There was a night recently where I woke up feeling very alone. I had fallen asleep in a decent state of mind, so when I found myself awake right after midnight with a sinking feeling in my heart I was not sure what to make of it.
A few seconds later, I heard banging on a door on the floor beneath ours. I thought perhaps that may have awakened me and maybe I was feeling a subliminal mix of emotions based on some subcoscious fears that someone was trying to get in our house. I thought momentarily the feelings would pass, so I tried to settle in and wait for sleep to return.
As the minutes passed and the clock struck one (AM), I realized that I was not getting tired again. I noticed that I began to feel a profound sense of sadness, a feeling of terrible loneliness. My son was sleeping in bed with me (as he regularly does when his brothers are away at their father’s) and my husband was sleeping in their room. He also does that regularly so he can stay up at night on the computer without disturbing me. Was I lonely for his company? No, that was not it.
Why was I feeling this way? I really believed it would pass pretty quickly, as inexplicable states often do. I decided to pass the time posting on Facebook about it…which further inspired me to write a poem about it. As the time went on through the early morning hours, the feeling only intensified. I could not understand why I was feeling so lonely, so sad…and writing about it only seemed to uncover the pain in a more vivid way.
I have to tell you, I don’t mind pain. While most of the world spends it’s life practicing pain avoidance, I don’t. If I am in a painful situation, whether physically or emotionally, I try to sit with it until it passes, because it will ALWAYS pass. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but nothing ever stays the same. I started doing this because I realized, some years ago, that running from the pain never really keeps it away. Nor does it help you to handle it any better the next time it comes around…and there will always be a next time.
So I sat in it, like boiling myself in a pot of hot water. I tried to experience it in its fulness, making it less frightening and powerful. I thought, “OK, so I am going to be acquaintences with loneliness tonight, the best thing I can do is make the passing of this time productive”. I realized I hadn’t yet prayed ‘isha salat, so I rose to make wudu and wrapped myself in my gauzy chettar and stood on my sparkling, gold-threaded prayer rug to make my intentions.
As I stood there, I felt waves of pointed convulsions rise up in my chest. It felt like a crescendo of stinging aches. I had to press on, so I started the salat. “Allahu Akbar…” Tears were rimming over my eyes and warming my cheeks. The pain filled me to capacity and I began weeping. I had to press on, so I continued with Al-Fatiha. I could barely breathe while reciting in silent whispers between the demur sobs. I could not let this catharsis keep me from correctly performing my salat. So I pressed on, choking out Surah Ihklas while the tears dripped on my wrap.
I still did not know why I was so acutely hurting and lonely. I thought to myself, I am doing better with my deen and everything else now more than any other time, why would I be experiencing this? The reality of being in salat while mysteriously broken-hearted overshadowed my mind’s workings. I prostrated, and while in sujood all of my soul poured out in hot tears and unadulterated but subdued cries. “Ya Allah, I may not know why this is happening, but all I can do at this point is come to You and be only to You in perfect submission, physically and emotionally, in this salat”, is what I thought. I stayed in sujood, crying, for nearly a minute before I could continue. That moment was a perfect moment, a moment where I was truly in my fitra in every way possible. I could be nothing else if I had tried.
By the time I had finished ‘isha, my state had improved. I wasn’t feeling completely whole yet, but I was not overwhelmed. I went back to my bed and lay, wondering what had happened and what caused it. I thought about all the people I love and miss and tried to determine which of them I was longing for. I even tried to determine if it was Allah I was somehow longing for. I wasn’t coming up with much, so I consoled myself by acknowledging that I had taken the right course in managing it by turning to Allah.
Suddenly, a thought came to me: I only went to Allah after I went to other things first. I tried to solve it in my mind, with my intellect. I tried to put my mind on others, thinking thoughts of them would fill the need. It was only until I was out of options to try that I turned to Allah. I turned to Him, but I didn’t turn to Him first.
For years, as both a Christian and Muslim, I’ve heard others say to “Turn to Allah (God)”. I’ve heard about how we should come to Him when we are in need or hurting. For some reason, I’ve lived that as turning or going to Him when no one else is available…as a plan “B”. I’ve turned to Him when the only options left were Him or nothing.
I realized then, that I had it all backwards. Allah is not a backup plan when creation fails. Allah is not a safety net when the parachute won’t open. Allah is not the last resort. He is the first resort, the first choice, plan ‘A’. I had not been orienting myself to Him like this, but I needed to.
I still don’t know why I had that episode of loneliness. By the time I woke the next morning, there was no trace of what had happened in my soul the night before. Yet, I could not go about my day without remembering and checking myself, am I going to Allah first? Am I trusting Him first?
I have to admit, it’s a hard habit to break. Being the kind of person I am, someone who is super-responsible and independent, it’s hard to rewire something I’ve gotten used to doing for at least two decades. I think I might have even decieved myself into thinking that Allah would be proud of someone like me, someone who tries to find every other way to solve a problem before “bothering” Him about it. I have to keep working on remembering that the first solution to any of my problems MUST be taking it to Him.
If I don’t learn that lesson well, then a night of tears was wept in vain.