Category Archives: Loss and laments and letting go

When you’re up between the new skyline, the city lights and the warm sunshine


As Jane Eyre says, Reader, I married him. Or should I say, I married them? After all, we are three — I, my husband, and our daughter, little Lemon. There is much to write about our marriage, our new home, the life we are settling into together. I will get to all that in due time — after all, even my husband sends me textmessages pleading, “Update your blog!!!!!!” (with multiple exclamation points, no less, the blasphemer).

It’s July now; there are flowers everywhere, and the sun is bright and warm when I go for hikes on the trails outside my front door. Finally, I think — finally, this condo has become home; finally, I am able to walk the hills overlooking the water here without missing the apartment and water-views and marina I left behind in the weeks before the wedding in late January. I haven’t gone far — 25 miles is nothing, distance-wise. But as I wrote three years ago:

The East Bay is not the South Bay is not the North Bay is not the Peninsula is not the City. One can drive for an hour over half a dozen different interstates and highways and still be in the San Francisco Bay Area — and yet not feel at home in one part even while another part is familiar and comforting.

Regardless of its myriad geographies and communities, California as a whole is my favorite, though, and I am lucky to live here, and to not be asked to give this up.

It was a prescient statement, although I didn’t realize it then. When I met my now-husband a year after that post, I was relieved that we both agreed my California would be home. After I moved this past January from the apartment I had shared for almost 1.5 years with my best friend/cousin, Somayya, the only things I regretted were the fact that I was leaving that beautiful place behind, and also that — except for hundreds of photographs on my harddrive — I had neglected to properly document, in writing, my life during the time I lived there. So, this is an attempt to remedy that, and to explain why I found myself in tears during the most inexplicable moments in the weeks leading up to the wedding.

The tears — oh, those were interesting, especially from a woman who hates crying, particularly in front of other people. But there were tears at the post office, in the shower, while packing and loading and moving endless boxes, in my car while driving, and in between phone calls to various wedding vendors. Even as I excitedly looked forward to my wedding, and to the next chapter of this beautiful love story I had helped create and cultivate, I couldn’t help but mourn the apartment I was leaving behind. It took me weeks to understand that it was okay to mourn, and perfectly allowed. This was, after all, just the latest in a series of homes I have loved and left behind, only to eventually, blessedly, find yet another place to love. If I still falter when asked, “Where are you from?”, it’s because I now need both hands to count all the places my hearts expands to hold.

I am falling in love with where I live now (that is a story for another post), but there are things I will always miss about the 1.5 years in the last apartment, starting with the stunning sunset from our balcony, five floors up:


Continue reading When you’re up between the new skyline, the city lights and the warm sunshine

Let’s go to sleep in Paris, & wake up in Tokyo/Then we can land in the motherland

The better to stab you with
The better to stab you with, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

My colleague ducks his head through the doorway this evening on his way out of work and calls out, “Bye, Jasmin!”

“You call me that again, and we are not going to be friends anymore,” I mutter sourly, without turning my eyes away from the computer screen.

His long-legged stride has already carried him halfway down the hall, but he hears me, and turns around to come back laughing. “Alright. Alright, Yasmine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“FINE,” I say.

The office slowly empties out, but I stay on for another two hours, working on an East Coast project so that the folks there can look at it first thing in the morning. It doesn’t hurt that my PC refuses to get with the Daylight Savings drama and switch forward one hour to the new time, instead obstinately changing back to the old time whenever I’m not looking. As a girl who is slightly obsessed with time and dates and documentation, I find this frustrating.

The PC tells me I’m an hour behind, the East Coast project makes me coordinate everything three hours ahead, and when I finally switch off the lights and lock the door and make my way down three flights of stairs, it’s still daylight outside. It’s highly disconcerting, the fact that it’s not dark anymore when I leave work. But the daylight makes it feel like there are more hours in the day, and I don’t mind this sort of trickery so much.

Outside the office, I pass a man I’ve seen before. He’s old and friendly and always nods politely when we cross paths. Today he smiles and says hello.

“Hi,” I say. “How are you?”

“There are 86,400 seconds in one day,” he says. “I just keep reminding myself to breathe through them all.”

I laugh. “That’s a good way to go.”

He peers at me closely. “Are you Pakistani?” he asks, and I blink, surprised. “Yes. And very few people manage to get that right on the first try!”

He leans in, asks in a confidential tone of voice, “How’s the situation over there?”

I pause, then shrug exaggeratedly. “Honestly, I don’t think the situation’s so great anywhere these days.”

He nods. “Just like here.”



Up the hill to home, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I exited the train at my stop 40 minutes later, and the first thing I saw when I stepped onto the escalator and glanced to my right was the moon, hanging like white disk over Mt. Diablo.

I immediately thought of S, our personal superman, whose four-year-old text message is still saved in my phone: Look at the moon tonight, it looks hella beautiful.

In Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith, he writes about his wife, who belongs to “a brand of Sufi Islam” whose adherents stop to recite the Shahadah, the Islamic declaration of belief, when they see the moon. I remember reading that passage last week and realizing how long it’s been since I’ve even looked at the moon in a spiritual context. When I was little, our mother would gather us to her and have us peer out at the moon through our dining room windows, or herd us out onto the front porch, where we would raise our hands in prayer for the new moon.

When I lived in Pakistan as a teenager, our bebe (paternal grandmother) did the same in the courtyard of our village home. We stood outside one night when my father was briefly visiting from America; male voices drifted out the behtuk door while she and I stood out in the veyra. Bebe prayed in loudly mumbled whispers, and, when we had concluded by saying “Ameen” and passing our hands over our faces, she fondly relayed stories of my father as a child growing up in the very same house – stories my father would, as usual, later discount as Bebe‘s exaggeration and natural flair for storytelling.


brick courtyard at Casa420
Brick courtyard at Casa420, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

The moon leads me all the way home, where I pull into the driveway and then turn around to park in my usual spot along our street without sidewalks, careful not to scrape my car against the low brick walls dividing the road from our side yard. I never forget to mention the bricks when giving people directions to our home: Continue for about half a mile on the narrow, winding road. Make a left up the hill, and we’re house number 420 on the left-hand side, the white house with all the red brick-work in front. More often than not, they ignore my directions in favor of commenting on my address instead: “420?! No way!” they laugh.

My parking spot is on a slope, and this is the home where, when I returned as a teenager, I first learned how to parallel park on a hill, using “Up, up, and away,” as my mantra, a line that I remembered easily only because it tied right back to Superman, whose comic books and television shows I grew up with, even during those 18 months in Pakistan. Turn your wheels away from the curb when parking uphill. Turn them towards the curb when downhill. Looking back through my review mirror, I see the moon behind me now.


california is the center of the WORLD
California is the center of the WORLD, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Over dinner, we discuss moving – as we have been discussing for the past two months. And while part of me is wary yet resigned, another part of me is intrigued by the idea of change. I wouldn’t be my father’s daughter, if it were otherwise. And it is endearing, watching their excitement, hearing the energetic rise and fall of their voices as my mother dreams out loud of a fireplace and new kitchen cabinets and the daddy-o maps out decks and balconies and french-doors. Where we live now is my first home, our favorite home, but even still I’m amazed that Phase2 of our lives here has lasted so long. It’s been 10.5 years since our grand return, and don’t think the daddy-o’s nomadic tendencies haven’t been asserting themselves for a while now.

I have spent a lifetime stuttering when asked the “Where are you from?” question, only because my life has been comprised of shifting roads, different rooms, varying walls and windows. The people I have loved and lost – and found again, or ignored – are manifold. I resurrect old email threads only to unrepentantly archive them without answering the pleasantly surprised recipients, and wince through international phone calls, and let my blank gaze coldly skitter past unexpectedly familiar faces in shopping malls or coffeeshops or on BART platforms, choosing to ignore those people for whom I can’t find words anymore – or those to whom I’d never had much to say in the first place.

Houses may shift and the view outside my windows may change and my question to people may always be a confused, “Where do I know you from?”, but I soothe myself with the fact that the moon will always be there, that I have a good memory – an “uncanny” one, even, I’ve been told – for faces and dates and details, that the sunshine falls the same everywhere, that I can raise my hands in prayer wherever I go.

But the East Bay is not the South Bay is not the North Bay is not the Peninsula is not the City. One can drive for an hour over half a dozen different interstates and highways and still be in the San Francisco Bay Area – and yet not feel at home in one part even while another part is familiar and comforting.

Regardless of its myriad geographies and communities, California as a whole is my favorite, though, and I am lucky to live here, and to not be asked to give this up.


supplication in sanfrancisco
Supplication in San Francisco, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Monday, 16 March 2009

I finished writing the bulk of this post in a coffeeshop in Sacramento, 75 miles from home. At one point, I looked up to see a girl I remembered from one of the high schools I had attended. Her blonde hair was now reddish-pink and her name didn’t come to mind right away, but I recognized the smile and the laugh and the slightly awkward knobby-kneed coltishness. I didn’t say hello. A few hours later, driving down H Street back towards 80 West, a man jogging along the sidewalk reminded me of a boy with whom I’d gone to school – but which city, and which of the seven schools I’ve attended, I had absolutely no idea.

On the way home, my sister and I stopped in the university town where we’d lived as teenagers, and where I’d returned for my undergrad. “Dude, I haven’t been back in years,” I said, as we exited the freeway.

“And how does it feel?” teased the sister.

“I’ll let you know when we drive through the streets.”

On a mission to “stop by the new masjid” before heading back to the Bay, our jaws collectively dropped when we drove down the main street and saw the new Islamic center. Inside and outside, it was beautiful, with an inspiring attention to detail. “This place must have been designed by engineers from the University,” I joked, referring to an event we had attended a couple of days before, at which the MC had deadpanned, “This program was put together by two engineers, so it’s going to run like clockwork.”

There was a blue dome. And small blue square tiles embedded in the entry areas, and the eight-pointed Islamic star integrated into the design, and lovely chandeliers and soft, light-blue carpeting. We couldn’t stop smiling. “We used to attend Sunday school at this masjid when we lived here,” my sister said to the president of the Islamic center, who noticed us wandering around the building and unlocked the doors for us.

“When was that?”

“’95 through ’98,” I said, and he smiled and asked what our parents’ names were. When we told him our father’s name, he nodded in recognition, although I don’t think he remembered the face to go with it.

There were yellow flip-flops waiting to welcome me when we slipped inside the marbled, clean and shiny women’s bathroom to make ablutions for the afternoon prayer. And when we stood shoulder-to-shoulder for Asr salah, my sister pointed out that, as travelers, we could technically pray the amended two cycles of prayer. The prayer of the traveler is allowed to be shortened.

“I’m praying the full four,” I said. “It feels like home.”

On the way out, we marveled again at the lights, the tiles, the shelves, the careful neatness with which everything was allocated a place.

“It gives me hope,” said my sister as we were driving away, “to know that there are people who pay attention to beauty and detail.”

Down the street was the Victorian house in which we had lived during those three years – the one with the bay windows. We drove by slowly. “It’s still gray and white!” I exclaimed. The brick walkways and geraniums have been replaced by grass, of which I highly approve. Ten years later after we left, the back deck is still the one we built, and the wrought-iron railing by the kitchen door is the same, as is the old, detached garage, and the city fire station directly across the street.

But not everything has remained unchanged. “Remember that tree the city planted for us?” I asked. “Is that the one?” I gestured towards a tall, sturdy tree at the side of the house.

“The city didn’t plant that,” said my sister. “We did.”

“Well, remember how it was all tiny and scrawny? And look at it now. It’s huge!”


new paths & pathfinding
Stick to the new: New paths & pathfinding, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I can never manage to tell people “where I’m from,” which is probably also why I never have a good answer for where I’m going. And more than any other word or concept, the idea of “home” has always tripped me up and stopped me in my tracks – and intrigued me the most.

There is nowhere to go. Everything is perfect, says one part of me.

The other says, Everywhere you go will be somewhere you’ve never been.

And if there is one thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of being the daughter of a man with nomadic tendencies, a man who so nonchalantly embraces change as “adventure,” it is this: The end is just the beginning, and every point in between.

At least 86,400 points, come to think of it, on any given day.

“I have homes everywhere, many I have not seen yet. That’s perhaps why I am restless. I haven’t seen all my homes.”
– John Steinbeck

Scent of lime

I want a vespa the color of tangerines
I want a vespa the color of tangerines, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Missed you much, Blogistan. Going through my Drafts folder now, and finishing up old, half-written posts I had never got around to publishing. Here’s one from last month; excuse the slightly disjointed nature of it. More are coming. I promise.


13 April 2008

We returned from sunny San Diego yesterday, only to find more than enough warmth in the Bay Area as well. I’ve been waking up these last couple of weeks to the scent of orange blossoms pouring through my open bedroom windows (from the tree in the courtyard outside my room), and I’d be hard-pressed to name a scent I love more than that of citrus. Lotions, perfumes, candles, leaves, even furniture polish and air freshener – always citrus.

It’s quiet without my mother puttering around the house. For now, I prefer it this way. She gets to spend a few weeks with family in the motherland, and I will have extra time to focus on, and actually do, the multitude of things I need to get done – or so I tell myself. I think back to the tense discussions – and silences – that preceded her departure. My father arguing that a country with now-regular suicide bombings and militant attacks was no place for her to be. My mother pointing out that her brother was sick, perhaps dying, even, and asking her to come.

“Do you understand how poor they are?” said my father. “They don’t need you there. They need money; that would be far more helpful to them right now.”

And my mother, sticking her ground for once, replying sharply, “Maybe if you had brothers or sisters, you would know what it’s like to want to be with them when they are so ill.” I can’t even conceive of how painful it must be, to lose one’s mother, brother, and sister, all within the span of just a few years. She wasn’t in Pakistan when her sister died, and regrets it still, I know.

And so, the battle raged for weeks – the daddy-o stubbornly declaring he was looking out for the ummy’s health and safety. The ummy being fierce about her intention to go one minute, then meekly backing down the next. And I, angry at having to be the inadvertent go-between for two people who just couldn’t seem to communicate properly, but mainly angry at my father for always professing to use arguments of logic and practicality yet failing to understand that some things are beyond logic.

“She hasn’t been back in six years; at least let her go and spend a proper amount of time with her family.”

“What are you, her lawyer?” the daddy-o tossed at me one day.

Yes,” I said. “Since you don’t seem to think she can make independent decisions, I’m going to keep arguing for her.”

“Why do you always make me out to be the bad guy?”

If it had been my parents or my siblings, I would have gone in a heartbeat. I told him so. Why couldn’t he see that? Of all people, he was the one who taught me that family comes before everything, that whenever something happens concerning my family – whether happiness or sorrow – I’m supposed to drop everything else and GO.

He and I were not on speaking terms for much of the last few weeks. He thought I was being impertinent and illogical, not properly thinking through the logistics and safety of ummy’s visit to the motherland. I thought he would being his usual “My way or the highway” damn stubborn self. “Fucking ridiculous,” I raged to the sister and Somayya. Meanwhile, the ummy teetered between hope and despair for weeks, wondering if she would make it to Pakistan, and even if she did, would her brother still be alive?

Even after her passport photos were taken and the application submitted for renewal, even after the new passport was sent back via express delivery and arrived on our front porch less than two weeks later, there was no guarantee she was actually going until the daddy-o sent me a casual, concise email saying her roundtrip flight (he insisted it had to be roundtrip, not open-ended; this was another thing we fought about) was booked, and could I drive down to Fremont to pick up the tickets sometime that week?

I was more than happy to.

And I was happy for her when she finally left from SFO a few days ago. “Thay un sharaab dewun ne, tha thu akkhi, ‘Nay!’ ” called out the brother in Hindko. And if they give you alcohol, just say NO! It was his advice on how to respond to solicitous flight attendants. It was also the last thing she heard before walking away, and the timing was impeccable; he managed to turn her tears to laughter.

So, the ummy is finally gone. And the tension, too, is gone from the house. The daddy-o is outside in the yard right now, probably humming Pukhto songs as he fixes the sprinkler system.
Continue reading Scent of lime

The next best thing to putting stamps on sunshine

Evening at the Berkeley Marina
Evening at the Berkeley Marina, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Back in mid-January, my friend A sent me a very short, simple note with the subject line reading, Salaam, crackstar, telling me his father had recently died.

Doomed to be forever affiliated with my disgruntled, fist-shaking references to “that poetry slam we never went to,” A is one of my favorite people in the world – one of the very few whom I always felt comfortable picking up the phone and calling at any hour of the day or night – time difference be damned – laughing at all his voicemails and text messages that started off with some variation of, Salaam, cracker!

It made me sad to think of my friend being sad. And – although this should not have been about me – it made me feel like a shitty friend to think that, nearly five months later, the item he had requested I buy for him in Chicago still leaned against the side of my bed, the side I’ve usually looked at only when shoving my suitcase against it to pack for trips in the past few months – Chicago again, Ottawa, Toronto. I think nothing of paying exhorbitant fees for last-minute flights, picking up and jet-setting cross-country, but I could not, for the life of me, package A’s gift and get my sorry ass to the post office.
Continue reading The next best thing to putting stamps on sunshine

Doorway into thanks, & silence in which another voice may speak

Hands in Supplication
Hands in supplication, by yaznotjaz

Last night, the Pakistani satellite channel, ARY-Digital, showed the Hajj pilgrims, a sea of white, at Arafat and Muzdalifah. I watched the television while eating dinner, the volume turned up loudly so that the pilgrims’ invocation echoed throughout the house:

Labayk Allahumma labayk, labayka la shareeka laka labayk. Innal-hamda, wa’naimata, laka wal-mulk, la shareeka lak.

“Here I am at Your service, O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Your service and You have no partners. Yours alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and Yours alone is The Sovereignty. You have no partners.”

For the first time, I felt a little bit of a loss, a sense of regret that I didn’t make it there this year, that I didn’t push to go after all – or, to be honest, even care to – that I ultimately didn’t end up in either of the two places I thought most deeply about this year, neither Sarghodah nor Saudi.

Inspiration for the following post comes from two entries Baraka posted recently – one on authentic prayer – hers is intimate, raw, and powerful – and the other on Mary Oliver’s poem about praying (from which comes my post title). These first ten days of the month of Dhul Hijjah, and particularly the day of Arafat, are about reflection and prayer, so I thought I should work on addressing God less like my co-worker/gossip buddy/He Who Can’t Get the Weather Right and more like, well, God. Serious stuff. Here we go.


Dear God, most Merciful, most Compassionate –

On this weblog, I mostly address You as if You’re the rockstar next door, or the buddy I’m planning on hanging out with after work. And the reason for that is because when I think about who You really are – the vast, timeless expanse of Your Being – it hurts my head to reflect on it for too long. I am short, Lord, You know this: Instead of straining my eyes and my mind, I look up only as far as I can crane my neck, look down only as low as I can bend my head, in hopes of remembering You through the things within my limited reach. Let me feel Your presence with clarity, even in the midst of this world that distracts me from worship and remembrance of You, and especially in the midst of the distractions I deliberately create in order to distance myself from you.

Those whom we’ve loved, and lost to death: grant them – grant us all, when our time comes – light and spaciousness in the grave, and another fulfilling life in the Hereafter. May their memories live on within us, and around us. Grant me a reunion, someday, with the grandfathers I never knew and the grandmothers that I only knew in those painful, ailing last years of their lives. Let me find them vibrant and whole, glowing with love and good health. Let me find my ancestors singing those songs and reciting those poems, some of which I heard with my own ears, most of which I didn’t, all of which we never got to write or remember. How is it that You sent us to be born into a tradition of farmers who lived rough lives of poverty and disease, yet sang songs and wrote poetry effortlessly? Let their wisdom and endurance be an example for us.

Give my salaam to Imran. Tell him I said, I thought of you today in the midst of this Hajj season, and I miss you, my friend, even though you’ve now been gone for nearly as long as I knew you. But it feels like longer, and your photos still make my throat tighten, make me catch my breath, remind me of a life lived fully in the service of others, as every life – as my life – should be.

Teach me to be a joy to my parents. No other people probably love me as much as they do; no other people make me gnash my teeth as much as they. For all my frustrations, though, I realize how shattered my life would be without them. Grant me the grace and patience to be the daughter they need me to be. Grant me the wisdom to be the sister I should be. Let us continue forgiving, even after we hurt each other over and over. Instead of silence and tension, may we always find joy with one another.

When the time is right, grant us partners and significant others who are good for us, who are a mercy to us, who are loving and tolerant of our flaws and imperfections. All that is noble in my father (the hugs, the highfives, the singing, the exuberant culinary experiments, the boundless generosity) without the negative (the sulking, the silence, the unyielding “my way or the highway” approach). I ask not for perfection, but for patience, for compromise and compassion, for mutual respect.

I am grateful to have finally found, in these last several years, a Muslim community to belong to – the two masajid I love for different reasons, the people and prayers that make those spaces sacred to me. Thank You for blessing me with halaqa sisters who understand the benefits and struggles of being an American Muslim, who love ice-skating (they drag me along) and synchronized-jumping on the beach (they let me take dozens of photos) and scouting for the next meal while leaving “I <3 FOOD" scribbles in their wake. Every bite is a shared blessing, each milestone is something to celebrate together. I pray they remain in my life forever, and that we hold halaqas in Jannat al-Firdaus.

I am sometimes accused of being aloof and reserved – more often than I would like. It is shyness more than anything else. But allow me to understand and be comfortable with my own vulnerabilities. There is no shame in sharing sadness, a broken heart, tears in front of people, laughing at myself, acknowledging my difficulties, asking for help.

Please teach me to be okay with asking for help.

Often, I nonchalantly shrug off the need for remorse, repentance: I’m not a bad person. I forget the myriad ways in which I have wronged You, others, myself. In my pride, I tell myself I have no regrets. But I do have two. Remind me of them constantly, so that I may learn from them to appreciate the generosity, kindness, and open-hearted forgiveness that has been granted me when I least deserved or reciprocated it.

Grant me focus. I fumble and stumble in decision-making. I make up my mind one day; mutter, “F*ck it,” the next; abandon my plans and curve around into another direction on the third. I start too many things I don’t finish. Worse yet, I stick to things nearly to the finish-line, then abandon them at the last minute.

Help me to pay attention when people are conversing with me. Open not only my ears – and You know my ears need help! – but also my heart. And let words come easily to me, so that I may write about You and myself and people I know – and those I don’t – without fearing I will do us an injustice.

Help me to be just, always.

I thank You for the sunshine, for California, for my beautiful, beloved, open-armed Bay Area – my first home, and now, after all those years of packing and moving, still my favorite home. I think “they’ve” got it all wrong; there must be some mistake – Hell must be icy cold, bone-chilling cold, not fire and flames. I would rather not be in a hell of ice. If heaven has snow, let me, at least, feel like it’s 70F. This weather thing – I just can’t stop bothering You about it, I know. I’m not a bossy person, but weather always brings out the dictator in me. You know how the hills and the sky looked on this day? Something like that would be nice.

Thank You for good health, for feet that enjoy meandering walks lacking destination, for eyes that crinkle when they smile. Let my hearing remain stable. More than blindness, I fear complete deafness, but I would preferably have neither. Yet I thank You for the humility and empathy – and the rockstar-red hearing aids and superhero lip-reading skills! – that the moderately severe loss has given me. If there is one thing I am to be tested by in life, this one is easy – let this remain it.

Teach me to be comfortable with who I am. Compliments catch me off guard. Who are they talking to? I duck my head, shuffle my feet, change the subject. You, of anyone, remember who I used to be, who I still am. Years later, it’s the same shyness, awkwardness, and insecurity, just hidden under a more stylish wardrobe and straighter teeth. There are days I feel like a fraud. I am not as pretty, smart, sociable, accomplished as people think I am. But I thank You for always reminding me where I come from, who I come from, who I used to be.

What I am so far, let that be good enough.

And then let me seek to improve myself in the things that matter. Make it easier for me to read the Quran regularly and to perform the prayers on time and with concentration. Grant us all the best of this world and the next, and keep from us all things which will not benefit us. On the Day of Reckoning, let the Prophet recognize us as part of his Ummah, his community, and the general community of Believers. May our parched mouths drink water from his hands.

I thank You, over and over, for the beautiful people You have allowed me to know, the smiling strangers with whom I’ve momentarily crossed paths, the individuals who have moved me through unexpected conversations, those who have trusted me with their stories, the friends You have brought into my life, the family and relatives with which You have blessed me. Be compassionate and loving to them as they have been to me, be merciful to them as You have shown mercy to me.

Hold us all in Your Hands. Permit us to sit at the foot of Your throne. Let the light of Your presence blaze in our eyes, cleanse our hearts, purify our souls.

Help us see in one another what we see in You – perfection and beauty beyond telling.

I just opened up my eyes, and let the world come climbing in

A child’s shoes on Muir Beach, September2005, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

At the start of every single week, I think to myself, Let’s go to meditation this week. The last couple of months, I have had to defer my personal Wednesday evening preferences in favor of work-related meetings and events. Last Wednesday was different: Today is free, and all mine, I tell myself, and off I go to meditation. The familiar rituals of 7.30pm: Park at the curb, shoes off at the door, enter the darkened hallway, down one carpeted step and find a seat on the cushions already laid out on the floor of the dimly-lit living room. Close my eyes for one hour and focus on breathing, relaxing, dhikr, reflection, even inadvertently napping, as used to happen when, as an exhausted university student, I’d regularly drive two hours from Sacramento just for this lovely experience.

Then, one hour of sharing thoughts. We talk about pain, and I am reminded once again of my friend H, and the strength that lies in professing our vulnerabilities. I am so tempted to pass on sharing my thoughts – I even joke about this when the mic makes its way around the room and is finally handed to me, because the three people before me chose to pass – but then I take a deep breath and decide to jump right in. So, I talk a little bit about emotional pain, because our default association with “pain” is usually the physical, and that’s the sort for which I have a high tolerance level. Emotional pain, however, is a whole other thing as far as I am concerned – public displays of tears and weakness have never come easily to me, and I am not one to focus often on awareness and acknowledgment of my emotional vulnerabilities and insecurities.

The people around the room nod as I speak, whether in understanding or encouragement, I don’t know, but I find it reassuring. I pass the mic down the circle.

One young woman, a kindergarten teacher, relates that someone once told her that people remove their shoes when they enter sacred spaces, and how moving it was, then, when she arrived at this place tonight and found a sea of shoes at the front door. I think about the fact that even in this space, a living room in the heart of Silicon Valley, people have created an environment that is reflective, compassionate – and, yes, a little bit holy. I think about how there is peace here, and grace, and light in everyone.

The kindergarten teacher continues her story. “Bear with me,” she says. “This may be a little bit of a stretch.” But we are all leaning forward attentively. “There’s an elephant tent in my classroom,” she says – a tent shaped like an elephant. She has turned this into a private space for her students, a place they may enter when they are feeling particularly lonely or upset or worried or angry or hurt. She has promised her students that this is their space, and she will not infringe on it in any way. The children have readily adopted the elephant tent as theirs, and treat it with care. They take turns stepping into and out of it, instead of fighting and struggling over who’s been using the space.

It is a little bit reverent for them, this ritual. They honor everyone’s right to use the elephant tent, and are respectful of one another’s emotions, needs, allotted time, and privacy in times of pain. The children practice diligence and care towards that space, even if they aren’t usually as mindful of the rest of the classroom: “Just this morning, someone left a tuna sandwich on the radiator,” says the young teacher with horror, and the rest of us laugh out loud.

And somehow, her students have silently, unequivocally, decided to remove their shoes before entering the tent.

Their teacher references Nelson Mandela and the concept of Ubuntu, which she is teaching her class. A popular definition is: “The belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” Desmond Tutu explained it this way:

A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.

Nelson Mandela described Ubuntu in the following manner:

A traveller through our country would stop at a village, and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu but it’ll have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to improve?

There is no specific translation for Ubuntu in English, it seems. But Ubuntu is about relationships and sharing, about unity, about connectedness with the rest of humanity.

The teacher tells us how, this afternoon, she ducked her head into the tent and found something created by one of her five year old students: the word UBUNTU written shakily but in reassuringly large letters, on a sheet of paper taped to the inside of the elephant tent.

And the toppling sand mounds

We are like these things, impermanent and unpinned.
We are like these things, impermanent and unpinned; originally uploaded by yaznotjaz. [Click here for larger view.]

A few things I have been grateful for, so far this week:

one. …That so many of you took the time to read my last post about Imran Saithna. And that, for once, my commenting system seemed to cooperate just long enough that I could read your own responses to and reflections on Imran’s life. One of the things I love most about blogging is the feedback (I admit it) from those who read, and it meant so much to me that you took the time to comment on the one post that meant more to me than anything else I’ve written in a long, long while. I’m trying to move beyond posting bullet-points and numerical-lists so regularly, and trying to go back to posting deeper, more meaningful pieces of writing. The last entry was a good start, although I wish it didn’t have to begin this way. Thank you all again for the comments, the GMail IMs, and the emails. As Rick said on flickr, No one can say exactly what paths one leaves on this earth. May your friend’s path be one of heart. Amen to that.

two. …That my lovely friend A‘s fiancé has finally woken up, after being hit by a car and unconscious for two days. After the last two days of holding my breath and being too scared to venture saying the word “coma,” I am so relieved about this much. The bad news: Both his legs are broken, and doctors are still unsure about the extent of his back injuries. The fact that A is here, halfway across the world and unable to go see him, makes this doubly difficult for her. It broke my heart hearing her voicemessage on Tuesday, hearing her voice say, “I don’t really know what to do…’cuz I’m sick, too, and I’m worried…and I’m just trying to be okay, but it’s really hard. [His sister’s] leaving tomorrow, and his parents the day after…and I get to stay here…by myself.” I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to be so far away from someone you love. Please pray that he recovers quickly and fully, so that he and A can live happily ever after in the green house in Berkeley that A covets so much.

three. [I don’t know why this list is harder than it usually is. Here’s a third thing:] …Dinner last night with B and N, two of my favorite Pukhtu-speakers and Hindku-speakers, respectively. The evening was filled with rocking (Malaysian) food, beautiful company, and the endless laughter that always characterizes our time together. My new favorite quote is a profound statement by B’s father: “There’s no point in making money if you can’t eat good food.” Listening, amused, as both B and N regaled us with stories, I promised N I’d make up some drama of my own, so that I, too, can have stories to share next time we hang out. As someone who prides herself on the fact that her life is “gorgeously drama-free, always,” this is really going to be SUCH a process. So, I ask you, how does one imbue one’s life with drama? Please provide advice, suggestions, and/or examples.

In memory of Imran Saithna, rockstar extraordinare: Bleed the pen, burn the paper, dry those tears of eternal sorrow

Courtyard of Lions, originally uploaded by Imran Saithna.

And we meet…
to depart,
And then depart –
Just to meet again.

The problem with – and the beautiful gift of – the internet is that I always fall a little bit in love with everyone I interact with. I refer mainly to blogistan and flickr, since those are the two spaces I spend most of my time online and where I come across other bloggers, (b)lurkers, and photographers. Through weblog posts, flickr uploads, weblog comments, personal emails, simple flickr comments that somehow transform into lengthy, off-topic threads, and sometimes even “stalkerish” (I joke) and baffling facebook friend requests as a result of these two spaces, I marvel that we all become connected through such tenuous, fragile networks.

But, we do – we become connected through comments and story-telling and emails and instant messenger and photographs, and everyone becomes my friend, regardless of whether or not I know them offline. This is how I walk the world – the world which, for me, just as much includes these wires that connect us all together, as it does the “real-life” friends with whom I regularly coordinate hanging-out sessions in person.

Which is why it felt like a sucker-punch to the gut yesterday morning, when, in the midst of replying to emails and slurping down my breakfast cereal, I clicked over to my friend Zana‘s photostream and found one of her recent uploads dedicated In Loving Memory of Imran Saithna. I struggled to take a breath, eyes glued to the computer screen as I tried to take in the information. People who are 28 years old are not supposed to die. People who have just returned only a few short weeks ago from performing Hajj – the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia – are not supposed to die. People whom you’ve been meaning to email back within the next few days are not supposed to die before you reply to their messages.

Many thanks to Maliha, whose email I was in the midst of responding to when I clicked over to Zana’s photo, for her lovely note back, and to the beautiful Shaheen, who provided me some comfort as I raged, “It’s just so sucky when all the good people die. Why can’t God just take the fuck-ups instead?”

I met Imran Saithna through flickr, when he added me as a contact back in late 2005 and I reciprocated. He posted stunningly beautiful photos, and sometimes commented on mine – unfortunately, more often than I commented on his, in retrospect. You all know how good I am at these (b)lurking habits of mine.

When I posted my small photoset of Zaytuna Institute to flickr last spring, I was surprised by the number of people who took the time to comment on and appreciate the series of photos I had snapped on a whim one afternoon while waiting for my sister. Imran was one of those who commented, and our exchange made me realize how much we Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area take for granted our proximity to Zaytuna and the spiritual goodness available there. I promised him I would post some more Zaytuna photos; he particularly requested shots of the grounds. In turn, I admired his photos of Spain, a place I have always wanted to visit.

In these last couple of days after hearing of Imran’s death, I’ve learned more about what he did than I ever knew when he was alive. As Project Manager of, he was a passionate advocate for Britain’s first online support and guidance forum for Muslim youth. The website provides an open space for young Muslims to discuss issues which are relevant and important to them, without fear of censure or condemnation, and is part of the umbrella organization Muslim Youth Helpline, a confidential telephone and e-mail counseling service for young people. MYH understands well the effect of “the climate of fear, fury and media sensationalising” on the mental health of Muslim youth in Britain. The tribute to Imran on lists in moving detail the various projects to which he had dedicated himself.

Under Imran’s creative and dedicated guidance flourished from a fledgling project into a thriving online community for Muslims across the UK and beyond. Much of this is a testament to Imran’s innovative and unique energy, drive and commitment to the cause.

A typical example of Imran’s maverick approach was exemplified in some of the campaigns that he ran on Few will ever forget (especially the participants involved!) the Homelessness Campaign that ran on the site in April 2005. Imran and a group of volunteers spent a weekend on the streets of London with a budget of £3 to survive on. Crazy, unheard of and unorthodox –maybe. Pure Imran –absolutely! Behind the stunt however lay a desire to raise awareness amongst the Muslim community about issues that often get swept under the carpet. He led through example and took great care to ensure the safety and comfort of the volunteers who joined him on this experience.

This is my favorite comment-story about Imran, because the image in the first part made me laugh so much:

my best memory of Imran is the british 10K marathon in 2005. He ran the whole thing smoking marlboro reds and still beat me.

Imran touched the heart of almost every muslim youth in london.

There are many posts and comments about Imran all over the internet these days, it seems. I found one of the most poignant tributes on deenport, written by Yoshi Misdaq:

Then, a month or so ago, I went to a poetry event. I wasn’t scheduled to perform there, but I did. Imran was scheduled to perform, although I didn’t know it beforehand. And so, he did. I remember thinking that his poem went on a very long time. I thought it was a bit too much. But then, when I had that thought, I was caught up in the world. And when you’re caught up in the world, feeling worldly (not that you’re aware of it at the time) you forget about the bigger picture. Death is the only thing that could make me look back at events in this way. And so I did. I asked my friend (who was filming that night) to lend me the tapes earlier today. I watched Imran’s poem (the second, the last performance) again. And it was a miracle. Later that night, when I had told him how nervous I was to perform my poetry for the first time, and how calm he seemed, he corrected me, saying that he was doing all he could do stop from shaking. And so, this performance meant everything to him. That’s why it went on for so long that night. It was as if he were putting every single significant disappointment and feeling into that extended piece of rhyme. He was rinsing out this water-pain from his soul, taking it from every single angle, from every perspective. He felt it that night. And I felt it when I saw it again. After he had left Earth. Every other line of poetry was about death, the next world, the pains of this world. I could quote it at length. I just typed the whole thing up. I won’t do that though. To see his face again was a blessing. Some peoples eyes light up when they smile. Other people are always lit up, subtly.

[…] As I’ve said, Imran didn’t fit perfectly here. Others closer to him would no doubt have seen more worldly sides to him. For me though, he is now in the place he was so clearly destined to be in. The spirit-world. And I can’t help but fear for myself and those I love who do not have that odd way about us. Those of us who sometimes seem all too eager to get comfortable here in this filling-station called Earth. Selfishly, I feel fearful, because, in a way, God seems to have taken him so perfectly, after having just returned from Hajj. What more mercy could there be for him? And yet, what ambiguity and uncertainty there is for the rest of us. In the poetry event before he left, through his poems, he was purging himself. And, I will always believe the on the pilgrimage that followed, he discovered himself, nourished himself, filled in the holes and gaps. What he was meant to be, where he was meant to go. Within a few moments of hearing that news, and thinking about my encounters with this wonderful human, I knew it was meant to be. It was right. It was a story that God so clearly wrote.

While I spent winter of 2005 writing and writing and writing about the aftermath of the South Asian earthquake, Imran was one of those amazing people who jumped on a plane and went to help with earthquake relief efforts. He posted to flickr the photos from his time in Pakistan, and wrote about his relief-work experiences on his weblog; the BBC interviewed him, too, in a November 2005 story.

I went searching through my GMail account yesterday afternoon. As I expected, my last email exchange with Imran is marked with the all-important “must reply soon” yellow star and a red “Draft” note next to it. When I had neglected to upload photos to my flickr account for nearly two months, Imran emailed me in mid-December of last year to check in. He ended his email with “Fi amanillah [(Go) in God’s protection],” which made me smile. In my reply, I explained that I’m not much of a multi-tasker when it comes to writing and photography, so if I’m active on flickr, I tend to neglect the weblog, and if I write more often, then I stop uploading pictures consistently. I also wrote:

Just replied to your comment on my weblog post. Thank you for taking the time to stop by; it’s always nice to see the flickr folks over at the weblog, too. There isn’t much overlap; the flickr folks check out my photos and the blogistan folks check out my writing, but only a couple of people stop by both, as far as I know.

At the end of my email, I added, “I’m a big fan of other people who also say ‘fi amanillah.’ HIGHFIVE!”

He replied that he did indeed check out both the weblog and the flickr, a sentiment that was repeated again just recently, when he commented on my “Bethany” post that made us all laugh so much.

And he responded to my How goes the life with you? query by ending with:

Life with me is good, just really busy doing so many mad voluntary things in the local community here, am back in London for the time being as insha’Allah I will be flying out for the Hajj on Monday. Pray that my Hajj is accepted insha’Allah, and also let me know if you want me to bring you back anything from Saudi at all, it would be a pleasure.

Fi amanillah, Yasmine, take care and keep smiling so it can rub off on us all.

I remember staring at my computer, thinking, Bring me back something from Saudi? What a beautiful, incredibly generous offer. I decided I would send him the list of duas [prayers/supplications] I’d been emailing to all my friends who were leaving for Hajj. The most I could ask of anyone was that they add some prayers for me while in the holy cities.

My reply to his last email is still sitting in my Drafts folder. It begins simply, Wa alaikum assalam, Imran –, and then there is a bunch of empty white space, and his email below. The draft was saved on December 15th; by the time I remembered I still needed to send him my dua list two days later, he had already flown out for Hajj, and I figured I’d just save the reply and send it as a congratulatory email when he returned from the pilgrimage. I never did send it, obviously, and now I can’t even bring myself to click the “Discard” button.

I wish I had made time to reply to people’s comments on the weblog. I wish I had sent him another email, and commented more often to let him know how much I appreciate his beautiful photos and poetry. I didn’t understand at the time what he meant by “doing so many mad voluntary things,” but in the last couple of days of reading people’s reflections about Imran, I’ve come to understand what a truly generous, giving person he was – someone who, as Zana said, had all the time in the world for people less fortunate.

Last October, I had sent him a short email saying,

I randomly came across this today and thought of you, since you are such a Zaytuna fan:

Eid mubarak! Hope you had a beautiful, blessed day inshaAllah!

At the end of his reply to me, he added:

Alhamdulillah, Eid was fantastic, probably one of the nicest, bestest and most rewarding Eids I’ve had in many years.

Yesterday, scrolling through Imran’s weblogs, I came across the post that began with a reflection on both his 2005 Eids, spent helping with earthquake relief efforts in the mountains of Kashmir; the post culminated in a description of the October 2006 Eid he had referred to in his email to me:

This year I was again away from home on the day of Eid. I found myself in a place where one might suspect there to be little reason or cause to celebrate anything except imminent release. However, I was overwhelmed at what proved to be one of the most remarkable days of my life.

I have been working on an ad-hoc basis out of HMP Wormwood Scrubs for the last 6 months or so, and although there are some genuinely pleasurable and memorable moments, in general it is one big reality check. A reminder of my long forgotten past, a chance to give something back to society and an opportunity to remember the Blessings of our Lord that fall upon us so abundantly that we can do nothing but take them for granted.

Every year is different, every Eid Allah puts before me another opportunity to atone for my sins. Only this year however, have I realised quite how lucky I am to be blessed and tested in this way.

Close your eyes and try to picture 200+ brothers in one room, smiling like they have never smiled before, eating as though they have never eaten before, greeting you so sincerely with the greeting of peace and hugging you as though you were a long lost relative.

The beautiful chanting of the Takbirs still resonate warmly in my ears, almost every conceivable nation was represented in that hall, and often I wonder if this was a tiny vision of what paradise might be times a million.

Who needs Zaytuna, when you’ve found the real deal, Imran? Paradise-times-a-million must be yours by now; how could He deny you that blessed entry?

There are many, many people who knew Imran far better than I did (a simple Google search pulls up dozens, if not hundreds, of recent weblog entries, forum posts, and comments and prayers dedicated to him and the work he did, all across the internet) – there is, for example, Zana, who still can’t bring herself to delete his number from her phone; there is Balal, his close friend and photography mentor, who wrote to me about his experiences knowing Imran; there is Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, with whom he shared his love for poetry. But even I, who knew him so briefly and barely, feel that I’ve lost someone whose kindness and generosity touched me enough that even I’m feeling heartbroken. When I struggled around the lump in my throat and cried hot tears for him yesterday, it was not because his life has ended, but because our own lives are a little bit emptier, having lost such a beautiful soul to accompany us through this world.

Mabrouk, ya Hajji! And rest in peace, my friend. When next we meet, I’ll tell you what it felt like for me to have – by then, God willing – finally seen Spain and the Alhambra in person, and you can describe for me what it must be like to sit in the Light of the Divine and see the Creator face-to-Face. I have no doubt that you will be one of the Illuminated. May the Lord, in His infinite mercy, grant you all that is good and pure and blessed – and an internet connection Up There, so that you can see, even through your infamous humility, how positively you’ve impacted and inspired all those of us you’ve left behind.

[Post title from a poem by Imran Saithna:

Forget the past, sleep the day,
Wake not for the dawn of tomorrow.

Bleed the pen, burn the paper,
Dry those tears of eternal sorrow.

Blind the eyes, pack full the ears,
Wipe the traces of that lonely smile.

Turn full-around, re-trace your steps,
and walk alone for a while.

[Comments made in response to this entry may be found here, from when this piece was originally posted on sweepthesunshine.v1.]

Send some love to Momo

Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Please take a minute to send some love and prayers to the beautiful Momo, whose brother-in-law passed away last week after a difficult struggle with cancer. He is survived by his wife and their two children, 6 years old and 13 months old. I can’t even begin to imagine how painful a time this must be for his family.

Momo’s gorgeous poem, my sister’s Love life, made me cry when I read it, over and over at least a dozen times, a couple of weeks ago.

Wishing Momo’s brother-in-law much light and ease finally, and wishing strength and nothing but goodness for all the loved ones he left behind.

Hope for recovery

Brick walkway leading up to our front porch
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Islamic Relief has recently been sponsoring a series of six dinners around the United States, in order to raise funds for continuing support for the victims of last October’s earthquake in South Asia:

The earthquake which devastated the South Asian subcontinent in October has affected millions. Islamic Relief is working hard on the ground and around the world in order to ensure that the 3,000,000 people left homeless are not forgotten. Please join us to help us in our efforts to provide sustained rebuilding and rehabilitation projects to a devastated population. [Rebuilding Lives, Restoring Hope]

If you were following this weblog towards the end of 2005, you know the earthquake is something I felt quite emotional about.

So when my sister forwarded the email about last Saturday’s fundraising dinner in the South Bay and I sent it to my father with a note asking, “Daddy khana, would you be interested in going to this event?”, I was gratified to receive an instant email back: “Absolutely! Let’s go.”

At the dinner, I was impressed by the rundown of Islamic Relief’s work, their speeches and powerpoint presentations and video footage and the 4-star rating accorded them by Charity Navigator (the largest charity evaluator in the U.S.), and their overall professionalism – but mainly I was impressed by their passion for what they do. The speakers I heard that evening – not only the Islamic Relief people, but also local community leaders and activists – have dedicated their lives to helping people and making the world a more beautiful, safer, respectful place, through various efforts. The least the rest of us can do is support such causes from the safe distance of the secure homes and comfortable lifestyles we inhabit.

In all the speeches about the earthquake, and about giving and making sacrifices in solidarity and in compassion, the part that struck me the most forcefully was when one of the brothers up there said, “We all set aside money sometimes, here and there, thinking we’ll use it later in the year, for something or other. I know you’ve saved your money for something important.”

He paused, then added quietly, pointedly, “Maybe this is important.”

Someone later mentioned, “Alhamdulillah [all praise is for God], the winter in South Asia was not as harsh as we had thought it might be: there was only three feet of snow, as opposed to the six feet we had been expecting,” and I sat there remembering that, in the two days prior to the dinner as I hung out with the ALL STAR CRACKSTAR SQUAD (killer phrase trademarked/copyrighted/all that drama by 2Scoops, and, don’t worry, you’ll hear more about the hanging out sessions later), all I had done every time we ventured outdoors was scrunch up my face like a disgruntled five-year-old and whine, “Why is it raining, dammit?”

I was stunned. Three feet of snow? I’m so sick of winter, I can’t even handle three drops of rain. Clearly, some necessary perspective is in order.

If you’re in Chicago, Tampa Bay, FL, or Dallas, the event’s still on. Take a couple of hours out of your evening, and go.