A Year and a Broken Heart

Eren Cervantes-Altamirano

Eren Cervantes-Altamirano

I keep telling myself that Allah has a plan for me. I don’t doubt it… but that human instinct that drives me towards impatience is quite prominent these days. I was 16 when I had my first experience with death. My grandfather, whom I barely knew, passed away after years of battling cancer. I felt sad for my mother, who had a strong connection to him, but I was not overwhelmed with emotion. Then, 10 years later, Saad passed away.

I can’t really explain to you what I felt. I was numb, I was anxious, and I felt betrayed and abandoned. I barely slept for the first three weeks, and then I overslept for several months. I dreaded the uncertainty that had suddenly befallen my life. A year later, I still do. My life is, as I often say, “up in the air” right now.

June 19th will always be a dark day for me. The day that I not only lost my life partner, but that I truly had to rethink the whole notion of “Allah’s plan.” I am convinced Allah wants to teach me something. How, when, why and what are still a mystery to me.

The lesson that prevails so far is that the transformation of such an intense connection, like the one I had with Saad, leaves a mark on the living. Ritual is the way to healing, my grandmother said. That’s why we held a Muslim ceremony a week after his passing; honoured him with flowers every week for the first six months as our tradition from Southern Mexico dictates; remembered him with a six-month memorial; and evoked him with the traditional Day of the Dead Mexican rituals.

Nevertheless, you never get rid of the scar. In fact, that’s the first thing my mother told me after Saad’s passing. How, then, do you move forward? How do you move on with a broken heart, a scarred memory and an uncertain future?

My first endeavours into “moving forward” were attempts at dating. Six months and several bad dates later, I will tell you… the Western world and its understanding of love and relationships do not seem to be made for “broken” people like me.

Saad was Saudi (and yes, I have heard all kinds of reactions to this). It took us awhile to understand each other’s cultural codes, perceptions, and stereotypes. In fact, our first conversations were flooded with the sentence, “In my country…”

These days, after eight years of living in Canada and having a relationship with a non-Mexican, I am neither from here nor from there. I have trouble navigating the cultural, social and religious differences between non-Muslim Canadians, Muslims and Mexicans (of course, the categories aren’t all-encompassing). Let me illustrate:

In one instance, I sat down with a fellow Mexican for coffee. We grew up in the same city. But that’s about all we had in common. As interested as he may have been in me, I could not handle it. He started off by telling me that he was a Christian missionary trying to counter the expansion of Islam around the world (!). He continued, asking me how much money I make, because, you know, Mexican men like to make more than their spouses (Marriage? Excuse me?). He then presented an uninvited “critique” of feminists by calling us “men bashers.”

The cherry on top? After asking me about my past, he told me, “Some of us are blessed, that’s why even though I have been in many car accidents, I am still alive.” That’s when I realized, that my brokenness is invisible, intangible, and overrated for many people.

In another example, I went for “drinks” with a white, non-Muslim Canadian guy. Even though he knew beforehand that I do not drink, he asked my reasons for refraining. After finding out that I was Muslim, he was confused. Apparently, one cannot have a Latin American background, live in Canada, and be Muslim at the same time. After fifteen minutes it was obvious it would not work out: he was too concerned that I was not “Westernized” enough (i.e., no drinking or premarital sex), and I was troubled by his white privilege-laden attitude.

Such an experience made me overtly aware of my “otherness” and the assumptions that mainstream Canadians hold about both Muslim and Latin American women: the burqa-wearer and the bombshell. These two are fixed characteristics, apparently, that define who we are and how we behave.

Later on, I was approached by a Muslim “brother,” who took me out for coffee. He wanted to know all about my breeding, my past, and my views on the “roles of Muslim wives.” It did not matter that he grew up in Canada (some people thinks that makes a difference), or that he was working towards a PhD. He was uncomfortable with the fact that I am the only Muslim in my family and he was annoyed with my previous relationship. But at the end of the day it came down to: “I need a Muslim woman who has my back while I follow my dreams.” To which I said, “Thank you, but I have dreams of my own.”

Thus, I’ve become overly aware of my identity, my past and my practices. Every time I go through one of these experiences, my memory takes me back to an imam, who after Saad’s passing  – three days after, to be exact – offered to “find me” a husband. The imam persisted for months until finally, in January, I agreed.

“Find me the kind of man I want to be with.” I said, and then told him exactly what kind of person that was.

“Your expectations are too high, sister,” he replied.

“Are you telling me that I am not worth it?” I asked.

The Imam finally gave up.

The thing is – it’s not about expectations. It’s about who I am. It is about my brokenness. I can’t stop being Latin American. I can’t backtrack on my discovery of Indigenous identity. I can’t pretend that I don’t feel Muslim. I can’t deny that I am a foreigner in this land. And I can’t neglect my still-standing responsibilities to Saad’s memory (which, according to the matriarchs in my family, follow you forever), and to the past eight years of my life with him.

So it appears that I close the one-year cycle of Saad’s passing by being a much more complex person than I was before. Perhaps this is Allah’s plan… Perhaps that’s all Allah wants me to learn: that my brokenness is complex and that it is okay. Not everyone will appreciate it, but it is there at the core of my experiences and my identity.

Read more from Eren on our site, here.

Eren Cervantes-Altamirano is an Indigenous-Latin American convert to Islam. She is currently working on her MA in Public Administration (supposedly). Eren’s blog Identity Crisis focuses on her multiple identities and how to reconcile them when they are at odds with each other. She also blogs at Muslimah Media Watch. When she is not writing, Eren can be found baking, knitting and sewing and oh yeah… dating. Follow her at @ErenArruna.

4 Comments on “A Year and a Broken Heart”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I really loved reading this post. I too, am other. I’m a Muslim, but my family is South American (Guyanese, to be exact). I had, what I thought, was the most amazing connection with a Muslim brother that I met in school, but things never got serious, because apparently I was “not Muslim enough” or the right culture for him or his family. I felt like I would never love again, and sometimes, I still struggle with the fact that it seems that Allah does not have a spouse in the future for me. But then, one day my aunt framed it in an interesting way. She said, “You are one of a kind. You can’t have just anyone. And clearly Allah swt is taking his time, molding some young man into the perfect match for you, who will meet and exceed all the expectations you have and together you can journey in Islam”. I really want to believe that this is true and inshaAllah, will happen soon, but at the end of the day, it’s all in Allah’s hands. Que sera sera! Best wishes sister!

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