As far as visible and tangible things go, we are made up of so many things. Micro and macro: all of these various systems in place, carrying out their unique roles.
And, in terms of the very-real, but which-cannot-be-seen:
We are wonderfully imitative, emotionally dependent, creatures, aren’t we? We learn to eat how those around us do; dress in light of how other people dress; learn to speak and behave in different ways, with different people, in different contexts and places.
We know to adapt, almost effortlessly, intuitively. We are our selves: a space that is, by nature, held for us by who others are; ourselves, in relation to them. Human relationships: the bonds that we have with others, and the connections we have with places, too.
Deeply affecting, and deeply being affected by, other people and places, often even without our noticing. Who introduced you
to the great food place, hidden in an alleyway, around the corner? Whose ‘words of affirmation’ do you value most, and why? From whom did you get the idea, to introduce this new way of doing something, into your way of doing things? Who bought you that water bottle, that you so love? That new word: you learnt it from someone. That particular gesture. Way of sitting. Idea.
We are not individuals who are ‘set in stone’. We are intelligent, learning, conversant creatures: turning towards, and thus in (mutual) conversation with, other People, and with all of these Places.
For me: family, and close friends. Classmates and colleagues, who are/were here for a while. Nanu’s house, and Maryam’s. Local library; local mosque. Tamanna’s house, and our local Adventure Park. Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh. Wapping, Whitechapel, Westminster, and then back to Whitechapel for a while. And where to, next (Insha Allah)?
I do not know. Shall I be content with… not knowing? Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. There would appear to be a lot of space for it, in this mind of mine. But, as much as certain things – places and people – feel like home, in Dunya, for me: I cannot keep running back to the past merely because it is familiar.
I think, I love these places: my current places of living, and of working, and of everything in between, very much. I sort of really want to come back to this school, in the future, perhaps, Insha Allah. But Allah might have different things in store for me: after all, this… acceptance that Allah Knows, while I do not… is precisely how I found this place, in the first… place.
I have learnt so much from these very people. [I also, sort of narcissistically, wonder what they may have learnt, picked up, from me!]
Call this all ‘serendipity’. No, better still: call it Qadr.
How wonderful, wonderfully awe-inspiring, it is, that we carry within us, pieces – souvenirs within our persons – of places and of people, whom we have, in whatever capacity, come to know? How weird a thing to realise that… we are real, too. We have also influenced other people; been meaningful, valuable, and beloved, parts of places.
The makings of marks – even ‘small’ ones. The etchings, stitches, into various fabrics, histories.
Moving forward: I wonder what will change. I wonder what stays the same.
I do so love the things that, at their cores, stay the same. And, yet, what would we be, without those things that change and change and change?
I like the idea that the best people, and the best places, for us, are those that feel, at the same time, like Home and an Adventure. A balanced life: the beneficial inter-plays between two opposite (separate, and unknown) but connected (intrinsically known, familiar) forces.
Who and how and what I may be now: I had no idea how things would pan out, just a year earlier. None of this had been, even in the slightest, predictable.
And I am able to look back on erstwhile times with… the distance, the benefit of hindsight. And, the ‘future’, with… the distance, these imaginative impulses that are known to fill the spaces that are, at present, devoid of Knowing.
But all of it, in truth, is experienced as a series of present moments: right between unbearable suffering, and liberating, uninterrupted euphoria.
People, and places: significant, and yet fleeting, ever-changing with Time. But, sometimes, their effects on our minds, hearts and souls: permanent, valuable, undying. The permanence, also, in contrast to all that is transient: of Purpose (the nectar of things), and of Prayer.
At the end of the (long, winding, unpredictable) day: where do we end up? In a Place that is permanent, Insha Allah, beneath which rivers flow. And, with the People whom we have known – permanent souls, also – and loved: walked beside, and prayed beside. All of these things:
they begin as little specs in the distance. Invisible, even, sometimes. And then, seen from afar. Images; while we know not what lies beyond what we see and (think we) know, of them. And then, with Time, we come closer and closer to them. See what lies beyond the shininesses of prospectuses, websites, social media displays, and otherwise. Closer and closer. Faces, and then hearts and souls. Until our beings feel… a little inextricable.
We define ourselves in terms of our people, and our places.
And to know something, and to also be known by it: we need to experience it, or them, in their (relative) entireties, and in present tense: in the Here and Now. Their necessary upsides and downsides.
“There can be no ‘love before marriage’. That isn’t ‘love’,” says a colleague of mine. [When you are twenty years old and South Asian, you tend to find that a lot of conversations start off as being centred on one thing. And then… marriage is brought up: the trumpeting of that age-old Elephant in the Room. But the point is:] There is no authentic ‘loving’ something – be it a person, or a place, or a time outside of this one – before (or, even long after) being entirely, and truly, present with them. In time, and space, and true, close-up, experience. Otherwise, one claims to be ‘loving’ mere images; lusting after fictions, in place of their up-close and real, truths.
I am so happy-sad for everything that has passed. I still even miss people and places that had been in my life over a decade ago. But I am grateful, too. How strange that I will never know them, in the same ways, at least, again. But (necessary) losses often come to form openings: spaces for new things to grow. For other things, whomever, and whatever, they may be.
I am (a little worried, but also) very curious – excited for what is yet to come; trying to be as content with what Allah has written for me, as I can be. Life, as we know it to be: is Process. Toil and hardship, and our moments of levity and ease. And only Paradise is Paradise.
But how quietly wonderful an experience it is, this human one. And how… bittersweet. So many people and places and parts of oneself, to come to know: if only for a while. And then, when the leaves fall: though on the same branches, new ones do grow. Life moves on, and things (which we find we may only be able to half-love, in the present moment, at least) change — just as it is in their nature to.
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.