[Cross-posted at HijabMan.com.]
1. SORRY. Recently, I learned a humbling — and very important — lesson from a friend: to apologize for things said or acts committed in anger, even if the anger was justified. There is not much to add to this, but I will say that I — who thought I’d come such a long way since my inability to apologize years ago — still have much to learn. If I have learned in the last several years to listen more to my conscience and refine my sense of compassion and appeasement, I have also learned just how trigger-quickly I can lapse into cold, cutting commentary without regard for how words burn at the other end. I am remembering now other conversations of this past year, and how the outcomes may have been different if I’d been gentler — not only with the person(s) at the other end, but also with myself. In an effort to prove my own strength and independence, my own will and rightness, I do myself a disservice in times like these. There is beauty in humility, and it takes strength to acknowledge (and embrace or amend) one’s weaknesses and shortcomings, and pride is not pretty. (Note to self: Don’t be this guy.)
2. LAUGHTER. No matter the level of stress at work, there is always at least one moment of levity during each day. Sometimes, I find myself twirling ’round and around on the twirly-chair at my desk, lobbing sarcastic and hilarious jabs at my coworkers before throwing my head back in laughter so loud it can be heard all the way down the hall. At such moments, I think to myself, “I would miss this.” Particularly now that we have disbanded a bit. Our organization recently relocated, and my “department” has been displaced from the spacious office we all shared to a building where we each now have our own, separate cubicles. There is more privacy — but also less, at the same time.
AH paused sadly by my desk the other morning and asked with his best hang-dog expression, “Can you move into my cubicle? I miss you.” I laughed at him, of course, but then I realized it’d been far too many days since we exchanged our ubiquitous highfives, and I was tempted to pick up my laptop and go back to a shared workspace. That was, of course, before I remembered how AH borrows my favorite pens to jot down notes whenever he’s on the phone, and then promptly loses them; throws whiteboard markers at me whenever I tease him too much; swipes my food when I’m not looking; makes me re-send him emails he never bothered to open the first time around; and asks rhetorical questions like, “You know what we should do, Yasmine?” and then ignores my cranky, “No, I don’t, tell me,” and launches into grand plans and ambitious projects that we will have time for only in 57 years — and I decided my own quiet little cubicle was probably good enough. I might even be able to finally nap under my desk without anyone noticing.
3. HELLO, I SEE YOU. (i) I stepped out for lunch at one of the local cafes recently, and found that I recognized no one there. This was problematic only because Julie’s used to be such a vibrant source of community for me, not only when my sister was an undergrad at Berkeley and I visited her on campus all the time, but also during all those post-Friday prayer lunches with friends, and during the iftar dinners that Julie’s hosted for Cal students during the month of Ramadan. But the students who frequent the place have changed, and so has the management of the cafe, not to mention part of the menu.
I consoled myself by ordereing my usual chicken-with-basil stirfry (that hasn’t changed), and found a small table in a corner of the courtyard, where I sat quietly, scrolled through my phone, gave every indication of not caring that I knew no one, and wished the afternoon were longer so I wouldn’t have to go back to work so soon. But within just a few minutes, there was F at my side, with a wave and a highfive and a “How are you?” — and even as my eyes lit up in surprise and I smiled back widely, so happy to see him, and even before I could open my mouth to reply with my automatic, “I’m doing lovely! How are you?” — he added after eyeing me during just a minuscule pause, “A little bit stressed?”
“I didn’t realize it was so obvious,” I said, chagrined, and made a mental note to work on my poker face. F pulled up a chair, asked incisive questions, listened patiently as I talked around mouthfuls of food — and offered options that I found myself scribbling down on the closest sheet of paper. I left Julie’s smiling, realizing anew (because I have to be reminded of this over and over) that it’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes, to give voice to one’s anxieties, and to discuss strategies with others.
(ii) After missing two separate classes of grad school in two weeks, I dragged myself to campus, sitting silently through most of the discussions (guess who was behind on the readings?) yet inwardly excited to be back in the midst of such thought-provoking conversations. Most of us are working professionals, balancing a full-time graduate program with full-time jobs. We are usually on campus only for classes, and even a month-and-a-half into fall semester, I know that I, at least, have not spent any length of time building meaningful relationships with my classmates outside our weekly gatherings. So, it was all the more touching when, at 930pm as we rose from our chairs and began slinging our bags over our shoulders in preparation for sliding exhaustedly out the door, A turned to me and said simply, “I’m so happy that you’re here. I missed you!” It’s no wonder I texted a friend a month ago with, “Status: I just got out of class. I LOVE school. And I mean that as non-sarcastically as possible.”