Saturday, 21 April 2012

My Five Fs (+1) for Fulfilment

This entry will be a bit different. It is perhaps well, probably – slightly cheesy. But a bit of ‘cheesy’ is not necessarily a bad thing; I think cheese in moderation, much like a creamy slice of Havarti, can often add some much-needed satisfaction to a daily routine of unsalted crackers.

I have been thinking lately about what brings me fulfilment in life, and I discovered that the key components of my general satisfaction and happiness at this moment in time could be summed up in five words, all of which start with the letter F. So below I outline a list of my FIVE Fs (+1) for FULFILMENT as I see them unfold in my daily life.

Faith comes first for me because discovering and uncovering my intimate bond with God has been the greatest gift of my life, and sustaining this bond is my biggest priority. The imam at the mosque I attend for Friday prayer said last week that one’s faith is embodied in one’s patience and gratefulness. It is seeing the blessing in everything and treating all of God’s creations with compassion and tolerance. That is what living as a Muslim, which translates from Arabic as “one who submits” to the Almighty, has helped me discover in the purest sense. Regular prayer, regular charity, fasting, righteous deeds, patience, perseverance and honesty are all essential components of faith.
In the past two years since I started nurturing this bond with God, or Allah in Arabic, I’ve faced some difficult times. I’ve lost a parent, endured a relationship breakup, been laid off of a job, to name a few. My faith has given me the patience to work through life’s ups and downs, and I’ve never been happier than I have been in the past two years. I strive each day to be grateful and for the blessings in my life, and to be patient and thankful for all of the trials I face. Yasmin Mogahed, a superbly talented writer on Islamic spirituality, recently sent a tweet that encapsulates this bond within the 140-character limit. She tweeted: “To be most successful: when you're with the Creator, be with the Creator, and when you're with the creation, also be with the Creator.”

Faith comes first in my discovery of fulfilment each day because it is the common thread weaving together all of the other components.
Family has always been important to me. But until my father passed away almost two years ago, I didn’t realise in the deepest sense how important it is to constantly nurture my bond with those who are closest to me. One of the greatest consequences of uncovering my faith was discovering the honour that comes with treating ones parents with compassion and care. This has led me to strengthen and deepen my bond with my mom. Being close to family, taking care of them, knowing they are healthy and happy brings me great fulfilment. In a world where very little is consistent and people are leaving our lives as quickly as they entered them, our closest, dearest family members can form the rock on which we stand; this rock is always firm and helps us hold ourselves straight and tall.
I have a sister who is many years younger than I am. During her teens in Canada, I was away a good deal of time pursuing a journalism career in Egypt and then Dubai. This gave us very little chance to bond during her formative years and I could sense the void whenever we were together. Almost three years ago, that changed. She came to live with me and found a job in the same city, and in the time since we formed that bond I had missed out on earlier. Her presence transformed my cold, indifferent world away from home into a place that was quite suddenly full of closeness and meaning. I started to see my surroundings differently and the soul-less city began to feel more like a soulful home than just a place I was working. There are few greater blessings than developing and treasuring one’s bond with parents and siblings.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Lost Letters

(A version of this story was carried by the Huffington Post)

One memory from my childhood was watching my mom sit at the kitchen table with a pen and stack of lined loose-leaf sheets of paper to write one of her three sisters a long letter, handwritten in attractive Arabic script.

This was one of the only activities that could draw mom away from her rigorous daily routine of managing every family affair and caring for three daughters with boundless dedication. Taking the time to write letters was a rare respite for our supermom. She would become immersed in her thoughts and intently focus on the blank sheets in front of her, as well as the multi-paged letter she’d received in the mail a day or two prior and was then replying to.

For more than an hour, swiftly and with ease, she would craft page after page of prose, pouring onto the paper the multitude of thoughts and feelings that she had stored in a crevice of her mind for the months, if not more than a year, since the last time she sat down to write to one of her sisters.

Most of my childhood years were spent on Canada’s Prairies and the West Coast bordering the Pacific Ocean. This situated my mom literally a world apart from her sisters, who hadn’t strayed from their childhood home on Egypt’s coastline along the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea.

Long-distance phone calls, costly and impractical, were reserved for religious holidays like Eid al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. These infrequent conversations would end as quickly as they started. My mom was constrained to giving her siblings short and impersonal greetings in the 10 minutes or less they had of airtime.

Meanwhile, our family trips to Egypt were few and far between, a stretch of several years separating each visit. When mom did get together with her sisters, we (her daughters) would suddenly cease to exist. They would seclude themselves in the bedroom or balcony for hours of gossip, uproarious laughter and heartfelt embraces.