Heartbreak and the birth of creativityPosted: May 9, 2013
It has never been my nature to attract romantic love, or to stumble into it unawares. The men I studied and worked with rarely interested in me, and I don’t believe I interested them either. I was discreet, invisible, unseen, unheard. I was content with being a colleague, a classmate, an acquaintance – nothing more.
It has also never been my nature to share myself with others. I have always written, but have been too shy to share it publically. The thought of someone reading my words was as daunting as the thought of someone walking in on me while I was in the trance of prayer, or reading over my shoulder as I wrote a beseeching supplication to God. Writing—like prayer, like sex—was sacred, meant to be shared only with those who are deeply loved and trusted. Instead of sharing my words with a giant, faceless public, I always dreamed of writing for someone: essays and poems about myself, him, and our inner universes.
Suddenly, one day, I was acknowledged as a woman.
It happened in an absurdly simple way, something other women experience every day. For me, however, it came eons after my previous relationship and a painful bout of social isolation. Furthermore, it came from someone whose intellect consisted of all the traits I craved but so rarely encountered. He was deeply spiritual, delightfully heretical, and profoundly respectful. We parsed films, music, philosophical discourses, religious debates, and even book manuscripts with ease. I started to feel that he saw and heard me in ways I had only dreamed about before. I was no longer invisible. In the eyes of someone I was fascinated by, I was an intelligent, beautiful, and creative Muslim woman. For a while, I needed nothing more.
But, after the initial bliss came confusion. Intellectually, I was taken to heights I had never dreamed possible. Ever so surreptitiously, my nafs became tethered to him. Intellectually, I experienced personal affirmation from an external source. Emotionally, though, I was in a dark place of knowing but denying that we were wrong for each other. The only form of love that had a place in my faith was that of mutual, sustained contentment and companionship, which I knew was impossible with him..
Inevitably, the fire between us collapsed unto itself, and its ashes were carried away with the wind.
After things had ended, I finally gave in to anguish. The self-affirmative freedom I had so briefly experienced was no more, and I suffered from a terrible desire to feel whole again. I had imaginary conversations with him. I rode buses, thinking about a religious perspective on a song I had just heard or recalling an anecdote from a book that aligned perfectly with a Qur’anic verse. But, instead of the joyous and connected wholeness I felt when we were together, I felt alone and despondent with my thoughts. Even though I knew that this was my nafs‘ attachment to the world, that did little to avail the pain.
Hurt and bewildered as I was, I accepted Allah’s will; I accepted that He knew what was best for me. But in my prayers, in my conversations with Him, I complained. I complained about my mind feeling like a prison, about having to suffer in spite of my good intentions. I asked: “Who is going to listen to me, now? If not him, then whom?”
My redemption came from the unlikeliest place, the place I had so carefully avoided until then.
Exhausted and haunted by the thoughts that I could no longer share with him, I started to blog. I had no idea if anyone would be able to relate to what I was saying, but I knew that even having one reader affirm what I was thinking would help me move past the loneliness. If spiritual and intellectual acknowledgement were what I desperately needed from the dunya, maybe writing was the way to go.
I was granted much more than I’d expected. I came to understand that it wasn’t enough to have just one person receive all my thoughts As I continued to write and draw steadily increasing traffic, I saw the diverse ways people interacted with my content. One stepped in for a post, courteously tipped their hat in the form of a generous comment, and left. A few came and remain silent, but devout readers. Others became cherished friends. I started to form invaluable connections. Opportunities blossomed. I began receiving books to review and was asked to submit pieces to various Muslim publications.
It’s been two years since I started writing. I am now not only seen and heard; I am needed. I have formed enduring connections with dozens of wonderful readers with varying religious and nonreligious affiliations. I won’t forget the circumstances of my initiation: heartbreak and severe spiritual isolation. The pain of that dissonance, of knowing that the world I live in will never come close to the world in my mind, is the place from which I continue to write and articulate my experience. Revealing my soul to the public was one of the most challenging endeavours I have ever undertaken. And I never would have done it if weren’t the only way I could recover from a broken heart.
My writing began as unaddressed letters to a man, extensions of the thought processes I ached to share with him. In the true spirit of bounty and wholesomeness, Allah granted me more than one listener, one reader. I pray that Allah keeps granting me that bounty. I pray that I continue to benefit from it in a way that takes me closer to Him.
Sarah’s award-winning personal blog, A Muslimah Writes, consists of faith-oriented book reviews and creative nonfiction essays on the contemporary experience of being Muslim. She is an Associate Editor at Altmuslimah.com