A String of Pearls
Eid Mubarak everyone! I honestly can’t believe that the month went by so quickly. It seems to go by faster and faster every year – but perhaps just a side effect of aging.
This is the last of my Ramadan reflections, though I am hoping to continue writing more regularly, perhaps even continuing to tie my writing to the names of Allah. It’s been a helpful and rewarding process for me, one that has allowed me to work through some of my own thoughts and struggles in my life and work. I am grateful also to those of you who have reached out to tell me that you’ve found the reflections helpful too – it’s always good to know we are not alone in how we think and feel, and sometimes having someone reflect that back all we need.
It is perhaps fitting then that the snowflake for today’s reflection is al-Shakur, Allah who receives our gratitude and multiplies our blessings. It’s also the perfect focus for a piece about Eid al-Fitr, the day(s) on which we mark the end of Ramadan. For me, Eid is a time of family and food, laughter and love, and it has been all these things, even in this strange period (albeit in different ways). But one the most consistent features of Eid for me is gratitude.
Ramadan is such a unique time, filled with challenges – bodily challenges of hunger and fatigue if we are fasting, but also personal challenges, like trying to be kind to people who we find difficult, being more aware of how we treat ourselves, and working towards a stronger relationship with the divine. And none of that is easy. In the stillness and contemplation of Ramadan, we are often confronted by our inner demons, our sorrows and secrets, the things we manage to avoid in the hustle and bustle of everyday life; but somehow the hunger and the extra prayers and even just the awareness that this month is somehow supposed to be different tends to sharpen our consciousness of all our dark places and difficulties.
And yet, it can also be a time of great joy, a time when we find we are able to deepen our engagements to ourselves, to one another, and to Allah. In many ways, Ramadan perfectly encapsulates what Gibran says:
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
This Ramadan has been like that for me – a bundle of sorrow and joy and gratitude that has filled me to bursting. Especially Ramadan in a pandemic, so separated from the normal activities of the month, I have found myself working through some of my dark places, but also cherishing moments of deep joy, and I have noticed that they are often related to the same things, a parallel that fills me with both wonder and gratitude. It’s amazing how fine the lines are between the dark and the light in our lives, and how blurry the line can sometimes become.
But that awareness has also made me especially mindful of how much cultivating joy really is a practice. Ramadan makes me so much more sensitive to joy – it makes me cherish every bite of food, every sip of chai, every last minute of sleep. It builds in me a deep sense of gratitude for every single ounce of joy I can extract from my life, and I find myself constantly saying shukranlillah and alhamdulillah, even for the things that normally drive me up the wall.
In this way, Ramadan has helped to remind me that happiness is not what we often think it is. It is not a thing we can chase or a thing we accomplish. It comes not from creating perfect moment or a perfect life, but from stringing together all the small moments of joy and gratitude – the breeze on your skin, the birds in the morning, your kids calling you from the street to come out and play, the random message from an old friend. All of those minute, little, seemingly insignificant things that, in the end, become the important things, pearls of truth and clarity on our string of life.
This is a truth I think we know instinctively, a truth that has become all the more clear of late, but it is one we often forget. I find this is especially true for those of us who struggle with our mental health – we seem to always be wishing and waiting for a time when we won’t feel sad or anxious or angry or the hundred other things we feel in a day. And while it is possible that day will come for some of us, for most of us, we have to find a way to live and make meaning in spite of our struggles. And that means sucking out every last drop of joy we can get from our lives, every small pleasure, every little moment of calm, and letting them fill us with gratitude. It’s not an exact science. I’m not even sure it’s the right approach. But it’s what I find myself thinking at the end of every Ramadan, and this one more than most.
So, to mark this Eid, I want you to close your eyes and think of one thing that made you happy today. It doesn’t have to be big – the warmth of your morning cup of coffee, the smell of the lilacs blooming outside, the way the sun falls just so on your couch cushion. Hold that moment. Let it fill you. Drink in it. Notice the fullness of it, the way it creates a feeling of thankfulness. And add it to your string of pearls.
Today, my pearl is all of you. Thank you for reading along and for walking with me on this journey through Ramadan. I hope you’ll keep following the blog and sending me your thoughts.
ps. in case you're wondering about the chai & duas, the saying comes from one of my fav mugs (made by @hafsacreates on Etsy)