Way up north I took my day

I had thought that three weeks of lazily, obstinately making everyone chauffeur me to places during winter break would take its toll once school resumed, but I was wrong. The 120-mile roundtrip is going well so far – as of today, the second day of school – with none of the exhaustion I had been expecting. And, truth to tell, I even missed all the driving. Looks like the Commuter Extraordinaire is back in business, folks.

The first week or two of a brand-new quarter is always wonderfully relaxing. Today, for example, I wandered into the university bookstore, brushed past all the harried, anxious freshmen, ignored the inner voice reminding me I had yet to buy my textbooks and instead picked a few novels off the shelves. I then settled into an armchair in the corner, my back to the bank of the windows, and read for an hour.

12 noon found me with a group of friends, debating the merits of one restaurant against another. The choice finally made, we began walking, then kept bumping into acquaintances, classmates, and friends along the way. It took us almost a half hour to walk the two blocks up the street to get food. Somayya called me twice: “Where are you guys? You walk slower than slow! I’ll be done with my food by the time you even get here.” Lunch with an old high school friend (chicken shawarma, anyone?). Excellent vantage point right next to the main window – kept running out the door to call after and flag down friends passing by outside. Had reunions out on the sidewalk, trying to maintain our precarious balance between wet grass and muddy concrete. Finally gave Jason his gift of Sami Yusuf’s Al-Mu’allim, which I bought at the Zaytuna conference last December. Ran into another old high school friend, who tried to give me grief about not taking any pre-med neurobiology courses with him. In between all this, I attended two classes, which seemed to consist mainly of even more reunion sessions.

By 4 p.m., I was tired – tired of meeting people, tired of playing catch-up on everyone’s activities over the last few weeks, tired of hearing my own voice in endless (although amusing and gratifying) conversation with people. I immediately thought of my friend D, who, whenever life gets to her and she feels stressed and in dire need of some “quiet time,” grabs her discman and headphones and walks down to the park, where she hops on a swing and whiles away the time.

So I decided to do the same. Drove down to the park, left my car at the side of the street and walked the rest of the way, up the hill to the childrens’ playground next to the skate park. Stuffed my cell phone into my pocket, carelessly dropped my bag onto the sand, kicked off my shoes and settled on a swing.

The park was empty, except for an old couple sitting on a park bench several yards to my left. I glanced at them while swinging, and wondered what their stories were. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed them noticing me, and wondered what they thought of me, whether they speculated silently on who I was and how I fit into the picture, the slight girl with the headwrap and black coat and olive-green pants (“Nice new pants, army girl,” Somayya had commented earlier in the day).

They left soon afterwards, and I was left to my own thoughts. The park was so devoid of noise that, for a split second, I wondered if I had accidentally switched off my hearing aids. I touched my ears, realized my hearing aids were still on, and marveled at the lack of sound. A young boy cycled by and smiled at me. I returned the smile, and his dog paused momentarily, seemingly entranced by the back-and-forth motion of my swing, sniffing at the sand before running back to follow the boy.

After a while, I wasn’t the only one there. To my left, skaters and bikers perfecting their moves and maneuvers in the skate park. To my right, soccer practice on the elementary school field. I chose to look straight ahead, focusing on the juxtaposition of colors before me – the vibrant orange-and-blue jungle gym highlighted against a bleak gray winter sky.

My cell phone rang, an unwelcome intruder, a noisy blare that resounded through the otherwise quiet playground area. I jumped in surprise, and my swing twisted wildly. I fumbled around, trying to remove the phone from my coat pocket, and almost fell off the swing in the process.

“Where are you?” asked D.

“I’m at the swings!” I laughed, quite pleased with myself.

“Really?” she said, surprised. “I’m so proud. So what music are you listening to?”

“Nothing,” I replied. “I’m not listening to anything.”

I spent an hour listening to the sound of nothingness, and it was beautiful.

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