Holding on to Safety

Today’s post is our last post on Safety, and comes from a regular contributor Esraa Mohamed. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries. Today Esraa ponders upon memories and friendships and whether holding on tightly to them, or letting them go make us feel safe.
Generally, I can’t really put down the things that make me feel safe, but I could rather elaborate on the things that give me hard time feeling secure. The 10-year-old me found safety in the materialistic existence of things and people. As a child, I never feared darkness or sleeping alone in my room. But I can vividly recall when my mum came to sleep over and how I used to embrace her belly with my little arm, checking every now and then on her breath in and out. It was as if death wouldn’t dare clench its fist through the dark while my arm is around her. As I grew older, I came to terms with the idea of death and it doesn’t freak me out anymore when people disappear in a blink.

A couple of months ago, I met a woman, a very dear soul to my heart at the hospital. We had been having physical therapy sessions twice a day for three months now, so I’m profoundly attached to her. And one day while telling her ‘good morning’, she shocked me with the question “Who are you?”. I couldn’t grasp it instantly and it took me quite some time to figure out what was going on. My eyes squinted with tears, thinking how could she possibly forget me? How things went blank out of the blue and later on I learned that she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Being the person who holds tightly on everything, taking photographs everywhere I go, writing diaries to archive each moment. This was total insecurity for me. How could one possibly live without memories? Who are we without memories after all?

Taking things for granted was the typical me, until one day I woke up to my passed away friend as blurred pixels. I sat at the edge of the bed trying to remember the way she looked like, trying to cling to any memory, any moment but I couldn’t. I squeezed my eyes, pressing hardly on my eyelids, trying to reconnect to anything but in vain. It was all gone and I was blank. I instantly rushed to the first piece of paper on my desk and wrote “2010: morning, feeling blank.” And since then, I’ve been obsessed with archiving every moment, every feeling. 

Losing a friend that I had taken for granted left a hole inside my soul and thus friendships became on top of the things that make me feel either secure or insecure and recently I came to the conclusion that there are two types of friends: those whom you blindly trust their leave. You feel safe because you know by heart that no matter how much life would shred you apart; you’d return back to the same point life drifted you together, smoothly as it has been before. You trust them with your place in their life, knowing that they can’t replace you by any other, so you don’t seek creating common grounds, asking about them daily and sticking to them much. Yet, the other type of friends scares the hell out of me. They give you a hard time by trusting everything. How could you possibly get more attached while their existence is a mirage? What if the common grounds came to a dead end? This love is consuming and reckless.  

For me a best friend is not necessarily the one we keep in touch with or the one who’s updated by our life second by second, but he can be the one we seldom meet yet when we meet we feel no blocks between us. A best friend is the far yet so close one.

Despite all that, I felt that there could be safety in Alzheimer’s from another perspective. I started to wonder why am I holding way too much? There is safety in oblivion, in letting go, in the non-lingering momentary things, living each day with no traumatic past, in being a neutron. And now I’m just trying to find safety by letting go of the things that scare me.

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The Blessing of Living

We’re pleased to share another guest post from Esraa Mohamed, who previously wrote posts on rituals and desires. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries.Today, she shares with us her own reflections about blessings; a blessing we all take for granted: simply being alive and healthy, breathing in and out.

Generally, I consider myself way too blessed, but sometimes life makes me too busy and I give a blind eye to all the blessings I have. Sometimes it takes loosing my breath to make me aware again.Cloud, Breath, Interfaith

Seven months ago, I had an allergy that took my lungs to the edge of a cliff. I felt death vividly inhabiting my ribs. And I swear I could sense my pleura gluing together. As I was faintly slipping to unconsciousness, I wanted to pick up my phone and tell somebody that I was dying. I wanted for once to tell somebody “Hey I am not okay, I need your help”.

I also wanted to hold my pen and scribble like a note of gratitude for the blessings I have taken for granted; my family, my friends, my health, even for the blessings I didn’t have.

My life flashed in front of my eyes, teasing me with the uncountable things I have taken for granted. And all what I wanted back then was one last chance to say thanks for all what I had. But my lungs brutally attacked for one last time, leaping the tottering guts out of my soul and I became too fragile to fight any longer.

My life dwindled amidst the agony of this night, so I sucked my nose into the cushion and cried God for mercy, for death, but even death was the tranquility that my situation couldn’t afford. I lost consciousness without any idea how did my lungs make it through the night.

I woke up to the morning breeze grateful to nothing more than being alive. I knew that I have left my lungs at the battlefield with all faith that they would make it for another battle yet to come. And I was really grateful for every little sip of sluggish breath.

Breath by breath, I realized that one of the biggest blessings that many of us, including myself, fail to cherish is simply the blessing of being alive. To live, to breath, even when it is hard, is truly a blessing.

Silence is Golden

We are excited to feature a guest post today from Abd Al-Rahman Wally, who is an Engineering student in Egypt. His post invites us all to see the wisdom we can gain by seeking silence in ourselves and our lives.

ما ندمت علي سكوتي يوما و لكن ندمت علي كلامي مرارآ

This is a very common saying here in Egypt, which apparently originated from Roman writer Publilius Syrus’s quote : “I often regret that I have spoken, but never that I have been silent”. Despite its popularity I honestly doubt that anybody actually uses it. Silence has been mistakenly understood as a sign of weakness or ignorance, but I think it’s quite the contrary. Silence has always been a sign of wisdom, and many ancient civilizations have praised silence.

No one, including me, can deny the mysterious aura that surrounds a silent person, but I could not find a trace of this kind of people in modern life, at least around me. I could only find them in novels and history books and when found them there, I was taken by them. I found that these people are often the most respectable and successful. These guys are the ones who come up with the greatest ideas, because silence gives them the time to process things correctly.

So I decided to become more silent. I decided to suspend my eagerness to react immediately towards different situations and instead to wait silently and have patience even in the simplest situations.

When I chose to be silent, I gave myself the opportunity to see life differently, to watch how people act and react with each other during different situations, to notice human interactions.

Now that I am more silent people treat me differently, and I struggle less during conversations. People now tend to ask me about my opinion and invite me to participate. Because after I listened, understood and processed, my opinions now make more sense and carry more weight. When I’m in a group and begin to talk, everybody just stops talking and listens to me, because I’m the silent one, everybody wants to hear from me.

I have also found that when I became silent I actually narrowed the area of mistakes in my communications. As a Muslim, Islam strongly emphasizes the importance of a word, and how people should weigh their words before spilling them. As prophet Mohammed says: “A word can mean the difference between heaven and hell”.

In addition to that, I really started to enjoy life more. In transportation, even with my friends, when I cut the chit-chat and listened to them talking, I discovered more and more about my friends, good things that made me understand them better and more deeply.

I can never forget the one day trip to Fayed, Ismailia. I asked all my friends to just stop chatting for 5 minutes, and just lie there on the grass. Feel the breeze and listen to the whispers of the air running to us across the Suez Canal. 5 minutes passed, another 5, and for 30 minutes we sat there smiling and relaxing.

If you are living in a big noisy city and have ever been to the wild, hiking, camping or whatever, the very first thing that you may have noticed is the silence, the beauteous silence. I find that silence in nature is always connected with beauty, peacefulness and serenity. It is that silence that I try to parallel in my daily life.

When Silence Must End

Keeping International Women’s Day in mind, our intern Nermine, has written this compelling piece about the silence surrounding sexual assault and harassment in her home country of Egypt. We find immense wisdom in her strength to speak out, to break the silence, and we are honored to share her words here.

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By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

Where I come from, we (women) are raised and taught that silence is just the other side of femininity: an essential quality you must possess as a woman. We are not to raise our voices. We are not to laugh too loudly. We are not to object too much, for a troublesome woman is less feminine and therefore less desirable. We are not to express bluntly what we want or desire, for audacity is a smear in your reputation that will forever haunt you. Our silence is always taken as our approval and acceptance, when in reality we often keep silent simply out of fear, helplessness, or a deeply-rooted conviction that this is the best we can get. I know I have been silent for all of these reasons, and more.

Being labeled loose or slutty is  the price we as women in Egypt have to pay if we chose to speak up and fight against this society. This society that taught us that domestic physical and sexual abuse must be kept behind closed doors. This society that taught us that this abuse is a normal part of our lot as women. This society that taught us that sexual harassment and rape are our fault and we must remain silent as these stains of shame will never go away.

It is a terrible fact that I consider myself lucky because I was only sexually harassed once. I was quite young and I never spoke about it. I shoved the memory out of my mind as there was nothing but guilt, shame, and helplessness. The memory has not been forgotten.

Looking back, a part of me wished I had screamed and fought, but I didn’t. But now I raise my voice about this ugly reality that women in my country are facing on a daily basis. Although lots of awareness has been raised lately, so many voices are still silent about abuse, harassment, rape and oppression against women in all its forms.

I know that sometimes silence can seem easy and safe; we think it will save us from more pain and help us avoid battles that we think we won’t be able to overcome. But this silence is poisonous, it is painful, it is haunting and it must end.

I salute all the strong and courageous women in my country and elsewhere: those who chose to speak not only for themselves but for others too. And my heart goes out to all women who still cannot and I pray that we may have the courage to speak up and fight even among the piercing eyes and pointing fingers that are ready to blame us. I pray that we may always know our value and our strength and believe that we deserve better, and I pray that we may together defeat this silence that was not our choice.

Unrealistic Desires

Today our writing intern, Nermine, responds to our Autumn Elizabeth’s post about unfulfilled desires. Nermine adds her own wisdom to the subject of desires, and gives us all a new way to look at our desires. 

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

I call myself a positive person; always looking at the big picture, the full half of the cup, the hidden wisdom behind all tragedies. My heart overflows with infinite desires; diverse, contradictory and often times even unrealistic.

I desire a world where harmony and acceptance exist; a place in which people would look beyond how I look or dress, where I come from, or which religion I’m adopting and try to know the real me and accept me the way I am. A world in which truth will not be silenced and injustice will not go unpunished, tolerated or worse accepted.

I desire a world, in which people’s hearts are more tender, more loving and generous, where their words are not painful, but healing and their faces glow and smile with hope and inner peace. A beautiful world of different colors, different tongues, different faiths, all living in harmony without prejudice or judgment.

In this brutal and an unjust world, I try not to lose my faith in goodness, in beauty and in humanity. I have this solid belief, not merely a desire, (which might sound unrealistic for some), that goodness and peace will eventually prevail, that truth, tolerance and justice will find their way back into our veins.

My visions can sound utopian and my desires unrealistic and I know that. I know that this worldly experience is not meant to be easy and trouble-free; that it is meant to be tough and painful to test our perseverance and faith. I know that without hate, love wouldn’t be special and sacred. I believe that we need lies for the truth to be meaningful and that without the tragedies, we won’t appreciate the blessings.

I’m also confident that God never burdens us with what we cannot endure. That’s why I believe that all desires are valid and also possible, even though that there’s no sign to tell me so. I believe in unrealistic desires.

Even if my desires are never fulfilled, I am still thankful, for those moments of peace, love and harmony, no matter how rare and short they are. I’m thankful for the warm hearts that I come across every now and then, which make the coldness and bitterness of the world cease, even if just for a little while. I am glad for the open minds that are willing to listen, to understand and to accept.

Mostly I’m thankful for the heart that still desires, that still hopes for a beautiful world, still trusts in a Generous, Just and Merciful God, and still believes that even though sometimes desires are unfulfilled and prayers unanswered, they are never unheard, and that despite what we lack, and what we still yearn for, we are eternally blessed.

Desires, Sex, and Love

We’re pleased to share another guest post from Esraa Mohamed, who previously wrote When Rituals End. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim and physical therapy student with strong passion for the universe and its mysteries. Today Esraa raises questions about love and sexual desire, and whether or not they are interrelated interrelate.

“Desires” in the mere sense of the word, are the fundamental motives behind all human actions. There are plenty of desires in this world and they often overlap, one simply leads to another. Yet it is sexual desire that often comes to mind when we hear that word.

Sexual desire in parallel with one’s need to food and water comes at the base of the pyramid yet one’s urge to fulfill that desire has nothing to do with behaving like animals.  Even when I think that I’ve finally reached a verdict in that issue I find that I am, alas, still stuck in the chaotic ground of desire, sex, and love.

Deep inside my rational voice has no problem with sex as a need. You want to have sex? Then go have sex. Yet, I’m wholly perplexed when sex overlaps with love. How do the desire for love and the desire for sex blend together?

Some say there is a huge difference between making love and having sex, some even say that love can’t be reached without involving mutual sexual desires, but I really never got that point. I strongly believe in platonic unconditional love, which excludes sexual desires from the whole equation.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation. You fell for somebody, you love every single detail about them and there is no way could you see the world without them. Assuming that at the middle of your way together they no longer fit your needs, Will you give up on them? And if you did. Does it mean that you did not initially love them? That you’ve put the urge of your desires ahead of your love for them?

If I were to answer that question then definitely I wouldn’t give up on them. As long as sexual desire was an extra factor in constructing the love, then its disappearance shouldn’t in anyway ruin the relation. I  want someone to fall in love with my soul, I want to someone who would go on loving me with the same potential when I’m no longer young and beautiful.

So the question is, what are we really talking about when we talk about love? In my opinion love is something much more sacred then simple desires, or the need for sex. Love doesn’t have to be involved with sexual desires. You love someone for their soul, their personality, for the idea of them as a human being.

But in the end, I have more questions than answers. Can love exist without desire? Can desire exist without love? Can sex exist without either one?

As a kid like many others, I too went through an “Oh-No phase”, when I could not believe that my parents actually had desires, had sex, or made love. I remember how puzzling and irritating this phase was, and then at some point I thought I had cleared it all up. Yet it seems like desires, sex, and love are still just as puzzling as they were back then; as soon as the blurry image clears up, something new comes along and fogs it up again.

The Courage to Start Over

We’re pleased to share a guest post from Aya Nejim who is a young English teacher with zeal to feed young minds and her own passion for knowledge. Aya lives in both Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Cairo, Egypt and currently pursuing her Master’s degree. Aya shares with us how starting over is all about the courage to write and rewrite your own story as you see fit.

Many of us live our lives without asking or thinking about things that make them happy, until something catastrophic happens to derail that happiness. I mean something that blocks the everyday course of action, in which we are usually robots functioning without stopping for a second to think.

Sometimes it is a loss of a friend, or even someone we don’t know; the mere saddening theme of death or loss. The notion that you know something or someone is gone and will never come back. Other times it could be something more trivial like a farewell scene in an airport or train station. It is in such moments that we actually stop for a second and start to ponder, to engage in a profound contemplation about our lives and suddenly all our dreams float to the surface. Right there, we feel as if we are floating through million clashing thoughts just like waves in a roaring ocean.

Well, for me the wakeup call was a very harsh year in which I lost almost everything; my job, my belongings, my income, almost everything, even my dad I was on the verge of losing him. He suffered from a severe heart stroke; I was alone with him in the hospital, watching him suffer while life being sucked out of him. There were moments when he didn’t recognize me or know where we were. I saw my whole life shatter in front of me, while all I could do was stand there in the middle, watching it all fall apart. My dad was my whole life.

There was a time when his heart actually stopped and I had to stand outside and watch while the doctors revive him back. I will never forget that moment in my life, I never felt so vulnerable or weak before. I started to contemplate on what meant the most to me in life and why? My dad is recovered now, but I looked around me and examined the lives of those close to me and realized I didn’t like nor want any of their lives. That was the moment I realized that I deserve better.

I wanted to start over but I was afraid. I fear it because starting over requires change and I have come to realize that I fear change more than death because I don’t know what lies ahead and thus don’t know how to act. Now I know that as much as it is scary to start over, it is also liberating and fruitful. So, I am not going to be afraid anymore to start over. If I won’t be the writer of my own story, who will? I feel I owe it to myself to be happy, to try and explore myself, to look beyond all these years that passed and re-live my life again.

Some of us are fortunate enough to realize in their moments of contemplation that they are on the right track and actually pursuing their dreams or that they are happy and content with the lives they lead. However, for some of us, tragic moments make us ponder about the “why”, the “how” of our lives. They make us wonder “what happened” to all of our dreams and what makes us keep postponing our plans. For a moment, I thought, what if tomorrow was my last day? What would I do? I could not stop thinking and that’s when I overcame my fear and decided to be free, to be alive, to start over.

When Rituals End

We are pleased to share a guest post from Esraa Mohamed. Esraa is an Egyptian Muslim, studying Physical Therapy at Cairo University. Esraa describes herself as “just another soul being passionate about the universe”. Today she is sharing with us her insights about rituals; family rituals, how rituals become “remember whens” and how rituals change over time.

Too many scenes floated into my mind the instant the word “rituals” crossed my sight. I was brought up in a family of four. I was constantly daydreaming back then for a bigger family, a family of six or something. But the bitterness of the small family didn’t weigh much, as our cozy rituals compensated that issue. Friday mornings were on top of all. We, the four, squeezing in the kitchen going back and fro preparing breakfast together. With that homely ambiance, we sat on a small woody table enjoying breakfast together, talking about everything in life. My father, mother and little brother are all I have for a family and those Friday mornings were all that we got.

Winter time. The air is filled with chilling, but warm breeze. 10 pm and I prepared my bag for school. Heading toward my daddy’s bed, I squeeze under the warm sheath, finding my way to his hug. “Hey daddy” I used to say and then I would end up telling him how angry I was about that friend who passed away last week without giving me a chance to say goodbye, and how much I liked physics and hated sociology. We used to make fun of my mum, making jokes about her just to drive her crazy. Daddy used to listen and then, kissing him on the cheek, I wished him sweet dream and headed to my bed.

It shook me to the core to realize that many of these rituals had become only “Remember whens”. I don’t know when we precisely ended up having nothing to say on Friday mornings or when we ceased practicing the other rituals? I always thought that I missed those days but I do not. I feel quite shocked to hear myself say that, but the moment I said it, I knew it was true. I used to love those rituals but now they are gone.

As I grew older, I began to understand rituals differently. Rituals are those deeds you would go on doing when everyone else has given up on them. They could be those murmuring hums before you sleep. Those solo hangouts when you are down. The rituals we come up with are what help us endure pain, so I try to come up with as many of those types of rituals as possible.