Coming of Age Reflections: One Year Wiser

The past year has been rife with upheaval at the very core of my being, shaking all the constants that kept me centered: it was like a storm that tore through my fundamental relationships, my defining traits and personality, and some of my life-long beliefs and perceptions.

It wasn’t an easy one to live through. But I don’t think that it is coincidence that I had to come out of it alive just as I entered another year of my life, Alhamdulillah.

My greatest realization this year was that you may actually have no idea about everything you thought you were absolutely sure of. Your self, your opinions, your priorities, your people, your behavioral patterns – all of these are rooted in a personal bias that is formed out of your primary life experiences. And your personal bias requires, and will undergo a forceful transformation every time you finish an old and enter a new era of your life.

And that transformation is very painful, unnerving, and very unpleasant: but very, very necessary. It is like living through some real ugly hell and coming out with a sparklingly clean new lens of life: if you don’t go through it, you’d only live other parts of your life feeling frustrated and unfulfilled because of your dusty old, biased vision.

This new vision is more conscious, more balanced and a lot more compassionate. It means you take everyone and everything with a pinch of salt, you find it easier to let go and forgive, you begin to see how everything and everyone is a constant work in progress, and that there are no absolute truths except the existence of God.

But, you must begin by first seeing yourself in this new light: take your own self with a pinch of salt, let go of and forgive your bad side, remember you are a work in progress and will often have to be your only cheerleader, and that there is nothing constant in your life except the unconditional love of God.

I’ve also profoundly realized, despite what others or you yourself may force yourself to believe, that there is no good person or bad person for God till that person’s time is up: till then, God is with everyone, especially those who make the right choices, and the choice to grow from their experiences. Those who make the choice to return to Him as ashes come back with vibrant new life: because they finally relied on the only right Source.

I pray that God allows me to sustain my smile with my sunglasses on throughout, aameen.

Advertisements

If I Ever Got to the Gates of Heaven

As a child, I would sit alone behind the living room curtain, staring out for hours at the night, wondering what other children around the world would be doing at that moment – sleeping, eating, writing an exam, getting beaten up, playing, or sitting behind a curtain and wondering about me, just like I was about them.
As a child, I would often find indescribable peace lying down on the marble floor and falling asleep on it. The only thing that rivaled that peace was the serenity I found in falling asleep on the prayer mat.
I would watch TV upside down, with my legs up against the wall. When I got bored of TV, I would look up at the protrusions and wedges in the ceiling and imagine it to be the floor and divide it into rooms and decorate it with different furniture in my mind.
Some memories are etched so deeply in my mind, I wonder why they are the ones that are there. Do we have the ability to so vividly remember emotionally intense experiences that it feels like we’re in that very moment once again?
Like an unforgettable night praying next to my then very busy dad as a child in the balcony and later watching the stars. I can even recall the gentle wind and the distant look in his eyes and the slow pace of his breathing, as we’d finished praying and he was looking out to nowhere, and his lips were moving with dhikr, and I just watched him.
Then another day I woke up for school and caught my eyes in the mirror as I washed my face and felt like I’d seen the most beautiful eyes in the world.
Then one day when I was in KG 2 and my mom couldn’t pack lunch in time in the morning and promised us she would bring it to school. The lunch bell rang and I waited for my mom at the school gates and she hadn’t come. Lunch time was over and I was back with an empty stomach in class. A few minutes later, my mom was standing breathless at the class door with a mixture of anxiety, exhaustion and guilt on her face in her cream and peach scarf. Miss Shirley looked at me and told me I had 5 minutes to eat and get back to class – the equivalent of being allowed to cheat in an exam in a convent. I got out and mom opened the lunchbox and kept it in front of me, and watched me with so much anticipation as I took in the steaming hot fried fish with rice and ghee, as if every bite I took was vindicating her a bit more for committing the heinous crime of keeping me hungry longer than I should have been for one, single, meal.
And when I was 4 or 5 and got red chilli powder put in my eyes. I can never forget the afternoon light in the room and how my limbs moved trying to resist.
And when I was out playing for a long time and came back home and kept knocking for an hour on the door till I fell asleep on the marble staircase. My family didn’t realize I was missing when they left for a dinner party.
And when as a child, I watched nervously as mom cried into the phone to her sister till she completely broke down.
And memories of trying to focus the sun’s light onto my hand with a magnifying glass. Or dropping different colors of paint into a glass of water and watching them swirl so beautifully.
Or feeling like my heart would explode and crying uncontrollably when little Mariam was taken away from her mother and had no idea what was going on as she kept looking back at her mother in A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Or protesting as my young maternal uncle would leave our house and keep teasing me with special nicknames he’d kept for me: Jupiter and ‘thing’ (because I said the word so much).
Days in university with my Turkish best friend, discussing life and existence and revelation and beauty and God. Making her and a British friend try desi food in a South Indian restaurant. Watching her burst into tears  and hug me as she read a write-up of my fondest memories, a file that I would give anything to recover.
Sunny mornings of my childhood or when I’d set out for class in university.
When new knowledge opened up doors in my mind I never knew existed and I reveled every second in the unparalleled bliss that only enlightenment can bestow.
The rife and hot anger in my heart when I would experience or witness injustice that I could do nothing about.
When I was in an auto rickshaw listening to the driver desperately discussing how he’s trying to complete the arrangements for his sister’s wedding with his aunt.
When I could concentrate considerably in my prayer which would transport me to another universe.
Exchanging hugs after Friday prayers at university with friends.
Feeling so lonely on the bus sometimes.
Noticing the different shape, texture and color of the leaves of different plants growing in the same soil and thinking ‘God. Only God.’
Missing more than just one beat as my eyes would catch those that searched for mine and mirrored my soul.
A song that stirs up so much longing for so many things that time has taken away with it.

What is the purpose and end of all our individual experiences? Why are 6 billion people having 6 billion different experiences at this very moment and what is their collective meaning and purpose and end?

The infinite emotions we experience and their constant exertion on the heart through the journey of life is so paradoxical. All our experiences have an affect on the heart: the organ that has to work to keep us alive while life keeps wearing it down. And at some point, it’s as if the heart gives up trying to thrive and is just struggling to keep us physically alive and get life over with.

With a heart like that, the only thing that stirs it is when I imagine myself finally getting to the gates of Heaven. I imagine standing alone, light in front of me, as I levitate in a dark starry space. My eyes are closed and my face is turned up and I take in a deep breath. And I’m thinking “Just. Let. Me. In.”

The moment I step foot inside, I fall to my knees with my heart in my hands stretched out towards Him, saying:

‘Take it. And don’t ever, ever leave me again.’ 

Gates_of_heaven_on_earth_by_Vyner