I have to stop writing to you like this… in tears
I think years can be described as the great battles that take place within them. The internal ones with self that lead to personal growth; and the other ones with the World and fate that we have no choice in fighting.
Last year, my great battle was against the fear of uncertainty. I found myself fighting to not feel uncertain, scared to lose all the comforts of life that I had. A stable income, a comfortable room in my parent's house and having someone else make the call on what work I was going to do. The fear of uncertainty is the fear of losing comfort.
What that fight represented for me in my career and in my person was stagnation. I couldn't see my life progress in any real direction if I continued doing what I was doing at the time. I felt like I had come to a halt and I feared that to move forward I’d need to embrace uncertainty. At the beginning of 2020, I wrote what to date still feels like some of my clearest writing, and in it, I foreshadowed what would come as the year wound to an end.
At the end of 2020, I quit my job and made certain mental commitments that in my mind weren’t simply an embracement of uncertainty but also an investment in myself.
Take a chance on me. Take a chance on the thing I want. Take a chance on being passionate. Let’s see where this takes me
2021’s great battle is with the feeling of uncertainty, not simply the fear of it. After 10 months of fighting, I am exhausted by it. I am tired of living within this perpetual state of uncertainty. I want to say that in this fight, I have won some things but I am finding it extremely difficult to see those things. What is however very easy for me to see (right now) are the things I have lost. Hope is one of the biggest ones.
A few weeks ago, my phone began doing this strange thing where it simply would not come on. Instead, it would get stuck in a boot loop. This lasted anywhere between a few hours and days. The last time it happened, I was without a phone for a week. I did all the things Google said I should do, format, reset, upgrade, restart. All of that did not work. I took it to the repair shop and got the price to fix it. This is where a spark of helplessness began.
What started as a small helplessness of not being able to connect through a mobile device quickly spiralled into many other things. I was suddenly awash with all the ways I was in fact helpless and there feels to be quite a lot of them.
This isn’t where I lost hope. This would be a rather miserly thing to cause the loss of hope. This is however what sparked this essay. Unable to do anything else to help myself, I turned to writing.
If you are a long time reader of my personal essays, let me first speak to you directly. I too look forward to a time when my reflections feel positive and grateful but this is not that year. This is not the year that ends with a review going over my accomplishments. This is not the year that features tweets of gratefulness and triumphant announcements. Perhaps it is unfortunate but more likely it is nothing.
It is nothing.
It is nothing that holds any meaning bigger than what I/you might ascribe to it. I have found myself repeating (mentally) that we do not find meaning in the world, we create it. Depending on how you say that phrase or how you internalise it, it can feel either like an encouragement to do great things with life or a nihilistic view of the randomness of the World. For the purpose of this section of the essay (about hope), I choose the second reading. The proclamation that there is no meaning in the World. There is no reason for why things happen and more specifically, there is no guarantee that anything will happen.
This year, I have adopted a form of hope that lacks the expected optimism of hope. I think that optimism is often implied with hope. That you are hopeful for the future implies that there is something pleasant in the future to be hopeful for. It is the driving force of my society. There is a better tomorrow, a guarantee of it even.
I have lost that optimism. I haven’t lost hope. Evolving this way has brought to me two things.
- I find it extremely difficult to express what it means to have unoptimistic hope. Or to distinguish it from what other people think I am describing.
- I am sorry. I am sorry to people I tried to force hope onto in the past. I am most sorry to you who I insisted on hope in the midst of painfully watching your father die of cancer. For a long time, hope was the only thing I had and I feared that life stopped when hope stopped. I did not know that people could live without hope. And I did not want you to lose hope because I did not want to lose you. Despite this, everything that could be lost ended up being lost, including the friendship we had.
I am learning new ways to live and be hopeful. I am specifically learning new ways to propagate hope when there is no optimism left in me. I am trying to learn what it means to be hopeful for the future without being optimistic about it. I am also learning how complicated my ideas of the world can be. Specifically, as is evident in this form of hope, that I can hold two ideas that conflict with each other directly. This spirals into my faith.
Faith vs Faith
I have always been particularly welcoming to evangelists.
“Can I talk to you about Jesus?
Sure why not. I am after all just seeing on this bench all alone hoping someone thinks I look interesting and speaks to me”
Coupled with catholic schooling, majority Christian friends and an encouraged curiosity in the bible, I was able to grow as a Muslim without being ignorant of Christianity. My position as a Muslim, my proclamation of it as fact, my practice of the faith, adherement to the rituals, all of it has never felt uncertain to me.
So when this girl walked up to me and asked what religion I was, the answer should have come as reflex as it always had (given the circumstance). It did not.
I was in Abeokuta that weekend when this girl walked up to me to invite me to her church.
‘I don’t live here,’ I told her
Oh where do you live?
Wait, are you Muslim or Christian?
A long pause
I eventually told her that I did not think it mattered. The rest of the conversation kept coming back to her wanting to know what religion I was. She did not go away from that conversation with a definitive statement of it. She did go away with an understanding (or at least I hope she did) that I valued the existence of difference over the specifics of what made the difference.
I have thought about that moment and the hesitation. I am aware that my faith has evolved over the years. I just hadn't realised the direction it had taken this past year where the statement of it did not feel like a light matter. I know that one reason why a non-answer was a better response for me was the stories that people create with your answers. I have always been conscious of those stories. Now more than ever, I know that saying ‘I am Muslim’ is too short to express what I think about religion and faith and belief. And this is where the conflicting ideas exist. They exist in this very messy place where cultural Islam conflicts with religious Islam. Where my identity as Muslim conflicts with my disdain for organised religion. Where my appreciation for religious hope conflicts with the many other aspects of religion. Where I believe in chaos and predestination, evolution and design, prayer and randomness. And most especially in a consideration that religion is more a product of cultural myths than of purported divinity.
And so I am a ‘believer’ with scepticism about belief. A hopeful person without optimism. And someone writing through glossy eyes, about some uncertain ideas.
*this is incomplete but it is one of those things that cannot be complete