(Re)discovering Beauty in the Ugliness of Life’s Chaos

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Over the last few years of my life, I have met many people. Some stayed and some left. However, in the passing of time, I have learned a few life-lessons to keep in my pocket for the long-haul. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the encounters that I’ve had and the experiences that I’ve been through. Sometimes life just seems too much of a mess to contend with, but there is beauty in it. Yes, I am saying that there is beauty in the mess of it all. 

I graduated only a few months ago in December 2013 with my degree. I was in total bliss. I knew I would quickly find a job that paid more than the part-time job I was relying on for sustenance. However, this was not the case. Not only this, but I was experiencing a crisis in my belief in God. This crisis drew me into a phase of questioning everything that I once knew was stable. I questioned everything from the existence of God to the issue of scripture being truly divine. I was dancing on egg-shells, but I didn’t care. I was at the crossroads. I was struggling to know God, myself and the world around me. I was dealing with financial-instabilities and family-problems. I was dying daily. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. I would frequently isolate myself from people. Some people would fight to stay in my life during this period of isolation, while others simply didn’t care. I don’t blame them. I was probably too far away from reality to even be contacted. 

Not only did I find this time of uncertainties troubling, but I had suitors in the midst of it all. These suitors never impressed me. They seemed to want the typical “perfect” Muslim-wife that would ‘cook, clean, obey’ them. I wasn’t going to stick around for this. Not only this, but the pressure of getting married by friends and the external Muslim community sent me further away. There would be the occasional, “You’re so beautiful. You’re young too. Why aren’t you married?”. I must admit that I was pushing hard for a good period of time to get married, but I never found contentment in this towards the last semester of school. I was still…young. I hardly knew what I really wanted. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I don’t think I did at that point. I knew that I could be the “perfect” Muslim wife for any man, but I don’t think I had come upon anyone that truly understood me. However, I did yearn for the Muslim-family that I would see at the Eids (twice a year celebration after Ramadan and during Hajj-season). I wasn’t raised in a Muslim-family and would practice Islam alone without anyone else. I wanted that, but I didn’t want to get pressured into just marrying any person. Furthermore, I started to question the institution of marriage. I didn’t like the fact that I would need my wali’s permission (guardian of the woman) to get married. I was perfectly capable of choosing my own spouse on my own terms. I thought that my guardian (father) would totally void my agency, my own voice. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) certainly warned the men of the Muslim-community that a female’s permission is needed in order for any marriage to be valid. However, I was at odds with this when learning that I needed my guardian’s permission to marry a man. So, does my permission even matter if my father’s ‘no’ was good enough to stop a marriage? Yes, the purpose of the wali (guardian) is to check out the man’s credentials, his background, his income, his mental state, and etc. Some would even explain to me that a man knows another man. I’m not saying that marriage shouldn’t be a family-affair, but I most certainly am not going to give away my right to having a voice. Women have had their voice continuously stripped from them in history, through patriarchy, and in various communities. I will not have this happen to me. I will not bow down to a role that oppresses me. I will never teach my daughter(s) to succumb to a system that isolates her participation in her community, her society. As long as a man can determine and choose what is right for me then I should not expect to have a voice. Unfortunately, this view of mine’s may be in conflict of the Islamic-tradition, but I will maintain my stance on this. At the end of the day, this same woman will be with this man, romantically, sexually, mentally all throughout the marriage alone. There will not be anyone within their household day-in and day-out except for them. They will be the only ones determining solely the situation of their marriage. Sure, you will have arbitrators to help resolve marital-problems, but generally it will just be them. Not only this, but I have an issue of having a guardian. It is said that the woman’s guardianship transfers from her father to her husband. I’m sorry, but this is not the case for me. I will always maintain my own identity. This identity will not be compromised…at all. I am not a part of a business transaction. I am not to be passed off or transferred to. I will empower myself by denouncing this guardianship. I understand that some women are definitely okay with this and will delight in this. However, I am not one to delight in this. The role of the guardian is to: protect, provide, and maintain the woman. Now, once again…this is not for me. I will leave this for the next woman. The issue of a woman’s place just always give me chills. Brrrrrr! 

Nonetheless, I will express the positive side(s) to these last few months. In trying to find my place in the world, I had entered into a close friendship/relationship with someone. I’m liberal. I started seeing another world outside of the one I was living.  I was treading on a path of: spirituality, love, lust, sexuality, education, identity, and etc. I happened to have stumbled upon another person, similar to myself, having questions about religion. I didn’t suspect that I would find answers in the midst of finding another person like me, confused. However, I did. In the poverty of my own life, I was spending most of my time reading about religion. I would stay consumed in religious-studies. I would visit my college to talk with professors about life. Yes, I am a bit…extreme. However, I was dying in this crisis of my life. I was broke. Starving for answers about God. On the fence about feminism. I was suffering a minor-depression. Nonetheless, I soon found a close companion to share some of the intimate parts of the pain I was struggling with internally. The simplicity of the friendship/relationship was the real beauty of it all. The occasional bilingual conversations in Spanish. The occasional meals at a local restaurant. The frequent bike-rides alone or in a group. The long conversations about: faith, poverty, dreams, sexuality, feminism, and problems. Very simple pleasures. Nothing expensive. Simply simple. I must admit that this quote is true:

“Living simply makes loving simple.”― Bell Hooks

I didn’t intend on engaging in a companionship, but I did. I would say that I regret doing this because this isn’t acceptable within the Islamic-tradition. However, I did engage in this. I certainly did grow from this encounter. Interestingly enough, I realized the importance of taking risks. 

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” — Anaïs Nin (The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934)

The world we live in is not black and white. It is not as simple as we may think. Its complicated. I’m sure someone that is reading this is shaking their little finger at me and threatening to forever label me as a ‘sinful’ and ‘impure’ woman. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Settle down. Life is what we make of it. In a time in my life when I wanted to just fold up under the covers and cry, I didn’t. I reveled on the beauty of what I had discovered at the most unlikely of times. I would frequently stay away from people because I was broke and didn’t have money, but with the friendship/relationship I was engaging in, I didn’t have to always have money. I learned that living doesn’t have to always mean spending. You are not what you own, can spend, and can display. I didn’t feel like going to another all-women’s party/gathering and putting on a front. I didn’t feel like putting on a prom-dress to just attend a dinner at another woman’s home. I’m not that shallow. Yes, I can isolate myself, but I am not shallow. There is this pretentious secret that happens too frequently for me. For many women, the whole women’s only scene is a battle-field. Women would dress up in ostentatious outfits that they would only wear once to show-off. I’m usually not at such events. For one, I’m not going to fake as if I have money by wearing something I may never wear again. Secondly, I can’t afford to go to a high-end restaurant every week. This is just my reality. I’ve experienced the whole ‘women’s only’ scene and do not find joy in it. If I know someone that isn’t into the whole ‘let’s-show-off-our-wealth’ then I will attend her gathering. 

Well, I definitely did go on a long rant there. Back to what I was saying, I didn’t have to contend with this reality when I was in this close relationship/friendship. I was me. Simply me. I didn’t have to dress-up or put on a front. I was simply Lauren. It was the simplicity that kept me in engaged. It was living simply to love simple. 

In the midst of it all, I experienced new places within my own backyard. I went to many places that I never knew existed in my city. I traveled to several places on my bicycle. I discovered new cultures. I experimented with various religions, philosophies and ideologies. I was confused, but awakened at the same time. I didn’t feel the pressure of getting married just for marriage-sake. I didn’t feel like I had to put on a mask to fit in. I was just taking my life day-by-day. I was and is broke as hell. There is no shame in that. However, I am living. Before, I was just existing. I was going about life in a routine. I started to see that we all are struggling with something. We aren’t perfect. We all are dying a death internally because of someone or something. We just have to find beauty in the midst of ugliness and chaos. 

“And sometimes I wonder, why we care so much about the way we look.
And the way we talk and the way we act and the clothes we bought, how much that cost.
Does it even really matter?
Cause if life is an up hill battle
We all tryna climb with the same ol’ ladder
In the same boat, with the same ol’ paddle
Why so shallow? I’m just asking
What’s the pattern to the madness
Everybody ain’t a number one draft pick
Most of us ain’t Hollywood actors” -B.O.B. “Both of Us”

 

The Right to Experiment

“You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you’re not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn’t a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so he walked away from banking. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.” – Anais Nin