The Secret of Insouciance

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about longevity.  I guess when the prime of life has passed, this is the inevitable phase that the mind enters.

Coronavirus, lockdown, vaccines, isolation, death…all pretty grim words that have become part of the vernacular of front doorstep conversations and political debates across the world.  Glancing at news headlines, I vacillate between cautious optimism and downright despair.  Recently, my stress has piqued over the last few days because of a new personal situation that has arisen.  Alhamdulillah, it has nothing to do with my health or my children’s wellbeing although the very nature of stress itself is that it will – and does – impact the peaceful status quo of life. 

Whilst I don’t need to divulge the details of my situation, I confess it has made me check the balance of my mind and its workings – again.  It has served as a test of my faith.  I have found myself doing a bit more introspection and asking difficult questions such as: How strong is my resolve to remain calm and dignified?  Will I focus on the empty half of the glass or the full half?  Have I mastered patience in the face of adversity?  Who do I call upon for help?

Recognising stress is the path to managing it

I recognise life’s tests now since I have recognised when my stress reaches a tipping point – something many of us can identify with.  By far, my biggest test in life remains my divorce.  Till now, I have not suffered anything more soul-destroying than that.  Alhamdulillah, it was nothing worse.  However, no other event has pummelled me so much in terms of my confidence and self-worth.  Yet even then, I did not throw an outward tantrum or kick and scream.  Instead, the storm raged within whilst I learnt how to quell it.  I did that only through conversations with Allah and striving to be patient with my lot.  With that experience, I hope I will handle future crises with a similar sense of calm insha’Allah.

Back to today and it would appear from the outside that I don’t care about what is going on around me.  In fact, far from it.  I care very much about the circumstances I am in.  However, with age comes a certain wisdom which one can never grasp until they have been through all the motions of life themselves.  Having ventured out into the world and come full circle, like many people, I realise now what matters most.  I am mastering the art of being calm.  Faith in Allah is the secret of my insouciance.  Therefore, when circumstances change, when other variables exit and enter, if my faith never wavers, I am already on a road to success.  It will not allow me to succumb to the transient nature of life itself.  So, you see, insouciance is not necessarily a negative thing; it is not the hallmark of a flippant or frivolous person.  It is an inner state of being in control of one’s own emotions and not being overwhelmed by worldly concerns.  To remain unflappable is an enviable trait especially when all around you are losing their heads.  I admit it is a work in progress but one that I am increasingly striving for. 

Balancing stress and calmness is delicate but achievable

Alhamdulillah, I am truly blessed to have my sons help me when my own perspective on things becomes blurred.  I know their youth is not a synonym for naivety.  When I related to them about my feelings of unrestrained anxiety over this recent situation, my eldest reminded me of a very valuable lesson from the Seerah – the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  It was of the incident in the cave when the Prophet (peace be upon Him) had been commanded by Allah to leave Mecca to save his life.  His enemies, who had rejected Islam, were hot on his trail and determined to kill him.  With him was his devoted companion, Abu Bakr.  As the two men remained hidden in the cave, they heard the tribesmen outside, knowing full well how close to death they were.  Whilst Abu Bakr feared the worst, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prayed and reminded him that the third amongst them was Allah so they had nothing to fear.  What a profound comment!  And I am eternally grateful that my sons have the maturity to help placate me in crucial moments of stress before things get ugly.

Allah knows, with the challenges I have faced in life, that I have had many opportunities to practise inner calm.  If I do not strive to master this skill at this stage of my life, I should be worried.  No doubt, I have lived the best part of my life already (if I am counting the years).  Therefore, insha’Allah, I know that whatever happens to me outwardly, the core of my being needs to remain firm and strong.  That core is an intangible one and relates to the spiritual dimension of my existence.  I may not be able to see it but I know for sure it is there.   Moreover, Allah knows it too.

Birthdays are for Mothers

Celebrating alongside my children

Today is a poignant day for me.

It is on this day, twenty years ago, I entered the unknown realm of motherhood for the first time, Alhamdulillah. Not to one child, but to two, Alhamdulillah.

As I reflect on those twenty amazing years gone by, I see my boys’ lives flash by me in seconds. Nostalgia fast-forwarded. From their time as tiny tots to the young, wonderful men they have become, it has been an honour to watch them grow. Today, the tables have turned and the relationship of dependency moves in both directions. In many ways, I often find myself relying on them for advice, moral support and sometimes just to humour me.

Becoming a mother is a point in your life from which there is no return. When life throws so many variables in your path, the one constant is the tie to your children. It is not a tenuous tie, unlike that of many absent, transitory fathers who falsely convince themselves that the odd phone call or message entitles them to be called ‘father’. Had it been that easy, I’m sure many women would have also recklessly abandoned their posts, pursued their own selfish desires and yet demanded to be called ‘mother’. Alhamdulillah, it is a divine gift embedded in the innate feminine programming that tells most mothers they cannot envisage a life without their children when the family breaks down. From the rubble of our past, we salvage precious pieces and return to rebuild and build higher and stronger. For the irreverant, we become irrelevant. Overnight. But sometimes a canon can backfire…..

Over four years ago, I would never have believed anyone who told me that divorce would be a refreshing harbinger of change for me and my boys. That’s because I lacked vision both in my sight, in my dreams and in my soul. I had voluntarily incarcerated myself into another person’s world and thrown away the key not realising I may need to make my exit one day. Alhamdulillah though, today my boys and I have all dipped our toes into unchartered waters and are now learning to float.

Working with a situation and not against it

We are moving with the current rather than trying to resist it. We are on individual journeys and collective ones and more often than not, we converge to discuss our progress before setting off again once more. I am experiencing an inner strength I never knew I had within. In many ways, my life has become uncluttered and simpler. I can now focus on myself and the boys. We have finally separated the insoluble elements from our lives and purified what remains. It’s beautiful Alhamdulillah.

So, for me, my boys’ birthday is not about cake and candles. It is not just about them accomplishing another complete year on this Earth. It is a personal celebration of motherhood. An affirmation that Allah has allowed me to occupy this role still. As such, the celebration is as much mine as is theirs.

Some birthday celebrations do not have to be visible

Life is a Pomegranate

A fruit worth cutting simply to peer inside

Let me explain….

In my opinion, the pomegranate is one of the most delightful fruits that exists, both pleasing on the eye and the tongue.  To ponder over this miracle of nature is to be in awe of Allah Himself.  It is also to have an amazing appreciation of life. 

To prise open a pomegranate, takes both patience and diligence as the outer covering can often be unyielding.  However, the reward for perseverance is well worth the wait.  The secrets of the inside chambers are exposed to reveal serried ruby-red jewels – arils – each nestled neatly in cosy compartments.  It’s impossible not to have one’s fingertips stained with the brilliant red colour as these arils are carefully removed from their dwellings.  And all this delight is before the treasure has even been tasted itself!

So how does this all compare with life? 

Well, I believe the pomegranate is a true microcosm of this duniya (the world).  Its tough outer shell epitomises the Earth that we live in – the bedrock of our existence.  This shell protects us and holds us secure and yet, simultaneously, it can suffocate and imprison us within.  Undisturbed, it can be sometimes beautiful and other times not so much.  There are times we want to break free from our current situations but our movements are forcibly restricted.  When the ‘world’ is ripped apart and the status quo is no more, its inhabitants are rudely awoken from their slumber and thrown into disarray.  In the chaos and confusion that ensues, they can often become riotous and even bloody. 

That being said, the alignment of arils inside this wondrous fruit are a thing to marvel at.  The tidy arrangement of these ‘little people’ is not random.  Where we are placed and amongst whom is no accident.  Far from it.  It is a carefully considered grand design engineered by our Maker, Allah.  We humans are brought into this life and selectively placed amongst our families and friends.    This interdependency was fixed well before we began to come into being.  Throughout our lives, we lean on this person and that; we learn to forge very close relationships with those who surround us; we are blessed with homes, both physical and metaphysical.  At least this is true for many fortunate ones. 

There are times, though, when Allah decides to rearrange the balance of things.  As with the contents of a pomegranate that cascade out when split open, so it is that human relationships are irreversibly reshuffled too.  To put things back as they were is simply impossible.  For me, peering at the pomegranate jewels strewn across the surface of a plate, this is a visual allusion to divorce.  I have to accept that the perfect order of life has been upset.  It will be no more.  There are also the rotten parts of the fruit which need to be discarded before they corrupt other parts.  These are the bad relationships which serve no purpose other than to cause turmoil and destruction in our lives.  That separation is as bracing as it is brutal.    

Perfect jewels of a natural kind

However, as Muslims, we know that we must embrace the rough with the smooth.  Therefore, we should not lose sight that the pomegranate is a true representation of the divine concept of beauty.  Together, or alone, the arils and their seeds radiate beauty and bring light and joy to the world.  Humans too, have a social responsibility to be beacons of beauty wherever they go.  

The awe-inspiring pomegranate is a wonderful reminder to others that Allah’s majesty can be found everywhere.  As a testimony to its greatness, on three separate occasions in the Quran, Allah refers to the superior status of the pomegranate amongst other fruit.  (Surah Al-Anam: 99 and 141; Surah Ar-Rahman: 68)

Healing in the Quran

So, you see, the pomegranate is the perfect metaphor of this life.  It is as stubborn as it is sweet and it is as rewarding as it is a great test of our patience.

Listen Out for the Silence

Lockdown to open up to new ways of living

Lockdown.  Perhaps not the most auspicious start to the new year.  Or so we might think.

As I write, the majority of the population in the UK is living a life with strict limitations on movement in public.  Shops, schools, universities and countless offices are lamenting the loss of their normal inhabitants.  Instead, people have been forcefully confined to their own four walls and though the routine is not new, it is one which many are still struggling to adapt to.  As a result, ‘mental health’ has become a buzz word in conversations.  I myself often feel that the escalated urgency of the COVID-19 situation has caught me in my unguarded moments and taken me down an emotionally rough road upon which I do not wish to travel.

But lockdown has brought with it an unprecedented silence.  It is not just the ethereal silence found in the streets or parks or shopping malls; it is a silence of the type within ourselves that has allowed a spiritual cleansing.  I have found that the silence in my own life has been a welcome visitor – where the absence of idle gossip or irrelevant banter with others has led to a deeper contemplation of the purpose of my being.  There is no doubt that the entire country is in a sombre mood.  Where people used to engage in frivolous conversations or idle pursuits, instead, in their place today, we see more introspection.  People seem too hesitant to allow themselves laughter any more.  It almost feels disrespectful when we know that others have suffered personal tragedies or losses through this pandemic.

The virus has achieved the unthinkable in one fell sweep.  As a Muslim, I firmly believe that the final prophet was Mohammad (peace be upon him) and that his message was to convey the Oneness of Allah.  Though that message was delivered, that is not to say that Allah will not continue to send His warnings to mankind.  Through the ages, we know of storms, floods and diseases which were delivered upon nations who transgressed His orders.  Today, I am totally convinced He has done the same again.  The question is:  How many of us will concede this is a warning from Allah? 

And so, I return to the Silence.  It has provided that necessary space (for those who choose to care to understand it) to contemplate events till now and how they will move forward in their own lives from this point on.  Silence provides a vacuum.  No noise.  No distractions.  Just peace.   For the discerning one, it would not go amiss that that vacuum is now a pure receptacle waiting be filled with a meaningful substance.  That, in my opinion, is where Allah becomes the focus of our lives again.  As the flotsam and jetsam of life is cleared, we can allow Allah to be firmly planted back to where He rightly belongs – at the centre of our everything. 

Silence is the absence of sound.  This past year we have all experienced a silence of sorts.  It is the very absence of distracting sounds in our lives that has allowed the soul to ‘speak’ to the heart.   In a normal world, the logical (or even illogical) mind often rules the heart and drowns out the voice of the soul which silently battles for a place at the podium too.  And now, finally, under drastic global pandemic conditions, the soul stands at its rightly claimed spot – at the vanguard of the inner personal battle, determined to fight our inner demons.  This is a time to let the soul speak.  We need to reacquaint ourselves with the superior and spiritual dimensions of our existence again.  We have been given the chance to declutter our lives.

Regular mind clearouts help keep the space clear for more useful things

I still try to remain positive in this strange period that we find ourselves in.  Alhamdulillah, there have been unexpected but pleasant surprises along the way.  Undoubtedly, the best outcome has been that the pandemic has definitely shaken me from a sluggish spiritual stupor.  If we can all claim to be on a journey of reawakening, then there should be less regrets and more hope for the future.  Insha’Allah.

Mapping a Route to an Unknown Destination

If there is anything I have learnt lately, it is to not overthink and overanalyse but to keep moving forward.  There are enough inspirational stories out there of people going well out of their comfort zones in their advanced years and finding a whole new zeal for life.

I may not have any awesome aspirations like some others but I know I want to make every day count.  Like how the sun’s rays still shine behind the thick grey blanket of clouds, I know that life sometimes must be seen from obscure perspectives.  My future is already here……

Looking behind the clouds and not just at them

Ultimately, as Muslims, we believe Allah has control over everything.  He knows what He has planned for us.  Does that mean we sit here and do nothing?  Of course not!  Nothing is going to fall into our laps unless we make the effort to seek it out.  The fact our future is kept a secret from us is wisdom in itself.  It means we should continue to strive for whatever is halal (permissible) and maybe – just maybe – we will realise those dreams were already written in our destinies.  If we miss our target, that’s OK too for it simply means it was never on the cards. 

So, should we then lament a wasted effort?  Definitely not.  I would start on the premise that no effort is a wasted effort.  If we invest towards a worthwhile goal, whether we achieve it or not, there are valuable lessons to be learnt along the way.  It may be that we learn how to grow with success/failure, how to adapt to a change of circumstances or how to be creative and find other ways to obtain the goal we desire.  In other words, it is not just about achieving the outcome per se.   There are many ways to get to a place but the choices we make in getting there are the very things which shape us.

Sometimes, the journey becomes more significant than the destination itself.

Learning to appreciate the road itself

So, the way I see life now is like this: if some of my dreams don’t materialise, I want to be able to say, “Alhamdulillah, it was because it was not meant to be,” – that Allah had different plans for me.  I never want to look back with regret, knowing that I had stupidly resigned myself to self-pity and defeat even before I  got started.  With that said, I also know I need to take manageable steps.  I cannot overstretch my limits.  I remind myself about the other responsibilities I have in my life right now namely, my children, who are quickly becoming fully-fledged adults.  

My advice to other mothers on their own?  Always have the passion to chase personal goals of your own which run in parallel to your children’s lives.  Your kids will pursue their own happiness and chances are, even with the best intentions in the world, they cannot put your needs first all the time.  It is not selfish behaviour.  It is a simple reality.  Therefore, do not find yourself suddenly wanting of a purpose to exist.  You’ve been through all that already when the husband disappeared.  Know that for entirely different and legitimate reasons, the children will follow suit soon after.

The start line for us all

Insha’Allah, motherhood is a title I will never surrender.  Its form will simply remould with every new phase of my boys’ lives. I am acutely aware of that.  In anticipation of this, I have started to carve a niche for myself in this life where I continue to function as a fully-fledged member of society.  (I say this knowing my longevity itself is an unknown). Decadence is borne of idleness and insha’Allah, I will strive to steer myself away from that pitfall as best I can.

My hope is that my legacy will be for my boys at least.  I have no material gifts to pass onto them.  Insha’Allah, their inheritance will be their mother’s formidable spirit.  I pray they will see, in my example, someone who stood up even taller after each stumble along her path and whose temporary setbacks were just that – temporary.

A New Perspective on the Old

I’m writing today knowing that there is heaviness in many people’s hearts, not just about Christmas being cancelled, or 2020, but about so much beyond.

To be honest, although the months and years are obvious markers of the movement of time, I feel we should not get too fixated about measuring life against them.  I say that only because it can lead to an even greater sense of depression.  Like others, I have my own share of burdens and worries.  I wouldn’t be human if I said I was immune to all the drudgery going on around me.

However, I want to continue to make plans and set myself goals even despite the misery out there.  It may be that I don’t live long enough to see many (or any) of them through.  That is not a cue for sympathy from others; it is simply a stark reality.  How much time we have in this world is an indeterminable truth and my aim is to fit as much goodness as I can into it.  I also want to relish those things which Allah has made available to me if only I choose to find them with not just my eyes.

Seeing beyond what is in front of us

In my last post, I alluded to the art of ‘seeing with the soul’ and I hope I continue to do this for however long or short my life is.  Seeing with the eyes is a merely superficial vista on the world.  It is like marvelling at the iceberg without understanding there is a wondrous yet invisible monolith below the surface.  I like to believe that I am not a superficial person which is why, till today, I do not vie for material gains that serve no purpose other than to poison the ego. 

It also explains why I made the choices I did in my past.  The most significant of those was the person I chose to marry.  At the time we married, he did not fulfil any material promises of a comfortable life.  But I was looking not just with my eyes.   To use the cliché expression, I was ‘soul-searching’ and found someone who helped nourish the things I believed would take me on a spiritual flight – and I was not disappointed, Alhamdulillah

Twenty-two years since and I have now learnt to fly solo.  I am reminded of Surah Mulk (Chapter 67), my favourite Surah of the Quran.  I know many Muslims have their favourite chapter and Surah Mulk is the one that clinches it for me.  It encompasses so much of what I understand my faith asks of me and how Allah wishes us to perceive Him.  There is one particular ayah (verse) which has me completely in awe.  It is as follows:

أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا۟ إِلَى ٱلطَّيْرِ فَوْقَهُمْ صَـٰٓفَّـٰتٍۢ وَيَقْبِضْنَ ۚ مَا يُمْسِكُهُنَّ إِلَّا ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ بِكُلِّ شَىْءٍۭ بَصِيرٌ

 (Surah Mulk – 67:19)  Do they not see the birds above them with wings outspread and [sometimes] folded in? None holds them [aloft] except the Most Merciful. Indeed, He is, of all things, Seeing.

Who holds them up when they fly?

The powerful imagery that is conjured up in my mind, of a bird as it swoops, dives, soars and flies, is simply indescribable.  I liken my own recent experience of ‘flying solo’ to that of a bird whose own taking to the skies is a direct result of the workings of our Creator.  Who else can make the bold claim of supporting birds in flight?  Maybe my mind is that of a simpleton when I would rather believe it to be one which is in awe of complex things.  However, nature provides many insights into the fascination I have with the wonders Allah has placed on this Earth for us to remember and praise Him.

To enjoy nature is to enjoy faith

This past year, we have been forced to be tamed by a belligerent virus.  We have returned to a humbler way of life.  We have had to succumb to Mother Nature in a big way.  Though it has created great havoc in our personal lives, there have been some positive outcomes and Earth has had some respite from the human pillaging of its natural resources.  I hope we have all had the chance to take stock and rethink our roles in this.  I am a strong believer in understanding Allah through the natural world.  It is here we will never fail to find Him.  To escape into nature is to find Allah.

A Eulogy for 2020

A year to remember.

By now, we all know it is simply impossible to talk about 2020 without mentioning ‘COVID-19’ or ‘coronavirus’.  These two words have become synonyms for this year.  It has been a time of unprecedented grief, anxiety and loneliness for many people worldwide: the loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, loss of homes…  

Need I say more? 

And yet, in my own personal and individual experience, 2020 has been an unexpected harbinger of change for me.  Without any elaborate plan, I have fallen back in love with life, Alhamdulillah.  That seems a completely insane thing to say at a time when the world is still reeling from the devastating economic, social and political ramifications of the pandemic.  Yet, oddly enough, 2020 has become the year in which I have embarked upon a reinvention of myself. 

In a time where many are struggling to survive, be it emotionally or financially, I have watched the year play out and listened to and read many heart-wrenching stories of personal grief.  I have witnessed how adversity causes people to reach deep within themselves and get creative.  The many examples of resilience I have encountered provided the impetus for seeking a greater meaning to my own life.  I mean, if others could do it, why not I?   Which is why I say 2020 has been a turnaround for me.  It seems incongruous, I know.  But seeing all the drudgery out there, I knew indifference was not only unacceptable, it was almost immoral.

With all its tumultuous events, 2020 has brought with it great uncertainties in our lives.  However, the very nature of life in this world is just that – uncertainty.  So, in a most unlikely way, I am reminded of my ultimate purpose on the Earth.  It is not to make it a permanent home.  This is not the final stop.  On this journey through life, I know I will be bounced around and often thrown out of my seat.  But that’s OK.  I understand that Allah never wanted us to be complacent about any given situation we may find ourselves in.  He will shake us and shock us and, through it, test our nerves.  Insha’Allah, it is a test we will all pass with patience and dignity.

For me, 2020 has given me the confidence to dust down skills and talents I have always had but dismissed as irrelevant – till now.  I have returned to teaching; I have taken up a lifelong ambition to write and I have supported my boys through their own highs and lows in life.  Most significantly, I have learnt that if I expect Allah to help me, I need to help myself first.  Alhamdulillah, I can testify that the formula has been working.  I have had many private moments when I have simply breathed deeply to inhale the serenity which permeates in my home, Alhamdulillah.  I am only too aware how fragile peace and security can be, not simply because of the pandemic, but because I have seen how myopic humans can also inflict irreparable damage on their own lives.

This year has given me exponentially more reason to be grateful.  So far, I have not just come through unscathed but even more active and determined than ever before to give my life renewed purpose.  It has taken a potent pandemic to make the once seemingly irrelevant things in life cherished even more.  

There are only two ways to live your life

One is as though nothing is a miralce

The other is as though everything is

I know 2020 is a year many would like to forget.  It has been the uninvited guest who outstayed their welcome.  I understand that.  I have been in that dark place myself.  However, I would argue that it has been the necessary teacher who has set up a classroom within our own homes.  It has taught us about what we need to value in life most – our relationships with family and friends and with nature.  It has taught us about our own evil excesses – material desires, insatiable appetites to entertain our every whim.  Most importantly, it has taught us about our relationship with Allah.  It has been a year of emptying The Self.  As we lay the year to rest, I pay tribute to 2020. 

Who’s Watching Me?

Writing for an Invisible Audience

Every time I put a new post up on my site, I wonder which inadvertent stranger will stumble across my musings and either nod in approval or shake their head in despair.  I cannot help but be curious when I see how far and wide the readers are located.  They have stretched from Canada to China, from Ireland to India and beyond.  Looking at the world map on the screen, it’s quite humbling to see how my small blog has found its way around the world and seemingly connected a few people together. 

I wonder about the reader on the other side; those who I have never met and yet, for some unknown reason, they have felt drawn to read whatever I have written.  I like to imagine that I have touched a life or two and even for a passing few moments, brought some hope or relief to their lives. 

I must confess that I imagine the overwhelming majority, if not all, of my readers to be women.  I guess that statement shouldn’t come as a surprise.  After all, the title of my blog, mymotherhalf.com, does imply a heavy bias towards women.  Having said that, I wonder if there have been any men out there who have felt compelled to read anything I’ve written.  I say this because I recently read a Facebook post by an Islamic scholar who wrote a poignant passage extolling the tenacity and patience of the single mother.  His words were quite insightful and it earned him much praise from those women who felt they had finally been given well-deserved acknowledgment from a prominent public Muslim male figure.  Interestingly too, though, the feedback also included a small handful of men who, as single fathers raising their children, demanded not to be overlooked in the list of accolades. Quite rightly too.

Personally, I do not know of any man, Muslim or not, who has found himself left holding the baby after the wife has left with divorce.  However, I know I would be especially in awe of any father who has taken on the challenge and been coping.  I say this only because I believe it is against the inherent nature of man to sacrifice his own personal goals and ambitions to put his children first.  Women can – and have – been doing that since the beginning of time.  Men, less so.  I am sure the statistics would corroborate my view. So, I would like to use my tiny platform here to send my appreciation to all the menfolk out there too who are the unsung heroes of the single parenting realm. 

If there is anyone who is reading this right now, who finds themselves in a similar situation to where I am in my life, I hope you realise you are not alone.  The window I have opened onto my world is as much for joy and hope to radiate out as it is for positive energy to bounce right back – even if I may never come to know how I have stirred others onto a path of self-reflection.

It’s not Just the Kids Taking Flight

Home is a feeling, not just a place

I am at that point in my life where the family nest is slowly emptying out.  The boys are flourishing into young men and I am watching them reach each pending milestone.

Ah, to be young and carefree again!  I am excited for them almost as they are.  I see their eager anticipation to grasp opportunities for their own betterment, be it academic, financial and spiritual.  I am reminded of my own blithe youth and the innocence of expectant dreams.  Some of those dreams did materialise, Alhamdulillah.  Dreams of travel, education, marriage and having children.  There are those that started well but didn’t end anywhere near the target I had imagined.  Clearly, divorce was one of those unforeseen outcomes.

The end of a marriage is a bereavement no matter who tries to convince me otherwise.  It is a death of a union; a cruel amputation of a part of a once healthy whole.  Yet I have had time to learn to manage my grief.  Only yesterday, I heard a Muslim scholar describe the journey involving grief as something one “gets through” rather than “gets over”.  To me, that is such a profound statement.  It correctly suggests that it is a state that perhaps we may never completely forget but simply learn to live with it as it ebbs and flows during the course of our lives.

For me, Alhamdulillah, I have started to invest into my own future (as well as my boys).  The preoccupation with that collection of things has helped me immensely.  I have little time to be still and be overcome by sadness.  Being busy for most of my waking life enables me to keep negative thoughts well beyond arm’s length.  When those unguarded moments do threaten to creep up on me, however, I remind myself of all the positive experiences I have had since being on my own.  I have been the master of my own life; I decide where I want to go today, or not; I decide who I would like to see today, or not.  The one major positive aspect of being alone is not to have to justify my actions to anyone else.  Of course, except Allah.  To be honest, I do also remind myself of all the positive experiences I had when I was married.  I recognise it was an overwhelmingly happy episode of my life.  Even though it was abruptly dealt a cruel end, I can’t deny the good that came from it.  To lose sight of that too would be an ingratitude.

The Generosity of Allah is often not immediately apparent

Having said that, the phase of life I find myself in now, without a husband, has actually been edifying.  I have mulled over the purpose of my life in all the roles that I occupy at once – mother, daughter, sister, aunt etc.  These are the roles which I have inherited. But I have also created new roles for myself outside the home.  Teacher, for example. One of the most gratifying feelings in my role as teacher is knowing that I have made even a modest difference to someone else’s life, however small it may be.  Rather than wallow in self-pity, I have made a conscious decision that I would try and leave an indelible mark on this world; I strive to be a positive influence on others and direct my energies there instead.  It has been a fantastic form of rehabilitation.

Negative self-indulgence of any form, be it nursing our wounded pride, or material excesses, is damaging for the soul.  Therefore, I try not to entertain it.  My coping mechanism is to keep myself occupied in constructive things.  As intellectual creatures, we are commanded to work hard.  The beauty in Allah’s demands is that He asks us to continue to strive for our goals but to keep our niyyah (intention) correct.  Even if I die trying, that is sufficient for Allah.  How Generous is He to not hold us accountable for the end result?  It is a great burden of responsibility lifted from our shoulders. 

I have a personal philosophy on life which states that a day in which something valuable has not been learned, is a day wasted.  It could be a new word, a new recipe, a hadith (Prophetic wisdom), an ayah (verse) of the Quran or even something banal as a new and efficient method of storing clothes.  Every day is a gift to be in awe – yet again – of the splendour of this world.  Switch off the news.  Shed the negativity.  Enjoy the wonders of life.  Breathe.  It feels amazing to be alive, Alhamdulillah.

Opportunities not to be wasted

So, as my boys look forward to their future, I hope to always remain a part of it too inshaAllah.  I will not clip their wings in order for them to acquiesce to my own situation in life.  However, if I have done my job well, I would like to believe they will always reserve a space for me in their adult lives.  They will need to look over their shoulder as much as look ahead.   Mothers are self-sacrificing and I know that no child can ever reciprocate what a mother does for them.  To be fair, I would be setting my own children an unrealistic and unobtainable goal even if I demanded it from them.  I never wish to be the hindrance to their aspirations.  Instead, I wish to be the protagonist that fires them with the passion to embrace all the opportunities out there that will nourish their souls.

My life has not been unusual in that I have had my share of challenges and obstacles.  Would I have done anything differently?  Maybe.  However, I am aware that those bottlenecks, whirlpools and storms I have come through have all collectively worked to bring me where I am today – and that place is one with which I am deeply humbled by and content with, Alhamdulillah.  I have found peace.  Peace in knowing where I am now and where, I pray, I will find myself on the other side of life, inshaAllah.  Grief will not win.

Me, Myself and I

Unscrambling all the key components to try and make sense of it all

Narcissist? Megalomaniac? Egoist?  The very mention of the phrase, “me, myself and I,” suggests self-indulgence and a kind of selfishness at the expense of everyone else. 

As a mother constantly in the driver’s seat of life, steering my children through their academic, emotional and spiritual journeys, I know it is not only recommended to take time out, it is actually necessary.   To always be strong and dependable takes its toll.  With a relentless routine of monotonous household chores punctuated by a working life, sometimes it all gets a bit too much.  Every now and then, my mental energy begins to wilt closely followed by a decline of physical energy.  The two are inextricably linked and it is a cyclical sequence which I can’t break free from.  Inside, I can feel the cogs of the wheel beginning to grind to a halt.  That’s when I need to step off the carousel of life and be still.  Time out.

I make no apology for taking care of me.  If the foundation of a building is precariously poised, it is only inevitable that everything built upon it will be unstable.  Therefore, when I detach from the humdrum of life and deal with my own well-being, I know that it is essential, as others are also depending on me to be there for them.  Alhamdulillah, I wouldn’t want it any other way.  It is a deeply satisfying feeling knowing that my existence makes – and has made – a positive impact on the lives of others, even if they are my own children. 

However, I consciously acknowledge the times when I cannot go on.  It is not that I am anticipating an internal breakdown.  (Alhamdulillah, by His grace I have not reached that nadir yet.  Perhaps that is testimony to the strength I have – more than I care to admit.)  The low moments usually emerge when I am floundering in the midst of trying to manage too many things at once.  Something has to – and often does – give.  There are days when multitasking simply does not work.  For example, a trip to do the grocery shopping, though necessary, will delay my cooking which will, in turn, delay other responsibilities within and without my home.  It isn’t that I haven’t taught my boys household chores but sometimes it is not realistic to ask them for help when they are bogged down with their own work.  To be perfectly fair, they are largely forthcoming whenever I do ask for help. For the most part though, I simply push on and as a result there are occasions when I become overwhelmed.

So why am I unpacking seemingly irrelevant details about my life in public?  The purpose of mentioning all this is to help others understand that self-preservation is an absolutely necessary thing.  It is precisely because I remind myself to reward myself, that I am able to recharge, reflect and return to the grindstone.  To achieve that goal, I need to surrender the reins on life sometimes and let events unfold for themselves.  It is exhausting to always try to have the answers and pre-empt every inevitability.  It is an impossible task and likely to lead to a sense of failure.

When life moves at a maddening pace, it is so easy to become swooped up in the whirlwind and become breathlessly lost in the myriad of things that constantly need doing.  I consciously try to allow myself a regular detox from all my responsibilities and let my head empty itself of everything.  How do I do that?  I enjoy the simple things which force me to go at a slower pace.  For example, I revel in going for walks in silence.  I am truly grateful to be living in a place that is surrounded by beauty.  The river runs just behind my home and riverside walks allow me to enjoy uninterrupted silence and nature.  My thoughts unravel and the water graciously carries them far out to sea as a gesture to me to be free for that time.  I am completely absorbed in my present surrounding where I reminded about what really matters in life.  The peace which nature brings is unlike any other.  It is at these times that I am effortlessly drawn to reflect on my relationship with Allah. 

In awe of Allah and His creation

To be aware of the need to look after the physical and emotional self, is to be aware of the spiritual wellbeing.  Arguably, these cannot be separated.   In my own experience, my spiritual enervation has often been a direct result of feeling I cannot continue with the monotony of keeping the cogs of life turning.  I am constantly running between those cogs, making sure each is good functioning order so as not to lead to a breakdown of the whole machine.  I have, in recent years, trained myself to know when I must say “No” to tasks on which the returns will simply be exhaustion and more frustration.  That includes not always putting others before myself.  To respect oneself is to earn respect from others.

Alhamdulillah, I recognise that now with the boys being that much older, more independent and tuned in to my needs, I have been fortunate to have been spared an implosion.   There have been many times they themselves have persuaded me to step back and let them take over where possible.  It is these gestures that have gone a long way to allowing me to endure till now.  The reciprocal relationship is a blessing I do not take lightly, Alhamdulillah.

Throughout my life, I remind myself of ayahs (verses) from the Quran that speak of perseverance in the face of adversity, the reward for patience, the knowledge that Allah knows what I can bear.  All these things combined have helped me remain positive and grateful.  I also know that He recognises that worshipping Him comes in many forms.  It goes well beyond the prescribed five pillars which are the absolute bedrock of our faith as Muslims.  In addition, He has created a beautiful world in which we find precious moments to contemplate His greatness.  Those opportunities make us realise that we need to loosen the grip on this life just a little and even not take anything too seriously.  After all, it is only transitory.   In those moments of solitude, we should awaken our sensory receptors and appreciate the blessings we have been enjoying all along. 

Allah is indeed Great

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