Of Cheesecake and Heartache

I was doing pretty okay today…and then we made cheesecake.  After putting it off for over a year, we finally got around to doing it, and even I put the darned thing in the oven to bake, a small voice in the back of my head was saying: “Finally! Don’t forget to save a piece for…” and then it kinda choked on its own whisper.  Who was I supposed to save a piece for again? Riiiight.  No one.

I’m not sure if I’m really, really hurt right now or really, really angry.  I’ve taken a leave of absence from facebook*, I’m trying really hard not to think of a whole chunk of my recent time although that same chunk of time was supposed to someday be a treasure-trove of memories that made my life that much richer than anybody else’s…all the things that I thought were mine have been simply taken away with no explanation and now I can’t even eat cheesecake in peace?

How many more random things on random days are going to trigger off that voice?  And really why am in this position anyway?  I’ve lived all my life knowing that there are consequences to your actions.  Every word you say has the potential to make someone’s day or to crush them.  A simple smile can change another person’s day and maybe even their life.  And if you make the effort to smile just for them even when you don’t want to, then that makes it even more precious in giving.  So where’s my action to which this is the consequence?  I’d really like to have it pointed out so I can fix that flaw in my character and not invite a repeat of this at any time in my future.

It hurts missing someone when that person doesn’t miss you back, and it hurts differently when your world seems a little quieter, your days a little harder and your heart a little sadder while the other person doesn’t seem to find the lack of you a significant absence in their life.

<mail break>

Even as I finished writing the above, a friend sent me an email with the following poem.  It’s probably a common one that’s been passed around for a long time, but I guess the same words sound different depending on when you read them so this is my contribution to passing it forward:

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ALLAH’S PLAN
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Some things are beyond our planning.
And life doesn’t always turn out as you plan.

You don’t plan for a broken heart.
You don’t plan for an autistic child.
You don’t plan for a tumor in your body.
You don’t plan for a lump in your breast.

You plan to be young forever.
You plan to climb the corporate ladder.
You plan to be rich and powerful.
You plan to be acclaimed and successful.
You plan to conquer the universe.
You plan to fall in love – and be loved forever.

You don’t plan to be sad.
You don’t plan to be hurt.
You don’t plan to be broke.
You don’t plan to be betrayed.
You don’t plan to be alone in this world

You plan to be happy.
You don’t plan to be shattered.

Sometimes if you work hard enough, you can get what you want.
But MOST times, what you want and what you get are two different things.

We, mortals, plan. But so does Allah.
Sometimes, it is difficult to understand Allah’s plans especially when His plans are not in consonance with ours.

Often, when He sends us crisis, we turn to Him in anger.
True, we cannot choose what Allah wishes us to carry, but we can carry it with courage knowing that He will never abandon us nor send something we cannot cope with.

Sometimes, Allah breaks our spirit to save our soul.
Sometimes, He breaks our heart to make us whole.
Sometimes, He allows pain so we can be stronger.
Sometimes, Allah sends us failure so we can be humble.
Sometimes, He allows illness so we can take better care of ourselves.

And sometimes, Allah takes everything away from us so we can learn the value of everything He gave us.

Make plans, but understand that we live by Allah’s grace

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The only thing I’d say to this is that much as we can’t plan certain things, other things we make conscious choices to do or not to do, to say or not to say, to react to or not to react to.  In every plan there are two parties: the people who carry out the plan and those who feel its effect. And I find it so hard to understand why anyone in this world would make choices that would have a negative effect on others.

So I think a part of me will always ask why? In moments of feeling that funny mixture of sad and not-quite-sad, I promise myself that when I make it to Heaven (insha’Allah), the first thing I’ll ask for is to know why, to understand what I did that was so wrong, to figure out how I could inspire such indifference. (People usually inspire affection or hostility, but mere ‘I-Don’t-Care-How-This-Makes-You-Feel’ is on a whole different level of insignificance.)

Naturally the problem with that wish is:
a) I have to make it to Heaven first.
b) What if I find out that while I’m feeling so hurt and stumped by what I’m assuming is no fault of mine, I discover then that it was really all my doing after all?

I guess there will always be some things that we won’t ever be able to run away from.

S’laams
bint Ali

*If you’re reading this from facebook, it’s because my blog is linked to my Notes, so if you have something to say to these posts, you can say it there but I’ll only respond if you leave the same comment on the livejournal version.

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Forgetting How To Smile

You know how you always hear about those people who simply wait for things in life and in doing so watch it pass by without even realising? I think I’ve become one of them.

I’ve so much time waiting for one thing or another, waiting to get a chance to do this or do that, waiting for a visa, waiting for a promise to be fulfilled, waiting for the moon to set, waiting for the sun to rise, waiting for this emptiness inside to stop feeling…well, so empty.

But nothing seems to happen no matter how much I wait. The chances don’t come up for me to grab them, the visa-authorities are vague and silent, the promise never came to pass, the moon hides behind clouds and the sun, when it rises only bring a fresher, keener sense of emptiness. Instead of answers and a chance to heal, there are only more questions and with each new question, a new wound.

And yet, when I try to step back and find some sense in what is going on, to try doing something instead of just sitting back and doing nothing, there is little sense of success. I do things, but none of them matter as such, they’re just daily routine things that occupy a few minutes, a few minutes there and then when I’m done with them, it’s back to the same state of waiting.

Even in a bigger sense we are all waiting – for death, for the coming of the Mahdi (atfs), for the end of the world, for ‘something’ to happen to change the steady decline of society. We’re always told that this waiting has to be a pro-active one. Prepare with your actions so that you have an easy death, prepare with your heart and your dedication so that if you’re alive when the Imam (atfs) comes you can join him, live by high moral principles so that you don’t contribute to the decline of the society even if you can’t stem it…

I used to want to do this with so much energy. Which is perhaps why this current state of feeling totally drained is so…hateful is the word that comes to my mind. I hate feeling like this, I don’t want to and yet no matter how hard I try, it creeps up unawares at the most random times: in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep and I wake up to a wet pillow I can’t remember shedding tears on, while I’m teaching in class and suddenly all I want to do is be somewhere very far away where I can just be alone, while I’m having a conversation and suddenly I forget how to smile because it hurts to do so.

Every night I fall asleep with a secret wish that when I wake up in the morning, I should be back to my usual self – cynical, thick-skinned and a little hard-headed, and every morning when I do wake up, for a few minutes I am. And then once I’ve brushed my teeth and washed my face and I look in the mirror, I see a different person and I know this is going to be yet another long day.

Everyone tells me the lessons in life are supposed to make you stronger and able to handle the next obstacles better. Then why don’t I feel one bit stronger? If anything I feel brittle inside, like one small shake would shatter whatever I’ve managed to hold together so far.

The Really Big Lessons I wrote about in my last post? I didn’t want to learn them, they’re not nice, positive, life-enhancing lessons. In fact, they’re lessons that make you give up on things, lessons that darken your view of life instead of making it brighter, then why did I have to learn them? Or maybe they were the wrong lessons to take? How am I ever to know?

These are the last days of Ramadan. People are taking advantage of the Nights of Qadr, when the destiny for each human being is decreed for the next year and you have a chance to ask for the things you want, and I’m here floating aimlessly without a clue as to what to ask for.

Asking for anything seems dangerous (so to speak), because even the things that once seemed good and precious and valuable are now tarnished. So perhaps I should ask only for what God wants to give me, what He thinks is best for me, instead of trying to decide that for myself.

Or perhaps for this moment, I should ask simply that He fill the emptiness with something that will just take away this feeling inside me that I can’t shake off and that I still don’t know what I did to earn.

S’laams
bint Ali

Of Twenty Weeks and RBLs

20 Weeks since your last post…that’s what lj told me when I signed in and I’m wondering where it all went. Five months? What have I been doing that has taken up so much of my time that I had no pause to come and blog?

There should be some answer like “I’ve been busy” or “life got hectic” or something to say what’s kept me away and yet, there isn’t. Looking back, I can see a few days that stick out for random reasons, but in all honesty there is no event or task or occupation that I seem to have accomplished in all this time.

But despite that, as I write this I have changed more in the past week or so than perhaps I have in the 19 or so since I last wrote here. In some ways, I have learnt more in the space of a few breaths than I have in all the years of my life.

I always thought the Really Big Lessons in Life came with a bang and fanfare and you walked away from them a better person, a wiser human being and that much taller than the rest of the world. And I thought there would plenty of them, like a trail of crumbs that would lead you back Home with Success in your every step. Even as I wrote that last sentence, a wry grin found its way to my lips.

Really Big Lessons don’t come with a bang. They sneak up when you least expect them and at moments when you are most vulnerable and most trusting of the world and the goodness you believe exists in it – perhaps that’s why they sink in so well as RBLs. And you don’t walk away from them unscathed. They scar you good and deep so that even when they finally scab over someday, the pain will always be just beneath the surface, ready to emerge at the slightest touch. RBLs hurt and they hurt exactly where they know the pain is going to be the worst because it seems as human beings, we can only learn when we are forced to. Without the pain, we just don’t ‘get it’.

Another thing about them is that you don’t always walk away head held high and with a sense of achievement. Most times, they knock you over like a whirlwind and you’re left slightly dazed and out of breath, wondering what exactly happened, why it happened and what you could possibly have done to invite such ‘attention’ from Life.

In the Qur’an, God says “Is the reward for good anything other than good?” (Surah Rahman, 55:60). Although this verse is supposed to address the wider timeline of existence and refers to the fact that you might not see the reaction to your good works in this world, the reward in the hereafter will balance out all the seeming injustice that exists. But as human beings, we expect that when we do good things, people should ideally respond in like.

Here’s the RBL: they don’t.

There is nothing worse in life than allowing yourself to be lulled into a sense of security and then having someone pull the rug from under your feet, so to speak. I use ‘allow’ because that’s the RBL, feeling safe is a circumstance that we carelessly fall into by trusting too much and expecting too much of those around us.

I’m not advocating cynicism; I look with great envy upon people who go through life with unshakeable optimism. But for a large number of us, picking yourself up after you fall down is a hard enough job. What happens then if you have to do it after being shoved down by someone else?

Trusting, caring, sharing…these make you feel good while you indulge in them, but they also make you hugely vulnerable and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the emotional energy you invest when you can never be sure who’s going to betray that trust or let you down and everything will come tumbling down. It’s odd the more power we have as humans to hurt others, the more reckless we are with how we handle it. Isn’t that why we’re told it’s the people we care about the most who will hurt us the most? Because we *give* them that power?

If you’ve followed my blog from the beginning, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned ‘The Edge’ I used to be so proud of. I used to keep my enemies far and my friends even further away – emotionally speaking. But age mellows you and perhaps dulls the senses too. Even the sharpest edge can be blunted with enough opinions about giving life and people a chance to prove themselves.

And quick, fast and harsh on the heels of that softening come Life’s Best RBLs. Like imprints on wax, each lesson engraves itself on your soul. But enough with the waxing lyrical. This is what I have learnt in the past few days:

a) Be good to others, but never give completely of your self to anyone.
b) Trust no one (unless you actually want to be let down). Except God.
c) Guard your heart jealously. If you get hurt, no one will be willing to take responsibility or share the pain.
d) Don’t be indifferent, but don’t care too much either.
e) ALWAYS have a boundary beyond which you don’t go out or let anyone else in.
f) Expect nothing.
g) No matter what happens, live by the highest principles – those are the only things that will keep you human, regardless of your surroundings.
h) It is better to be wronged than to do wrong. You can move on past any hurt or pain, but if you have a burden on your conscience, you carry it for Life.

Sounds cold? It might be so. And if you’re not convinced by my conclusions, well, I guess everyone has their own RBLs. But considering we’re all human and the issues affecting us tend to be universal, there’s bound to be lessons we can share. After all, the point of this life is to become so detached from the world and its enticements that you yearn only to be with God.

So, if you must love, love Him; if you must expect, expect from Him; if you must trust, trust Him; if you must hope, then hope only for what is with Him. Why would you want anything from a flawed creation when you can have Everything from a Perfect Creator?

S’laams,
bA.