Monthly Archives: January 2013

Jacked In, Jacked Out, Jacked Up

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I didn’t think I would want to write here for a while, but as I lay here in my dark, silent room all I can think about is the pieces of me I feel I left behind. I close my eyes and try to wish myself back to the tiny room where I wrote to the muted strains of an unknown local band, but the stillness here mocks me in return. Racing through my mind are endless scenes burned into my memory…scenes that rose up during my brief evening nap in the form of a shop in Chinatown where I was trying to tell a young man to be patient until he got what he wanted.

In the book I’m currently reading, there are machines someone can “jack” into and enjoy a virtual dream world as though it were real…kind of like the way it happens in The Matrix. I wish there were such a thing I could use now to escape this reality for the few hours I have until I truly have to return to real life and work tomorrow. Even without such a device, I feel so surreal…between my recent experiences in California, reading the plot’s unfolding in the afore-mentioned novel, and enduring complicated emotions that seem to constantly bend like light refracted from an ever-shifting prism, I can’t seem to find a place inside to ground myself. I feel like a part of me is drifting through an alternate reality in a universe I’ve never heard of, while the rest of me stays here to attend to the perfunctory matters at hand.

In my soul, the tide rushes in with feelings of love, dreams of hope, buoys of faith; and recedes with fears fraught by uncertainty, tinges of loneliness, and reluctant discipline. All of it is captured in a bubble of wistfully beautiful memories, re-cast over and over until I feel like I can’t take it anymore. I push myself like this until I must act…but the only action I can take at this point is writing it all out, splaying it before my reclusive conscience.

So with that, allow me to change venues, so that I may complete this bloodletting in an adequate fashion.

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Do I Really Have to Go?

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A bittersweet day it has been indeed, being that it was my last one here. Tonight I am solemnly contemplating my return to Atlanta, and as always I wish I didn’t have to go. Indeed, the entire drive back here to LA county I wished I could turn the car around and return to the previous places I’ve visited, and never leave.

I spent most of my morning at Pismo Beach. After departing from San Luis Obispo, I wanted to have some final time to reflect on some things before wrapping this trip up. I pulled off the road and wrapped myself in my black wool abaya, and cautiously walked down to the shore. I listened to music, singing here and there, while I slowly strolled the length of the beach to its rocky cliff walls. The sun glistening off of the dancing waves soothed me, and I thought about how problems in life are often like this: out in the distance, they seem so frightening and overwhelming. They keep coming and coming, like the frothy breakers yards away. Some are so high, it seems as though they only will knock us down when they reach us.

But as the tide races toward shore, those ripples become smaller and smaller, until they are merely a gentle lap upon the sand crowned with glistening white bubbles. The water recedes leaving the beach shimmering like glass, with the sun’s reflection refracting off it like a dazzling laser. The streaks of iron decorate the shoreline like sparkling scars….scars not unlike our own after being tested.

I ended up staying out on the beach for about two hours. As I walked back to the car after praying dhuhr, I gazed up at the sun. The sky behind it was nearly black, and with the wafting cirrus clouds flanking it like miniature galaxies, it appeared as though it was actually guarding the entrance to eternity.

I drove the rest of the way to the valley along the coast, reluctant to reach the inevitable. Unfortunately, doing so put me right in the middle of rush hour traffic in downtown Los Angeles. The traffic didn’t bother me, though, as I spent the time replaying all the memories recently made. Now that the day is finished, I will do the best I can to prepare for my return flight, hoping that my next visit here will be very soon in shaa Allah.

Singing, Swinging, and Walking Barefoot!

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I couldn’t have imagined what fun I would have today. I woke up early again in Fremont (I guess there’s part of me that’s still on East Coast time), wrote, read, and returned to sleep. When I woke again to get ready to check out, I decided it would be neat to stop by Casa de Fruta, a place I frequently visited as child. It wasn’t too far off the route I planned taking back toward Los Angeles, and I always had fond memories of playing all over the grounds when I accompanied my grandparents to the swap meets that occasionally were hosted there.

I arrived at my destination a little before noon. I was surprised -thrilled in fact- to see that the place looked virtually unchanged from the last time I remember being there…which must’ve been when I was at least 10 or 13. That’s one of the things I love about California- that things don’t change so quickly. It always comforts me to see the familiar landmarks.

So I parked, took my prayer rug and purse, and decided to start by following on foot the miniature train tracks heading back behind the RV park section. I was looking for an area of track I used to call the “slanter”, which used to be so close to a cliff that it felt like we were going to fall off as we rode along. I didn’t find it, but perhaps that’s because the tracks were brought in away from the cliff (I did manage to find that)…..either that or I just remember it being much more frightening than it actually was.

As I rounded the curve where the tracks passed by the second playground near the RV hookups, the adhan for dhuhr played through my headphones. I was already near a grassy clearning, so I went ahead and made it there. I continued my path along the tracks when I noticed a lone steer laying in a pen. I walked over to him and gave him salaams. He didn’t seem interested in me, but I kept talking to him. I told him I understood how lonely he must feel and asked if he got many vistors. As I was chattering, “Always be There” by Maher Zain began to play. I know I was the only one who could hear it, but no one was around and I went ahead and started singing it to old Mr. Steer. Then, he decided to get himself up and come over to where I was standing near his fence. He just kept watching me as I sang. I started to walk again slowly ahead, singing all the while, and the steer “followed” me. I guess he liked my company 🙂 After the song was over, I gave him salaams again and proceeded to the playground area where the carousel was.

Even though they had installed a new playset next to the old one, everything else was exactly as it was when I was a child. I had a sudden memory of losing a glitter bracelet in the pond from throwing bread crumbs at the ducks there, and I was surprised that such a recollection would float through my mind after so many years of being forgotten. As I was pondering this, a crew of peacocks paraded through and I giggled in delight just to see them. It was almost as if I was a child again, and all I wanted to do was swing.

So I chose the one that seemed highest off the ground and turned around to face away from the pond, so I could take in the better view of the lush, green hillsides and puffy clouds. I had nasheeds playing in my headset, which I sang to (yes, aloud) as I swung. I tried to go higher and higher, not caring about the little Spanish girls giving me curious smiles as they played nearby. I closed my eyes and blissfully absorbed the pure freedom that came from such a simple pleasure. I leaned back and wished I could just fly away.

After about an hour of that, I decided I should go ahead and be on my way. I decided to stop in the store first to get a caffeinated drink, as I felt the swinging had tired me a little and I didn’t want to feel that way while driving. I perused all the produce offerings, and palmed one of the avocados which was scandalously ripe. I purchased a Starbuck’s Frappuccino and returned outside, where I noticed the “haunted” train tunnel. I walked over to it to take a closer look, and saw the stairs leading up to a seating area atop its “mountain”. I decided that was a nice enough place to drink my cafĂ©, and I spent a few minutes there feeling grateful to Allah for the beauty all around. I felt like I was beginning to find myself, little bit by little bit.

When I finished, I began walking back toward my car. I passed by “Casa de Candy”, and thought I probably shouldn’t pass that up, which was a good thing because there they were selling the ever elusive U-no candy bars I had been trying to find the entire trip. They don’t sell them in Georgia, and I promised my sons I would bring them back several. I thanked Allah for giving me the chance to keep my word, and then got back on the road.

The drive to the coastline was breathtakingly gorgeous. The gentle, verdant foothills all around seemed to mark a path for the billowing clouds to follow in their celestial hijra. Driving the winding coastal highway made me feel like I was gliding over the cresting waves, through the azure sky and right into the unhidden sun itself. Sometimes I think these amazing drives are the best part of the vacation. The only disappointment was that there was not an opportunity to access the beach well enough to make salat until I reached Cambria, right before Asr was to go out.

I pulled off and exited the car as I caught my breath at the endless expanse of sea before me. I had always wanted to make salat on a beach, and use the saltwater for wudu. The wind gusted around me as I walked down to the pebbled shoreline. I timidly approached the ebbing tide, which seemed to retreat from me even with its influx back upon the beach. When I finally thought I was close enough to lean down and begin washing my hands in the saline foam, a rush of tide came at me forcefully. I tried stepping back from it to avoid my shoes getting soaked, but I only managed to stumble backwards and nearly fall. Before I could fully escape another small wave licked around my shins and drenched everything below my knees. I laughed riotously as I chased the waters back toward the sea to catch another handful of it to finish my wudu. I couldn’t stop laughing, actually, even as I finished washing and began to make my salat safely away from the tide.

When I returned to my car after prayer, I peeled off my “cheap” Chinatown shoes and kufs. I threw them on the passenger side floor, and kicked on the heat full blast and set it to blow on them, hoping to mostly dry them and my wet pant bottoms. I cracked my window to offset the temperature and continued my drive barefoot.

I decided to stop for the night in San Luis Obispo. Whenever I look for a room, I try to find something that looks like a cheap hole in the wall. I usually expect such places to be kind of flaky, but the truth is every place I have stayed at has actually been pretty nice once I get in the room. Tonight I have a plush king sized bed and tasteful dĂ©cor, with a nicely tiled shower. I do kind of miss the little room I had in San Francico, though. When I finished bringing all my luggage in (still barefoot), I realized I hadn’t eaten all day and thought it would be a good idea to finish off the leftovers I had brought from Fremont. I needed something to drink, however, and since my footwear was still drying I decided to drive barefoot again to a local fast food restaurant so I could just order a beverage in the drive thru.

I thought it was kind of strange that the first place I passed -a Taco Bell- had no drive thru at all. I thought maybe it was just fluke and continued on until I saw a Jack in the Box…but it also had no drive thru. I drove a couple more blocks and sure enough, none of the fast food restaurants had drive thrus. But I needed a drink, regardless of being barefoot. I ended up heading back toward my hotel and stopping in a gas station (barefoot, of course) and grabbing a bottled soda. I asked the clerk if there was some kind of law against having drive thru’s here, and he actually said there was! I laughed my barefoot self all the way back to my parked car, thinking there could not have been a more humorous ending than this to such a joyful day.

Allah is The Answer

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My middle son misses me. He called at all hours of the morning (the time difference did not help), crying and crying. I felt so helpless, being so far away, but I completely understood what it feels like for him. The best I could do was stay with him on the phone until he was able to calm down and put his mind on other things.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from today. It was important for me to find my mom’s old house, and the apprehension in what may lie ahead kept me from getting restful sleep. When it became apparent at 9 AM that there was not going to be any more opportunities for me to go back to bed before I had to check out, I went ahead and gritted my teeth and got ready for the day. I mapped out the street she lived on, then went to the nearby garage and retrieved my car. I drove from Hyde to Mission to 24th, and found a side street to park on.

Just as I remembered, Lilac St was nothing more than an alley. I wasn’t sure if I would remember her door by seeing it, but I was going to give it my best shot. I slowly walked toward the alley, uncertain if it was a good neighborhood or not. There were a lot of trendy places on Mission just around the corner, but alleys always seem kind of scary. I proceeded cautiously, and was relieved to see there weren’t many people around. Some guys were just taking a smoke break from the back door of the restaurants that lined the alley, and others were residents unloading things from their storage spaces.

The alley itself was colorfully painted with one graffiti mural after another. One one telephone pole were three faces of middle eastern looking men, and on the next were three women in hijab. Most of the alley was lined with sliding doors that led to either garages or storage areas. There were not many entry doors, and as I looked at each one I could not hone in on which might have been hers. What was clear was that this seemed to be an area where artists congregated, and that explained why she -with painting being a consuming passion of hers- would’ve chosen to live there.

I walked the entire length of the way searching for the impossible. I recalled that my brother had told me once that the building itself used to be a train station that was converted into living units, but none of the structures appeared to fit that description. When I reached the other end of the alley, I felt disappointed and lost. I turned back around, hoping that the alternate view might trigger a flash of memory to help me find what I was looking for, but that didn’t happen.

I returned to my car feeling defeated. This was something I felt I needed to do, and I couldn’t even do it. I sat in the driver’s seat and began weeping profusely. Something so simple, yet so elusive, can hurt so deeply.

“It’s only natural to want to have a mother in my life…”
Yes, it is.

“I didn’t deserve what happened…”
No, you didn’t.

“I didn’t do anything wrong!”
You couldn’t have.

The tears wouldn’t stop. The confusion burrowed deeper. The pain painted pictures before my eyes, and I hated it for being the very thing that was chaining me to the unhealthy habits I am struggling to break even now.

“Ya Allah, please show me how this loneliness, this constant loneliness that’s been a part of my life since birth, is really the best thing for me!”

I sat, trying to figure out a way forward. A way to heal and find peace from these deep scars. I kept thinking that finding my future was the answer, but the future is uncertain…..except for one thing: Islam.

Islam would be my way forward. Islam will help me find myself, and find my peace. It already has in so many ways, but the more I focus on it the more Allah will meet me where I need.

And so that’s where I wanted to go from that place, that empty alley which had no answers or comfort. I sent a message to a friend trying to find the way to the Muslims in San Francisco. While awaiting the response, I tried to find the information myself via Zabiha.com and Google. Both were inconclusive, so I was glad to get a reply with a general direction to move toward.

As it turned out, I ended up scouring the area I was pointed to block by block. I didn’t see any cluster of shops with signs in Arabic to indicate what I was looking for, so I thought I would just make due with popping into the nearby masjid to make dhuhr and from there go on my merry way. However, there was some type of event going on in that area, so the streets were being blocked off one by one. I couldn’t find a place to park by the masjid; in fact just getting out of the area and back toward the interstate was nearly impossible due to gridlock traffic and took almost an hour.

In the end, I drove to nearby Fremont to attend a zikr which was scheduled for this evening. I originally had planned not to go, but I felt like I needed something like that right now. I got into town and mapped the venue, which was located at a park. I decided to make my dhuhr there, and kill the time by eating a late lunch at a local halal restaurant. After that, I drove to the closest masjid and made asr, then returned to the park center for the night’s activities.

I am so glad I went. Being able to only focus on Allah and my iman was just what I needed, and it changed my state completely. Masha’Allah, they even served us a free dinner. The nasheeds lifted my spirits and I felt lighter than air after it was over. As I walked back out to my car, I looked up to see the wispy clouds sifting past a brilliantly shining full moon, beautifully set in the starry, cobalt sky. Alhamdulillah!

I located an affordable room for the night in town, which is where I am staying tonight. I like Fremont; it reminds me of the San Gabriel Valley where I spent half my childhood. In shaa Allah I will begin wending my way down the coast toward Southern California tomorrow. My trip will be coming to an end soon, so I hope I can make the most of these last opportunities toward self-discovery as I continue exploring the land I love.

Boots Made for Walking….Not!

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The day began at 4 AM, when I woke reluctantly. I spent the early morning hours writing and talking to my best friend overseas on the phone. I was not ready to start my day even after that, so I went back to bed and re-awakened when housekeeping knocked on my door.

I didn’t plan to spend all day sleeping, even though it was understandable that my jet lag and personal lack of biorhythms had finally exhausted me. I made my way to the shower in one of the shared bathrooms and made myself wake up fully. Before leaving, I shoved my prayer rug, wallet and kufs into the larger shoulder bag I had brought, hoping to find some better shoes before I got too far down the road. I grabbed my phone, trotted down the stairs and out into the sunny street where life had already begun hours before.

I began walking down Bush toward Market St. My plan was to begin at the UBH offices located there, then divine a course to follow from that point. When I reached Grant, I felt like my heart was going to tumble up and out of my throat. I saw the indelibly familiar Chinese lions and architecture that forged an entrance to what was presumably a section of Chinatown. It was the exact location that I stood at almost 20 years ago when I met my mother for the first time; where our photos together were taken. Overwhelmed and suddenly nauseated, but aching to connect with her somehow, I walked over there and just stood in that very place, looking down the hill as I would had I been getting that photo taken at that moment. I tried to picture her standing next to me- anything to ease the heartache that was pounding in my chest.

But she wasn’t there, and I was reminded again of what I am trying to do here. I needed to find a way through the pain of this loneliness; these unhealed wounds. I moved past that monument and into one of the stores believing surely I would find the shoes I needed there, and indeed I did. I walked out to a wooden bench gripping a $10 pair of black flats with rubber soles and elastic fabric. I tore off my heeled boots, stuffed them into my bag, and zipped on my kufs before working the new shoes over them. Perfect fit!

I waited a minute for the last of the nausea to subside and then arose to continue on. What a relief to be able to walk at a more comfortable pace (read: faster) as I scuttled down the hill. Coming up to Sansome I felt like I could just extend my arms and run, and somehow magically fly into the air to weave between the buildings like a hawk. It made me giddy to watch everyone coming and going…from the others on foot talking on their Bluetooths, to the bike messengers whipping to a stop in front of a business, to the impatiently honking cars trying to pass the slower moving buses.

I came to my destination, and looked all around. Now would be a good time to eat lunch, so I briefly pretended I already worked there and pinged my intuition for a direction to find it. I continued down Market just a little farther, and spied a small shop that advertised halal gyros- Bingo! I took my food to one of the small chrome tables situated outside on the sidewalk and spent another meal with my best text buddy. I sent her a picture of what I hoped would be my next place of employment, while making dua in my mind for the same.

After lunch I decided to make dhuhr, but I needed to find a place. Looking up and down the street I felt that continuing in the same direction I was going would bring me to what I was looking for. Sure enough, just a bit farther down was the Embarcadero. I checked my phone for Kiblah and laid my rug out on one of the grassy knolls there, not far from where a couple men were sleeping. I looped the straps of my shoulder bag around my ankle and made the salat efficiently, then arose to check out the piers across the road.

It was there that I called to mind a poem my sister had written…where she was standing on a pier, looking for love. She was actually born here, and a lot of feelings came up as I sat on the bench overlooking that bay. I had to write, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a glimpse of my future to come- working just down the way, living nearby, and frequently visiting the piers to write out my grief.

After about an hour I rose and scanned the area, noting there were apartments or condos nearby. I walked to them to write down their names for future research, even though they were likely higher priced because of their location near the water. Yet, one never knows what Allah can do. I walked back up Drumm toward Market, feeling I had a sufficient idea what was over that way. I wanted to check out the other side of Market, going away from the water front.

So off I went in that direction. When I reached Kearny, I remembered suddenly that I was in what was before today only a fictional location in my mind. Sure enough, I found myself standing right next to Lotta’s Fountain, although without any water I wouldn’t have readily recognized it without reading the placard on it. I looked all around, expecting imaginary characters to flash through the crowd. Unable to resist temptation, I decided to go ahead and continue my trek to Seventh…just in case they happened to be there waiting for me with a recently recovered bike.

I passed through a retail district that reminded me more of downtown Atlanta, with their name-brand stores and mass produced wares. I was not impressed, but it was clear that it was a tourist boon. I continued on and once I past that area, I felt the energy change and became more wary. Looking around I could tell the differences in the type of stores and clientele, and the smell of weed hit me every other intersection it seemed. Wherever I was, I didn’t think it was prudent to linger there, so I hustled myself down to my hare-brained destination. En route I passed the Asian man, marching in place between two sidewalk chess tables. I wondered if he was psychotic or just exercising.

When I reached Seventh, I saw the Hibernia Bank building standing alone with no one nearby. It was cordoned off and a huge flock of pigeons paced on its stairs. I walked over to them, expecting to instigate their massive exodus. Instead, they eyed me cautiously and shuffled somewhat, but didn’t make any efforts to escape. I laughed aloud at them, decided I could check this off my silly “to do” list, and abruptly turned to walk back down Market street the way I had come. The marching Asian was still in place when I passed him again.

I decided this time to go left on Kearny when I reached that intersection…perhaps there would be some other housing that would interest me in that area. I found that segment rather unremarkable, and checked the time. The afternoon was wearing on and I wouldn’t have much longer before Maghrib came in. I took another left on California when the adhan for asr shrilled into my ears. I didn’t expect to find a place to pray, and was debating about whether to return early to make it in the hotel room when I passed a small inner city playground right outside of Chinatown. I rounded the corner into one of the shops to buy a bottle of water for wudu, then returned to the small park to complete my obligations. I noticed, while I prayed, that I was standing next to a tree with beautiful violet blossoms. Their fallen petals littered the grass around my prayer rug, which strangely brought an ease to my heart.

I checked the time again as I was leaving that gem of a refuge, and decided I feasibly had enough time to make another trip to Swensen’s for a very worthy treat before returning to my room. I trekked up the murderous hill toward Hyde, stopping once to catch my breath and take in the lovely view of the Bay Bridge which seemed parallel to where I was standing. Once I reached Hyde I felt so carefree that I just began singing aloud to the song that was playing through my headphones:…if you can wait ’til I get home, then I swear to you, that we can make this last. If you can wait ’til I get home, then I swear come tomorrow this will all be in the past… I didn’t care who heard. I had to get home. This should be home.

As I approached Swensen’s, I wondered if perhaps I just happened to get lucky yesterday. What are the chances that all of their ice cream is that mind-blowing? Really good, actually. I decided to order another hot fudge sundae, this time with raspberry marble ice cream. I walked with it down to my red bench (Yes, it is my bench now), and about passed out from the way the succulent raspberry ribbon played with the sweet fudge in my mouth. There was no rush, no fear…just a delicious reprieve from an adventurous day.

Yet, as I sat there, I realized how lonely I still felt. As amazing as today was, and as much hope as I have, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone. I wanted to share moments like that with someone, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that I can make solitude my closest friend. I know better than to hold my breath for another marriage proposal ever coming from out of the blue, and I don’t foresee myself seeking a prospective spouse out anytime in the foreseeable future. How would this work? I needed friends here…maybe a roommate, which would provide two benefits in one. Things to think about, problems to solve. I finished my sundae reminding myself that I have found ways to find such solutions before, and I can do it again by Allah’s will.

Maghrib would be in soon, so I walked briskly back toward Bush. I kept singing as I went -…I can tell it’s what you want, you don’t want to be alone, you don’t want to be alone. And I can say it’s what you know, but you’ve known it the whole time, yeah you’ve known it the whole time…I made it inside the hotel foyer just minutes after the maghrib adhan. Returning to my room, I made maghrib and put my fingers back to work, sealing these memories for my eventual dissection and planning while the band plays on from their clandestine studio.

Until tomorrow, in shaa Allah…

Siren on the Bay

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Tonight I write from a cozy room with high ceilings, a wrought iron bed, and a window view to some type of rooftop garden with skylights in its center. There is a rock band practicing in some other part of the building, and their rifts are faintly audible in the silence of this space. When I arrived here, an aged wannabe rocker who may or may not have been past his prime popped in the office and greeted the desk clerk while I was checking in. I believe he lives here.

After lugging my suitcase up the winding flight of stairs to my room and delightedly finding two Hershey kisses on my pillows, I unloaded the bulk of what I had brought with me and left again with only what I needed. I walked around the block to a halal Mediterranean restaurant I spotted when I initially drove into the neighborhood, and was seated at the table that sister Salma was setting when I entered. She took my order and offered me some complimentary tea, which I graciously accepted.

The afternoon sun angled through the broad windows as I surveyed the establishment. I felt at peace being in there, and that feeling gave me a reassurance that I can do this after all…this “new life alone” thing. I sipped the tea while texting my friend about all the important things running through my heart and mind, until the best shish tawook I’ve ever had was served. I took my time eating it while I thought about how I was going to spend the next couple of days. Salma asked me where I was from and confirmed that I was a convert. She asked my name, and as I am accustomed to doing with other Muslims I told her “Jamylah”. She said, “no, what’s your other name?” I couldn’t believe it, this was the first time I had been asked for my legal name by another Muslim. So I beamingly told her “Amy”, to which she replied, “that’s a very nice name!” I was so tickled by this.

After my meal, I rounded the corner with my bag of leftovers and started up Hyde (or would it be down?) for dessert. I have always been fond of walking and I wanted to get a taste of what I might be in for with being on foot as I complete my mission here. Surprisingly, going up hills were easier than descents for me given that I was foolishly wearing heeled boots. I had stopped at a shoe store earlier this morning but couldn’t find anything I could comfortably wear with my kufs, so I decided to see if I might be able to handle it after all. Let’s just say I need to scout out a shoe store as soon as I can.

As I walked while listening to Maher Zain songs, I felt the ease in how everyone was minding their own business. No one cared where I was walking or why, or why my scarf was tangerine orange, or why I smiled at them. Instead, they smiled back and continued on in their own affairs. How so very different is this city from Atlanta, and it gave me hope that some of the weariness I’ve taken on from living there for so many years might be eased here some day soon, in shaa Allah.

I entered the small and unassuming ice cream shop mentioned by a friend, not knowing what to expect. I quickly scanned their menu and decided to get a hot fudge sundae with mocha fudge ice cream. While it was being made, I popped across the street to get cash out of the corner market’s ATM machine (note to self: there may be a lot of places around here that only take cash besides Swensen’s) and felt a sense of deja vu as I noted the way the canned goods were aligned on the shelves while walking out the door. I went back to retrieve my prize, and began walking back down (up?) Hyde toward my hotel to sit on the random red bench I had past earlier and so enjoy the treat.

When others tell me that a certain place has good sweets, I tend to be pretty skeptical. I’m a fiend for all things saccharine, so it takes a lot to impress me into saying that something is the “best”. Yet I tell you the truth, when I took my first bite of that unbelievable creation, I was utterly flabbergasted. I never had ice cream with such a rich and balanced flavor since Godiva sold pints. I really believe this franchise needs to make a comeback and give places like Cold Stone Creamery a serious run for their money.

That being the case, I deliberately took my time savoring each bite. I sat on the bench alone, listening to the electrified hum of the cable car rails and watching passer-bys with their freshly groomed puppies while ruing the fact that this will be the only time I will be able to enjoy such phenomenal ice cream until further notice. As the sun began to set I started to feel a bit vulnerable, realizing that I was entirely alone in a profoundly large city where I knew absolutely no one. I recognized I was taking a risk to stay out past maghrib (which was not yet quite in), and made dua that Allah keep me safe during my time here. I made sure I kept my eyes on everything and stayed aware of my surroundings while I reluctantly finished the syrupy remains of what I would call a perfect sundae. I then arose and continued down the hill to Bush St.

As I purposefully strode through each crosswalk, I glanced at the others coming and going by me. I understand now why so many creative types come here: because the people alone, with their unique stories and personalities (whether real or imagined) are enough to inspire countless works. Even I started having ideas of what to write about if I ever were to try my hand at fiction, which was something I had not anticipated at all prior to my arrival.

I then began to think about how my mother used to live here, and contemplated what drew her to this city. I tried to picture what my life might have been like if I had been with her, and grew up here. What kind of person might I have been? For better? For worse? Better yet, what kind of person will I become if I manage to get myself settled here, in shaa Allah? That might be a question I will someday actually answer, if Allah wills it.

I swiped my keycard on the front door of the hotel to gain entry just as the maghrib adhan was playing through my headphones. Once back in my room, I quickly changed into my comfortable pajamas and put my leftovers in the fridge. My sons are in bed, and for the time being I get to spend my evening puttering online and reading while the mysterious band continues their grooving.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings, because so far in this short afternoon I have been baptized into something richly exotic, vaguely familiar, and altogether entrancing!

Mawlid An-Nabi

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Today is reportedly the day that Prophet Muhammad SAWS was born, a momentous day indeed. Today is also momentous for me, as it marks my 10th anniversary of taking shahadah and becoming Muslim (if I were counting by the hijri calendar; the Gregorian anniversary for that will be on May 13). I realize that there is a division amongst Muslims about the conventions of “celebrating” this day. In fact, I found out about it first hand when I naively wished a group of my close friends “Happy Mawlid” last year. Until then, I assumed every Muslim recognized the occasion, as that was the only thing I had see from Muslims until that point.

While I understand that many groups and cultures have taken celebrating Mawlid to the extreme, and have made a dunya mockery of what should be more reflective occasion, I also feel that those who believe that celebrating Mawlid is a biddah have also run to their own extreme. They seem to want to ignore that today WAS actually the day our human example an the most perfect of men came into this existence, as though it were a shameful thing. They want to treat it like any other day, astaghfirulllah. While I agree that every day should be one of zikr and following the sunnah, I don’t understand what purpose it serves anyone to try to turn their minds and hearts away from the fact that today was one of the most magnificent and significant days of all time.

For me, today will be a day of meditating upon the unbelievable, life-changing events that transpired years ago on this same date. Not only will I give my thanks to Allah for bringing us the complete and perfect guidance that came through Prophet Muhammad SAWS, but I will be thinking about the way my life has been forever changed by confessing that he is in fact the Messenger of the only true God- Allah a decade ago. I tear up, even sitting here in the gate lobby as I await my flight, when I even briefly think of the beauty and peace Islam has brought -and continues to bring- into my life.

There could be nothing more fitting than beginning this next decade of my “real” life with a time of soul-searching and refuge in my home-state. Everything I’ve suffered truly has aligned to create a greater and more splendid purpose for my life, and who I was meant to become is yet closer still….and she’s so beautiful, inside.

That’s the true gift of Mawlid An-Nabi, may Allah be praised.