Dear Younger self,
This is not a story of the past. It is a story of your future, although I’ll try not to include too many spoilers. This is a story of you, and how you grew up to be your own protagonist.
I’m not old enough to be writing one of these – I’m 21. But who I am comes in waves, and I am riding my current before I wave it goodbye. I can see you roll your eyes now, stomping your foot and demanding that I tell you what I know so you can plan your life around and away from it. But if there’s one thing you’ll grow to learn, is that things never follow your blueprint; only God’s. And you’ll be thankful for it because He’s much better at planning than any novelist. Everything that goes badly is not you messing up, it is you lucking out. Every wrong turn brings you right, where you need to be. So your blueprint should be to construct trust in Him.
I know that you’re now reluctant to trust me simply because I am you… you were never one to trust yourself. But that’s the second thing you’ll learn: your gut is stronger than every muscle on your body. When your gut turns over, turn around. When your gut races, you must run. Trust me, your gut is God’s way of passing you a cheat note in His exam; take the hint before you take the hit.
Someone once told you that you need to be careful with what you write down if you want everyone to like you. You’d have to be extra careful, she said, because it’s really hard to get everyone’s approval. There’s always going to be someone, somewhere, who has a problem with what I have to say. Because girls are made to be loved, she said. Your self-presentation is your self-preservation.
That’s the struggle you’re facing now, isn’t it? You don’t understand why you aren’t understood nor understand the world you’re in. Why you find solace in novels because each word is measured, and everyone just figures it out. You’ll wonder for hours on end why the two-dimensional characters in your books have more depth than those around you.
But it’s my turn to write now; that it’s okay to not settle for lifestyles based on style over substance. That this instinct you feel, the desire for more than the status quo of your elite society, will shield your heart from the bullets of sin and superficiality. Those days you stayed in, choosing books over booze? The anxiety you get at the thought of exposing your chest? You know your sickened feeling when somebody is disregarded because of his or her family name? Or the pride felt by those due to nothing more than money generated by their great-grandfather’s sale of land?
Those were God’s way of saying, “you can and will do better.”
And you could and did do better.
You’ll start distinguishing what people want for you, and what people want from you.
You’ll change houses, realizing that it’s more about the people you want to come home to. The people you thank God for, who go beyond what you see. You’ll find a home in the humour of the girl who fights for her life. The boy who carefully counts his money but values his friends. The hard girl with a soft heart. The dancer with a strong resolve. The tall fighter who gives the best hugs. The broken family with open doors. You’ll find Islam in people who aren’t all Muslim, but who express God when their smiles reach their eyes and their generosity reaches the skies.
And most importantly, you’ll love the person staring back at you in the mirror. That’s the person you’ll thank God for most.
At this point, you don’t like yourself enough to be a narcissist or hate yourself enough to be a poet. You just know that you never want your life to be the kind of existence that makes it into the deleted scenes of a film: not extraordinary, but not fully ordinary either. Good enough to be created. Not good enough to be included.
But one day God will point the lens at you. Can you see that light smile you take for granted now? It will carry the weight of everybody’s troubles. And that God you vaguely recall now, searching for an idol? You’ll learn to look up to people, but only bow down to God.
You will bow down to God, and people will look up to you for it. Because “He is with you wherever you are”(57:4).
There will be failures when you will cry in your mother’s arms; there will be failures when you choose to shrug off your family’s pressure and do what you want to. I wish I could beg you to fail even more because the times you fall are the times you will find your treasures.
Oh, I wish I could tell about all the prayers you’ll have and the wishes that will come true.
On that note, I’m sorry to tell you that those daydreams you have about boys with strong swords and a sharp wit will slowly fade. You won’t let your heart get stolen by thieves who steal glances. You’ll no longer imagine yourself being carried down the road in strong arms. That scene has ended. Through observing your friends, you’ll learn to avoid the knights in shining armour. The kind who roam hallways, looking for girls to slay. Soldiers in a war of wits, looking to secure you to smother their insecurities. You’ll learn that boys look to profit from relationships, a venture where the girls never seem to break even. They’ll want to carry you around like a wad of bills. Bank on you. They’ll barter their banter, made to entertain. He’ll show his valour when he knows what to gain. But you are not a flower for them to pluck as they whisper, “I love you. I love you not.”
You’ll still believe in that one-drink-two-straws kind of love, and I hope we one day find it. But you’ll stop looking, and start patiently waiting for the man who doesn’t try to complete you, but who loves you completely. Not only when sharing that drink, but through the droughts and the distance too. I’m sorry to say you haven’t found him yet, but I’m happy to say that you’re okay with that.
You’ll instead entrepreneur your own life, dreaming of yourself in front of a conference room. You won’t retouch the sharp edges of your being to soften the blow. Because you are more than a surface to carry the heat of their gaze. You’ll fall outside of the boundaries placed by men who wear tight jeans and leap between women, still expecting you to be an island. They’ll ask, how religious if she doesn’t wear a hijab, how pure if she has so many guy friends? You’ll first appreciate that they take your virginity and put it on a pedestal until you grow to pity the readers who look at blurbs and think they know the whole story.
You’ll find that there is nothing freer than the Islam the people around you find so restrictive. A religion that tells people not to care what people think and that God will love them, what could be more liberating? A love surpassing looks; doesn’t the Prophet (PBUH) have no pictures? And don’t we love him anyway?
Your brain will use this confidence to shock the sceptics and silence the sexists. I have to warn you that people who are dedicated to helping bring peace will never have a peace of mind. You’ll find that rifles aren’t the biggest threat to our world, but posh boys with bright smiles and the polished women in pearls. You’ll learn that sitting on a throne means nothing without standing for something. Because evil takes the form of indifference, which makes all the difference.
You worry now about looking too strong. But your lead on paper is stronger than their lead in the flesh. Because paper beats rocks, and kindness and strength are not mutually exclusive. You need kindness to stand up to injustice, and you need strength to stay kind in a world full of hate.
You now speak fluently in their tongue, buying a vowel with money that is not yours. But you will refuse to be in debt to words you do not own and worlds you do not understand. You will refuse to buy into a lottery of human genetics, relative rights determined by families.
You’ll want to be judged by what you build, not what you buy.
You’ll realize that some people have no meaning when they have to turn hijabs into a symbol of oppression and beards into symbols of aggression.
Those who brush others under the carpet and vocally wonder why they’re being stepped on.
Sometimes you’ll wish you stayed childish, I admit. Because now you know that every number is a bone. Every bomb, a home. Every year, a tear. Every quote, a coffin.
So why do you read so much now? To inhale.
Why do I write so much now? To exhale.
It’s funny, the plot you don’t know yet.
But I can’t wait until we star in it.
An Older Wiser Me
P.S. Your mother’s always right. Save yourself time and just admit that now.
By Fatima Ahdash
By Amaliah Team