Home Stretch?

Life never organizes itself the way you want it to. Ideally, the plan was to post about the hols, the home town, the experiences, the journey home, the aftermath and then slowly blend into Muharram. Instead, here we are, at the first day of 1429 A.H. and I have done none of that. Not through lack of trying.

But I have my handwritten notes – holidays remind you how fickle technology really is – so perhaps I’ll fit in stuff in the coming posts.

Right now, there are other things that need to be posted about. Starting off into Muharram straight from a holiday can be hard. Especially with the way things are on the political front right now. It seems as if our community is victim to the watering down of azadari. People in some countries are going for majalis (gatherings) of mourning three times a day. In these first ten days, they sleep, breath, eat and feel only for Imam Husayn (pbuh) and Karbala. And we will have only one majlis a day and that too, barely an hour or so of it.

Maybe this is a test? The grief of Karbala is supposed to be embedded in the hearts of the Shia. We should be able to mourn for him any time, any where. Every land is Karbala. Every day is Ashura. Isn’t it? So maybe, this, especially for me, is a time to see how much of my love is based on what is inside of me, and how much of it is dependent on the environment. Do I mourn simply because the preacher is a good orator? Or because the people around me are too? Or do I mourn because I truly, sincerely, understand my own loss?

When we came home last night, I couldn’t help but remember that almost exactly one year ago we had come back from abroad. At that time, it was a return to peace, to home, to the prospect of another year similar to previous one. My main plans had been to get started on my craft business and I’d even brought back supplies.

One year later, I’m remembering a quote one of my favourite teachers used to be fond of: “God laughs at the plans of Man” or something to that effect. I’ve posted enough about how in the wildest romps my fancy would indulge in, I never, ever thought I’d end up where I have. If only I’d changed as much in every year that I have in the past one.

I remember posting after that very first semester at college and thinking of the entire year of indulgence that stretched out ahead of me. Now, there’s just 12 more weeks and then I’ll be done and at the first step of a new road once again. Last semester was huge trial-and-error process and some things left a bad taste in my mouth. Even positive change has its shadows. It was a good reminder of exactly how flawed I am, a lesson not to get to grounded to this world. Imam Ali (pbuh) has said that the only fair price for a soul is heaven and we should not settle for less in our bargain with God.

The thing that hit me most about coming home this time though was that last year, I had this ache in my heart – a physical one – and the house seemed to suffocate me. I didn’t want to be here. Being abroad had made me feel alive in a way I hadn’t for a long time. There was nothing waiting for me here and it took weeks to actually get back to normal.

This year, coming back brought back the same sense of a physical ache, but it was so different. It was a sadness that this might be one of the last times I actually come back to this house as ‘home’. If things work out and The Move takes place, then this will no longer be home. Change is good and I know I keep saying that I’d love to live a life of travel and movement – try out different countries, climates and cultures every few years, but the fear I have is not of being averse to new things, it’s a fear that I might forget the old things I’ve become so attached to.

Some things are precious and the knowledge that you will inevitably lose the attachment you have with them is what hurts. The prospect of loss, even though the loss itself might not be major, is what makes me hesitate. I wonder if that happens to others. I’ve lost touch with so many friends from my childhood and teens, friends I think would have enriched my life if I still knew them. Or forgotten habits and routines that I actually enjoyed. I don’t want to live a life of that kind of cycle – gain, lose, gain, lose, over and over. It seems senseless.

So often I think that worldly attachments involve material possessions, but then at times like this, I wonder if these emotional things I cling to aren’t holding me back even more. Which brings me to the other side of this ache-y feeling.

Isn’t that the kind of pain you’re supposed to feel for your Real Home? The people who speak of missing being with God. The life of the Hereafter, the anticipation of going to see that Home you’ve established there, the sense that while you’re in this world, you’re simply passing through. That you’re in a guest house and nothing is comfortably yours so you never quite settle in, knowing that you’re going to have to move out any day.

It’s a sense of foreignness even though the framework is the same as any other house – same walls, same floor, same beds. Wouldn’t it be amazing to feel that kind of alienation from this whole world?

The relief of coming home, and now today, the act of putting away all the fancy outfits and jewellery. Of bringing out the black clothes and literally removing all colour and brightness from your life reminded me of how Imam Husayn (pbuh) and his family must have felt.

We were in a familiar town where everybody went out of their way to be nice to us. It was as if we were the center of their attention for two weeks. And yet the urge to come home was strong and it felt so good to step back into the house, no matter how dusty it was or insecure the environment. It felt safe.

But the Ahlul Bayt (pbut) were out there in a hostile, foreign land with no idea of where to head, except the knowledge that home was never going to be an option again. Even refugees flee with the tiniest hope that some day in the far or near future, they will get a chance to go back home. The family of Imam Husayn (pbuh) left without even this hope. They walked into insecurity, instability and towards certain death. And they did it with an uncanny eagerness.

It makes me feel pathetic that I claim to love them and follow them and believe in the way they did and yet I cannot walk without faltering through the simplest of tests that come before me. All I have to do is handle my own life, and that too on a personal level and even this is a challenge for me? How can I possibly dream of being amongst the followers of the Madhi (atfs) when he comes? Or of passing on values that will inspire others in the coming generations with that kind of loyalty and faith?

I love Muharram. But this year, I think will have to be more than just about feeling it and mourning. This year will have to be about igniting the internal revolution that Imam Husayn (pbuh) sacrificed his family and himself to inspire. I’m running out of time. Almost everything I have dreamt of getting in my entire life has already been given to me, in some cases even more than I asked for. Now it’s time to start showing my gratitude for it all.

It’s a new year in both the Islamic and Gregorian calendars, it’s a new beginning for me in career and possibly location. Everything is changing at one go and that can only mean one thing: a milestone is approaching. I get this feeling that now starts the final stretch on my Journey back Home. I don’t know how long this bit is, but it won’t ever be enough anyway, so it’s time to start packing immediately.

S’laams
Bint Ali

Current Thought:

To accelerate and reinforce your spirituality:
a) have permanent grief in the heart (not facial) in fear of not reaching your destination
b) ponder often about death (for beginners).

– Allama Tabatabaei

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