Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Looking Up

A few months ago my friend Jamillah urged me to take a broader perspective in my musings. She said I needed to look up. I’ve been attempting to do that but was overwhelmed by the images from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Looking up was painful and harsh. It caused a lot of anguish the past couple of weeks.

I have written and disposed of words that spelled out both my sadness and my anger at the appalling rescue effort and the abysmal political mealy-mouthing of our so-called leaders. I ranted about the hypocrisy of compassionate conservatism and the real ‘Jesus’ of our born-again president and his minions…tax cuts for the rich.

But I had only to look up to what was going on with my son to find what it was I needed to write about. He asked us many questions about each and every aspect of the disaster and its aftermath. Honestly speaking, I found my ability to answer stretched thin.

Answering Robert’s questions about both the hurricane and why there were so many people still in danger was difficult. I almost always ended up with an answer that sounded like, “It’s the will of God.”

Speaking with a Catholic priest I revealed my ‘faith’ when I shared an answer I had given Robert about why God allows such sadness and suffering in the world.

I said that questions like that were important to us while we lived but that the answers weren’t always available to us. Robert asked me about a couple of my good friends that have died and whether or not they knew the answers and would I get a chance to hear from them when I died.

I thought before I answered and said, “When we die and get to heaven we will either have the answers to those questions or they wouldn’t be of any concern to us at that point.”

My priest friend said that my answer was a good example of faith. Faith, for those of us professing to have it, must surely be tested right now. All of us must surely be wondering about things, whether we have an allegiance to any recognized religion or not. But something came to me today that tests my faith even more.

I got an email that informed her friends and family that Jamillah has brain cancer, or, more precisely, she has a mass on her occipital lobe located above the back of her neck. She has endured more cancers over the last two or three years than I care to enumerate here and she consistently exhibits a strong faith in the Creator and a boundless resolve to live to the fullest in spite of her trials.

Jamillah is an exemplar of Islam, a person standing strongly against the stereotyped images of Muslims a lot of us carry. She has been my touchstone and sounding board for many issues, social, political, and cultural, ever since we ended our coaching relationship about four years ago. Since then I am honored to call her friend.

After reading the email, I told Sheila the news and immediately went into a funk and sadness that lasted a few hours. I wondered how this could be happening to someone so gentle, so loving, and warm, giving, honorable, spiritual, etc.

“Insha-Allah” I hear her say, by the will of God. It works its way into my consciousness until I find that my questions about her condition matter little to me in the long run. What does matter is being connected to such a human being and sharing with her.

So…looking up I see that I have a wonderful life. A great mate and growing, full-of-life children, challenging work and a quest to be more of the artist I know I am are the prime elements of that life. Learning more and giving more are my goals. In the ancient Chinese text, Tao Te Ching, I found these words recently:

Knowing others is intelligence;
Knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
Mastering yourself is true power.

When I got my act together enough to call her Jamillah sounded more at peace and stronger than I would imagine myself to have been in were the situation reversed. She seemed more concerned with me at the time, and very much centered, grounded, and calm. She recounted from her email the efforts she had already planned to uncover, and fight, this new challenge. I listened with awe and reverence to this bright, strong spirit as she spoke with confidence, courage, and faith. I marveled at her strength.

She would probably have told me that she gets her strength from her belief in Allah and His will.

I sense her power coming from her mastery of herself. She would say this mastery comes from submitting to the will of Allah; here lies a small circle of words in my poor attempt to not only praise a friend but to also expose my own attempts to have faith. Regardless, I am learning that in looking up there are many stories to tell, many lives to be touched.

Alhumdulilah…Thank God.

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