after another onto the white hangers, I wanted to clap and laugh and laugh at myself for not realising earlier that the secret to being happy – eternally happy – was in accepting that with His praise and with gratitude on our tongues, nothing could ever go wrong; there is no such thing as “things falling apart” or “everything that can go wrong in the universe is going wrong” – it is all a part of His plan, His will, His way of rearranging and realigning things to make everything perfect for us. But what’s the key to this hidden treasure? Constant dhikr, remembering our Allah at all times – our tongues moving to sing His praise; our hands removing a thorn from the road; our legs moving to save a patient; invoking in ourselves a gentle consciousness of our actions that doesn’t hurt another soul; thoughtful gestures that rescue another one in need; through kind acceptance of another human being’s uniqueness; by not lying, by not cheating; by fulfilling the rights of our near and dear ones; by killing the deadly nafs that seeks acceptance from this world; by being forgiving; by elevating our souls and becoming better versions of ourselves.
Yep. It is all a part of His plan, His will, His way of rearranging and realigning things to make everything perfect for us. And what is perfect? Extraordinarily different and unique for us all, just like our fingerprints.
So what I’ve learnt in a little more than two decades is that the real joy is in finding happiness and peace and contentment when things don’t go our way.
Otherwise, what’s so special about this life, about us?
kawaakari: (n.) the gleam of last light on a river’s surface at dusk; the glow of a river in darkness
Someone said something to someone and that someone told me that, “self-righteousness and righteousness are opposites. The existence or increase of one necessarily means the absence or decrease of the other. they eliminate each other.”
A bell rang somewhere and my heart skipped a beat. I was scared. I was scared because I chose to stand away from the crowd by making a lot of decisions the way I did – in my choice of the headscarf, in choosing to expand my spiritual world by writing about it here, in listening to my heart and working hard on Walking Thoughts, in nurturing friendships and relationships the way I do. And in trying to detach myself from those worldly pleasures that could have made me a slave of my own desires. And where did that leave me? To more questions, to more locked doors. But it’s okay. Because no matter how deep, how immense the ocean seems, the shore does exist. Somewhere. And what all did everyone teach me along the way? Kindness. Empathy. Humility.
As a very dear soul sister shared a lovely secret with me, “Experience another human being in his or her very uniqueness. Giving others enough comfort to be themselves will open your eyes and heart to a multiverse of His signs. And you’ll learn who you are in the process.” This comfort to be ourselves is a privilege that our ancestors ought to have left behind as a legacy. But some dreams remain dreams.
So every time I step out of the warmth of my home sweet home, I’m reminded of how every dervish must explore, but must also guard their eyes and heart against making themselves feel better, feel superior at the cost of another human being’s uniqueness. Every time I hear the hymns of the meynas, I wonder if they, too, have time to do anything other than becoming better at flying, and taking care of their intricate nests, and of course, their hearts.
And so I realise every day that everyone is beautiful and there really are no flaws in anyone. There are only scars from falls, wounds from stabs, dried tears of pain. And fear. Fear of losing a loved one, of failing and falling, of more pain. So we’re all beautiful in our own ways. And every person we meet in this lifetime, only adds to that beauty. We’re all the same in our uniqueness, carrying a little of God everywhere we go, sharing it with everyone we meet.
It’s a strange feeling resting heavy on the heart. Hurried anticipation for the near future. The kind that doesn’t let you sit still and makes you want to get up and pace around the room. A few deep breaths every other second does no good. Your feet also begin to hurt. Where are the words to describe this discomfort?
Everyone and everything around you is fine. Your aunts and uncles are sharing happy good mornings on the family WhatsApp group and there is love and warmth all around you. But do you really feel it?
How can emptiness feel heavy? But it does! I promise you that! It’s a puzzle, the heart. The missing piece is just your soul demanding to go home. And this home is not in the dusty streets of Karachi or in the shimmering ones of New York or in the rainy ones of London. This home is in His remembrance. Just remembering Him, thinking about Him, His mercy. More than the problems that keep you awake at night.
This home is in the smile you gift to another human being, it is in the ease you create for another, it’s in the comfort your words and actions gift to another. It’s in the noise of the waterfall, in the humming of the meyna, in the sea-shells washed along the shore. In the gratitude you offer as you wake up from flashbacks of a ghostly – or ghastly – past life. It is also – and I’m sure of this – in the guidance we seek, every morning.
And in love. And in Love.
Before you read ahead, please note that this is just one of those rare moments in history. Okay?
Growing up, I was always very protective of you. It’s the other way around now. You’re not only the taller one, but also – as I grudgingly admit – the sensible one when I happen to take the world a little too seriously.
The courage that you display as you smile through the ups and downs of life is exemplary. To this day, I am in awe of how you laugh through the toughest of times, persevere, and sail through all challenges. If there’s one person who perfectly describes how to burn the midnight oil, it’s you. An academic superstar who is very humble about her achievements, you’ve shown me the new face of dedication, you know that? It seems to the world that I have the philosophy of life figured out. That calls for a ‘LOL’, isn’t it? That’s partly untrue. What is true is how every day, you teach me how to create my own happy place, how to practice wisdom, how to get up every time we fall, how it’s healthy to laugh at ourselves.
Thank you for giving me the comfort of being myself, for your kind and unconditional acceptance of my many eccentricities, for the patience you exhibit when medicine tires me, for being the sunshine of the Masihuddin household. Thank you for letting me steal your clothes (even if you are the one who does that more often…), for keeping me entertained in boring weddings, for all the shared ice cream cones, for letting me win all those games of Uno, for shooing away all those cats.
Thank you for being your annoying, lovely, wise and witty self.
Have a beautiful and peaceful year ahead, little sister!
Here’s to all failed plans and midnight “meetings”!