How to find light in the darkness

There are conversation that are hard to forget; hard to forgive.

A few years ago, a conversation with a friend turned awry. During our conversation, she brought up the topic of religion. She started with the question: “What does Allah mean?” I explained that the word was an Arabic term for the word God or dios.

I thought that was the end of her curiosity, until she responded with “Allah is not God. My God is not your God.” I was confused my her remark, so I responded with, “Well, there is only one God.” She went on to explain that her God is one of love, mine was one of war. I was deeply hurt by her comment, but I approached it gently. I told her that she may have misunderstood from the media what the meaning of Islam was (I reminded myself that she had never been exposed to another religion).

She was physically worked up; angry that I did not accept her explanation. I began to realize that she was purposely trying to provoke a reaction.

I remember feeling my throat closing and a sharp pain in my gut. The same reaction I feel when I am about to cry and cannot run away.

Then, she said to me, “Everyone knows the evil in your religion; how you have to deceive and befriend Christians in order to “get by” in the world. I don’t know why you are the only one blind to it.”

My friend, whom I treated as part of my family. One of the only people I trusted to care for my children. I felt like collapsing. It is so different when a keyboard warrior attacks you, but when it is a person that you hold in high regard turns on you, how do you respond? I wanted to physically collapse.

I ended the conversation by calling her an “ignorant person” and asked her to leave my home. After she left, I cried a lot.

The details of the conversation are much worse than I can write.

One week after the confrontation, she called to apologize. I accepted her apology and have since tried to repair my relationship with her. We have become friends again, but it has been almost a year and I still feel very hurt when I remember that conversation. The words that hurt the most were “everyone knows about the evil in your religion”. For the past year, I accepted those words from her. I have second guessed many things; the sincerity of my friendships, my Muslim community, among many other things. I have found myself avoiding talks of religion and any conversation that may reveal that I am a firm believer. For the past year, I have been truly afraid that another person I trusted would turn on me, like the comment section of a social media post gone incarnate.

I have become very nervous when people around me bring up topics surrounding Islam. The words, “everyone knows about the evil in your religion” has made me second guess my family and friends, feelings that they are simply to scared to lash out at me in the same way my friend did at my home.

It has been really hard to forget this particular incident, although I have chosen to forgive her. I hold no ill will towards my friend. Although she was wrong, she is not completely at fault. I have accepted to believe that there are many other factors at hand that have influenced the way she reacted that day.

I try to have hope that forgiveness, especially with your loved ones, can start a process of healing for oneself and the world at large. I try to hold on to this idea.

Today, a friend announced that he would give his first sermon at his Methodist Church. He asked the social world for prayers. A prayer that always makes me surrender myself to God on important days came to mind, the Prayer of Light, also known as the prayer of the prophet Muhammed (pbuh). I hesitated to send it to him, but I went ahead and did so in support of his calling to spread the word of God. I had not shared anything Islam-related with anyone in a very long time, so was a little bit afraid of his response. He responded with gratitude and went on to say how beautiful he found Islam. He further explained that he enjoyed the Quran and recitations. His response made me cry. A Christian, a pastor, validating my beliefs as ones that are good.

It took me a few hours to respond emotionally to the message. Tonight, I have cried a lot. I remembered the scar that my friend left a year ago. That feeling of invalidation and spite towards the path that I hold dearest to my heart; that path through which has penetrated every part of my being with Light.

I am recovering from an encounter that has greatly affected the way I express myself religiously, because I am afraid to do so. Today, my pastor-friend’s message has started the healing process.

There are so many other things going through my mind. How are people able to find common ground despite their religious differences? How do we use framework of our chosen religion to better love others? How do we transcend the human limitations of our chosen religion to connect with people from all walks of life? Is that still possible in today’s world? I know it is possible and I need to hold on to this thread of hope to continue to heal emotionally and grow spiritually.

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I Want to Speak to the Owner!

I am a business owner now. And manager. And customer service. And secretary. And filing clerk.

This is the feeling of having a brand new business that has been slowly, but surely, rising.

Didn’t someone once make a song about “mo money, mo problem?” I don’t want to make it seem like I am rolling in hundred dollar bills, or anything like that. It isn’t like that at all. But, I would say, “mo clients, mo problems.” My advertiser does a good job, so the clients are there, I guess.

I, however, am trying to find a way to divide myself between various positions, perform various tasks, without driving myself into insanity.

As owner, I am the boss lady. I guess. I am also the one responsible for taking sure my clients are happy. For the most part, they are happy enough to refer friends. My business thrives on “word of mouth.” And, customer service is crucial.

I started doing customer service since I was 16 years old at David’s Bridal. Had that gig for 6 years on and off. Was pretty good at it; enough for them to take me between college semester, or on my summer vacation while in grad school. I was pretty good at customer service. Looking back, I know that the secret to good customer service is to have someone who is not emotionally involved in the business to do it. Did I give a damn about David’s Bridal? Not really. Did I care that a customer did not like the ugly bridesmaid dress? Not really. My job was to be nice and solve the problem so that the client leaves with a smile on their face.

After 6 years, I thought I had this customer service gig down to the T. Over this past week, I realized I have lots to learn.

It all started last week when one of my clients suddenly demanded a refund. We had done half the work he paid for, had been working on his file for 4 weeks, and our invoice clearly states 80% REFUND WITHIN THE FIRST 48 HOURS OF PAYMENT. There’s a logic to my ‘no refund policy”. First, I only take about 8 clients per month (it’s impossible to take more at this time). Secondly, I begin a client’s file within the first 48 hours, so some time is spent. Lastly, Paypal charges me a processing fee for accepting money AND returning. Refunding is really a hassle; therefore, it is clearly explained at time of pay.

Back to the story. Client demands full refund. His reason was that I had only done half the work; therefore, he was entitled to a full refund (?)! Of course, I said in my head: no fucking freaking way dude I just worked on your file, edited your essays, created your personal statement, searched for graduate programs for you and had two scheduled consulting conferences. WTF?” Of course, all this was communicated professionally through e-mail. Guy goes nuts and begins to trash me on my Twitter advertising page. Guy grabs all my potential clients and calls me a THIEF! A THIEF! I let it go on for a few days until he grew tired; thought he did, and later realized that he was using a second profile to continue to spam my clients.

Today, I needed to put a stop to this. He was undeservedly accusing me of lying and stealing. STEALING! Oh my God! My potential clients were believing this, and they avoided me like the plague. I called him, so that he can answer to me. I wanted to hear the shame in his voice.

I told him calmly: “why are you doing this, if you KNOW we have given you exactly as you paid for?”

He said, “I want my money back! I want my money back!”

I asked him, “Do you think it’s fair that we work and don’t get paid?”

He said, “I changed my mind. I want my money back! If I get money back, I will stop on Twitter?”

I told him, “Should I say thank you for putting a stop to your lies on Twitter?”

He said, “I don’t care. I just want my money back.”

I FUCKING LOSE IT AT THIS POINT. TEARS, SCREAMING, AND ALL!

I said, “Listen, Rayed, YOU are the liar, the thief and what you have been doing to me will come back to you much harder!”

He said, “I am Muslim, I am honest, and I just want my money back.”

I said, “Honest person? You defamed me and my business AFTER I worked honestly for you! You call me a liar after I have tried repeatedly to cooperate with you! You take my clients away from me, when I am simply trying to make an honest living…! A Muslim does NOT act like this! I work so hard everyday to build what I have for the sake of my family. YOU HAVE A BLACK HEART!”

I actually told the guy that he has a BLACK HEART (lol). I have to laugh now, because I am done with crying.

I finished the conversation with, “I will give you your entire money back today. I am worth more than $XXX.XX.” I hung up the phone, cried and sobbed in my car outside my office for a good 10 minutes.

The guy calls me back and begins to apologize, “I am very sorry, Cristina. I was very wrong. I took down everything from Twitter. I don’t want my money back anymore.I’m very sorry.”

I said to him, “I don’t want any favors, nor money from you. You can’t repair the damages you have done with your lying. What you did to me will happen to you, and it will cost you more than your refund.”

After months of not blogging, this experience has prompted me to write. Writing is my therapy, and I feel like a broken person today. Rayed did not break me. My inability to do everything well at the same time; the impossible task of making every single client happy; the struggle to divide myself into a million pieces as I try to build the foundations of my business. Every dollar I work for, I feel its gain and its loss, because I put my soul into my work. I feel deteriorated today. I feel so tired. I just want to take a bubble bath, get into my PJs and sleep a good sleep.

Business exhausts. Trying to be fair, yet firm, has made me tired. My business is at its birth, yet, it is growing strong. Someone comes along to damage what I have built, yet I know these are the responsibilities that come with managing a business. The customer is always right, they say. How about when he is dead wrong?

I wanted to finally make Rayed see me as a human being, so I let him hear me cry to make him feel.

Finally, he felt. And tonight, I just feel for myself.

The Psychology of Guilt, Repentance and Belief

 A few days ago, my husband and I waited in the grocery line while I carried our daughter. 

When it was our turn at the register, my husband joked with the bag boy and said to him: “hey, you look a little young to be losing your hair…” The 18-year old boy didn’t laugh, but began to embarrassingly explain himself. He spoke in Spanish and only I had understood that he was losing his hair because he was dying. I looked down in embarrassment while my husband immediately regretted the joke.

In the car, he asked me what had happened to the boy and I told him that he was terminally ill. I felt angry toward my husband and I began to cry. “I didn’t mean to damage his feelings…I didn’t know he was sick” my husband said. He stayed silent the whole ride home. I knew my husband didn’t mean any harm, so I didn’t mention it again. My daughter was beside me –asleep–and I began to think about her birth: 

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah… (God forgive me,  God forgive me, God forgive me…)

Around the 7th hour of labor and as the contractions became more frequent and painful, fear settled over me. I thought about the possibility of death, so I began to ask for forgiveness.

My husband was laying down on an uncomfortable couch next to me half asleep. It had been a long night. I had arrived to the hospital at 11PM after my water broke and, for some odd reason, I thought I’d be out before morning. I wasn’t dilating and the nurse’s words were not hopeful: “Chil’, is this yo’ first baby?” I said it was. She said, “if you lucky, you’ll be outta heah in 12 hours… but you ain’t dilated even fo’ centameetas…we may have to start you on Pitocin by 7am…are you sure you don’t want  the epidural?” I wanted to say “yes”, but I said “no”. Perhaps I would be done in another hour? Clearly, I had no idea the way that this whole having-a-baby-thing worked.

The nurse left. My husband was asleep by now.

Perhaps other mothers can tell you that there is a space  in labor and delivery that belongs only to her–that no one can penetrate. And, there are moments where she feels very alone. I began to think about Surah Maryam and how Maryam (the Virgin Mary) had–while she was in labor with Isa (Jesus)–wished that she were dead. I haven’t wished my own death yet, so I must be ok. I imagined the way that Maryam must have teared at a palm tree that would later nourish her with water and dates.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I decided to change positions and crouch down with legs wide open. Perhaps the gravity would help me dilate. It did. In another hour, I was almost 7 cm dilated. “Whoa, 3 cm’s in an hour. How’d that happin’…?” Said the nurse. “I crouched…” I said. “Well, there ya go…but we still have to start you on Pitocin, dear. It’s been 8 hours and that baby’s gotta come out. It’s fo’ both you and the baby’s safety…Let me know if you change yo’ min’ about the epidural…” She said…

The nurse left. My husband drifted in and out of sleep. I was so bored of ice chips.

I thought about two Muslim sisters who had recently delivered. One delivered in four hours. The other in two. Both didn’t ask for any pain relievers. They were so strong. Why can’t I handle the pain? Why don’t I dilate? What is wrong with my body? I began to cry again.

Again, I was alone.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I called the nurse to ask her how much longer she thought I would be in labor. She told me that even with the Pitocin, it could be another 10 hours or so. It was my first child and my body was taking it’s time. I remembered my friends again and began to think that my body was somehow defective.

Once I began screaming and crying more loudly, my husband stood by my side. He was unsure of how to ease my pain. Perhaps he knew he couldn’t. I turned away from him.

He handed me dhikr beads and I began whispering to myself again:

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Ya Latif, Ya Latif, Ya Latif…(Gentle One, Gentle One, Gentle One…). I was asking God to grant me his Gentleness…

Finally, I called the nurse and asked her to send for the epidural. I wanted relief so badly, but even the epidural sent an electric shock through my whole body. After the anesthesia seeped through my veins, I drifted in and out of sleep. I continued to feel guilt for the numbness below my waist…

I continued to ask forgiveness for things I probably would never write about…

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Twelve hours later, the doctor checked me and said “it’s time to push,” and I did.  “BIS-MI-LLAH!” I screamed in anger. My mom, who was in the room, also prayed with her head in her hands. She couldn’t watch, but she also couldn’t turn away. At the end of that hour and a moment between screams, the doctor tossed my daughter onto my belly. Her eyes were wide open. At that moment, I remember myself in a cold sweat and laughing from relief while my husband, mother, and daughter all cried.

I had done it. My guilt was gone. God must had forgiven me.

The same night of the supermarket incident, my husband suddenly jumped out of bed and got dressed. I asked him where he was going and he told me he’d be right back. When my husband returned home, I asked him what had happened and he said he had returned to the supermarket to apologize. In a desperate attempt to seek his own forgiveness, he also forced the boy to take all the cash he had in his wallet. “I didn’t mean to make him embarrassed…I had very bad Muslim eh-ticks,” he told me in regret. Ethics. A word he had just learned at the English program. I told him he should rest.

“Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…”

He continued until he fell asleep. I stayed awake trying to wrap my mind around the way the human conscience makes its peace with good, evil, life, death, guilt and God.

My Husband: The (Patient and Loving) Arab Villain

“Take care of her, [Muhammed*],” says a relative every time my husband and I leave her house after a weekend visit.

Muhammed: “Why doesn’t she ever tell you to take care of me? After all, I’m the poor guy who needs the extra care…” He laughs it off every time, but deep inside I know that he feels confused as to why anyone would believe otherwise; that is, that anyone would think that Muhammed would do anything else other than take care of me.

I had never thought about my relative’s weekly comments until I started to see the slight hurt on my husband’s face. I had never really thought about it much until we began to receive other similar comments from other relatives and friends: “If you hurt her, I’ll have to kill you…” or “You’re a lucky guy, Muhammed, take care of her…”

I have also received warnings from friends and strangers in casual conversation. “Make sure Muhammed doesn’t take you away to Arabia because we’ll never see you again…” or “Have you seen the movie Not Without My Daughter?” or “Did you husband make you convert?”

These questions and comments are all delivered half-jokingly/half-threatningly and followed with laughter. The truth is, however, that I know that some people who make these comments are usually waiting for my response so that they can cast away their doubt about my Villainous Husband. Others are watching, waiting and counting mistakes so they can say “I told you so,” never stopping to think that attributing someone’s flaws to their race and religion–rather than the fact that were all flawed human beings–is ignorance at the very least.

When I think about my protective, yet gentle and loving, husband, I feel hurt. I cannot understand the constant suspicion and mistrust towards another human being without cause.

The truth of the matter is that the stereotype of the volatile, controlling, sexually perverse and abusive Arab Muslim man is alive and well. 

I remember the sensitivity he felt the day he saw our unborn baby kick her chubby feet at our first ultrasound. Afterwards, he pridefully insisted that our child should bear his first and last name so that everyone would know exactly who her daddy is! I admire the quiet way he washes the dishes on the nights when I cook dinner (the rule at our house is: one cooks, the other cleans). I am thankful for the many times he has encouraged me to pray with him. I am amused when my husband walks to the left of me because he believes he is protecting me from wierdos and speeding cars. I am grateful when he pulls back my hair and rubs my shoulders when I have morning sickness. And, I won’t forget the night he made a healing balm from olive oil and Shea butter to rub on my aching back because I had been crying from the pain. I remember the worth I felt when he bragged to his family about his “smart” wife working on her Ph.D. I laugh when he suggestively picks out matching sweaters and scarves from my side of the closet when he thinks my chest is overexposed (a habit that reminds me of my own Cuban-Catholic father and brother). These flawed, yet well-intentioned, men. Villains, indeed.

My husband is my crutch.

On my last visit home, I snarked back at a relative’s comment: “You know, he beat me senseless yesterday. Look at these bruises (I pointed at my behind)! These Arab men! But, I beat him right back…” My relative rolled her eyes and silenced up. Afterwards, my husband said that I shouldn’t have made that remark and should simply ignore the comments next time.

My husband teaches me patience and back-bending respect.

I chose my husband because I know him and–flaws and all–I love him. The partner in my life, the self-proclaimed protector of our home, the proud father of our unborn child. Yes, this is the Arab Villain I have married.

The comments my husband and I have received have never been made with intentional hatred nor with an effort to inflict pain. On the contrary, they have been made from people who love us. The comments, however, reflect a larger problem in the way we (members of society) are constantly misinformed by the media about who “We” are and who “Others” are. More specifically, about who “Westerners” are and who “Middle Easterners” and Muslims are. We lack insight on this false dichotomy and forget that people are sometimes simply just people.

As frustrated as I feel sometimes, I do not hold these comments personally against anyone. Instead, I hope that my story serves as an example of how our unconscious ignorance really does affect the way we position ourselves in the world–oftentimes dehumanizing “Others” in that process. Most importantly, I hope that we could arrive at the realization that knowing someone’s race, ethnicity, religion, or cultural background does not mean we know a darn thing about who they are as people. 

*Muhammed is a pseudonym.

A Traveler

I will not dance to your war drums. I will not lend my soul nor my bones to your war drums. I will not dance to your beating. I know that beat. It is lifeless. –Suheir Hammad

I met a young boy on the way to the airport last night. He was 19, he said. In an attempt to sound more experienced in this world, I told him I had students his age in my class. He said, “no way,” that I looked like a “kid”. I told him, “I get that a lot” and laughed.

He said that he got stranded in NY because he missed two of his scheduled flights. He was on his way home from his first year in the Army and that everything that could possibly go wrong had gone wrong today. He complained a lot about having to tip the cab drivers. He said that he wanted to see his parents. He told me about his dream of going to college and becoming a history teacher one day. He approved of my being a teacher, but emphasized repeatedly that the Buckeyes were not that big of a deal. He told me all about his 10 siblings and asked me if I wanted a lot of kids one day. Stupidly, I said yes.

He shook a lot when he spoke, hardly able to keep his voice from trembling. An invisible shadow stole his stillness the same way an echo of a drum steals at silence. It made me feel uneasy because I’ve known that feeling, too. He didn’t want to talk about the Army nor Texas. What did he see? I thought to myself but did not ask.

Before he got off the bus, he told me his name was Kelsey and took my hand. His grip was strong and patient–as if he needed to affirm that life and flesh and humanity were, after all, real. After getting off the bus, he looked back at me twice with eyes that reflected desperation and kindness.

I haven’t stopped wondering if he ever made it home.

Written 01/19/2011

Mr. Anthropologist, Sir…

I said ‘no’.

I do not wish to be a sample for the research you are currently conducting on the ‘Muslim population’.

‘No.’

I do not wish to lend myself to your curiosities.

I do not wish that my gestures and responses be part of your data collection for interpretations and formulations.

Please, stop analyzing my facial expressions! And ‘no,’ I’m not angry about your questions. I am angry that you assume I am angry.

If you’d like, you can join my girlfriends and I for coffee. You’ll probably learn a bit about my current interest in graphic novels and my recent love for country music. If you show genuine interest, I’d be glad to say more about it. And, ‘no,’ you cannot take notes. Put that pen away, sir. Quickly, before Ireally do get angry.

Do not study me.

Do not interpret me.

I am not a specimen.

I do not wish to be a sample for anything. If you do learn anything, what you will learn is about me in this particular moment in time and space. I evolve. People evolve. I do not represent two billion people and ‘no’ you cannot make general claims.

Leave Muslim men out of this conversation. Do not try and convince me how they’re ‘hypocritical dirtballs’. And I don’t care to hear your anecdotal evidence to support that. These

‘stubbly-skinned,

black-haired, tawny-skinned…

[men who] sit on the floor [in white robes], leaning forward,

elbow on one raised knee and eat heartily…

They may be mustachio’d, macho, patriarchal,

sexist, egotistical, parochial–

They may, as men may,

think themselves indominable,

being easily manipulated,

–but they’re mine, my

sleek and swarthy, hairy-chested,

curly-headed lovers of the Prophet***

These men are just fine. How are you? Don’t try and turn me against anyone, Mr. Anthropologist. Or I’ll walk away.

Alright, fine. What do you want to know?

My favorite dessert is arroz con leche with extra cinnamon (But I haven’t learned to make it better than mami). Sometimes, I dance in front of the mirror to remind myself that I still got it. I tend to curse a lot and immediately regret it. Oh, and I watch silent black and white films when my roommates are not around. They think it’s dumb, but I don’t care.

What? You want to know why my scarf is purple today? Because my other scarves are in the washer! That’s why. What? No! I did not intend to match my socks. There is no relation!

Why did I just roll up my sleeves? Because it’s getting hot under this microscope light!

Can you stop tilting your head like that and relax those brows? Don’t squint at me!

I can write you faster that you can ever write me, and your head will be spinning for days.

‘No’!

I’ll be damned if I let you write that down!”

***verses were excerpted from Mohja Kahf.

Today, I Learned Something About the Soul

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): “T. E. X. A. S.”

I lowered my book to try to steal a glance at the therapist and his patient in the wheelchair. I wanted to see how the therapist taught him how to communicate through sign language.

I have always felt uncomfortable around disabled people. This is rather strange because my father is disabled. My father has been in a wheelchair for 17 years, so one would think I wouldn’t be as awkward. But I am. I do not like to stare. My mother taught me not to stare at others who were “different” because it was rude.

The man in the wheel chair was young. Maybe 24 years old. Maybe 28 years old. His therapist was also a young man, too, and they were about the same age. It was hard to tell because his back was towards me. I could see his smooth white skin on the side of his face and neck. But I didn’t stare. I didn’t want him to notice me watching the therapist wipe drool from his mouth after feeding him through a tube. I didn’t want him to think I was pitying him. Nobody likes to be pitied.

I tried to get back to work. Read my book. I also noticed that my roommate who sat next to me hadn’t flipped her page for a while. She couldn’t focus either. The Starbuck’s was quiet. Everyone was either studying or eating. The man in the wheelchair disturbed the silence every time his food clogged in the tube, every time he slurred loudly, every time he snorted in an effort to laugh.

I was uncomfortable and I hated myself for this.

A man who was reading next to me walked up to the therapist and the patient and asked to shake the patient’s hand. At this point, I realized that he could understand everything. He was fully conscious. He processed everything. Commands, jokes, conversations. He just couldn’t control his bodily reactions. At the very moment when the men shook hands, the adhan on my computer went off loudly. I quickly turned it off because I didn’t want to disturb others.

Man: How are you?

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language):  I. A. M. F. I. N. E.

Man: Where are you from?

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): T. E. X. A. S.

Man: Texas, huh?

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): S. A. N. A. N. T. O. N. I. O.

Man: How is Texas? Never been there…

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): T. E. X. A. N. S. L. O. V. E. T. H. E. I. R. B. A. S. K. E. T. B. A. L. L. A. N. D. T. H. E. I. R. S. U. M. M. E. R.

Man: (laughs) What is your favorite sport?

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): B. A. S. K. E. T. B. A. L. L.–I. L. O. V E. T. H. E. S. P. U. R. S.–I. L. I. K. E. T. H. E. B. U. C. K. E. Y. E. S. T. O. O.— B. U. T. M. Y. F. I. R. S. T. L. O. V. E. I. S. T. E. X. A. S.

MAN: Nice–I haven’t watched basketball in a while…

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): I. L. O. V. E. T. H. E. S. P. U. R.S.

(The therapist’s phone rings and the man says goodbye)

I listened closely behind my book. Watching how his limp left hand struggled to open and close. How his fingers struggled to form symbols that I couldn’t understand. I watched. I wrote their conversation down in detail. As I went to grab my coffee, I watched the therapist flip the magazine pages for his patient. At that moment, I began to panic silently. It had been so easy to grab and sip my coffee. It had been so easy to flip through my book as I watched the man in front of me depend on tubes and machines and strangers. It had been so easy to idly watch another human being put every effort in his soul into moving his fingers and in keeping his neck stiff to prevent his head from propping down like a heavy sack–

Maghrib was over. I didn’t make it. I am like this sometimes–Lazy. Slow. Unmotivated. The shame took hold of me and I wanted to run. It was a paralyzing kind of panic that took over as I thought about all the things I have ever taken for granted. At that moment, I regretted missing prayer–I lazily passed a chance to command my healthy limbs to praise the God who shaped them. And this has been the worst of all my sins–

After some time, the therapist said it was time to head back. The therapist gathered the food bottles, the feeding tubes, and the towels. The Texan turned his chair with a button. I could see from the corner of my eyes that he was heading towards us. He stopped next to our table and extended his fingers to gesture a handshake. The therapist said that he wanted to shake our hands.

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): N. A. M. E.–He wants to know your names, ladies…

Roommate: Kristen

Me: Cristina

Using his neck, he moved his uncooperative head towards me. I looked up and shook his hand. His face was young and attractive. His body was large, muscular and lean. He had probably been in perfect health before his accident. Maybe even been an athlete. Through his blonde hair, I could see the pink tissue of a scar running along the circumference of his head. He drew his large blue eyes effortlessly towards me. He looked at me for a long time. Silently. He was not afraid to stare. He nodded his head gesturing “nice to meet you”.

As he moved away from us, he signaled to his therapist:

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): B. O. T. H. A. R. E. P. R. E. T. T. Y.—-P. I. C. K.

(When the therapist, my roommate and I realized what he meant, we all laughed loudly)