Ramadan Day 29

Nothing can heal anger except compassion. – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

RAMADAN DAY 29

 

            Today is the last day of Ramadan.  Tomorrow is Eid.  What, asked the Imam at the NYU Islamic Center, will you take away with you?  What has Allah blessed you with during this Ramadan that will stay with you even after Ramadan, this fast, is over?  We will all some day go to the final court.  You and I, we will all go there to be judged by Allah.

 

            I am in my room.  It is dark outside.  As my head touches the ground, I feel I cannot lift it.  I do not know the words to the prayers so I must make up my own.  I say them in my mind, usually, but sometimes my mouth moves a little.  Today, I am trying to go slowly.  I am a fast person.  Being slow and deliberate is not easy for me.  How can I slow down when my body is filled again with food, with energy?  How can I use this energy not to engage in ceaseless skirmishes to win fights that I really don’t need to win?  How can I use this energy to be compassionate, to rise above?  To give understanding even when it is difficult for me?

 

            Yesterday’s fast was one of my worst.  It was the first day I was fasting after over two weeks in Spain.  It felt like the first day of Ramadan.  29 days ago, I was prepared.  I had given up my silly addiction.  I had stopped drinking coffee.  For the last two weeks, I had indulged myself.  Yesterday, I was back to square one of fasting.  I was frustrated that the benefits of fasting for a long time, that stillness of the mind, would not be mine.

 

            I meandered my way over to the Islamic Center I’ve never been to before, terrified because I didn’t have the energy to face so many strangers.  I was afraid of being judged because of how I look, because I have not said the words that make one a Muslim, not been witnessed in the Act.  The Don had even texted and arranged with his friend to keep an eye out for me when I told him of my anxiety.  As I entered the building covered in glass, I grew more scared and then I was inside and I didn’t have the energy to run away.

 

            I stood in prayer in the back, keeping my eyes out to make sure I performed the right motions.  A terrible headache worried me.  As I proceeded to Iftar, sitting alone against the wall, waiting to see a friend, I felt lonely and unapproachable.  A young woman pushed between the wall and the small crowd and asked if she could sit next to me.  Of course! I thought, Please, please sit next to me.  We ate silently before I introduced myself.  She asked me, how was your fast today?  Instantly, I felt at home.

 

            I told her a little about Spain and returning and the first day of fasting always being the worst.  She asked me if I would make up the days I had traveling or if I would make them up later.  I didn’t know if I even would — make them up. 

 

My mother has written me almost every week of the fast telling me how glad she is that the fast is over, and I can drink water again.  I write her back every time in sharp words saying, Please stop writing me how glad you are the fast is over because it’s not over.  But she does it again today.

 

            This new friends tells me that her fast had been hard and that she felt bad, but she was glad it would only be one more day.  We laughed a little.  We are joined by a friend, H, that the Don has asked to greet me. 

 

My new friend leaves quickly.  She says she is still hungry and needs to eat more. 

 

I move into a small circle of people, most of them queer Muslims with H as my gracious host, keeping me in mind with small glances to the side.  I sit just outside the circle that has formed, unable to participate fully.  My body is now in so much pain.  My head is throbbing.  I have to leave.

 

A woman from the group, a former lawyer, someone who seems as stubborn as I am, walks me to the subway station and tells me her last partner used to break fast with a cup of coffee and a cigarette.  That she thought it was disgusting, but he used to say it was the only way.  You, she said, are in withdrawal.  I am very sick, she said.  Well, she said, your body is just adjusting itself to the feeling of being empty.

 

On the way home, I sat next to three men on the train eating what could have been cheeseburgers and potato chips.  I was nauseous.  I got the shakes and chills.  I had to wrap the headscarf around my body to stop shivering.  I prayed that I would not throw up on the train.

 

I thought to myself, Where are all the benefits of fasting?  Why does this feel so terrible?  Maybe my mother is right, and I am simply harming my body.  Have I accepted Allah and Muhammed as his prophet?  Thoughts flashed through me like a movie screen.

 

I felt lost.  Queerness and conversion seem so at odds to me.  It is something to further consider, I realize, after Ramadan.

 

            Things that seemed so simple to me before this Ramadan have become even more complex.

 

            I am changing.  I review the ways in which I interact with people and I see that as many people as I have helped and even inspired, I have also disappointed.  Some people even love me.  Just as many are scared of me, my terrible temper, my walls, my self-righteousness.  I go fast, too fast.

 

            I am told that according to Allah the person who is angry and who does not speak or act out their anger is the better person.  I am also told that the person who knows they are right and yet does not have to win the fight is the better person.  Sometimes, I have been successful at the first.  Almost rarely have I been right at the second.

 

            Part of the equation is why I became an attorney.  I have a strong sense of justice.  I’ve been an advocate.  So much has relied on my ability to win.  Ironically, so much of how I won as an attorney was not by arguing people down (although sometimes that helped).  Often, I was flexible and met people where they were, this includes juries and opponents.  Yet even to this day, when I do something really well, I like to keep doing it.  I fight to win.

 

            When I have been in the room, and we are fighting, I am always trying to win.   This is undoubtedly the reason I have been in so many battles.  It is also why I’ve lost.

 

            I had a phone conversation with the writer Patricia Powell when I was considering attending Mills for my MFA.  I was not sure I could do social/criminal justice work at the same time that I was getting a writing degree.  Don’t do it.  Her rich voice.  She said that I was right to be wary — you seem like a person who is well-equipped for the outer journey, but now you are engaging in a new journey, the interior one.  For that, she said, I am worried that you will not know what to do.  It is like being up a creek without a paddle.  The things that worked for you before will not work for you there.  You will have to learn the tools because right now you do not have them.

 

She’s right.

 

            When I was a child, I perceived so many injustices.  Things were unfair to me.  I didn’t have words like sexism or racism, class and sexuality.  I saw adults and other kids make decisions that I did not understand.  They seemed wrong, but they weren’t interested in what I thought.  Maybe all along I was waiting to grow up and have enough power to address these things.  Maybe I protect people now because I couldn’t protect anybody, including myself, back then.  If I can just be in control now, I can stop the bad things from happening.

 

            As a child, I felt victimized by peer pressure, by societal norms.  I felt powerless to stop myself from being bullied.  I felt powerless when I witnessed adults who were physically and emotionally violent to other children.  I was sickly and spent much of my summers in an emergency room.  I played dodge ball and a bigger kid slammed the ball into my head.  He laughed when my head hit the concrete.  I sat up on the ground, bleeding.  I didn’t know if it was okay to tell anyone.  There’s more.

 

I could do nothing as people I loved, including myself, internalized shame around money, and around sexuality.  I watched those who grew up as girls turn into women who were constantly struggling with being less than men.  Like them, I never felt beautiful.  I never felt like I was enough.

 

            One day the ugly child grows up.

 

            She is very angry.

 

            I am finding compassion for her.

           

            I hope that after this Ramadan is over that I move a little more slowly.  I hope that I am more flexible and more tolerant of others.  I hope that I can be less easily angered and more compassionate when I feel that somebody is wrong.  I hope that I will not see wrong and right so quickly.  I want to put down my sword because I’ve won a lot of battles, but victory didn’t bring me peace.

 

I hope I will do the hard, hard work of loving myself.

 

When we turn around, there is this wise, attractive, and kind adult embracing you, who knows herself, and who therefore, can get to know you.

 

Thank you, Allah, for Ramadan.

Thank you, Allah, for the health and safety of my family and friends.

Thank you, Allah, for looking after my loved ones who I will get to see when I get to see you.          

Thank you, Allah for all the ways you show yourself to me.

Thank you, Allah, for giving me the strength to fast.

Thank you, Allah, for teaching me.

Thank you, Allah.

 

 

Listening

 

What is the deep listening? Sama is

a greeting from the secret ones inside

 

the heart, a letter.  The branches of

your intelligence grow new leaves in

 

The wind of this listening. The body

reaches a peace. Rooster sound comes,

 

reminding you of your love for dawn.

The reed flute and the singer’s lips:

 

the knack of how spirit breathes into

us becomes as simple and ordinary as

 

eating and drinking. The dead rise with

the pleasure of listening. If someone

 

can’t hear a trumpet melody, sprinkle

dirt on his head and declare him dead.

 

Listen, and feel the beauty of your

separation, the unsayable absence.

 

There’s a moon inside every human being.

Learn to be companions with it. Give

 

more of your life to this listening. As

brightness is to time, so you are to

 

the one who talks to the deep ear in

your chest. I should sell my tongue

 

and buy a thousand ears when that

one steps near and begins to speak.

 

– Rumi, trans. by Coleman Barks from The Glance

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