A Tribute to the Greatest

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

As I lay awake in this deep of night, I know that in just a few short weeks I won’t be seeing 2 AM anymore. Unless, of course, I’m on night float. But in these remaining late nights I want to pen down some of my thoughts. If you’ve tried to access the site in the last year, you may have noticed that it required a password. Frankly, I’m a bit ashamed to say that I censored myself out of the fear that this site might somehow affect my application to residencies. Though the content here is not very objectionable, I still ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the potential risk. I had previously prided myself on being candid in a public forum in the hopes that it may inspire others, but somewhere along the way I lost that. I succumbed to cynicism in conjunction with the opinions of others, but now it’s taken the passing of a giant to force me to 2amreflect once again (cue theme music)!

When I was in elementary school, I had to do a project on a famous influential figure. I am not sure what prompted me at the time, but I chose Muhammad Ali. I remember checking out a book about him (back when books were still used to do projects) and being fascinated by just the course of his life. Here’s a man who changed his entire identity, including his name and never looked back or backed down. As a kid I couldn’t begin to understand the ramifications of renouncing war even in the face of jail time and even worse the potential end of your career. But he did it as he did all things – with grace and a whole lot of flare. Moments like these are what make me look at my own life and wonder what I could give up for what I believe in. I’m reminded of the prayer of the Prophet (S) after he was stoned and insulted in the city of Taif when trying to deliver the message of Islam, in which he said,

‘…O Lord of the weak and my Lord too. To whom have you entrusted me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair? So long as You are not angry with me, I do not care…’

This other worldly mindset is what sets great men apart – the willingness to sacrifice so much for something bigger than yourself no matter the obstacle. It’s what made Muhammad Ali so special. There have been plenty of amazing athletes, but only one is the greatest. And it’s because he was the greatest in and out of the ring. It’s because he recognized that all the accolades he gained in boxing didn’t define him, but the way he treated people that spoke volumes.

So I can think of no better tribute to the man that he was MashaAllah (by the grace of God), than to try and learn from his example. There are so many facets of his life to choose from, be it his physical prowess, his steadfastness against racism and injustice, or his preaching of good character. Whatever it is I urge you to not just read or listen to the words, but really act as he did so that he may continue to live on.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon, surely we belong to God and to Him we shall return.

Happy [greatest of all time] Reflecting,
Naj

Balance (1): Impressionability

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

It’s been a long time, I know. I actually wrote the majority of this next post over a year ago, but never posted it because it didn’t feel right. Looking back now, I realize that what it was missing was context.

As I have done with the thankfulness trilogy in the past, I will aim to do again God-willing with my next topic: balance. I want to try and thematicize my life via these posts to both create a public sense of accountability and to better organize my thoughts to facilitate lasting changes. I can’t say that I have perfected thankfulness, but I have at least become a little more cognizant of it. And after all, can we ever really be thankful enough? Anyway, it’s time to add balance to the pie-chart of my life’s themes, please feel free to join me if you feel so inclined.

When initially thinking of the topic, it wasn’t just the last season of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, from which I drew my inspiration. I felt and continue to feel like I am out of balance. Specifically, I struggle with desiring/working towards what I want vs. what others want me to want. I touched on this topic previously in my first thankfulness post, but I didn’t know what to call it then. I now know that what I really struggle with is how impressionable I am, especially in the face of things I wouldn’t otherwise have wanted.

When I think of the word impressionable, my first thought is of kids. It’s a word I almost exclusively associated with children, but now as I think more about it I realize how impressionable I am and continue to be. For kids, it’s more obvious to see that when they hear something they repeat it outright, but I don’t think we ever lose that as adults. We just learn to process the impression and then repeat. It’s apparent to me in movies, especially watching in the dark huddled next to a laptop with headphones on. The movie changes your thinking, puts you in a different realm, and if it’s really good leaves a lasting impression. As adults, though, what we take in and leave with is guided by our pasts, but in children without a wealth of experiences they more directly imitate what they see.

For example, last year I watched Frozen (phenomenal movie) with my 9 and 10 year old cousins. While all of us watched the same thing, the impression it left seemed different to each of us. All of us were left singing “Let It Go” and “Do you Want to Build a Snowman,” but for me the movie brought about a whole host of different emotions because it was like sharing that same Disney experience (i.e. the first time you watched Lion King) with a new generation. It’s like its effects were compounded on all the movies of old, but for my cousins it was the beginning of a snowball that has yet to gain steam.

Also, completely unrelated, but I have to take this opportunity to showcase our ambitious attempt to recreate Olaf in my back yard:

snowmen

I agree – it does look exactly like him. Okay, back to the real stuff now…

So what really scares me, then, is not knowing how much I have unconsciously processed since I was their age. To what do I really owe my thoughts now? My family sure, my religion of course, but I’m also a child of 90s sitcoms. How much of who I am now was built off of the Cosby Show or Friends? Or the movies I’ve watched or music I’ve listened to? I understand that this is human nature and not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m still trying to grasp at the magnitude of this realization. I feel like I’m on a tightrope trying desperately to stick to my own path, not realizing that these things are the ones pulling me astray. Sometimes (including very recently) it gets so bad that I can’t seem to find the road anymore, but that’s exactly why I have this – reflection.

Some people use deep breathing and pretzel-leg poses to bring them balance, but I’m not that skilled. My meditation is a blank page and a brain that should’ve went to bed hours ago. I swear I didn’t start this post trying to arrive at this point, but somehow I’m always lead back to the same notion of stepping back and reflecting. For me, it just took a year and a half of not posting to see that my lack of balance was amplified by a lack of viewing my life through my own lens. Maybe I’ll never stop being impressionable, but at least now I know I can have moments like this post to straighten me out.

Happy [balanced] Reflecting,

Naj

Being Epic

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

I’ve been on kind of a movie bender for the last week. I’ve watched 7 movies the past 8 nights, and I just now notched the new Hunger Games movie on. I’m not sure what it is about Jennifer Lawrence movies, but I guess they put me in a reflective mood (see Silver Linings Playbook reflected upon below…) It’s not just the Hunger Games, though, but I suppose the lot of movies I’ve watched throughout my life. The movie watching experience forces you to center your attention on the progression of the protagonist, and it’s amazing that by the end you can’t really imagine how the protagonist started out. So much happens in that span of a couple hours that after it’s over you can never see the star the same. Even if you watch the movie again, you always see the protagonist differently based on the ending.

I can’t remember who said it, but I once heard someone say that they try to imagine themselves as the star at the beginning of a movie. While life might seem mundane now, you never know what will happen or what effect you will have on the world. Think about how many movies start with just a normal person who goes on to do extraordinary things. The Matrix, for example, starts out with Keanu Reeves just being Keanu Reeves and it’s only at the end that his character, Neo, becomes “the one.” The key is how we respond to life (minus maybe the fact that Neo gets offered a choice of pills from Laurence Fishburne…) Nonetheless, how we respond to those series of events gets us to the point at the end of our own movie where we look back and can’t imagine the way we were at the start. And maybe our movies cover the span of our whole lives, maybe they only cover months, weeks, days, 127 Hours. No matter whether we live one movie or multiple, it all has the same message. Every second that passes leads us somewhere, and though we don’t know where we’ll end up, we do control how we get there.

Have you ever imagined the actions you undertake being measured on life’s biggest scales? Sometimes I like to picture that when I do a simple deed of kindness, like throw away a piece of trash on the ground, I’ve become a soldier in the battle of good vs. evil. I let my imagination run wild for a second thinking of myself fighting off evil, littering demons- okay maybe I don’t go that far, but still I hope you get the point. Life becomes a lot more epic when you imagine the universal impact of the things you do. Sure, someone might have come along and thrown away that trash, but the trash being there isn’t as important as the response to what life presented. And before I take this analogy too far, that epic action could be anything – giving food to a homeless person, helping someone with their bags, stopping an act of violence, anything! How we respond dictates who we are and where we go, but in order for us all to live like a protagonist we have to recognize the importance of ALL of our actions. The sad thing, too, is that when you act like nothing you do matters, you stop caring at all.

How easy is it to feel like that dollar you gave to someone who needed it didn’t make a difference in their life? How easy is it to feel like the job you spend hours at means nothing? Or the subject you’re studying, or the project you’re working on. It happens every day. We feel like what we are doing doesn’t matter. But I’m here to say it does, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but how often does a movie end after a day? These actions, however small, shape who we are and how we respond in the future. And if you don’t believe me, just think about it. Do you think Malcolm X thought he would move the civil rights movement forward when he was out selling drugs? Every figure in history started with no one knowing their names. We all have the potential to change the world around us, but it starts with recognizing what we do and who we are as important.

And I’d like to end on something I heard from a beloved Imam in America, Zaid Shakir. He said (not an exact quote):

Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t change the world. That is something only YOU can surrender, but that no one can take from you.

Happy [epic] Reflecting,

Naj

Thankfulness (3): Gratefulness to Positivity

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

I was scanning through my two previous thankfulness posts to see if I’ve gotten any better at freeing myself of want or showing gratitude to my parents, and it seems I’ve still got a long way to go. Since it’s the blessed month of Ramadan, I have been doing a lot of self-reflection and I am a little upset at just how much I’ve allowed myself to be engrossed in corporate culture. I’ve always held the belief that people are a lot like sheep, (especially since the prophets before us were all shepherds in their own right) but it’s a very humbling (and humiliating…) experience to recognize how much of a sheep you really are. The realization came for me when talking with a friend who was describing a terrible Adam Sandler movie where he played a guy and his twin sister, and then I so aptly pointed out that it was called “Jack and Jill.” Just the fact that I knew the name of that movie (thankfully I’ve never seen it) made my heart hurt a little. To think that the knowledge of that movie might stay with me the rest of my life is a bit sickening, but only a small example of the kind of trivial ordeal we are faced with every day, be it from movie companies, team iphone, team android, or a whole slew of liquor companies. So again, I need to reiterate to myself what it means to be free of want, and renew my intentions to try and achieve that goal, insha’Allah. And as for showing gratitude to my parents, that’s always something I can work on.

Okay, now I’m going to stop and take a deep breath (join me if you want) – innnnnnnnnnn and outttttttttttt. Sorry, but I needed a bit of that internet venting time before I could wholeheartedly delve into the third installment of Thankfulness [APPLAUSE NOW]. It’s been a long time coming, but my blogging process has now become sort of a cross between having a good idea and waiting for a divine moment that crystallizes that idea. For this particular post, it was a video I watched recently in combination with a video I watched months ago when I first came up with the thankfulness idea. But before I show you these videos, you have to decide if you want the good video first or the bad video. I’ll let you watch either one first like a choose your own blogging adventure. I highly suggest watching the videos – they are 20 min total, but will make for better reflection experience… and they are great videos.

Good video – It’s a TED talk and I know seeing 12 min is a turnoff, but I promise this one is especially worth it.

Bad video – Only 8 min, is a social experiment, and pop science… what’s not to love?

Hopefully you have just finished watching both videos, but if not I guess try to keep up? I’ll address the bad first so we can end on a good note :). The thing that blew my mind was that in the monopoly game, the natural tendency for us humans is to feel like WE deserve more success and respect when we are more materially successful, even though the position of power was dealt by a flip of the coin. It’s especially poignant in the game because richness vs. poorness is directly linked to chance, but in life sometimes what separates social classes is simply circumstance. Were you born rich or poor, in essence, is a question of chance because we have no control over it. Even for someone who works for their money, they undoubtedly were bestowed good circumstances because I’m sure there are plenty of people who work hard but still haven’t been blessed with opportunity. The more dangerous outcome to that sense of entitlement, however, is that if you feel like YOU are entitled to more because of your material success, it’s very easy to start to think that others don’t deserve as much if they aren’t as successful. But isn’t it amazing that the “poor” person was found to be significantly more generous? SubhanAllah, materialism can be a poison, especially if you are not grateful… and oh what a great transition into the good video!

So we have the bad news, which simply and hyperbolic-ally put is that corporations are evil, money is bad, and that rich people are kinda jerks. But to borrow from the TED talk, dwelling on these will only further the pattern of negativity we’ve trained onto our brains. The better move is to do away with the negativity and to be positive, and as it turns out it is a solution to both the problem of not having enough and the apparent problem of having too much. That simple solution is gratitude. It is the path to positivity and as Shawn Achor laid out, the path to much more including better results in all facets of life, including work. The act of acknowledging the blessings we have is monumental! It’s a protection from despair and greed, and the essence of every world religion as I understand it. There’s a reason it is such a lauded quality, just think about it. Who are the worst of people? For me it’s those that don’t say thank you. If I held the door open for you and you brush it off like I didn’t do anything, that’s kind of grounds for me to hate you (just kidding… but not really.) It’s in our nature to love people who show gratitude to us, so why have we forsaken it from our own lives?

In the Islamic tradition, the word kaafir, which is commonly translated to disbeliever or infidel, also carries a meaning for ungratefulness. It comes, however, from the root meaning to cover and was commonly used to describe how farmers would cover their seeds with soil. It follows, then, that the one who disbelieves is as the one who is ungrateful, in that they both cover their hearts from the blessings and truth of their Lord. I implore you, whether religious or not, to not be one of the people who covers themselves from seeing all the blessings they have. For me personally, I am trying to adhere to the advice in the TED talk and every night before I go to sleep I try to think of at least three things I am grateful for. I encourage everyone to try the same, and at the very least even if I never cease being a sheep, at least I’ll be happy to pasture.

Happy [positive] Reflecting,

Naj

P.S. Shoutout to #3thingz for the knowledge in the last paragraph, you will all come to know what that is one day, God-willing

Moving On

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

About a year ago when I first started this blog, graduation was heavy on my mind. I didn’t write down my ruminations at the time, so when I actually made my first post I was already past the feelings of moving on from college. It’s only appropriate that now, at that same time of year, I try to revisit some of those old reflections. (I’ll finish the third installment of Thankfulness sometime soon, but judging by my current blog writing pace it’ll probably be around Thanksgiving…)  I’ve completed 1 year of medical school and college graduates around the country are beginning to face the “real” world, but more importantly I just finished watching like 20 episodes of the final season of The Office. The finale stirred up the same feelings I had last year at the end of college and embedded within this reflection is an ode to The Office – the first TV show I ever binged on in high school. Don’t worry, no major spoiler alerts to follow.

It’s amazing how despite the different courses our college careers can take, we all share the same feelings at the end of it- a mix of gratitude, sadness, joy, anxiety, nostalgia etc. But it’s not just college, the same feelings surface at the end of any great era – college, high school, 12 years at Dunder Mifflin, or even life. Every small chapter we live through can stand alone as it’s own entity, “college life,” “work life,” “home life.” They are all small microcosms of our entire being, so the end of each is kind of like it’s own death.

I was obsessed last year with the idea that the way I felt at the end of college was like what it must be like on my death bed. You know, except way less intense. It must be our body’s way of training itself to feel that same catharsis at so many different points; from the end of a TV series to the end of our days. After we move on from that climax of emotions, though, it seems like all of our memories are filed away in the same place, regardless of time. Try remembering something from the last 5 years, now try remembering from the last 15… do they feel any closer in time? Not really, so I can’t imagine that anything from 50 years of life is that much different either. From a religious perspective, I understand it as God’s way of reminding us that this life is transient. But from a worldly perspective, it’s a reminder that the memories we hold are only as special as we let them be. The best of memories are the ones we continually come back to – the ones that truly shape who we are. Sadly, however, our memories aren’t as reliable as we want them to be, so I’m proposing that we help our future selves out. Instead of letting our memories fade to the recesses of our mind where they might never again see the light of day, I say we capitalize on our catharses!

Of the most memorable quotes from the finale is one by Phyllis when she said, “I worked for a paper company all these years, but I never wrote anything down.” I am always a shameless supporter of reflecting, so you shouldn’t be surprised that now is no different. But beyond just reflecting, I underestimated the importance of writing. I regret not keeping a journal in college to chart my growth because while we’ll likely never have a documentary crew following us around for 10 years, we have the power to take little snapshots of our mind by writing our thoughts down. I assure you that having a quick journal is one of the best decisions you can make. Reading my 2amreflections and especially my private journal/ dream log (yup, there are reflections too personal to be hoisted onto the interweb) from this past year is like being able to see myself separated from my body. Some of the thoughts I had that were so important to me then mean nothing now, and others are amplified beyond belief. It’s just amazing how much we change SubhanAllah (Glory be to God.) It’s time we become cognizant of who we were, so we know who we are and who we are going to be:

Do not run through life 
so fast that you forget 
not only where you have been, 
but also where you are going.

– Author unknown (might be on some fortune cookies)

Happy [written] Reflecting,

Naj

Thankfulness (2): Parents

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

I just finished watching Silver Lining’s Playbook at the request of a friend, and like him to me, I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it (especially because it’ll make this blog post make more sense.) Thirty minutes into the movie when I realized it wasn’t the movie where Mark Wahlberg becomes an Eagles player (Invincible), I shifted my mental expectations and started noticing how special the movie was. Special not because of the love story, or the battle against mental illness, or even because I love Chris Tucker and haven’t seen him in a movie in while, but special through a different lens. It was because of how it painted the relationship between Bradley Cooper’s character and his parents, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. The movie is filled with familial strife as they struggle to deal with both the father and son’s mental illness, but no matter what the parents are there for their son every step of the way. They might not know the perfect thing to say or the right thing to do, but they are there nonetheless. And isn’t that such an easy blessing to overlook? Just the social support given to us by the 2 people who brought us into this world.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about my mom and dad ever since I dreamt up this blog last summer, but I could never verbalize what they mean to me. I’ve often reflected about how so many different people can say things like, “I have the best mom in the world,” or can buy “World’s #1 Dad” mugs and really mean it. Surely not everyone can have the best mom or best dad, especially when my parents provide such stiff competition. But then I started thinking.. maybe everyone can say it sincerely and can be right – it’s a testament to just how important our parents are to us. Anyone who has experienced a mother’s love has the right to say she is the best in the world because it’s just that divine. Think of the purest image you can, and if I’ve successfully incepted you thus far then hopefully it’s something like this: mother-and-child-1902Maybe you pictured them in white, but hey it’s Picasso. I can’t begin to comprehend the love a mother has for her child (especially since I’m not a parent), and biologically I don’t think I’m even capable of expressing it. All I can say for sure is that I know it when I see it, and Alhamdullilah I see it whenever I go home.

The thing that amazes me most, though, is that there’s no perfect roadmap for parents. Most of them just make it up as they go along. And as scary of a thought as that is, it seems to work. As a kid it always seemed like my dad knew everything and that my mom knew what to do in any situation, but only as I got older did I realize that they don’t have all the answers. They make mistakes too. Most of what they know about parenting they learned from watching their parents, and just like them most of what I will do as a parent (God willing) will be because of them. Unfortunately, that’s why people who grow up in a broken home are more likely to have a broken home when they start a family. It’s crazy how in order to learn about Math, English, and History we take classes for almost 2 decades (only to forget most of what we learn), but in order to be good parents there are 0 mandatory classes. That’s just another reason to be thankful for our parents, though. No one can fully prepare them for the responsibility we children are, but we’re blessed when they give it their all anyway.

A little while back, I watched an amazing lecture by Imam Khalid Latif where he talked about showing gratitude, and specifically how he struggled to convey that gratitude to his mother (starting at 13:40, but I’d recommend watching the whole thing.) He acknowledged everything she did for him, but for some reason couldn’t tell her face to face how much she meant to him. So he wrote her a letter. After watching, I tried to thank my mom for all that she does for me, and I couldn’t do it either. So I too vowed to write a letter to both my parents thanking them for all that they do for me. Here’s an excerpt from the letter to my father:

I’m thankful for the genes you gave me, Waseem definitely means handsome and Biology has always been a breeze.

I’m thankful for our guy trips to Ocean City together.

I’m thankful for the countless times you’ve made me laugh or you’ve made others around laugh.

I’m thankful for the days when we watch football together and you always know what the penalty is.

I’m thankful for how you taught me what gup shup is.

I’m thankful that no matter when in my life, you’ve always been there for me…

I’ve finished the letter to my dad, but I don’t even know where to start for my mom. I plan on writing one for her still, but until that time I hoped to inspire anyone reading this to express their gratitude towards their parents. Whether it be a letter or simply saying thank you, just knowing their kids appreciate them is a joy for any parent. So go now, don’t delay! In the wise words of Kanye (don’t worry – it’s pre-Kardashian), “People never get the flowers while they can still smell ’em.”

Happy [grateful] Reflecting,

Naj

Thankfulness (1): Free of Want

Bismillah (in the name of Allah)…

Humans are creatures of habit. As you may have noticed my blog posts usually start with some reason as to why I haven’t had a chance to write something recently. Usually it’s med school related, and this time isn’t much different… except that Halo 4 is also a culprit. What’s worse, though, is that I started off being apologetic for not blogging in a week, then a couple weeks, and now a couple months. I suppose that’s just how life goes, but sadly the lack of posts is indicative of a general lack of reflecting time. Now that holiday season is in full effect and school is off, it’s time to change all that!

This post comes as the first in a 3 part series on thankfulness. It’s something I’m sure we’ve all been thinking about since Thanksgiving, leading into Christmas, and most importantly after we survived the “apocalypse.” It’s crucial we always count and recount our blessings, but sometimes we get so caught up in what we don’t have that it’s hard to appreciate what we do have. It’s especially hard when the things we don’t have or can’t have are sensationalized when presented to us. I only became conscious of my desire for more because of recently seeing this:

shanghai

I’d be really impressed if you were able to tell that this is the Shanghai skyline, but even more impressed if you knew where I saw it. Give up? It was in Skyfall, in a scene that most people probably don’t remember, but one that really defined James Bond in my head. It’s when he gets to Shanghai and is doing laps in a rooftop pool of a skyscraper that basically overlooks this view. In addition to appealing to my love of rooftop pools and bright lights, the scene encompasses so much of why I would love to live a life like 007 – beautiful women, international travel, endless spending. Nevermind that he’s constantly unhappy and always in danger, my mind focuses on what he has that I want. After seeing that scene, my heart was consumed with being able to swim in that pool, having enough money to not worry about 5 star trips, and all the glamorous territory that comes with being an international superstar. It took a couple of days of daydreaming, but eventually after the Skyfall spell wore off I began to ask myself, how much is too much?

I’m all for people struggling to move up in the world and live a better, more comfortable life, but sometimes our desires for luxuries becomes too enslaving. It stretches from always wanting the latest gadget when the one you have works just fine to wasting food to toiling away just to get a bigger or badder car or house or whatever. We often hear how we shouldn’t complain, how there are starving kids in Africa, but that’s usually just a transient feeling of guilt. I think it should be a mentality. It shouldn’t just take a late night commercial showing children so thin you can nearly see through them to render our compassion. There were homeless people on my walk back from watching Skyfall, but I was more concerned with chasing dollars than sparing one for someone truly in need.

Admittedly, it’s hard to always be conscious of what others don’t have and to always be satisfied with what you do have, but at least personally, something has got to change. I think the commercialism in our society is partially to blame, but it’s also in our natures. The best of creation, Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him) said, “If the son of Adam were given a valley full of gold, he would love to have a second one; and if he were given the second one, he would love to have a third, for nothing fills the belly of Adam’s son except dust. And Allah forgives he who repents to Him.”

One of my life dreams is to God-willing have a beach house in the South of Spain (and with their crisis now would be a perfect time to buy!) and while I’m not quite ready to give that one up, I think I am ready to start making small changes to free myself of want. It starts with realizing, like in the quote above, that these worldly possessions will never fulfill you. I know that’s easy to say and hard to live by, but I’ll repeat it so that maybe it’ll stick – worldly possessions will never fulfill you. It’s why the rich can feel hollow and the poor (like those kids in Africa) can be content.

The change always has to start within first and with baby steps, so if you, like me, want to free yourself of want, then I urge you to stop and think about what you want and why you want it. Then think about if it will truly satisfy you. Whether it be a rooftop pool in Shanghai or a new Christmas gift, it never hurts to take a second and reflect.

Happy [free of want] Reflecting,

Naj