Straddling the Fence: Living a Life of Two Faces

I remember as a child playing outside, usually with the boys, I would struggle with climbing fences. Perhaps it was because I was what one might consider to be a bit plump (my aunt nicknamed me Chunky if that gives you any indication of my thickness at the time) and my legs could feel a bit like dead weights on occasion. More often than not my sneaker would get caught in one of the holes of the gate. This was usually the first foot, the one I used to get a good grip so that I could foist the second half of my body onto the other side. Eventually I would end up hovering on the fence trying not to let the sharp pieces of metal coils at the top of the gate stab me in places that were meant for bodily fluids to escape. My hands holding on painfully to the top pole, trembling from strain. I would stay in this precarious position for a while as I watched the other children. The few who had already made it over were running off in the distance; barely visible moving specks of dirt. There were more who swiftly and efficiently cleared the gate like hurdles in the Olympics. I was most amazed by them. They had the ability to use one hand and simply glide over like young gazelles, with effortless confidence. Still some of the children didn’t try at all and held back from even attempting to “jump” the barrier that separated them from moving forward. They were content with continuing to play in the dirt, kicking the ball, or whatever game we were playing before someone had the idea to move along. And there I was, stuck between the two, hunched back, shaking legs, stinging hands and all.

It seems that I have been in this state for a couple of  years; stuck between two places. One foot reaching for a promising unknown while the other firmly rooted in the near past. So that leaves my present moments often ambiguous, causing me to feel as if I am living inauthentically. Who is Latasha? Is she the woman who listens to the latest trap music or “old school” UGK in the car while riding to the nearest Goodwill? Or is she the stillness and calm of India Arie’s melodic voice reassuring her that she is light?

My closet is full of old clothes that I have not worn in years. Blouses and halter tops that are purely made to emphasize cleavage. Mini skirts and form fitting dresses. Jeans so tight that they might look like my skin if colored the same shade. In short, clothes that would not be considered modest. As a Muslim woman I truly believe that modesty is beautiful. So why do I still have these clothes? Why haven’t I converted my entire wardrobe to clothing that represents who I am as the demure woman that I thought I had become? The woman that I portray myself to be? As many times as I have frequented local thrift shops I have had plenty of opportunities to declutter and make space. Spring cleaning always provides the impetus to purge the old and bring in the new. I’ve had five years to do so. Five years. Yet I’ve managed to obtain new clothing while simultaneously failing to make a dent in getting rid of the old clothing that I once wore. In the beginning I rationalized that it took time. That there was no rush and that hey, no one changes overnight, right? Well, what about now? What is the justification five years in?

I know, I know. You can’t plan your life based on a theoretical timetable. I’m not. My self criticism originates from a place inside me. A deep, dark, intangible existence that knows more than I. A place that when I am unsure tells me to move along or remain still. Sometimes I listen and at other times I do not. Consequently when I don’t listen I usually tend to think that I end up in the same place I would have been had I heeded from the beginning. Lately I feel a need to move forward and live a life where I feel peace with who I am and the decisions I make but I have remained immobile. My foot is stuck in the gate.

Most of my life I’ve been too concerned with what others might think, how others might react, or who would say what about my decisions. Embracing my faith was no different. What will everybody say once they know I am Muslim? What will everyone think if I wear my headscarf around them to a certain event? How will they act if I ask for a Coke rather than a Long Island Iced Tea?

So I did not tell my family that I had accepted Islam as my religion until months later.

So I did not wear my hijab to the cookout because I didn’t want them to think that I had changed.

So I ordered the multi-layered alcoholic beverage and sipped on it all night as if I was okay.

But I wasn’t.
And I hurt, because I was being fake.
You know, living two-faced.
“There go ol’ Two-Faced Tasha.”
In a constant push-pull with myself it seems that I was rarely me.

I am reminded of this when I read the following hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad) reported by Wabisa bin Mabad:

I went to the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) and he asked me, “Have you come to ask about righteousness?” I said: “Yes.” He said: “Consult your heart. Righteousness is that about which the soul feels tranquil and the heart feels tranquil, and wrongdoing is that which wavers in the soul and moves back and forth in the breast (in your heart) even though people again and again have given you their opinion in it’s favour.”

~ Ahmad and Ad-Darimi

 

My problem was that I was too busy worrying about being in the favour of someone’s opinion. It’s laughable really, how often we allow others to dictate how we live our lives. Although I perceive I have conquered that aspect of my life I still find myself not fully embracing who I am now. Who I have become and continue  to strive to be. Not because I am worried about what others may think, say, or how they may perceive me to be. It’s not that at all.

My foot is stuck in the gate.

It’s hard to trust when you’ve been let down so many times. Family. Friends. Spouses. Jobs. Children. Expectations. Hopes. Dreams. Life. It can be especially hard to trust yourself when you’ve failed, made several mistakes or are always second guessing your decisions.  Even when you give it your all it may not work out as you had envisioned.

Recalling those moments of my childhood I can remember feeling inept, inadequate. Like, “what is wrong with me”? What was I doing wrong? I blamed it on my foot being stuck in the gate, but it wasn’t my foot. It was me. I was too afraid to let go. To just simply pull my foot out of that damn gate and hop over. I was afraid of the scrapes. I was afraid of the fall. I was afraid. Period. Kinda like now. So I unknowingly hold onto the clothes as a sort of metaphor. A way of implying that I’m still that girl who couldn’t climb the fence. Still afraid to let go. Afraid to trust.

Afraid to allow myself to trust God.

When I came to this realization I was stunned. Not trust in God? I mean the definition of a Muslim is a person who fully submits to God. I pray at least five times a day. I call on Him when I’m in need. I talk to Him. I know that He is the One and only Creator of all that exists. I have the outward appearance of modesty. I mean what else can I do?!

Let go.

Note to self: Stop going through the motions and live the life that God has planned for you. No I don’t know the plan and I won’t know the plan until I fully embrace the fact that I do not have control over my destiny. What I do have control over is making an effort to fully embody what it means to be a human being. I am not speaking about the physical shell but the metaphysical existence. My body is just the receptacle but my heart is what communicates with God. My heart is what speaks to me. My heart is how God speaks to me. I have to stop holding on to what I know, what I’m used to, what I’m comfortable with in order for God to show me the way. It sounds like a cliche’ I know, but it’s true.

I can’t be one person when I’m on the Eastside and another when I’m on the Westside. I would say that’s how people end up getting hurt; a pretender is usually easy to spot. Pseudo Spiritual.

Thinking back to my younger days when I couldn’t make it over the fence I would eventually get off, look around, and find another route. It was usually longer, dark and filled with protruding thorny bushes blocking it’s path. It was also a lonely path.

Once I had arrived on the other side though, I’d take one last look back at the ones who chose not to come before I ran like the wind to catch up.

 

 

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Series: 90 Days of Joy, Love & Gratitude (Day 2)

“We have surely granted you (unceasing) abundant good;
So pray to your Lord, and sacrifice (for Him in thankfulness).
Surely it is the one who offends you who is cut off (from unceasing good, including posterity).”

~The Holy Quran, 108: 1-3

 

According to commentary regarding the occasion for revelation pertaining to this verse, Allah sent it down in response to a man known as al-As ibn Wail al-Sahmi. Al-As ibn Wail al-Sahmi attempted to verbally debase Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), by stating that he was a man without posterity, or offspring to carry his name on in future generations. You see, the Prophet had three sons who had all died and during that time period it was looked down upon if a man did not have a male offspring to carry his name. Allah assured the Prophet (pbuh) in the 3rd verse that, on the contrary, it would be those person(s) who offended him (the Prophet) that would be cut off from His abundance and their future progeny.

One of the beautiful miracles with respect to the verses of the Quran, is that while there was a specific issue to address at the time it was revealed there is also a clear and personal understanding that the reader can receive for their own benefit today. When I read the first verse, it’s Allah advising that he has granted ME unceasing, abundant good; whether I am aware or unaware. When I do come to the realization of the many favors that have been bestowed upon me, the second verse is a reminder that I must show my gratitude by praying to Him and making sacrifices for His sake. I interpret that to mean that 1) I must pray, which may require sacrifices at times and 2) I must make regular sacrifices in my everyday life that do not pertain to the prayer. For instance, if I am working my 9 to 5 and it is time to pray I have to heed the call. That may require that I do so openly instead of in an area that is considered secluded. Therefore I had to sacrifice my privacy in order to show my gratitude to God. Think about it. If I didn’t pray because I was concerned about what others may think and feel, how is that showing thanks? How is that showing deference to God above all others? Instead I would be deferring to His creations rather than the one who Creates. That is what I would call backwards thinking. Just as silly as me thanking my brother for birthing me while my mother stands off to the side. For one, my brother did not birth me. Secondly, he has not the ability to even do so! Imagine how dumbfounded my mother would be. Of course Allah does not get confused or dumbfounded as He knows our every action before we even make it. He does not want for anything while we are the beggars in need. So me choosing not to pray does not take away from Him in the least; truly it would only hurt my own soul.

Of course making sacrifices for the sake of God is not limited to just prayer but to all matters of life. If you are striving to become closer to God you cannot do so without accepting that you are in servitude to Him. A relationship of Master and slave that benefits the slave as opposed to the master, as is the case within the secular world. You weren’t under the impression that slavery had ended, now were you? Yes it is alive and well all over the world. So why not be a servant for God instead?

For the third verse I must quote the Quranic commentary which reads: “… it (these verses) indicates the importance of loving the Prophet and the dire consequences of hating him as well as the idea that true posterity or legacy lies in belief and deeds, not children, for the Day of Judgment is the Day when neither wealth nor children avail, save for him who comes to God with a sound heart (16:88-89).” In addition to the explanation of the third verse previously provided, my interpretation today is that anyone who offends me, as long as I am a person who prays and gives thanks to God on a regular basis, will be cut off.

My insight could be wrong but that is simply how the Quran speaks to me at this time. Perhaps a few years from now I will have a vastly different perception of these three verses. For now I am content with the information I have expressed above. 

I am grateful to have the ability to give thanks to Allah for the abundant good that He has given me.

Yes. Yes I am.

#joylovegratitude

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