i thought that i was living all along but i was wrong… (my improbable journey to Islam & a lot of other places, part II)

Little did I know where it would take me. I landed in Perth, as far from Sydney as I could afford, and tried my luck with a hostel that promised a job. I needed a change. I needed to change. My logic was that the further I was from everything and everyone I knew, the easier it would be. After a while I met a Dutch guy who was driving around Australia from Sydney to Sydney. He invited me to the rest of the journey. I said I didn’t have enough money. He said he didn’t either, when we ran out of dough we’d just pick fruit or some other work. So I said why not, and we recruited two others and began.

What I saw was more than a frame should attempt to hold, wonders so beautiful that they only belong in the heart, and so permanent that nothing is lost if they’re forgotten. What I felt was absolute freedom- no cellphone reception, no task except our next target, no walls except the horizon. We went to places where the only signs of human life were us. There was Shell Beach, whose name is self-explanatory. We visited the Pinnacles, a white sand field where meters-tall calcium deposits stand as the sole survivors of millennia of erosion. We even saw a shark, just a baby who didn’t know where it was supposed to be hunting, but I met a surfie who had seen her friend get snatched off of his surfboard by a Great White. And kangaroos. They were like deer in Texas, in the desert, on the beach, everywhere. Sunsets replaced television, and the moon and stars, freed from their competition with city lights, reassumed their natural role. And yeah, I picked a lot of fruit, canteloupes and capsicum to be exact. I even did 3 weeks as a glassie in a bar. This was a 3-month trip, mind you.

But what impressed me the most were the signs. Everything I saw was awakening thoughts in my mind. Everything was too beautiful, too calm, too perfect and utterly real to be a mistake. I started to see the order and notice the cycles of living and life, and realized that I could have died before I’d ever lived. In fact, I realized that I had been dead to a higher reality that I was just beginning to awaken to like a sleeping man jolted fully awake by a tremendous roar of thunder. My heart was racing. My mind was reeling. I was filled with two sentiments. One was shame and guilt at the death I’d been living.

The other was God.

Who, after all, decreed the ‘laws’ of physics and nature? How are such laws maintained to immutability? Where, to refer to the Big Bang Theory, did that infinitesimally dense particle of matter come from? Why, if you think about it, did explode at all? Why did it explode exactly when it did, instead of not later or sooner? Who provided the force behind its explosion? Most of all and after all, why?

Didn’t there have to be a one wise with all wisdom? An undeniable authority? An independent creator and source? One who sets time and is at the same time free from it? An unsurpassable power and strength? A chooser with the power to fully execute any choice? A love eternal and unconditional?

At my furthest straying, I’d never stopped believing. But I’d forgotten that I believed. And I was born into my fading beliefs, I’d never consciously chosen them. Now, I asked myself, as I thought of the thousand nights of parties that celebrated nothing, filled with fake friends covering our misery with fake smiles, hiding our isolation behind smoke, drowning our thoughts in music, gyrating our tormented selves as we blinded our consciences with poison. Now, why do I believe in one thing and not give it time or energy, and not believe in another, but give it all I’ve got?
My life was completely backwards. I’d wasted all of it. But one thing gave me hope in all the despair

I was still alive, more than ever and for the first time…

uluru uhuru

nothing’s so fast
as choosing your own path
further we fled
breathing peace after being dead
and it’s not just uluru
it’s that and everything
every little thing

take your turn, your turn others take
as we share this air, so we share this fate
and the water’s clear for the coral’s sake
not a single soul can the whole earth sate

wake by sunrise
when it sets we die
so we live each life
like the first and final tide
and it’s name’s not ayer’s rock
’cause he don’t own a single thing
noone owns a thing

take your turn, another’s turn take
as we share this air, so we share this day
and the water’s clear for the coral’s sake
not a single soul can the whole world sate

even birds understand:
it’s more than just songs that they sing
at the end of the road that’s paved for me
there’s nothin’ but me

* “uluru” is the pitjantjatjara name of ayer’s rock, australia’s inselberg of many colors
* “uhuru” is swahili for “freedom”

Advertisements

i came to the fork in the road and went straight… (my improbable journey to Islam & a lot of other places, part I)

i came to the fork in the road and went straight…

I love travel. It is a love that began without me noticing. I grew up in Texas, far from my mother and father’s Rhode Island and Virginia roots, so annual trips to see the grandparents were probably my first travel experiences. Those were road trips, by the way; it’s expensive to fly four kids cross country. My dad’s parents had bought a huge recreational vehicle, or camper, and I still remember our trips through forests and up and down the Atlantic coast.

After that, sports took me a long way. Between basketball and soccer tournaments and track meets, I’ve spent as much time on a school bus and crammed in a van as I can stand. All us cool guys would sit at the back of the bus, but that was also where going over a speed bump can pop you out of your seat, or jolt you awake from a nap. Once on the way to a soccer tournament, I was the only guy in the van who couldn’t speak Spanish. Someone would tell a joke and they’d all laugh while I waited for a translation, only to find that the funny part was often untranslatable.

Travel came to me with a sense of adventure. The colleges who recruited me flew me to their campuses in my senior year of high school, and I saw all different kinds of climates (Imagine a Texas boy seeing snow in May!) and people. I broke up a fight on the streets of London, and then literally had to flee- for my life, I presumed- back to my hostel. During a trip to Europe, I saw currencies, languages, architecture and geographies change several times in less than the time it took to drive across Texas. I was an extra in the Matrix II and got free entry to premier nightclubs because of people who had seen me there. In many ways, my life was like a movie, and I won’t say what rating.

I love nature. After 3 semesters at Columbia University in the thick of New York City, I enrolled at Sydney University (Australia) as an exchange student. The orientation took place in the Blue Mountains, so named for the hue it reflects from a distance. After our first night there, I walked out of my cabin, took a breath, and smelled nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was clean fresh air, as far as I could remember for the first time. That one moment, that single impression, has left more of a mark on me than any book or lesson or song or conversation.

It was a sign.

I almost got killed. It was all a mix-up where someone’s bag was stolen that looked like mine, and the word got to the local gang, who felt there ethnicity had been slighted by an outsider. They pulled a gun on me. I don’t brag when I say that I wasn’t scared, but I wasn’t, so what else can I say? I didn’t beg for my life, I just played it cool, my usual strategy. But I was nervous, sorta like how you feel walking toward your new school for the first time. What’s gonna happen once I go inside? Bottom line, I didn’t want to die. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, but the next day I asked myself what would have happened if they’d killed me. I wouldn’t have just died. I would have died for nothing. To date, I’d achieved nothing with my life, had made no contribution, had left nothing worthwhile behind.

This was the fork in the road.

My intelligence told me to run, that the danger was sure to resurface. The guy whose bag was stolen came back at the gangsters that threatened me, but how many more people had gotten the wrong story? My ego told me to stay. I had the Friday night set up at the local nightclub, with DJ Smoove and the Turkish Delights, two twin dancers from Turkey! I wasn’t gonna let that money or prestige go. Besides, I wasn’t afraid anyway. Then I chose the other path, the one that wasn’t really being offered. I wasn’t going to go right or left. I followed my heart and went straight…

jahiliyyah (part 1)

each night & every nap i dream

i can’t remember what happens

i don’t know what they mean

maybe shaytaan is playin’ wit’ me

are these visions of events my eyes will soon see?

what’s gonna happen to me? i aint ‘fraid

i’ll give my life but i wanna die in Peace

i remember when my whole plan shattered to pieces

i & my friends scattered like winds on stormy beaches

i walked the desert & faced the sun

i learned from my deeds, every one:

i used to tell lies to my own mother

i hid & ran for cover in the lives of others-

the others were those i was trying to be;

but an image & crew couldn’t make a new me-

i used to die in my sleep:

i woke & couldn’t move or even breathe

my whole life was a game:

the goal was to get mine before i got old

or went insane

when you’re on the way to nowhere

the journey never ends

when you’re nowhere you’re alone,

even with friends everywhere you turn,

you’re still trapped within

your escape is to repent

while you still can…

* ‘jahiliyyah’ is árabic for “period of ignorance”

what Islam is

It is your Guardian-Cherisher, Allah

It is the Life of Muhammad

It is the Recitation, full of Wisdom

It is Those arranged in Ranks, and Those who repulse, and Those who read out the Remembrance

It is the Recitation, full of Warnings

It is the manifest Book

It is the Book that makes things clear

It is the glorious Recitation

It is the Those that scatter, and the Those heavily burdened, and Those floating with gentle ease, and Those that distribute by Command

It is the Sky with its numerous Paths

It is the Lord of the Sky and the Earth

It is the Mount, and a Book inscribed, and a Scroll unfolded, and the House much frequented, and the Canopy upraised, and the Sea filled with swell

It is the Star when It sets

It is the Setting of the Stars

It is the Pen and what They write

It is Whatsoever you see, and Whatsoever you see not

It is the Lord of the Points of Sunrise in the East and Sunset in the West

It is the Moon, and the Night when It withdraws, and the Dawn

It s the day of Resurrection, and the self-critical Soul

It is those who are sent one after another, then blow violently

It is those that scatter things far and wide, then separate them one from another, then bring the Reminder that excuses or warns

It is Those who tear out violently, and Those who pull out gently, Those who swim along, and Those who race forward, and those who arrange to complete Commands

It is when the Sun is wound around Itself

It is when the Stars have fallen

It is when the Mountains have vanished

It is when the She-Camels about to deliver are neglected

It is when the wild Beasts are herded together

It is when the Seas blaze and overflow

It is when the Souls are joined

It is when the female infant (buried alive) is asked for what sin she was killed

It is when the Pages are laid open

It is when the Sky is unveiled

It is when Hell is set ablaze

It is when the Garden is brought near

It is when the Sky is torn apart, and the Planets are scattered from their Orbits, and the Seas are surged forth, and the Graves are overturned

It is when the Sky is split, and obeys its Lord- for It must

It is when the Earth is stretched forth, and has cast out All that was in It, becoming empty, and obeys its Lord- for It must

It is the Redness of Sunset, the Night and whatever it Enshrouds, and the Moon when it is Full

It is the Heaven, full of Constellations

It is the Day Promised

It is the Witness and the Witnessed

It is the Heaven and the  Star of piercing Brightness

It is the Dawn It is the ten Nights

It is the Even and the Odd

It is the Night when It departs

It is this City of Makkah

It is the Progenitor and all whom he’s begotten

It is the Sun and its Brightness, the Moon that follows It, the Day that shows up Its Brightness, and the Night that conceals It

It is the Sky and Him who Built It, and the Earth and Him who Spread It

It is the Soul, and Him who Proportioned It, then Showed It what is right and wrong for It

It is the Night as It envelops, and the Day as It emerges in Brilliance

It is Him who Created Male and Female

It is the Forenoon, and the Night when It darkens and stills

It is the Fig, the Olive, Mount Sinai, and this City of Security, Makkah

It is the Steeds that run panting, striking Sparks with by their Hooves, scouring to the Dawn raid, raising Clouds of Dust, penetrating en Masse to the Midst of their Foe

It is the Time, by which Humanity is in Loss