Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Grand Canyon


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When you visit the Grand Canyon, there is not much to do but hike and look. You can spend the whole day gazing at it, watching the light play off the cliffs and the shadows move across the expanse. Two days of looking though wasn't enough for me. The first time you see the canyon, and for a long time after that, you can only stare at it. If it weren't for the restless children, I would have found a spot on a cliff, brought my lunch, and sat there in meditation from morning to dusk, watching the shadow and light give shape and dimension to the canyon's peaks and ridges, an entirely different view unfolding every hour. It is so vast that it is unsettling, as if your mind has an idea how huge it is but your senses cannot grasp the proportions. So you just stare into the enormous chasm before you.

Every national park I visit, I find that John Muir has described it as though he has seen what I've seen and felt what I felt. He described coming across the view at the Grand canyon, "as novel to you, as unearthly in the color and grandeur and quantity of its architecture, as if you had found it after death, on some other star …"

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The naturalist in the visitor center mentioned that the canyon gets deeper on average by less than a fingernail every year. When you look at the enormous space and vastness of the canyon, and imagine that all that grew by fractions of inches every year, you begin to have a vague sense of the canyon's age. The drops of water, snow, slow-drifting glaciers, and wind all shape the canyon in miniscule, painstaking ways, yet have created one of the most enormous geological wonders of the world. I was reminded of one of the sunnan (ways or laws) of Allah (swt) on this earth--that of gradual change. Within civilization and history, even when things appear to be hopeless, immutable, or impossible, there are the smallest, subtlest forces of change at work. Grains of sand blowing against the rocks, carving away at the walls, creating a new landscape. Tiny forces of erosion are working to build us up or wear us down, within our own hearts, as individuals, as families, as communities.

Nothing is still, not for even a second. Whether we are doing our best to raise our children, working for social change, or teaching others, we are responsible for the effort, the sweat and the toil, the long hours and sleepless nights thinking, discussing, planning, and praying, "HOW?" And then the rest happens through Allah (swt) in His power and in His ways. For those working for a better place on earth, it gives us hope and something to pray for-that the winds are blowing behind our backs, that the sunsets are softening the hearts, and the rain is making the soil firmer beneath our feet.

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(In case this post inspires you to visit the Grand Canyon, due to the current boycott of Arizona over the SB1070 immigration law enacted this summer that mandates racial profiling and unjustly targets the Hispanic community, I humbly recommend postponing any visits to this beautiful state and national park until the call to boycott has ended)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sleepless

Sometimes I lie awake at night feeling sorry for myself. With a mixture of pride and self-pity, I’m impressed with all of the things I have to do by myself. I imagine myself self-reliant, strong, independent. I push away people in my life, because they have no idea what I struggle with and what I do every day.

I count my challenges and obstacles, my lack of any support system, my loneliness, my exhaustion. I go for weeks without a break, weeks without seeing or talking to a friend, and, even then, sometimes my long-awaited “break” is a trip to the grocery store. I don’t ask for help, because if ignored or slighted I would feel doubly trapped and bitter. And I would no longer have the illusion of stoic martyrdom to keep me company.

So, sometimes, I let myself go and start to feel impressed. I lie awake and count how many mothers I know who are in a similar predicament. I look at myself through the lens of an observer and feel a slight satisfaction at how they might see all I have to tackle on my own. In spite of how much I dislike it, I am unwittingly playing “Let’s Compare,” the game that makes no sense and leads to the worst places.

Then, somewhere beyond my garish, self-sufficient, and inflatable ego, I meet a mother sitting in the darkness of my bedroom.

Her child is sick. Very, very, very sick. She hopes that the pain she sees streaked across her baby’s face is not as bad as it seems and her only consolation is trusting in the mercy of Allah. She holds tight to her baby, but knows that he is not hers to protect. Everything in her life is still and at a halt, except for her child's weakly beating heart and her fervent prayers. There is nothing to be done but wait and bear it all patiently.

In seconds my thoughts are pulverized. I am jolted into awareness that my life and the sweet, beating hearts in the quiet house all rest between the fingers of my Lord. I dissolve into gratefulness, weakness, surrender, frightened helplessness, wanting only to flee to My Protector and find a safe place with Him. There is not one ounce of self-reliance, independence, or strength in me, and there never was or will be, except what comes directly from Him.

Sleepless tonight, I cry for myself and my children. I cry for the fragility of life and how close I come to forgetting to rely on My Protector. Sleepless, I dissolve into nothing but gratefulness that, tonight and in this moment, I am not that mother sitting in the dark.