The Anniversary

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yesterday, The Anniversary

It’s been nine years.I find myself thinking and writing about it more than I ever did when it actually happened on 9/11/2001. On that day, I went about my daily activities in a fog, knowing that I’d never again want to talk about Saudi Arabia, Islam, or anything personal from that period of my life, except as a matter of fact and history. I knew I’d have to censor myself even more carefully than I’d already censored myself after having returned to the United States in 1998. As an American, I could move through society as if I’d never known any other, and no one would be the wiser. No one would see the holes in my heart, drilled out by the images I watched repeatedly on television that warm, September day, sunny, like today.

The events of that day amputated a cherished aspect of my life, and yet I am an invisible molecule compared to the thousands of people and families whose lives were obliterated in the most horrible manner imaginable on that day. I am a short blade of grass in these magnificent pastures of America. I am growing along the periphery, where shards of muck and the innards of America created a breeze that barely grazed past me as the buildings symbolizing America’s best accomplishments yielded to the suction of black holes of horror.

That breeze, however, scrambled my spirit, knocked me out of religion altogether. Islam became a cherished memory, and I’ve been walking parallel to it ever since. I’ve kept it next to me, safe, inaccessible to the rest of the world. I’ve wrapped the arms of my heart around it, not wanting to expose what was left of it to remnant forces of destruction. I’ve turned away from it at times, fearful even of my own anger, and my weakness, my moral cowardice.

I’ve spent the last nine years trying to cultivate the spiritual courage to attempt a reconciliation between the parts of myself I used to cherish. It’s not just religion that has suffered an estrangement. I’ve gotten divorced, I’ve gone back to work; those stories are already well-developed. The spirit is swelling, like an inflammation on the skin after an insect bite. It doesn’t feel good. It’s part of healing, however. That’s what these recent posts are about— healing. I’m ready to take the cure, endure the therapy, accept the scar. I will recover. America will recover, too, but not soon.

Agitated

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I allowed myself to get embroiled in a blog conversation with someone whose objective was only to inflame, ridicule, provoke, and insult. See:
I bent over backwards to accommodate A’idah’s points, give weight to her accusations, and maintain objectivity at the same time. In the end, I had to extricate myself, and I’ve been agitated for two days.

Why? What sort of emotional complex gets activated, not only in me but in many people, when religion is on the table?  This question seems more important than the conversation we’d had in the first place. The topic was Islam, of course. What other topic, these days, inflames to the extent that Islam inflames?

Islam is the third largest monotheistic religion in the world. It’s been around for centuries. Something is right with it. The best way to address troublesome issues regarding Islam and the West is to admit that something, indeed, is right with it. That “rightness” underlies all else, and needs to be acknowledged before any of us– Muslim or non-Muslim– will be able to purge Islam and cultures of the deviations have taken hold and drawn us all under the rubble.

A’idah and I were at cross purposes, and I knew it from the start, but why did I yield to the bait? The answer lies not with the conversation, but  with me. It goes all the way back to my conversion to Islam in 1987. No, it goes back further, to my rejection of certain aspects of Christianity. No, it goes back further than that, even. Maybe it goes all the way back to birth, when my cozy world spit me out into cold, noisy air and assaulted me with tactile irritations, blinding brightness and speed-of-light motion that induced a most terrifying vertigo, followed by prodding and rubbing and the shock of my own first breaths.

Then I heard my mother’s voice.

Religion is a response to birth trauma?

Does that sound far-fetched, or atheistic?

Even as a believer in Allah, I can accommodate the idea that religion could be a response to birth trauma.

Well, be that as it may, I remain agitated, angry even, at how Islam has been kicked and slugged and stabbed and blasted by people who take pleasure in the attack, who do not ask the hard questions, do not even pretend to dig into the substance of the matter, but condemn with sweeping verbosity, and polish their skills at sarcastic dialogue with bitter, lip-licking delight.




Meditation Behind the Wheel


I’m taking an internet writing class called “Journaling Through the Chakras.” I’m supposed to begin each writing session with a guided meditation on a particular chakra. So far, I’ve approached the meditations with curiosity and openness, but I can’t help realizing that my best meditations occur behind the wheel of my car.

I love cars; they hold a special place in my heart, and maybe that’s why I can meditate so well in them. I like driving alone, when I can  put my attention to traffic on auto-pilot. I don’t know how I do this. At times, I actually miss my exit, and don’t realize it until I “wake up” and wonder why I am still on the highway, or even wonder what highway I’m on…

I’m a good driver. I don’t understand how I can meditate and still maintain good driving habits, but I can. I do it spontaneously. I’ve been thinking for years that I should get  a computer or a recording device to keep in the car so I can preserve some of the products of my driving meditations. Maybe that wouldn’t work out, after all. Maybe then I’d really forget about the traffic and get myself into trouble.

Maybe the best value of driving meditations is that I cannot capture them at all without risking problems on the highway. They must then sink back into my unconscious where they can ferment until they find openings into my journal or blog or photography or daily activities. By then, though, their character will have changed, and I won’t recognize them transformed. That’s probably OK, too, because what is the purpose of meditation?

It’s not necessarily to craft everything into beautiful words to type on a keyboard and share with whomever happens to land on the page. It’s not even necessary to save for one’s own self as a reminder or an evidence of one’s intangible life. Meditation’s goals are more practical, even worldly. They are all about putting one’s life in balance between physical and emotional, intellectual and spiritual, social and personal. As such, the act of writing out a meditation pulls out only one or two aspects of the experience. We tend to focus upon those aspects that remains conscious.

They call us to attend a need, make something right, develop something that’s already right, or reinforce something that’s been right all along. What about the rest of it, the part we didn’t  write down, the part we couldn’t record? What happens to that? Maybe it’s not important. Some believe it flies out the window.  Some say  it goes underground and works behind the scenes, gently prodding us to respond to unvocalized wisdom. I don’t know. Maybe some flies out and some sticks around incognito.

All I know for sure is that I meditate best behind the wheel, and look forward to it every day.

My Two Riyadhs

July 7, 2010
It’s the metaphorical Riyadh I need to find.  It’s the place– more spiritual than physical, more emotional than tangible— that will do for me what the actual Riyadh did for me. This is the message of the dreams.
I’ve known it for years. The new dreams, however, are hitting me over the head, because I haven’t honored the original message. The new dreams have taken me back to Riyadh, but have shown me that the actual Riyadh holds no more substance for me.  I must find my metaphorical Riyadh here in the States, because here is where I need to live for now.
I’ve been there before– the metaphorical Riyadh, that is. I was there in 1970, in Texas, when I joined the US Air Force. I was there again, in Denver, CO when I quit the Air Force. Later, I found myself there when I went to college in Milwaukee, WI.
Then came the actual Riyadh years, twelve of them, that carried me over middle age and through sea changes I could have never anticipated.  As my father said to me shortly before he died, “Nothing is forever,” and that includes these current years now in the States, years of ennui after sadness, during which I have to work and live like an ordinary person.
I hope I can live in the Middle East again; my girls and I talk about it. Their husbands are open to the idea.  We all want the children to grow up knowing their Arab heritage.
I’d also like to spend an extended period of time in Italy, perhaps get my Italian citizenship.  My sons-in-law think it’s good to have two passports, in case the situations in one country become uncomfortable, one can go to the other place. There seems to be merit in this idea.
Anyway, if I continue this blog, I will expand its direction.  I will include posts that reflect my time in the metaphorical Riyadh, yet I will not abandon highlighting the years I spent in the actual Riyadh.
I might lose readers this way (those I haven’t lost already due to my year-long hiatus). Successful blogs tend to focus on one aspect of a writer’s life. Readers want to know what to expect.  We’ve all thought about why we blog, and what constitutes a successful blog.
I want to blog about both my Riyadhs, now, the actual and the metaphorical. My criterion for success is one– excellent writing.  No matter what I write about, I’ll write it the best way I know how, and that means I’ll even revise once in awhile!
Continue reading

Return

My blogging break has lasted more than a year. I’m not sure it’s completely over yet, but tonight an urge stirred, an urge to reconnect with my readers, the blog world, and ultimately to an aspect of myself that wants to reemerge.

This blog began as a method to chronicle my Riyadh memories, to keep them alive, share them, and draw inspiration from others who’ve built a few Riyadh memories of their own.

I also needed to explore the series of recurrent dreams I’d had for years– dreams in which I was supposed to return to Riyadh, or tried to return, or needed to return. The dreams always ended in frustration. I’d miss the airplane, or board a wrong one, or forget my passport, or… you get the idea.

During my blogging break, my dreams changed character. They no longer ended in the frustration of my failure to return to Riyadh. In this new series of dreams, I actually did return to Riyadh, but upon arriving, was never able to find my place. No one met me at the airport or took me to where I was supposed to go. I’d wander around, but I’d get lost because the city had continued to grow and develop during my absence, so I did not recognize the landmarks I’d used previously.

Occasionally, I’d find the neighborhood in which I was supposed to live, or the job I was supposed to perform at the hospital, but various factors prevented me from achieving the seamless reintegration I’d expected. Once in awhile, a man (faceless, without distinct identity) would enter the dream and point me in the correct direction, but I was never able to understand him or follow his instructions.

Then, I’d remember that I’d left my daughters behind in the United States, and I wondered why I’d returned to Riyadh without them. I’d feel sad in reverse, so to speak, sad that I’d returned to Riyadh without the pulse of my life which now resides in the States.

I didn’t need psychoanalysis to tell me the meaning of all these recurrent Riyadh dreams. My dream Riyadh symbolized the psychological and spiritual state of mind that prevailed when I lived in the actual Riyadh. For me, Riyadh afforded an atmosphere of exploration, discovery, enlargement, development and transformation, an atmosphere I’ve craved all my life.

The actual Riyadh, with all its restrictions and prohibitions, gave me more freedom than I’ve ever had here in the States. That theme needs further elaboration, perhaps here in my blog.

In May of 1986, during an orientation session for new expats to Saudi Arabia, a psychologist explained Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

He said, “People become expatriates for two reasons. They are either running away from something or running to something.”

Even then, I knew I was running in both directions.

Amazing!

This is amazing, especially for those of us who have already done the Myers-Briggs test. I don’t know how this works, and it works in seconds. It made only one mistake here; all the Myers-Briggs and similar tests classify me as an Introvert, which is correct, but this one calls me an extrovert. Perhaps my writing is the one place in which I can exercise extrovert tendencies, while in all other areas of my life, I am an introvert. Try this!

Typalyzer:  http://www.typealyzer.com/

I found it on Ruhas’s blog: http://ruhsa.wordpress.com

http://

The analysis indicates that the author of http://marahm.wordpress.com is of the type:

ESFP – The Performers

 

ESFP – The Performers

The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead-they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation – qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.

 

 

Analysis

(Here follows a diagram of brain activity while writing. It does correspond to other tests I’ve taken to indicate dominant brain activity. Sorry, I could not figure out how to copy the picture here.)

Cover! Cover! Cover! A Sort of Quiz

Cover! Cover! Cover! A Sort of Quiz

This post does not address the Islamic requirement for hair-covering, or lack thereof, (face covering could be included by extension). It’s about the emotions, reactions, and the psychological meaning of the practice.

Covering, more than praying, fasting or any other behavior associated with Islam, elicits strong reactions, and divides sister Muslimahs as well as larger groups, but why?

My premise it that the divisiveness of covering derives from the many meanings associated with it, not from the argument for or against an Islamic requirement. To illustrate this (and in the spirit of the popularity of the blog quiz!) I would like to hear comments that specifically avoid the writer’s belief in whether or not covering is required or recommended in Islam. Perhaps this request is somewhat analytical, but I think it will broaden our (read: my) perspective on the subject.

I won’t start off by elucidating my experience or attitude toward the practice, except to say that it has fluctuated.  I won’t even post any photos of covered and uncovered women, lest bias influence response.

Coverers: Why do you cover, apart from your presumed belief that it is a directive from Allah?

Non-coverers: Who do you not cover, apart from your presumed belief that it is not a directive from Allah?

Men: How do you react to covered/non-covered women?

All: Do you believe that covering is associated with increased piety, and/or with the society in which one lives? On what basis? How do your surroundings influence your practice of covering (or not)?

 

Passing the Torch

manta1.jpg My father is dying. The dying process began May 17, 2006– his first trip to the ER– and has accelerated during the last three months.

My memories of Riyadh have grown insistent as his body has grown weak. Many an evening, after having cooked, washed dishes, dispensed meds, walked my father to and from the bathroom, and made sure both he and my mother were comfortable for the night, I would ascend to my second story “loft” where I live and write. I would surf the net for photos from the Kingdom, and I’d seek out sites from which I could hear a bit of Arabic.

I’d work on my series of essays called “Vignettes from the Kingdom”, and I’d restrain myself from thinking I could ever study Arabic again, after all this time. Then I discovered www.naturalarabic.com, and I could no longer restrain myself. As the title suggests, the site brought me back to Arabic just as naturally as if I’d never strayed.

I found myself smiling, renewing my spirit for life, daring to hope that my life could absorb the blow of my father’s passing, and that I would recover after awhile. I found myself fully absorbed in the stories, the audio, the learning tools, and ultimately the ability of the human spirit to rally, to cling to shreds of meaning that can later be coaxed into the completion of essential life tasks.

This blog is not really about Arabic, Islam, Saudi Arabia or my experiences there. We already have many blogs and books written by people who are in a better position than me to provide that information. This blog is about tending gardens, nurturing connections, harvesting jewels and setting them into the shape of wholeness.

My Arabic adventure forms a matrix of sorts. By drawing the pearls of my past into the dynamics of the present, I shall craft a future through which the meaning of my life can express itself. I don’t know what that meaning is, exactly, but it’s about loving. It’s about my parents, my children and now grandchildren, my writing, my readers, and offering myself as a conduit through which others can discover what they need to discover, what will bring the meaning of their lives into focus, what will open their own channels, and strengthen them on the journey. It’s about passing the torch.

My father has already passed a mighty torch to me and all the others he has mentored and loved over the eighty-seven years of his earthly life. He has given everything he’s had to give, and is nearly empty of resources even to maintain his own body. For him, myself, my family, and my place in this universe, I must now grasp the torch with both hands, to keep it blazing, and learn how to pass it to whomever is worthy of holding it.

Return to Riyadh

800x600_pulsate1.pngAfter I repatriated to the United States in 1998, I began dreaming about returning to Riyadh. These were night dreams, and they all had the same plot. In the dreams, I wanted– needed– to get back to Riyadh, but I couldn’t. I’d forget my passport, or forget to pack  my bags, or pack too many bags, or miss the airplane, or get on the wrong airplane, or get on the right airplane but land in the wrong country.

My dreams progressed over the years. I’d actually land in Riyadh, but then lose my way through the city. I’d get lost in the neighborhood I used to live in; I’d encounter new construction that confused my knowledge of where I was supposed to go. I’d finally find my apartment building but could not find my apartment. I’d find the hospital in which I was supposed to work, but could not find the laboratory to which I was assigned. I’d worry that my supervisor would think I hadn’t arrived, and give my job to someone else.

I’d find myself in Battha without an abaya. I’d want to buy food but had no riyals, only US dollars. I’d want to phone my friends Asma and Sharon, but I’d left their phone numbers in the United States, or if I had the numbers, could not remember how to use the public phone.

You get the idea.

I recorded these dreams in my journal, and named the series Return to Riyadh.  

This summer, I described the recurrent dreams to a friend of mine who is a psychologist. She suggested that the dreams were trying to tell me something  important, and I wasn’t listening.  I didn’t believe her, because I could indeed go back to Riyadh any time, as a worker or a visitor. My repatriation was deliberate. Consciously, I was committed to rebuilding my life in my own country, but unconsciously, discontent churned, and it was all about Riyadh. Why?