They met on a cruise of the South Pacific and immediately hit it off. Back at home in the U.S., they dated and found themselves all the more drawn to each other. In an era when most people their age married right out of high school or college, they were both in their 30s and still single. But they came to realize that this was what they had each been waiting for.
It culminated one evening in a perfect setting: a candlelit dinner at a fancy restaurant. After the meal, he took the diamond ring from his pocket and held it out to her.
“Well?” he said.
The first time I encountered J, she was tweeting that if President Obama was a secret Muslim, it showed in how he was a good husband and father.
J wasn’t Muslim herself, but her father had converted to Islam when she was young and she bore the West African last name he had adopted after researching his probable family history. It was a tribute to the history of Islam in West Africa and to the probability that his ancestors had been Muslim prior to the Atlantic Slave Trade.
J was proud of her heritage and had a number of Muslim friends both online and offline, primarily Black American Muslims. I came across her on Twitter through a mutual follow. I was intrigued by her rather unconventional take on the president and started following her.
Two years later, perpetually frustrated by the same contrarianism that had once drawn me to J, I ritually unfollowed her across all my social media accounts – modern life, right?! (I should mention that this wasn’t a romance. I don’t fall in love (never have), and I don’t do romance. It was a squish.)
Recalcitrant. Disobedient. Deserving punishment. These words filled my mind one night in March 2014 as I bowed, and then dropped to the floor to prostrate before Allah.
Prayer before bed is usually my quiet time. Standing alone in a darkened apartment as the rest of the world goes to sleep, I often find stillness of mind. A renewed connection with Allah after a busy day.
Not always. Sometimes my mind is sticky, refusing to let go of a problem that frustrates me. Or a minor comment from the morning looms large. They’re wrong and this is why, I think. How dare they? Other times my thoughts, though still distracting, are more productive. The solution to a puzzle presents itself. Words form a lovely turn of phrase for an essay.
But that night my thoughts were darker. I’d been reading commentary on Qur’an 4:34. The verse reads in part:
Sometimes you barricade yourself so securely into a safe space that you forget how to take the walls down again. Sometimes you close yourself up so tightly against being hurt that you forget how to open up again. Sometimes you hold on to a shape you were bent into so long that you don’t notice when you can straighten out again.
Even as a child, I was never one to have a lot of friends. The people I bonded with were loners like me, or on the fringes.
Still, I always had a best friend in those simpler days. Someone I shared the most important parts of myself and my life with, and was entrusted with the same by them. Carrie was my best friend in elementary school and Jenny saw me through junior high and high school.
On February 1st this year, my 78-year-old uncle suffered a severe seizure. Although he’s recovered physically, he hasn’t regained his former mental acuity. Following a hospital stay and stints at a nursing center and an assisted care home, he’s now living in a graduated-care senior living community. He can no longer drive and relies on the assisted living support in his new home for meals, house cleaning, and reminders on medications and bills.
The house he lived in for decades recently sold, a recognition that he’ll never go back to how he was. Just like that, he lost his independence in life.
When I first heard what had happened to Uncle Tom, I thought, “There but for the grace of God go I.” With every twist in his saga, I wonder if I’m looking at my own future. Tom and I are a lot alike, you see.