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Archive for the ‘Meanderings’ Category

Let it flow (part 1)

Posted by Yacoob on January 9, 2014

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With poetic inspiration returning to me at the end of last year, I thought it would be a good time to look back at some of the more creative posts on this blog over its history.

Since there’s nearly 7 years to cover, I’ve split the selection over more than one post – hoping to not pack too much in each time. This one covers almost 2 years: from 2006 to mid-2008:

Though the blog started back in June 2006, it took me more than 4 months to actually publish my first poem (A bird’s eye view) – an ode to my favourite hangout spot, which I’d often go to, to escape the rigours of everyday life. World-view was a rant against the consumerist, information-flooding tone of society, and that was followed by One year on – which reflects much of my perspective towards the youth – and their future – at the university I was working at during that period.

Reliance is – by far – my favourite piece ever, because it perfectly encapsulates the multi-year struggle I went through in my quest for love and marriage. I hope the message is timeless, and hope that it can continue to inspire all those single people that are still trying to find their other halves. The sequel, Dedication, came 5 months later – when I was on the verge of marriage – hence ending the most emotionally-difficult period of my life. Childhood also came in that period – a reflection on how innocence was corrupted, yet hope remains for the next generation.

Rise was inspired by my time watching sunrises from outside my home – a beautiful, peaceful habit that unfortunately has become a thing of the past. Rooftops was a pleasant surprise, coming to me in a few minutes I had to wait in the car for someone; while You suck! was in the same vein as World-view  –  in that it was a rant, though this time against the news industry.

The inspiration doesn’t come much anymore, but with this post, I just wanted to highlight what’s come to me in the past. Hopefully, by reading these pieces, it’ll inspire you to express yourself in whatever way is best for you (while also perhaps reminding me of the ability that was once so central in my life).

Feel free to give your feedback either in this post or in the individual pieces linked from here.

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Summer Daze

Posted by Yacoob on December 31, 2013

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The last day of the year, in the heart of a South African summer.
I’m at work now (sadly), but this time of year brings back fleeting memories of childhood summers gone by:

Hours and hours in the back yard playing soccer and cricket;
Still more hours and hours on the tennis courts,
pushing ourselves to the limits in best-of-5-set matches –
always with the end reward being an ice cold cooldrink
plus chocolate treats to accompany.

Sunny Durban days are the enduring memory of my past life;
Those school holidays where responsibilities were non-existent,
and pleasures were all we lived for:
Movies, video games, staying up late,
Not a care in the world
until the looming dread of the new school year crept back into our thoughts.

Stationery and uniforms,
Haircuts and shining those shoes for the first day back…

Oh, the horrors of educational imprisonment –
early morning rising to get to school on time,
assemblies and new timetables,
finding out whose class we’d be in –
wishing to be with our friends,
who shared the struggle with us –
making the torturous daylight hours more bearable.

Science lessons and Maths tests
(the latter of which still haunts my dreams),
academic pressures and extra-curricular bothers…

School was never a ‘home away from home’ for me,
yet those years –
while stifling my freedom within the system –
gave rise to the foundations of adult life,
and provided the best memories.

And now
as my own child approaches her first year of ‘back to school’,
I feel the dread for her;
I know the anxiety she’ll face over the years,
Yet somehow, some way
I’ll need to put a bright face on it all;
so that she can be more positive than I,
and enjoy her coming occupation in ways I never did.

For just as she’ll face the seemingly never-ending grind of school life –
year after year –
so too will these years be her platform for her future,
and her treasure chest of precious childhood memories.

School doesn’t last forever,
nor does childhood;
But while we’re young,
we live through both –
a microcosm of life,
perhaps,
good and bad – all mixed together.

So, my child,
appreciate both sides,
take it all in,
and then move on to the adulthood that awaits beyond these endless summers of youth.

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Second time around

Posted by Yacoob on November 14, 2013

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Where this blog stands right now

If you’ve followed this blog for the last few years, you’ll notice that my focus – since late 2011 – has almost completely been on Hajj-related topics. This was a change from the blog’s first 5 years, wherein the content was a lot more varied. Obviously, the change in direction is a sign of the impact that Hajj had on me – hence most of my writing has focssed on documenting the journey (via the Hajj Chronicles series).

In all this time – and prior to it – my audience has changed, yet I hope the narrow focus hasn’t alienated readers that are looking for other content. And now that the chronicles are complete, insha-Allah this blog will once again go in many directions – some of which will probably remain Hajj-related.

New adventures

In Ramadan this year, I mentioned that my wife and I were expecting our second child. Alhamdullilah – our baby daughter is now 3 months old. I won’t share the birth story (like I did for our first child), but I would like to share some thoughts on these few months.

To be totally honest, our new daughter wasn’t the prettiest sight when she first came out. She was covered in disgusting birth liquid, and was obviously unhappy at being yanked out of the only world she’d ever known (the womb). Her first pictures from the delivery room aren’t ideal viewing, but, thankfully, that all changed once she was cleaned up and with us J.

We got to spend much more time with the baby this time (unlike the previous birth), so I held her for most of the half hour the medical team was sewing up my wife. I probably talked more to the baby than I talk to most grown ups I meet. And in those first (one-way) conversations, I hopefully set a precedent of talking her through the most important aspects of this world. I hope to always be there to guide her as she grow and learns – especially in the critical first 7 or so years of her life.

The days in hospital were somewhat stressful – not because of the baby (though she had her own issues at times), but because we had to manage our other daughter. She’s 4 years old, and I think seeing her mother weak in hospital was a really emotional experience for her. Alhamdullilah – we had all her grandparents to help look after her, but for the most part, she was my primary responsibility. She’s always been very clingy with her mother, and while there were a few days of separation, I needed to be the stable force in her life.

As for the baby’s name, we had one in mind since the beginning – though we weren’t totally set on it. But we had a late request and even other options that came to mind at the time, so it was confusing. Of course, the best route to take in such situations is to consult with Allah, so I made istikhara salaah, and the outcome was the same name we initially wanted. Like our first daughter’s name, it’s a strong name – one whereby the baby has an immensely lofty namesake who we hope will be her role model through life.

The work begins

Once we got home, the real challenges started. It’s an Indian tradition for the new mother to stay with her own mother in the first 40 days of the baby’s life. While we partly followed that last time around, this time, my wife didn’t want to at all. She wanted the stability of our own home – especially for our older daughter. That’s not to say that her mother wasn’t involved. On the contrary, she was extremely helpful in those early weeks, even staying over for one of the nights.

It was still Ramadan at this time – the blessed final ten nights; yet we didn’t have much time for spirituality. Between seeing to this tiny infant that needed so much time and energy, and our older daughter – who was having endless tantrums and really being difficult, it was a trying time to say the least.

We knew it would be hard for our older daughter to adjust to NOT being the centre of attention anymore. She’s always been very spoilt, so it must have been really tough to now be deprived of her parents’ attention. This was exacerbated by the attention the baby was getting from visitors, who up until then, would give her all the attention.

Relief

Alhamdullilah – after a few weeks, she eventually settled down. The hardship she faced was perhaps her first major character-building experience. It helped her to adjust – from being someone who was always so clingy with her mother, into a far more independent child that can cope better on her own or with others (though she still is clingy at times). The other blessing is that it was a period in which she and I spent a lot more time together, hence we bonded in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise done when her mother was the focus of her world.

As for the baby, we had an early health scare with her, but alhamdullilah, it turned out to be a minor issue that healed within a few weeks. She still has digestive issues though (i.e. reflux), but it’s not such a big deal compared to what sickness she could have had. That recurring lesson from Hajj came up again: to be thankful for what happened, because it could have been worse.

These last few weeks in particular have found me falling more and more in love with her. She’s an incredibly happy child -finding any excuse to show that sweet smile of hers. She’s growing nicely – alhamdullilah – starting to discover her own hands, and laughing more and more.

Her older sister has also taken to her, and is actually quite smothering at times (think of “Elmyra” from Tiny Toons).

On a personal level, the pace of life hasn’t gotten more hectic; but it’s just become more demanding. But even in that, alhamdullilah, there’s ease. People commonly tease new parents about the lack of sleep, but it hasn’t really been a big issue for me: our new baby is relatively settled in her sleep – getting up just once in the night (other than the nights where she’s uncomfortable and troubles a lot).

All in all, it’s been an interesting transition filled with many challenges but a lot of benefit. And as we go move on, I look forward to the many milestones that she’ll reach insha-Allah, and I hope that the baby’s first 2 years – before terrible twos – will be as amazing and joy-filled as her older sister’s were.

As for the older one, she’s still a handful, and can be immensely stubborn at times (with the latest big problem being a recurring refusal to eat)…but we hope to navigate those stormy waters too, and in the end, come out with a well-developed, balanced child that’ll teach us as much as we hope to teach her.

As always, your duas would be most welcome :) .

Posted in Meanderings, Milestones | 4 Comments »

Ramadan ramblings

Posted by Yacoob on July 17, 2013

This month is usually one of great inspiration for me. In previous years, the words have overflowed on these pages each Ramadan – both in reflective postings as well as practical advices. But this year is different. I find myself being stifled by both time and circumstance; unable to bring forth even a shadow of the writing effort I exerted in years gone by.

Still, though, the spirit – and habit – can’t be buried any longer, and I find myself writing this post not so much out of inspiration, but more because I need to write. I can’t let another night go by taking the great benefits of the month (which I am enjoying), without expressing something from within.

So here I sit. I’ll probably stay awake far later than I would like, with the sole intent of pouring forth something that I hope will result in some benefit for both myself and you, the reader.

Planning to not plan

So, we’re more than a week into Ramadan, and for the most part, I’m very pleased with the spiritual revival it’s brought me personally. Due to circumstances that I’ve mentioned later on, I totally abandoned my usually-detailed Ramadan planning this year. My only plan was to ‘do a little more – consistently’, because I knew that any grand plans would be bound to fail given the impending events (again, read on to find out what I’m talking about).

So far, mostly, I’ve managed to stick to the vague plan – doing a little extra each day. And it’s been beautiful because the very concept that I always harp on – i.e. doing small and consistent deeds (which is from a hadith of the Prophet s.a.w.) – is what’s kept me spiritually ‘inflated’ so far. Prior to this, I felt like I’d been in spiritual ICU for far too long.

Work – spiritual life balance

I think probably a big contributing factor to that state was my job. I’ve been in a new job for nearly a year, and it’s been hands-down the most demanding position I’ve ever had. Compared to my previous job – which was actually quite easy – this one is really the answer to what I was seeking in a professional position. It’s filled with good challenges that help me grow, while still being something I can just manage – if I apply myself and look at it positively.

I’ve already taken precious lessons from an incident earlier this year, which was the biggest professional disaster I’ve ever faced. And as the weeks pass, I realise that that situation wasn’t necessarily an isolated example of pressure. By my standards (which are based on a relatively easy career path up to now), it is a really high pressure job, and I can see why the department I’m in has a reputation for having one of the highest sick rates in the overall institution.

Still though, my pressures are still small compared to others. (Though to be fair, the same can probably be said of my salary – so it works out in the end :) ).

Anyway, my point here is that being under this much pressure for such an extended period has taken its toll on my spiritual state. And I realise now that, since this is now the permanent state of my professional life, I need to work harder on my spiritual side – to balance out the harder work and bigger focus that my work has demanded.

Without pushing myself spiritually, the worldly matters are going to continue to eat up more and more of me, until there’s nothing left but a superficial shell.

So there’s lesson number one for this post: When worldly pressures compromise your spiritual state, push harder on the spiritual side to maintain the balance.

The never-ending story

Aside from that, another big thing occupying me is home-related maintenance. We’ve just come through a few very challenging months of home maintenance related disasters. The biggest culprit was a leaking pipe, which in turn spawned hectic plumbing repairs, tiling, painting, and 2 rounds of re-flooring. Add to that separate electrical problems, a not-so-water-resistant window, and geyser issues, and you get many weeks of frustration.

These things just dragged on and on and on, and it was actually funny at times to think that when one thing was finished, you could pretty much expect something else would come up soon after.

Alhamdullilah – as of today, it seems that it’s finally over.

Mind you, we’ll need to get a few compliance certificates soon, so there’s a chance that the inspections will uncover even more work to be done….but by now, I really don’t care anymore. We’ll just have to deal with whatever comes up if it does.

Is there a lesson from this? Well, nothing deeply insightful. Just practical: when you move into a house (or before that, actually), get good, trustworthy people to check out your plumbing and electrical stuff. The previous resident isn’t necessarily going to tell you about all the flaws (or they may not even know), but it’s better for you to spend the money upfront, find out potential issues, and deal with it at the start – so that once you’re settled in, you don’t have to turn your house upside down with repairs.

Of course, you can never anticipate all the things that could go wrong – so it’s best to still expect trouble.

Actually, one other lesson for me in all this was to remember to be grateful for what I have. If you look at a home, there are so many wires and pipes running all over the place – in hard to reach places like walls and floors. Sure, one or two things may go wrong and become a headache. But what about the hundred other things that could have gone wrong but didn’t?

Bear patience in the things that do go wrong, and thank Allah for all the things that didn’t go wrong. And if you’re grateful, insha-Allah He will give you more (see Surah Ibrahim, verse 7).

The big event

And that brings me to the impending events mentioned earlier. What should have been my biggest focus for this last while, but hasn’t been: baby number 2 is due near the end of the month, insha-Allah.

Four years ago, before the birth of our first child, I wrote these reflections on this blog. I read through it again last night, and have picked up a recurring pattern: back then, I could barely remember the period before marriage – which was odd since that was the most emotionally intense period of my life. As life moved from one stage to the next, the old stage was forgotten.

Now, the almost-2-years of marriage before our daughter was born seems like a hundred years ago. Again, as I moved from one stage of life to the next, the old stage faded tremendously in my memory.

Chances are, this current stage I’m in is going to suffer that same fate in a few years. I’ll probably look back on tonight, and this post, and not remember much about how it was to be married with just one child.

Such is life: it moves on. What was once so important to us, and so immediate in our minds, becomes a vague memory, as we have new things to focus on.

And on and on the pattern continues.

I guess the lesson from this segment is: appreciate what you have in the moment, and take what benefit you can from it now, because in time, it’ll become nothing more than a memory. Related to that, if your current situation is one of extreme challenges, remember that in one year, five years, or ten years, it’ll probably meet the same fate – becoming just a memory. You just need to get through it now, be patient, try to take whatever benefit you can from it, and know that it’ll pass. Life moves on. And so will you, insha-Allah.

Final thoughts

So there we have it. The Ramadan magic strikes again – inspiring lessons through the process of writing, and I hope that – first and foremost – I will remember and apply these lessons going forward.

As for this blog for the rest of the month, you’ll have to forgive me if I write nothing else after this. It’s looking like the baby will be arriving in 2 weeks’ time, so hopefully I’ll get something else up here before that – but after that, I’m going to have my hands full.

As mentioned before, though, you can expect the Hajj Chronicles series to continue roughly every 2 weeks – finishing in late September insha-Allah (which is just before this year’s Hajj). For those wanting to read the rest before then, though, I’m hoping to have the complete e-book version ready by the end of Ramadan, and make that my Eid gift to you.

There are about three weeks remaining, and we’re heading into the mid-month slump in which our efforts usually wane. If that’s the case for you, remember that this month is a very precious and extremely limited opportunity – just a few days and nights, which you may not live to see again next year. Even if you start slacking now, keep striving to some degree – even if it’s only a little extra you do. Just do it consistently, and with the right intention.

If you can, check out Mufti Menk’s daily 30 minute tafseer from Cape Town – Pearls of Peace from the Noble Quran. These kinds of reminders are especially beautiful in this month, when our hearts are softened.

Remember to make dua for all those suffering across the globe – especially in Syria, Burma, Palestine, Guantanamo, and Egypt; as well as the Uighur Muslims in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, and everywhere else where Muslims are deprived of Ramadan by the authorities.

Also, when the final 10 nights come around, don’t fall victim to 27th night syndrome.  Keep pushing until the end, and insha-Allah you’ll see the benefits stretching far into the year ahead.

Wherever you are in the world, enjoy the rest of your Ramadan. May it be the best month of your life, and one which will inspire in you the greatest spirituality that will bring you ever closer to Allah both now and in the months and years to come.

- Yacoob

Posted in Meanderings, Ramadaan | 2 Comments »

A most blessed rooftop

Posted by Yacoob on October 12, 2011

I like rooftops because they are freedom.

As I write this, I’m seated on one.
No ordinary one, mind you;
but one in a city of immense peace;
on top of a building so blessed that only one other is greater than it.

Generally, people aren’t aware of rooftops.
They live their lives down below,
never thinking of how serene and peaceful the world above is.

It’s the same in this place:
hundreds of thousands have come to this city,
to this building,
yet only a fraction have ventured up to this rooftop.

Down below, the crowds are swelling -
with new faces each and every day,
from places far and wide,
each with a culture,
a nationality,
a family,
a unique life story.

We meet each other -
all speaking different languages,
sometimes not able to communicate at all,
other than in sign language -
yet our greeting is the same;
a universal greeting of peace -
taught to us by the Messenger of peace,
who established this,
our community,
in this very place
some fourteen centuries ago.

He would be proud
to see his nation gathered here today -
such variety in colour, speech, and manner -
but all committed to the way of life he brought.

All here to visit him,
and honour his resting place -
the ground where he,
along with the giants of his generation,
strove to build a society
based on justice,
peace,
and universal principles of goodness –
recognised by every single soul –
whether they know it or not.

They walked this very earth -
by day and night,
in wartime and during peace,
hardship and times of ease;
knowing that their time here was only temporary -
a short period of tests -
the results of which would determine
their home in the eternal realm.

And some were assured of their success even before their earthly life ended;
yet still they struggled,
still they strove,
still they feared
that they weren’t living up to the life expected of them.

Yet that generation
was the best of people raised up for mankind.

They enjoined what was good,
and forbade what was evil;
and most importantly,
they believed in God.

And our generation today
doesn’t live up to that example –
instead succumbing
to the cultural pollution
of nations that do not truly believe in their Creator.
For if they did,
their lives would reflect more justice,
God-consciousness,
and eagerness to fulfil the responsibilities placed upon them
as stewards of this Earth.

Yet in this blessed place,
this generation –
those who have come to visit –
witnesses the way life should be.

We feel the tranquillity of the way of life we call our own.

We experience it first hand –
in ways we could never experience back home.

We feel spiritually rejuvenated
by this environment –
re-establishing our connection to our Creator,
the Owner of Peace,
the Master of all things –
both worldly and beyond human comprehension.

Grown men break down in tears –
begging their Lord for forgiveness,
and supplicating for all that they need in their lives,
and all that they desire in their existence.

Desperate pleas,
made with such sincerity –
both in private,
and where others can see them –
but without inhibition,
for in those moments,
nobody else matters:
it’s just them and their Lord –
without anyone or anything to break that bond.

And so
this City of Peace
serves as a purifier for the souls that visit it;
helping to wash away years,
decades,
and lifetimes of mistakes –
and giving hope that maybe,
just maybe,
when our journeys take us back home,
we’ll be able to recapture some of the magic we felt here,
and live lives of peace, justice, and submission
to the One we owe everything to.

*This piece was inspired by my time in Madinah, on the rooftop of the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) mosque, a few weeks prior to Hajj 2011.

Posted in Hajj-related, Meanderings | 1 Comment »

The incredible journey

Posted by Yacoob on September 5, 2011

Nearly a year ago, I wrote this piece –which crystallised the dream that so strongly made its way into my heart and mind at the time. For those who are familiar with the process of going for Hajj, you’ll know that many across the world – including here in South Africa – need to go through a process of accreditation with the country’s Hajj authorities, since there are limited Hajj visas available to many countries.

So, this being my main mission at that time, I’d check our local authority’s website for the date when I’d be able to register for the coming year. South Africa only gets an initial quota of 2500 people that can go – a tiny number based on the fact that we’re a minority group in South Africa’s larger population.

So to get into the 2011 list seemed far from guaranteed. And to cut the chances further, there were already people that were unsuccessful the previous year who were pushed over to the 2011 list.

I knew that – in the realm of human efforts – the earlier I registered, the better my chances of success. So imagine my surprise when I happened to visit the registration site just a couple of days after registration for the new year had opened. You can call it ‘luck’ or good timing – but I believe it was Divine intervention. Allah is the One that decides who goes and who doesn’t go – and this was my first sign that it was to happen for me.

My wife and I were extremely blessed to be in that first batch of 2500 that were accredited. Getting accreditation early meant that we could prepare well in advance – in all senses. But some weren’t so fortunate. Many had been waiting and waiting for the additional quota, and were in limbo with regard to planning, leave, shopping, etc. Now, just a few weeks before people start leaving, the country’s additional quota came through (yesterday). The extra quota is a disappointing 500 extra – which is far less than was expected. That makes this the smallest South African quota in recent years; and it makes me even more appreciative of the blessing of getting to go.

During the course of the last year, we’ve gone through some challenges – but nothing too major. For me, one big issue was the loss of motivation – or rather – loss of intensity in motivation; and I spent long periods not doing what I thought I would in terms of preparation. But, of course, I still did take in a lot of information and advice – via books, speaking to people, websites, lectures (including good ones here) , and Hajj classes (which, it seems, is uniquely Capetonian in that we have 6 months of Hajj classes and not just a one day seminar).

And I knew that the preparation for this journey – and the journey itself – needed to be a long term thing. What I learn now – the good habits and actions I pick up and bad ones I drop – need to be set in stone; set into the foundation of my life.

Because as much as we all aspire to change and be better, the reality is that it’s extremely difficult. And every year, Ramadan comes around, and we have hope of making permanent life changes after it leaves. But sadly, for many of us, the same pattern repeats annually – where the ‘buzz’ wears off, and we go back to our old selves and forget the striving we intended.

But this Ramadan was different. This post-Ramadan is different. Because I’m not going back to my ‘normal’ life. I’m supposed to be building – building up that spirituality, patience, taqwa, and all good things – to take with me on this incredible journey of a lifetime.

And I need that all for the actual trip; but more importantly, I need it for after the trip. Because, as people say, the hard part is not the actual pilgrimage. The hard part is living that Hajj when  you get back home. Living the rest of your life in a state of heightened spirituality and consciousness, with better values, better habits, and a better you.

To go on Hajj, and to have it accepted and be totally cleansed of all your sins (including those against other people – who you would have sought forgiveness from before leaving) – is something tremendously liberating. I have this idea of carrying this burden of sins right now – a lifetime of wrongdoing and flawed thinking and habits to the very root of my existence – which all built up from the time I was a child, through my teenage years, early adult life, and to this day.

And if Hajj is to take all of this off my back – wash it away and give me a clean slate – then when I come back, I need to do my best to never let things of that nature build up again. Because I may never go back for Hajj. I may never go back there at all – even for Umrah. So it really is a once in a lifetime shot. One chance to drop everything bad and start again.

That’s not to say that I expect change to be instantaneous – because that’s not very realistic. I expect change to come over time – little by little (which is the critical concept of gradualism that is such a big part of the Islamic ethos of change).

But what I do hope will be instant is that sincere intention to change permanently. That point where I’d say to myself: ‘This is it. From this point on, I intend to leave everything bad behind, and strive for everything good. And whether I succeed or not, this intention is absolutely, one million percent solid and unshakeable. And I’ll try, with Allah’s help, for the rest of my life, to work towards fulfilling it – no matter what happens in future.’

The process of how that change happens – I don’t know. But the core is the intention, and that’s my focus. Will I be ready to do that? To make that intention and be serious about it? Committed to it?

‘Positive change’ is a very nice term – it sounds good, and it feels good to think that you’re pursuing it. But when things get tough, and when you’re faced with intense challenges to that goal, that’s when your real test comes.

So that’s what I need my core focus to be. Preparing myself to be ready to make that intention, firstly, and then being committed to it thereafter.

I’m scared as I write this – because this heart of mine is so attached to things I know I’d have to leave behind, for the most part. But if there’s any experience that can strengthen me to the point where I’m ready to go forward with it, then this is it.

So now, with just under 4 weeks until departure insha-Allah, I know all the logistical and physical preparations that need to happen; and I even know some of the spiritual preparation I need to still do. But underlying everything, there’s only one thing that truly needs to be ready – the heart. And my heart isn’t ready; and I don’t know if it ever will be. But I go forward knowing that it’s the main roleplayer in whether I succeed or fail in this.

So, more than anything else, that’s what needs to be my focus. And I hope and pray that, by the time I reach that peak of the 5 days, this heart will be where it needs to be.

To all who read this blog: I want to thank you for the role you’ve played in my life – whether you commented or not, and whether you’ve been reading long or not. This blog has been an important part of my identity and life for the five years I’ve been at it, and I appreciate the chance to share what I’ve shared with other people.

And now, as I prepare to leave for this journey, I ask that – if I’ve offended or hurt any of you in any way – please forgive me. I’ll try to remember you all in my duas, and ask that you do the same for me, and for all who are going; and for those who didn’t get the chance to go this year.

And if you yourself are planning to go at some point in the not too distant future, please start preparing NOW. We prepare so much for our big exams and tests in our academic and professional lives – but this is truly the most important experience we have as Muslims in this world. So it deserves the best of preparation – and that begins long before you go. Long, long before.

And even if you think it’s impossible at this time – due to finances or whatever – know that Allah chooses who goes; and it’s not impossible for Him to choose the most unlikely of candidates.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And the three pillars of success in anything – I’ve come to learn – are first making the sincere intention, then asking Allah for success, and then making your efforts (while always bearing patience and continuously asking Allah for success).

Posted in Hajj-related, Meanderings, Milestones | 6 Comments »

Future memories

Posted by Yacoob on August 19, 2011

It’s Saturday night, and the people have gathered. The lights go out. A hush descends as the crowd becomes quiet. The screen begins displaying its image.

A man appears.

He speaks. He tells of a group of people who will have lived their lives for a period, enjoying life – doing as they pleased. These people received certain information and requests – warnings that their life choices were dangerous.

But they rejected these warnings – thinking they knew better. Thinking they were entitled to continue engaging in the lifestyles that they were enjoying, and that no consequences would harm them if they continued.

But then their lives will come to an end. Death approaches them, and they see a different reality.

The curtain is lifted from their eyes. The truth smacks them like a sledgehammer. They finally realize the truth: the messages that came to them were true. The messengers that warned them were not liars, or gullible fools hanging onto a fantasy – a make-believe idea that had no bearing in the real world.

The world they existed in – where freedom and unlimited fun reigned – was an illusion. And the world they’re now facing is real. Real; troubling; and never-ending.

They beg for more time. They ask to be sent back. Now that they know the truth, if they have another chance, they’d do it all differently. They’d accept the messages. They’d believe the messengers. They’d live in the way they were asked to.

Or so they believe.

But if they were sent back, they would do the same thing again. Nothing would be different.

And they will be forced to remain in this state of regret until the Day of Resurrection – when they will be called to account for that which they used to do, and will have to deal with the consequences thereof.

 

You’re probably wondering what this scene describes. What movie was this? And when did this happen?

This was no cinema. And this was no movie.

This was the scene in a mosque – in Zeenatul Islam, District Six, Cape Town – last Saturday night. It was in the basement level, after the taraweeh prayers were concluded for that night of Ramadan.

The speaker – the man who described this series of events – was the esteemed Islamic scholar Mufti Ismail Menk, who is visiting from Zimbabwe. The events he described was a snippet from the Quran – and the intro to his lecture for the night. Down in the basement level, they put up TV screens so that the people downstairs can see the speaker on the main level, as he delivers his talk.

This particular narrative – about the regretful people who will want to go back – is based on Surah Mu’minoon (The Believers: Quran – surah 23 – verses 99 and 100). It describes those who, in worship, join partners with Almighty Allah (i.e. the idolaters / pagans). And when their (worldly) lives are about to end, they finally see the truth and wish they could have another chance. (Full tafseer here.) It could also describe those who have been negligent as regards the commands of Allah (Tafseer Ibn Kathir). In either case, we would do well to safeguard ourselves against the company of such people, lest we become of them – since the people we surround ourselves with can play a huge role in our beliefs and choice of lifestyle. And – even without friends like these – we would do well to guard our own selves so that we never slip into those categories; because we’re not immune – we never know where our wrong choices in life could lead us.

 

I began with this story because it came on a night that was very memorable. Memorable not because it was extra-ordinary in its events, but because of the epiphany that struck me during the evening.

This Ramadan, Cape Town has been blessed once more to have the visit of the always-inspiring Mufti Ismail Menk (see details in last week’s post). And my habit this month has been – on Saturday nights – to go to the taraweeh prayers he’s leading. So on this particular night, I took a break during the salaah and looked around, and just took in the atmosphere.

All these people standing, so dedicated, in long night prayer – with the Quran being recited so beautifully by one of the world’s greatest (for me, at least) Islamic personalities – and all this in the blessed month of the ummah.

I had one of those flash-forward moments: where you just appreciate the present. Something about it just strikes you deeply. You imagine that – in the future – you’re going to look back on this moment, on this period of your life, with fondness.

And for those few moments that I pondered this – those moments that this atmosphere hit me – it was just awesome. How special a time this is. How blessed. How amazing.

This experience – taraweehs with Mufti Menk – stand out for me in this month. I’ve been in that downstairs level both times so far, and when the talk starts, it’s like this huge sleepover. They put the lights off, the TV screens come on, and everyone gathers together to watch.

It’s like a cinema – and it’s a Saturday night, which makes it even more similar to that experience. But in this case, it’s actually virtuous to be in this gathering. This isn’t some Hollywood movie – designed for our entertainment.

How amazing that all these people are gathered here – on a Saturday night – to watch something ‘religious’. Everyone so eager to take in the lessons and wisdom about to be imparted, by Allah’s mercy and permission, from this tremendously-loved speaker – a caller to goodness.

The theme for this series of talks this month is the stories of the Prophets (peace be upon them all). And what amazing stories they are – so full of wisdom and lessons for all of humanity – whether we call ourselves Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or even atheist. Humans naturally incline towards stories – and these are the stories of the best people to ever walk the Earth: the messengers and prophets – chosen by God – to convey a simple message to humanity. The same message throughout the ages: your Creator is ONE, and you should worship Him alone. And because this series draws directly from the Quran – which we believe is the pure, un-altered word of God – as Muslims we know these stories are 100% true; free of the fabrications that were introduced in other scriptures that have been corrupted.

Another event that night was while I waited outside to go home. A Somalian brother stopped by to speak to me – saying how tired he was in taraweeh – almost falling asleep, but pushing himself to go on. He’d slept only 2 hours the night before. And he said how inspirational he found Mufti Menk to be – how balanced a speaker he is: not too liberal, not too conservative; but balanced.

And, clearly inspired, he spoke of how the change of the world starts with us: if we live right, and teach our children right, they’ll be better than us; and in two or three generations, they can change this world. Bring it back to its senses.

It was such a random encounter – he spoke to me as if he knew me well; but I didn’t know him at all. It was a bond – brotherhood in Islam. That’s what made it so easy – so comfortable a conversation. And before long, he was gone. A seemingly-random experience – but one, I suspect, that was meant to teach me something.

Anyway, Ramadan is usually a special month – but this one is standing out even more for me. I know it and feel it. Like Ramadan 2007 – when I was on the verge of fulfilling my most dearly-held dream of marriage. That was such a special month – and one I look back on fondly.

And this one – this month –feels like it’s going to be the same in terms of nostalgia. I may be restricted in terms of the spiritual depth I would otherwise want to pursue (mentioned not long ago in this post), but even despite that, this month has an air to it that is definitely exceptional.

In future years, insha-Allah, I’ll look back and remember how beautiful this was. These are future memories in the making, and I’m extremely grateful to be living through these experiences.

 

But to make this post interactive, I ask you – the reader:

How’s your month been so far?

And have you had any of these “future memory” moments? (Either this month or at another time.)

 

 

Posted in Meanderings, Ramadaan | 1 Comment »

Train of Thought

Posted by Yacoob on January 20, 2011

There’s something different
about taking the train.

Far from the privacy of traveling by car,
yet in some ways,
a journey with more solitude;
allowing more personal time
to think, reflect, and observe;
not having to worry about traffic and road obstacles,
letting the conductor
direct you, in this big, metal carriage,
on a fixed path that cannot be changed.

Back and forth,
every day,
every 15 minutes
a new one comes by –
like clockwork –
such is the reliability we come to hope for.

And on this journey,
in this particular means of transport,
the blend of humanity can be observed:
from the uptight businessman
with his suit and laptop;
to the casual worker
worried about getting to his shop in time.

Conversations often revolve around transport:
what time do you leave?
where do you get off?
what time do you get to work?

Such are samples of the public discourses
on this course
of continuous human movement.

Interesting, too,
is the opportunity
to look into the eyes of others
you may never otherwise see:
the tired of life,
the young and carefree,
the responsible that have a million other things to worry about.

So varied are the hues of humanity,
not only in colour,
but age,
occupation,
faith (or lack thereof),
and demeanour.

Different, too, are the ways
they find to occupy their time on the journey:
some do nothing, sitting quietly in observation or reflection;
some stare out of the window, zoned out, listening to music;
others are lost in a novel,
a few spend these minutes reading newspapers or magazines;
while still others pass the time by talking to each other.

And some spend most of the journey asleep,
unaware of what’s going on around them,
waking up intermittently at stops or other random moments,
before dozing back into their heedless slumber.

Others – criminals – cunningly wait
to catch someone off guard
and pick their pocket;
petty theft
for a meager profit.

But despite all these differences,
for these few minutes,
on this shared journey to a common disembarkation point,
we all travel together –
regardless of our different destination after the journey ends.

Is this not a microcosm of life’s journey?
All of us – no matter how different our ways and character –
travelling together in a common existence,
for a short period of time,
to a shared point where we get off;
thereafter,
each of us going to our own destination –
be it one of pain and suffering,
or one of eternal bliss.

But, unlike the train ride,
many of us don’t remember
that this life is just a short journey
which will inevitably come to an end;
and when our worldly journey eventually ends,
will we be satisfied with how we spent that time?
Or will we be regretful?
That we wasted it
on deceptions that mattered little –
yet seemed so important at the time…

 

There’s something different

about taking the train.

 

Far from the privacy of traveling by car,

yet in some ways,

a journey with more solitude;

allowing more personal time

to think, reflect, and observe;

not having to worry about traffic and road obstacles,

letting the conductor

direct you, in this big, metal carriage,

on a fixed path that cannot be changed.

 

Back and forth,

every day,

every 15 minutes

a new one comes by –

like clockwork –

such is the reliability we come to hope for.

 

And on this journey,

in this particular means of transport,

the blend of humanity can be observed:

from the uptight businessman

with his suit and laptop;

to the casual worker

worried about getting to his shop in time.

 

Conversations often revolve around transport:

what time do you leave?

where do you get off?

what time do you get to work?

 

Such are samples of the public discourses

on this course

of continuous human movement.

 

Interesting, too,

is the opportunity

to look into the eyes of others

you may never otherwise see:

the tired of life,

the young and carefree,

the responsible that have a million other things to worry about.

 

So varied are the hues of humanity,

not only in colour,

but age,

occupation,

faith (or lack thereof),

and demeanour.

 

Different, too, are the ways

they find to occupy their time on the journey:

some do nothing, sitting quietly in observation or reflection;

some stare out of the window, zoned out, listening to music;

others are lost in a novel,

a few spend these minutes reading newspapers or magazines;

while still others pass the time by talking to each other.

 

And some spend most of the journey asleep,

unaware of what’s going on around them,

waking up intermittently at stops or other random moments,

before dozing back into their heedless slumber.

 

Others – criminals – cunningly wait

to catch someone off guard

and pick their pocket;

petty theft

for a meager profit.

 

But despite all these differences,

for these few minutes,

on this shared journey to a common disembarkation point,

we all travel together –

regardless of our different destination after the journey ends.

 

Is this not a microcosm of life’s journey?

All of us – no matter how different our ways and character –

travelling together in a common existence,

for a short period of time,

to a shared point where we get off;

thereafter,

each of us going to our own destination –

be it one of pain and suffering,

or one of eternal bliss.

 

But, unlike the train ride,

many of us don’t remember

that this life is just a short journey

which will inevitably come to an end;

and when our worldly journey eventually ends,

will we be satisfied with how we spent that time?

Or will we be regretful?

That we wasted it

on deceptions that mattered little –

yet seemed so important at the time…

 

Posted in Meanderings | 2 Comments »

Remember, remember

Posted by Yacoob on December 20, 2010

The following was written mostly after last Friday’s Jumuah. It’s more a personal reminder for me than for others – but if you can take something from it, I hope it will be a source of great benefit for you.

“Remember frequently the destroyer of pleasures” – goes the reported hadith (reported in Tirmidhi, Nasaa’i, Ibn Maajah).

There was a funeral prayer after Jumuah, and it got me thinking of the fragility of life. I thought of how literally it can be ‘one moment here, the next moment gone’.

How I expect to keep living – yet no such guarantee is given to me.

Why is that? Why do I just have this over-confidence that I won’t die at any moment? I could…I could go any time.

Yet I don’t remember that. And when I do, the impact of that thought doesn’t last long.

What about all the plans I have, or things I want to do?

What about Hajj?

What about the upcoming holiday I’m so looking forward to?

Why do I always assume I’ll have years – until maybe 60-odd – to live my life and improve?

The truth is, an instant, I could be gone. The end of my road. The beginning of my qiyammah – all within a second.

And I leave behind a mourning wife and daughter. My parents and brother. My family.
This work, which I try to do well, but struggle with so often in some ways.
My Islamic knowledge and books, lectures, ideas; and volunteer work.
The home that my wife and I have with our child.
The pieces I still want to write, and the impact I want to have on others.
The prayers I have yet to make; along with the fasting.

The moments I’ll regret – spent on too much luxury or leisure. Too much ‘relaxing’ non-beneficial, artificial things; and not enough time sitting alone – in nature, or just reflecting quietly – trying to gain that solitude I used to yearn so much for.

If I knew I was to die in a week, I think I’d spend my time much more wisely.

 

But now – knowing I could die any moment – why does that not inspire me to live better NOW? Why will I forget all these thoughts soon after I stop writing – and get back to work, and life?

Before I get to real taqwa – consciousness of Allah – isn’t a great starting step to have consciousness of death at all times?

Because I know that the moment I die – my book is closed (except for the few actions whose rewards go on). Do I want to die with regrets?

I pray for the help to truly live that hadith – ‘the destroyer of pleasures’ …I need to remember those words; and that phrase especially – because much of my life is ‘pleasures’ – which I justify indulgence in because of the responsibilities that so greatly fill my life. Like I need these things as a ‘break’….but Allah knows what is legitimate and what isn’t. While I often delude myself, and know – when it’s over – that those things cannot bring real happiness.

I wish, and pray, that I could live my life remembering my death. Because that seems the surest way for me to live a more conscious life.

Posted in Meanderings, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

For Toddles

Posted by Yacoob on November 8, 2010

Whenever I hear an infant cry,
I think of you –
remembering the many months
when you could do little else
to express your wishes
to a pair of adoring but stressed parents,
that had to cater to your every need,
and soothe your every discomfort.

The time when you were so small
you couldn’t even turn your head;
and each time you slept
we’d have to turn you over to alternating sides,
the result being a band round the back of your head
where no hair grew.

And your cute yawn
would melt my heart every time;
so precious and delightful it was to my ears.

But those days are long gone now –
distant memories faded so far away that they seem like years ago.

Yet it was not long at all.

A mere 10 months back,
we marveled when you were able to sit up on your own;
and not long after,
we watched with excitement,
as you squirmed your way forward like a worm –
your first independent movements;
the crawling that would help you explore your own limited horizons,
in our cosy little home of old.

And 8 months ago
when you went through a short period
of scrunching your nose up so cutely at everyone –
a trick which you knew got you attention
and smiles from everyone you did it to.

And maybe it was around the same time
when we’d be so amazed
that you could put your dummy back in –
a dummy that you now throw defiantly
when you want to get a point across;
a dummy that now pops out –
almost automatically –
when you’re around food you want to eat.

And 5 months ago,
when we knew you could walk –
we’d think you unconfident,
or lazy,
as you’d stay down,
one leg up, dragging the other one behind you –
like a miniature cripple
who didn’t think it necessary
to make use of the legs we knew were capable of carrying your little body.

And those once-vicious teeth,
slowly making their way beyond your tender gums,
no longer bite everything in sight;
while your days of scouting the floor
for something to put in your mouth,
seem part of history now.

So too have departed the times of hysteria,
when you’d go mad
laughing at the silliest things,
collapsing on the floor sometimes,
because you just couldn’t take it anymore.

And don’t forget when you started to respond,
intelligently it seemed,
to prompts
like “don’t touch – it’s hot!”
and
when you’d tell us what sound the bow-wow made.

And what of your introduction to stairs?
when you’d be so determined to go up yourself,
crawling slowly and exerting yourself –
yet now,
you think you’re beyond that,
and you try to walk up stairs like a grown-up;
not even taking it one stair at a time.

Your carseat never got much usage,
while your pram was similarly left unused most of the time –
as you preferred to be carried everywhere;
your chubby little figure
weighing heavily on tired arms
of everyone who’d oblige your demands.

But now you walk on your own;
toddling along in the shops,
walking up to strangers
and grabbing things that take your fancy.

And when you’re lifted away from what you shouldn’t touch,
you squirm and kick your legs vigorously,
a squealing protest
against the injustice you think you’re being subjected to.

Yet still
you hold no grudge –
you come back to us,
perhaps because you forget quickly,
or maybe you have no one else to go to.

And what about the phase
where you saw it as your duty
to unpack boxes, cupboards, shelves, and drawers?
Taking one thing after the other,
flinging it behind your back,
and making a mess of your immediate surroundings.

And that silly table
that you’d keep hitting your head on
when you couldn’t stand or walk properly yet.

Let’s not forget
your sleep-time acrobatics:
how you’ll end up all over the place –
whether in your cot
or in the bed between us;
pushing us to the very edges,
just so you can be comfortable
in whatever position takes your fancy
at that particular moment.

And when you run from the hairdryer,
or towards the vacuum cleaner –
which was once your enemy,
but then became an object of attraction and awe.

How about the way you so very often
end up with either
one sock
or one shoe?
Always managing to lose the other one
somewhere along the way of your never-ceasing toddling.

And the nurturing moments
when you gives your babas bottle,
or put them to sleep –
though the latter act
is not restricted to teddies alone.

And don’t you remember
the winter gown
you once marveled at when you were tiny?
You were so fascinated by it,
and now you hide behind it,
thinking I don’t know where you are –
even when I’m staring right at you,
with no barrier between us.

I love your little grunts and gasps
when you see something that captures your attention,
and turn to look at me
as if I, too, should be utterly amazed
at the sight your little eyes
are so impressed by.

And the way you point
at what you want,
then look expectantly at me;
as if you’re the boss,
and I must follow your orders
and bring you what you wish for.

And it warms my heart
when you wander
indiscriminately around us
as we pray –
an act so sanctified and peaceful,
requiring concentration –
yet you find no difficulty
in playing with our toes,
or standing in front of us demanding to be picked up,
making funny noises directly in our faces,
or plopping yourself down in the place we are to prostrate in.

And it doesn’t seem to bother you, either,
that your mother often has to chase you
just to feed you food
which you like,
but won’t take to immediately.

But even with the difficulties;
for all your quirks,
eccentricities,
and normal, day-to-day cuteness,
we find tremendous joy and entertainment
in being around you;
giving you our attention;
and being there for you
not only out of duty,
but out of love –
pure,
tremendous,
unstoppable love –
that,
I think,
would inspire us
to do all we could
to take care of you:
our precious gift from God,
and our greatest responsibility in life.

So to you,
Toddles / Kukus / Yum-Yum / Aunti Drooly / Stinky / Gassy Pants / Little Bunny
we say
thank you,
for being who you are,
and accepting us –
despite our flaw and faults;
and we hope
that our road with you
will be a long and happy one;
with the ultimate ending;
in the ultimate abode of peace.

Whenever I hear an infant cry,

I think of you –

remembering the many months

when you could do little else

to express your wishes

to a pair of adoring but stressed parents,

that had to cater to your every need,

and soothe your every discomfort.

 

The time when you were so small

you couldn’t even turn your head;

and each time you slept

we’d have to turn you over to alternating sides,

the result being a band round the back of your head

where no hair grew.

 

And your cute yawn

would melt my heart every time;

so precious and delightful it was to my ears.

 

But those days are long gone now –

distant memories faded so far away that they seem like years ago.

 

Yet it was not long at all.

 

A mere 10 months back,

we marveled when you were able to sit up on your own;

and not long after,

we watched with excitement,

as you squirmed your way forward like a worm –

your first independent movements;

the crawling that would help you explore your own limited horizons,

in our cosy little home of old.

 

And 8 months ago

when you went through a short period

of scrunching your nose up so cutely at everyone –

a trick which you knew got you attention

and smiles from everyone you did it to.

 

And maybe it was around the same time

when we’d be so amazed

that you could put your dummy back in –

a dummy that you now throw defiantly

when you want to get a point across;

a dummy that now pops out –

almost automatically –

when you’re around food you want to eat.

 

And 5 months ago,

when we knew you could walk –

we’d think you unconfident,

or lazy,

as you’d stay down,

one leg up, dragging the other one behind you –

like a miniature cripple

who didn’t think it necessary

to make use of the legs we knew were capable of carrying your little body.

 

And those once-vicious teeth,

slowly making their way beyond your tender gums,

no longer bite everything in sight;

while your days of scouting the floor

for something to put in your mouth,

seem part of history now.

 

So too have departed the times of hysteria,

when you’d go mad

laughing at the silliest things,

collapsing on the floor sometimes,

because you just couldn’t take it anymore.

 

And don’t forget when you started to respond,

intelligently it seemed,

to prompts

like “don’t touch – it’s hot!”

and

when you’d tell us what sound the bow-wow made.

And what of your introduction to stairs?

when you’d be so determined to go up yourself,

crawling slowly and exerting yourself –

yet now,

you think you’re beyond that,

and you try to walk up stairs like a grown-up;

not even taking it one stair at a time.

 

Your carseat never got much usage,

while your pram was similarly left unused most of the time –

as you preferred to be carried everywhere;

your chubby little figure

weighing heavily on tired arms

of everyone who’d oblige your demands.

 

But now you walk on your own;

toddling along in the shops,

walking up to strangers

and grabbing things that take your fancy.

 

And when you’re lifted away from what you shouldn’t touch,

you squirm and kick your legs vigorously,

a squealing protest

against the injustice you think you’re being subjected to.

 

Yet still

you hold no grudge –

you come back to us,

perhaps because you forget quickly,

or maybe you have no one else to go to.

 

And what about the phase

where you saw it as your duty

to unpack boxes, cupboards, shelves, and drawers?

Taking one thing after the other,

flinging it behind your back,

and making a mess of your immediate surroundings.

 

And that silly table

that you’d keep hitting your head on

when you couldn’t stand or walk properly yet.

 

Let’s not forget

your sleep-time acrobatics:

how you’ll end up all over the place –

whether in your cot

or in the bed between us;

pushing us to the very edges,

just so you can be comfortable

in whatever position takes your fancy

at that particular moment.

 

And when you run from the hairdryer,

or towards the vacuum cleaner –

which was once your enemy,

but then became an object of attraction and awe.

 

How about the way you so very often

end up with either

one sock

or one shoe?

Always managing to lose the other one

somewhere along the way of your never-ceasing toddling.

 

And the nurturing moments

when you gives your babas bottle,

or put them to sleep –

though the latter act

is not restricted to teddies alone.

 

And don’t you remember

the winter gown

you once marveled at when you were tiny?

You were so fascinated by it,

and now you hide behind it,

thinking I don’t know where you are –

even when I’m staring right at you,

with no barrier between us.

 

I love your little grunts and gasps

when you see something that captures your attention,

and turn to look at me

as if I, too, should be utterly amazed

at the sight your little eyes

are so impressed by.

 

And the way you point

at what you want,

then look expectantly at me;

as if you’re the boss,

and I must follow your orders

and bring you what you wish for.

 

And it warms my heart

when you wander

indiscriminately around us

as we pray –

an act so sanctified and peaceful,

requiring concentration –

yet you find no difficulty

in playing with our toes,

or standing in front of us demanding to be picked up,

making funny noises directly in our faces,

or plopping yourself down in the place we are to prostrate in.

 

And it doesn’t seem to bother you, either,

that your mother often has to chase you

just to feed you food

which you like,

but won’t take to immediately.

 

But even with the difficulties;

for all your quirks,

eccentricities,

and normal, day-to-day cuteness,

we find tremendous joy and entertainment

in being around you;

giving you our attention;

and being there for you

not only out of duty,

but out of love –

pure,

tremendous,

unstoppable love –

that,

I think,

would inspire us

to do all we could

to take care of you:

our precious gift from God,

and our greatest responsibility in life.

 

So to you,

Toddles / Kukus / Yum-Yum / Aunti Drooly / Stinky / Gassy Pants / Little Bunny

we say

thank you,

for being who you are,

and accepting us –

despite our flaw and faults;

and we hope

that our road with you

will be a long and happy one;

with the ultimate ending;

in the ultimate abode of peace.

 

Posted in Meanderings | 4 Comments »

 
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