“Brown girls don’t get to be sad,” she said, her face marked by disgust and disbelief.
I put my head head down, looking at my hands, too ashamed to make eye contact with her again. She was a woman who was beautiful, but not pretty: strong jaw, long, thick jet black hair falling loose over her shoulders, eyes so dark you wondered what might be lurking in them, skin deep and rich like sweet dates. She wasn’t a small woman by any means – tall and full, her delicate green and gold sari juxtaposed the boldness of her outlines.
When she got onto the southbound train heading for downtown, everyone stared at her. She was the kind of person you want to understand as soon as you see her, she draws you in simply by existing. You find yourself wondering where she is coming from and where she is going.
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.
This Ramadan has been hard. The long summer solstice days and deep heat. The nation charged with racial tensions. The obligatory iftars, the late night taraweeh, the early suhoor. The problematic tafsirs with implicit “-isms” that are so triggering. The thirst, the faltering, the not knowing if your piety is enough, and the wondering why piety doesn’t entail feeling more.
It is in this time of chaos and reflection that I choose to write. It’s the only way I know how to calm my mind, to focus my feelings. I know that if I can commit myself to writing one poem every day, that in those words I find healing energy, time to reflect, and a connection with Allah. It is for this reason that every Ramadan I challenge myself to writing a poem daily.
This year marks the second year I’ve hosted an online Poetry a Day for Ramadan virtual writing group. With close to fifty members, the only rule for poets is they must commit to writing daily. They can share if they want to. Just write. Make art.
This month’s Radical Love column is a video essay recorded live at Common Grounds in Santa Ana, California. It begins at 2:48.
“This is what it means to be an immigrant living in California, smuggling seeds in Ziplock bags from the motherland or buying trees from the underground market for the illegal fruits & vegetables that tasted like home.”
Read more by Tanzila, here.
Tanzila Ahmed is an activist, storyteller, and politico based in Los Angeles. She can be heard and read monthly on the #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast and Radical Love column respectively. An avid writer, she was a long-time writer for Sepia Mutiny and is published in the Love, Inshallah anthology. Her personal projects include writing about Desi music at Mishthi Music where she co-produced Beats for Bangladesh, making #MuslimVDay Cards and curating images for Mutinous Mind State. Taz also organizes with Bay Area Solidarity Summer and South Asians for Justice – Los Angeles. You can find her rant at @tazzystar and at tazzystar.blogspot.com.