Deeper Questions

Someone mentioned to me, after a conference call with my American Halal Association cronies, that I was very quiet, and they were concerned enough to inquire why. Actually, I typically think of myself as rather quiet and introspective, but I do take the leadership role when necessary and if no one else steps up toward it. With Ramadan though, perhaps I have been more subdued than before because I have been pondering deeply, and I need to iron some things out in my head.

Often, I have these little dialogues by myself, silently in my private thoughts, but writing to the ether may yield answers…I hope.

A blog I read today struck my attention enough for me to post it on Twitter. David Warlick, who was keynote speaker at an educational technology conference I attended a couple years ago, posed the question and had four points to make about “What does it mean to be learned?”

It prompted me to parlay that logic into my own query, “How do I know if I lived?”

Allow me to explain. Ramadan often brings reminders about death–the inevitable experience that no one escapes—and while fasting, remembering one’s life, noting the differed energy levels, breaking from the usual routines, I take notice that one day my existence will cease. Even great monuments and people have passed before through the millennia, and there is no trace. The same will happen to me.

With that, I ask myself, “Then what was the meaning of my life?” And I am mindful that I have been given the catechism answer, “To worship God.” Which is all well and good, as I have dutifully acknowledged His gifts, creation, and mercy; and I have performed the ritual duties with honest intent. Yet, I feel that I missed something that I was meant to learn. Maybe it was something important that was to bring about a change in me?

This year I nearly lost some things very precious to me, and the future will result in losses of precious gifts. One of my sons was injured in a car accident, two pets have died, my family was rocked, my health and stamina were depleted, and a few friends and relatives have autoimmune diseases that I empathize with. Alhamdullilah, the feeling of crisis has subsided, but these incidents are reminders that all we are given will one day be retracted from our possession.

My sensitive heart has felt the pain; and out of curiosity, I’d asked my high school son, “Would you rather love and suffer the pains, or not have loved and have a run-of-the-mill life?” He has been keen to note that as a parent, I have ample concerns that emanate from who are my kids hanging out with, what time will they be home each night, how will they handle so many assignments, how can they afford to repair their vehicles, how will we keep up with their education and athletic expenses, etc. He knows that I worry because I care.

Yet, his answer was to love and feel the pain. I have influenced him apparently, because why else would one choose pain? What is it about suffering that deepens resolve? Why do mothers have to feel the pain of childbirth and both parents have these difficulties in child rearing? There must be some kind of gain from it. Does it bond us?

Marriage has its bumps in the road at times. Perhaps in successfully traversing that road and holding the commitment, we forge a stronger bond. I think that in Ramadan, when we feel the loss of energy, our days are disrupted, we stop taking things for granted. We resolve to do better when we can resume our normal routines, and we decide to make our actions count. We become deliberate in our choices.

So I think it goes with living. When our existence is threatened, we take stock and decide to do everything consciously, appreciatively, and I believe that we hold more dearly to our loves, our family, our sunsets. When we realize that they are all tentative, we relish them more deeply and know that the ultimate plan is to transfer into something else…hopefully greater. For there is no guarantee, only hope.

Live with pain as a compliment to what it offers us. Live with integrity and virtue.

Before the Lights Go Out

Presently, my 15’ x 8’ living room window set is a gaping hole, as we are replacing the front window assembly. This is a day long awaited, for it is a major improvement and milestone of progress we have established in the preparation to ready our home for sale. Still dreaming of California, there has dawned the reality that we will probably be here for at least another year, but that will allow the completion of high school for one child and undergraduate degree for another. After that, we may arrange for our eldest child to maintain the home for realtor showings as he completes his nursing degree by the end of the second year. Should it sell before his matriculation, he can easily move to an apartment. Transitions are never easy; and with a household of six, it is especially complicated.

This is also the third day of fasting in Ramadan, and the fast is extremely long beginning about 4 a.m. and lasting until about 8:20 p.m. with outside temperatures humid and hot, around 90 degrees. We’ve been mercifully able to sleep-in late and somewhat shift our schedule so that we sleep around 4:00 a.m. The past week had been chock-full of last minute business, so that there was scant time to write and do things of my own choosing.

Now that our overseas guest has left, and two of the three articles I have agreed to write are complete, I’m content that there is significantly less stress and I do not feel the time is my enemy. Another article I wrote, that was posted in a magazine, was picked up by a blog

In glancing through the same blog, I noted a submission that confirms some of the research I enjoyed from reading The Phytozyme Cure . It basically supports the concept that the produce we eat greatly aids in providing the body with vitamins, phytochemicals, enzymes, and minerals that fuel the repair of the body, especially from disease. In the book, mention was made that sometimes an overconsumption of protein in the diet may be taxing the body to the extent that it results in autoimmune responses and allergies. Ironically, the potential cure for disease is to incorporate more raw foods, but also to practice fasting as a means to boost the healing potential of the body.

In many ways, Ramadan is a time for healing. Naturally, one reflects back on the past year, and this year has been particularly painful and challenging, in retrospect. It affords one the chance to cast aside all worldly concerns, and the veil of the ghaib, the unseen, is not so obscure. It is said that the gates of Hell are chained, and the Devil is blocked from flexing his influence. For a fact, many mothers I know note a change in their children’s behavior and household climate after Ramadan…for the worse. It can be felt, that the peaceful spirit of Ramadan has evaporated once this time is done each year. With that, we are reminded that these days should not be wasted on superficial activities. Although, I do spend significantly more time in the kitchen preparing multi-course iftars or dinners, my mind does wander into the spiritual reflective mode.

The first day of fasting, I’d been in the kitchen from 3:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. doing prep work, serving iftar to my family and two additional relatives, and cleaning up. Seven hours of kitchen work with a sore lower back, and frustration that I did not have time to read a few pages of the Qur’an, I intended to try again the next day. However, that day was consumed—funny that I chose that word—with partial meal prep of soup, hummus, and tabouleh salad before I had to race to a distant non-Muslim relative’s wedding. Riad stayed home and cooked a mélange of fried okra, round steak, onions, and tomatoes with allspice, serrano pepper, and Himalayan salt. When I returned home, I preferred his meal to the wedding fare, which was scant and stretched out from 7:30 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. I ate a second dinner!

Although much of the time at the wedding, my Dad and I shared the sentiment, “Good to go out, Great to come back home,” I did enjoy learning about the bride from her father’s sentimental address to the guests. She was a first born, and as he was an English teacher, and she a teacher, he described her as “A Girl of Words.” She was loquacious as a toddler, and had an ebullient passion for words, books, poetry, and crossword puzzles. Ever ruled by her heart, she gave love and was love, and so the father was very content to acquire a new son-in-law who also was a teacher with a soft heart so kind that his daughter had reported to her father that her new husband even shed tears over his own students at times. The resonance of the father’s description struck a chord in me, reminding me of my love for words, and the power and beauty inherent to them. Gifts from above, we understand everything better when enriched with ample tools of vocabulary and ability to express. The profession of teaching yields little respect and is rife with criticism. Yet, it is gratifying when well done.

My interest in learning more languages has hit a roadblock, as Riad stated that our attempts to learn Spanish did not really work well for him…by the book and traditional. In one of my newsletters, I’d read about Alelo ( ) and found the concept of using game technology with artificial intelligence to be quite the solution. Unfortunately, at this time it is only available for military and government participants, and is limited to very few strategic languages. One day though, this will be the ideal way to learn language and cultural protocols. Another intriguing approach to math instruction is highlighted by this TEDx video . With smart resources like these, I am hopeful that education in America will advance. Boredom and a lack of relevance need to be banished from the classroom. Then connections between corporate hiring and curriculum need refinement so that minds are not wasted, as many are now with unemployed college graduates.

Even though there is need for STEM graduates, I still contend that there is a need for liberal arts in each person. The value of “a well-rounded education” is immeasurable, in my estimate, because there is relevance in developing a richly immersed human with capacity to experience and express the subjective as well as the concrete aspects of humanity. The ephemeral comprehension that students experience from poetry and Shakespeare, even without specific indoctrination in vocabulary of the period, gives a dimension to living, like art. It is part of what makes us human, and in kindling that spirit, I maintain hope.

An extension of this is one’s relationship and acceptance of a Higher Power, and so liberal arts may also be considered the bridge to that. As the Bible and Qur’an have instructive analogies, Man’s journey through life gives insight to the reality of the larger scope beyond. We are like the grains of sand; yet, each has been created deliberately and with purpose. As a wise friend once noted, “People are important.” To do justice to our relationships, no matter how seemingly insignificant some may be perceived, is a significant task. If we can only serve well those within our sphere, I think we have lived with merit. Let that suffice. For to try to extend beyond for self aggrandizement, may be fraught with danger. Best to wait for clear invitation and signs of definite needs that one is reasonably certain that one can fulfill.

As the construction job continues on my front window, I sit comically guarding my home from a couch peering out over my neighborhood, typing this on my laptop, with hope that the hole will be closed up with new windows set before dark. Likewise, I hope gaps I need to address in my spiritual, professional,  and family life are secure before my lights dim.

Pure Joy

This 4th of July was particularly joyful because I truly appreciated the people in my life, and the time that I am privileged to have in enjoying them. Visiting my Dad, Riad and I were joined by my two sisters and one of their husbands. Our children and overseas guest had made their own plans, so we did not have the usual frustrations that come with hauling a bunch of teenagers with cantankerous attitudes bouncing off the walls of the family van. Each sister had brought what they had for a potluck, and Riad was kind enough to endure the 100 degree heat to grill the hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken. Rather than sit sweltering outside, we chose to sit in the AC and feel comfortable in catching up with each other’s lives and joking with my little nephews.

Earlier and again later in the day, I tested out my knee on another 8 mile bike ride, and found it to be recovered, alhamdullilah! It is funny how when the threat of loss is posed and then rescinded, one feels compelled to more thoroughly utilize and appreciate what capacities one has. My gimped leg really affected my options for athletic activity. I could not play tennis, golf a whole course length, work on certain fitness apparatus at the gym, carry a load of laundry without undue delay in taking each step from the second floor of my home to the basement washing machine, nor run. Going down stairs was tedious, and I knew I’d cinched my recovery when I could again lilt down them. Now my mind is thinking about initiating a gradual running program to improve my conditioning. With Ramadan coming in two weeks, I am increasingly focused on the mental and physical preparation it will require. Yet, although it will be a challenge, as the days will be so very long, I am really looking forward to them starting July 20th-August 19th.

Purifying the self in every aspect, is sure to benefit me. As Allah has promised that fasting is better for us, if we only knew, the benefits are physical and metaphysical. Besides having to wean off the caffeine, I tend to abuse, I will hope to be more mindful of avoiding as many processed foods as possible. Last night, my husband shared some delicious nuts from Jordan as we watched a video. They were so tasty, and I later realized that they were probably laced with MSG. I kept craving more, in spite of suspecting that they were not very healthy for me, but I wanted to eat more. Around dawn this morning, I’d had an unusual headache, and I recalled associating MSG—and its multiple names that it is disguised by—with ALS, MS, and a host of other diseases. The neurotoxin collects in the body and is not metabolized in some people, and I may have a genetic predisposition toward this. Here is an article that shares more information and a listing of aliases for MSG that I intend to print and post on my refrigerator to inform my children to be wary of

 Monosodium Glutamate

Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein

Hydrolyzed Protein

Hydrolyzed Plant Protein

Plant Protein Extract

Sodium Caseinate

Calcium Caseinate

Yeast Extract

Textured Protein (Including TVP)

Autolyzed Yeast

Hydrolyzed Oat Flour

These ingredients are prevalent in so many of our foods, including a favored potato soup from a brand featuring a bear and my kids’ favorite tortilla chips. Since noting this, I’ve opted for homemade potato-leek soup and Trader Joe’s organic corn tortilla chips, as this also eliminates the GMOs also typically found in processed food (sometimes I refer to them as non-food) products.

 As the days for Ramadan approach, I’m also deliberately putting dinner later on the schedule since we will break fast around 8:30 p.m. at its commencement. Also, after investigating a 24 hour gym, we did not like the fast talking sales rep and apparent shell-game with payment options. We opted to suspend our regular gym during August, and we will have to improvise on how to maintain muscle with night time workouts. That is why the running idea seems appealing as well, for cardio and to burn off the carbs we are bound to indulge in as compensation for fasting.

With appreciation for each day, I’m inclined to read more about using foods to combat maladies increasingly affecting myself, family, and friends. I’ve added another title to my Kindle collection, The Phytozyme Cure, by Michelle Schoffro Cook. I’ve not started it yet, but hopefully it will motivate me to get cranking on the articles I have to write. Deadlines are approaching, and I need to buckle down. So much to do, and stamina is still an issue. I pace myself though, and fully hope to procure something brilliant from the cosmos, inshaAllah.

Gifts are to be used, knowledge shared, and joy spread. Giving joy is a form of sadaqa, a type of charity, that demonstrates gratitude and expectancy that blessings will pour from this act of faith. I have so much to be grateful for, as-serah wa derah, the apparent good and the covert bad, because even what seems bad may actually be good in the long run.

Relief and Solace

As my town survived the onslaught of severe thunderstorms, it is slowly is regaining electricity and clearing debris from many fallen and broken trees, suffered from heat stress due to a string of 90 plus degree days and drought. We count our blessings that no one in our area lost life or suffered damage to their home. Our electricity was knocked out for 13 hours; and mercifully, as we struggled to sleep amidst sticky, sweaty conditions without air conditioning, the relief came about 12:30 a.m. Seeing the bright side, we noted that all the neighbors came out to check on each other—sometimes we only see each other when scurrying from house door to car door—and we all had our trees pruned and received the attention of the news cameras.

In this scene, I received news that a dear friend is facing the breach between life and death from an autoimmune malady. At first reading of it, I shed some tears because of the immensity of it. Then a memory came to mind of when the prophet, Mohammed, told his daughter, Fatima, that he was going to die that night. At first she cried; then he whispered something in her ear that made her laugh. He told her that she was to be the first among of the family to join him.   Recollection of this story gave me solace, and a feeling that everything will be okay. I keep thinking about it, and chose surah Al-Rahman as I took my morning walk today. Somehow everything is unfolding as is meant to be, and I sincerely hope my friend receives each milestone with patience and fortitude.

In a way, we never die; as the passing from one reality to another is continuous. This I know from being with my mother at her time. She taught me even how to die, with calmness, faith, and hope. We just can’t see the other side, but we do sense the continuity, at least those do who have been honest and mindful of Creation and our place within it. Nature is the greatest healer in these moments. Our respective place in the history of creation takes on its due proportion when we admire the miraculous balance and intelligence in nature’s design, patterns, and obedience to the Will of the One who oversees all large and small among the universes. While our bodies return to the Earth, our souls return to our Maker, and it is as natural as the sun rising and setting each day. Knowing that the time is approaching, forces us to examine our priorities and choices in life, and that is a favor when we are given the gift of Time to do this analysis and preparation. A most generous and gracious favor it is really.

The cycling of seasons bear witness that we are part of that Nature too, and so we give our best to each day. Savor the joys, bear the difficulties, and prepare to go Home…one day. It’s going to be okay.