RAMADAN DAY 28

RAMADAN DAY 28

 

Undressing

 

Learn the alchemy true human beings

know: the moment you accept what

 

troubles you’ve been given, the door

will open. Welcome difficulty

 

as a familiar comrade. Joke with

torment brought by the Friend.

 

Sorrows are the rags of old clothes

and jackets that serve to cover,

 

then are taken off. That undressing,

and the naked body underneath, is

 

the sweetness that comes after grief.

 

– Rumi, trans. by Coleman Barks

 

***

 

Putting Clothes Back On

 

Oh crap, it’s my first day, and

I may have improperly begun my fast this morning.  I’m pretty sure I woke up my roommate clanging around fixing eggs and heating up a leftover kebab.  I started watching a new episode of Dexter while eating said breakfast and then realized that I should probably try to be present.  I ran downstairs and fed a habit – something I had not been doing at all before I left to Spain because I had shockingly managed to reduce to less than one a day.  Fajr came, and one minute over, I realized that I had blown the fast already on my first day back into it.  I drank water up the elevator, forlorn.  Further compounding the problem.

I considered that perhaps it was done.  There was no point in continuing to fast for Ramadan.  After all, I wasn’t able to do it for the last two weeks.  I was plagued by my thoughts; they swirled and danced around me to a violent salsa beat, hurting my skull, crushing my toes.

I gave up.

I put the bottle of water down.

My morning prayer felt short and wasn’t particularly sensible – so I left the hard work of what I was trying to say to Allah.

I don’t have to make sense of things.

All in all, an unceremonious beginning.

An unceremonious beginning is still a beginning.

A lover once observed that I rushed to put my clothes back on, after.

My brother called me a never nude the other day because I like to layer.

A friend of mine once told me that her family walked around naked in their

House.  I couldn’t sleep the next two nights.  I was terrified by their customs.

 

I call my friend Zahra so we can discuss a book she’s recommended me.  We dialogue about this term:  vulnerability hangover.

I assumed a vulnerability hangover was what people experience when they’ve been vulnerable one day; they wake up and they’ve had too much vulnerability so they don’t set boundaries and people are now treating them badly.  This could be called an interpretation by a control-freak, AKA me.

In Daring Greatly, as interpreted by Zahra, a vulnerability hangover is actually what happens when a person has been vulnerable.  The next day they walk around analyzing and processing, worrying about what they’ve said, if they’ve said too much, if the people are judging and criticizing them.

We have all felt this way.

 

I love listening to other people’s problems which are always much more clear than mine.  I have good advice.  Zahra laughed and told me that’s because you don’t have to live with the consequences of your bad advice.  Oh, yeah, that.  I can even just listen and not give advice.  I try to give my perspective.

 

Yesterday, I was walking down the street in Brooklyn and it was a perfect summer’s evening.  The heat was on mild, not sizzle.  The air smelled crisp and fast, of fire and food and leaves.  There was red and green and orange everywhere.  I started the walk in the company of an old friend and a new one after we had Iftar together (MashAllah on Coney Island – a mean kebab sandwich).  Some corners later I was alone making my way home.

My mind wandered.  I was meditating on the difference between a beginning and an end.  Honestly, I could not figure it out.  The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that all my beginnings and all my ends were wrapped up in each other.  It was like staring at a word for too long.

 

I started to think about the Don who is contemplating moving back to Los Angeles within the week.  He is being very brave because he is struggling to identify the difference between what he wants and what is expected of him.  Family expectations are especially weighty for many of us queer folk.

We have already been the ultimate disappointment to our families.  We internalize this.  So do they.  We disengage.  All that’s left is an ocean of small and petty expectations to remind us that we are left at sea.  We navigate each of these decisions in such vulnerability.  The bigger swells, choice of career, choice of where we live, and choice of whether we have loving romantic relationships – we still make these decisions that could be about us about the people who have rejected us, or depending on how you look at it, who have failed us.

We know that our doing what is expected of us is about trying to make good, trying to come through, trying to show them that we are worthy of love.

You can apologize and even make up for your choices and behaviors.  100% responsibility as Debs would say.

But what happens to you when you are trying to make up for yourself?

 

 

When you turn your eyes toward them

the sun no longer sits

behind the moon

breaking that circle

you cannot see how perfect you are

how wonderful your vision is

how strong you have always been.

 

 

There are days when I walk around with a smile on my face and welcome in my eyes.  I have no idea what I want.  I have no idea who I am.  I don’t particularly like freedom even though I want it so desperately.  I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  I’m too disappointed in myself for turning out this way to entrust myself with such important decisions.

 

So really — why do endings bug me so much?  I feel an ache just thinking about certain endings, the break-ups, the moves, the deaths.

 

This ache is a

living thing

sparking in my body.

Its fire is memory

and nostalgia.

Its water is time.

 

 

Endings are more poignant before they happen.  As they draw near.  Endings, I’ve come to realize are scary and bigger than we are until we have lived past them.  Then, we are in the same place as the ending, and we have continued.  From that point on, the ending is a beginning.

You may not like this next portion.  You may find that it’s filled with grief and despair, even regret.  When you have moved past those things too (which will take years) you will look at it and you might say:  I remember that after I came here to the East Coast and lost my home and saw the worst parts of people, strangers and friends, had my heart broken, went through staggering housing problems, experienced PTSD, struggled with addiction, had to depend on family members and friends who did not have the capacity to help me, lost my temper more times than I could count, lived in nightly fear that I would never have kids and would die alone, I stopped following my dream of becoming a writer, and then it was over.

But then you step up to the table again.

The next thing you do just by continuing to live changes everything because it rewrites your ending into the beginning.

It could be:

And that’s when I really started to see and accept you.

And that’s when I met the love of my life…and was able to have my first positive, loving, and enduring relationship.

And that’s when I quit and became a brilliant HIV and medical research scientist who found the cure for cancer.  They said I was too old to get that degree.

And that’s when I found a new purpose.  I founded an organization to help empower people of color and especially queer people of color.

And that’s when I started singing and playing the piano again.

And that’s when I really started to see my mother and how much she’s always wanted the best for me.

And that’s when I was finally able to mend the wounds between my brother and I and between my sister and I.

And that’s when I learned to receive love.

And that’s when I started fasting again.

And that’s when I really started to write.

 

And then you start over with the ending again.  You keep rewriting and rewriting.  You enjoy the process.  You don’t ever want it to end.

 

A Voice Through the Door.

 

 

Sometimes you hear a voice through

The door calling you, as fish out of

 

Water hear the waves, or a hunting

Falcon hears the drum’s come back.

 

This turning toward what you deeply

Love saves you. Children fill their

 

Shirts with rocks and carry them

Around. We’re not children anymore.

 

Read the book of your life which has

Been given you. A voice comes to

 

Your soul saying, Lift your foot;

Cross over; move into the emptiness

 

Of question and answer and question.

 

– By Rumi, trans. by Coleman Barks

 

 

One of the great loves of my life is Rumi’s The Glance translated by Coleman Barks.  I gave my only copy away to a great man who is leading an organization in Los Angeles.  I purchased another copy recently.  It arrived before I left to Spain.  It feels so delightful to be able to hang out with this book again in these last few days before Ramadan ends.

I remember being in love.  The relationship ended and all communication with her along with it.  I no longer feel sad when I think of never speaking to her again.  I am at peace with that.

Instead, I remember that ending as one of my many beginnings.  I learned so much.

 

One night, alone in a room, with the light shining behind her, directly through her eyes, she turned to me.  I could hear her breath in my ear.  She cupped her palms and held them out to me.  She asked:

Serena, why is sorrow sweet?  Do you know?

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