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There are no words that can express how I feel.

April 1, 2010

when i was low you was there for me, never left me alone because you cared for me
and i could see you coming home after work late, in the kitchen trying to fix us a hot plate
just working with the scraps you was given, and mama made miracles every thanksgiving
but now the road got rough, you’re alone, trying to raise two bad kids on your own
and there’s no way i can pay you back, but my plan is to show you that i understand; you are appreciated
…and when it seems that i’m hopeless, you say the words that can get me back in focus
when i was sick as a little kid, to keep me happy there’s no limit to the things you did
and all my childhood memories are full of all the sweet things you did for me
and even though i act crazy, i gotta thank the lord that you made me
there are no words that can express how i feel, you never kept a secret, always stayed real
and i appreciate how you raised me and all the extra love that you gave me

– from “Dear Mama” by Tupac Shakur

Apologies in advance for the novel-length publication and meandering writing style! This is dedicated first and foremost to my mother, Marti, who returned to our Creator on November 8, 2005, and also to my older sister and nieces who keep her alive in my heart and who are living reminders of what she’s taught me. This is a picture of my mother and me the night before my high school graduation, at my last public piano recital (it’s been cropped and blurred intentionally to hijabify it since this was before I converted to Islam).

When I was sixteen years old and getting ready to apply to university, even though I was pretty sure I’d end up going to the college in the same city where I lived (with my mom and stepdad), I was gunning to go to this really amazing university in Colorado. I’ve never been to Colorado, and I hate cold weather (which is becoming more and more evident now that I live somewhere where it actually snows), but I was dead set on going to college there. One of the biggest perks (aside from the fact that the college offered an awesome Tibetan language program AND tea serving AND archery classes) was the fact that going to college over a thousand miles away meant I’d definitely have to move out.

College application time was war in my household. We were poor and usually made ends meet however we had to but unless I magically got accepted to Harvard or something (I actually did apply and got as far as the interview process), my mother was convinced FSU was the perfect choice and the thought of paying other college application fees was just pointless. (Also because most people we know barely made it through community college and the idea of skipping community college to go straight into university was downright freaking weird, let alone going to college out of state.) My mother’s second favorite thing about FSU was the fact that I’d get great scholarships. Her first was that it would further her plan to keep me in the nest for the rest of my life (or at least the immediate forseeable future), and as much as we loved each other immensely, we both loved too hard to be able to live in the same space and not drive each other absolutely batty.

It’s probably some law of physics that, in divorced households, the non-custodial parent gets to be the good guy in all such situations (which meant that until I became an adult, I never understood how much my mother really sacrificed for me and how much I took her for granted), so my rather financially well off father saved the day by agreeing to pay the fees and help me move and find an apartment. (This was after I decided a good academic standing in my field – I already knew what I wanted to do with my life – and lots of funding were a better choice than archery classes, but I still miss the idea of moving to Colorado.) I’ve seen my mother angry before, but as I avoid conflict at all costs and could never stand to have anyone – especially my parents – be mad at me or disappointed in me, it was a rare experience and even more rarely directed at me.

So anyway, when I was torn between defying my mother – who was my sun and moon – and going against what I knew was probably best for my mental health, I was on the phone with my dad one day when he asked what, exactly, I was afraid of. The rest of the conversation went something like this.

“Um, she’ll kill me.”

“You’re really that scared of her?”

“You don’t know her.”

I’m sure at this point the thought of calling in Child Protective Services may have crossed my father’s mind, so I should probably elaborate a bit here: I loved my mother more than anyone or anything else in the entire world. I also feared her more than anyone or anything else in the entire world. Growing up, her favorite phrase was, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.” It didn’t matter that she’d only physically disciplined me once in my entire life (I was four, I refused to go to bed, and I’ve gotten worse spankings from jerks on the street trying to grope me), she could wither me and make me fear for my very existence with a look. The thought of bringing home any grade less than an A had me quaking in fear, and Cs or lower were positively hide in my room, have panic attacks, and not-seriously-because-I-am-a-total-pansy consider running for the hills to save my life sort of experiences (I made one C in high school, God help me, never again).

The most important lesson my mother ever taught me was how to both fear and love at the same time. Given the option, I’m inclined to love. I avoid conflict, I have almost never held a grudge in my life, and up until the fallout that occurred in my family after my parents died (my father passed away five months to the day after my mother, inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un) I can’t say I’d ever been truly angry at anyone. I prefer to expect love from people; I’m usually turned away from someone when they inspire fear in me. I like to think of God primarily in His merciful aspect, and I’m more motivated by a desire to be compassionate than by thoughts of the hellfire.

My mother was the first person for whom I ever learned to hold both love and fear in my heart. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala was the second. She was also the first person who taught me that just because she had a wrath to be reckoned with didn’t mean she couldn’t love me unconditionally. Without my mother’s lessons, finding the siratul mustaqeem, the straight path, the path to God, would have been a much more unbearable struggle. For me, Paradise is literally under the feet of my mother; without her, I would have never been able to develop the strength of faith in a both loving and wrathful God to have the hope of reaching Paradise.

This story also brings to bear the other most important lesson my mother ever taught me, which is actually a few lessons combined into one – mainly, that the sky is the limit. I was the first person in my close family to get a bachelor’s degree and go onto graduate school. Most of the people I know were lucky to graduate high school and few of them were ever taught that they were worth enough or capable enough to go beyond that – that it was even an option for them. My mother’s main source of inspiring fear was in pushing me through my education. Her mantra from the time I was small was, “You’re going to college and I’m not paying for it. You don’t have the option of not graduating from college, because I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it, and you don’t have the option of me paying for it, because we don’t have the money. So you better make good grades and get good scholarships.”

She moved heaven and earth to get me into a Catholic K-8 school so that I wouldn’t be subjected to our failing public school system. At the time I found it stifling to attend a school with people whose parents made more in a year than my mom did in a lifetime, and who I felt I couldn’t connect with, but to this day I am so grateful that she made it possible for me to have that early foundation of education, because it has opened up so many things for me. The high school I attended had a depressing graduation rate (like twenty people dropped out in the month leading up to graduation, even), and the majority of ninth graders came in reading at a fourth grade level. In high school and in the area where much of my mom’s family lives, I saw up close and personal what it meant to not have opportunities, and to not have parents who were or who could be so committed to pushing their children to go farther than they ever had the opportunity to. My sister and nieces live there now, and if there is any legacy that I hope we can pass on to my nieces (who are like my babies) from my mother it would be that dreams are not illegal in the ghetto.

Through this, she taught me never to accept no for an answer and never to back down. My mother is the strongest woman I’ve ever known. I think sometimes that my big sister inherited that from her and I didn’t – I was always a timid child, much more likely to turn my passion and anger inward towards myself and to blame myself for things than to actually stand up for myself or be strong enough to struggle against outward injustice and oppression. I remember the first time I ever contested a grade my first semester of college (my mom passed away a month before finals my first semester), and I called her to tell her, and she was so enormously proud of me it took my breath away. She’d spent seventeen years teaching me not to take crap from anyone. I’m a notoriously slow learner sometimes. This lesson made me the unrelenting human being that I am today when it comes to activism; I refuse to take no for an answer in every aspect of my life. I don’t accept my own or others’ limitations, because I was taught that the only limitations we have are the ones we put there.

I did end up moving out, by the way. I think in the few months between when I moved out and when she passed away, my mother finally saw the other side of things and it improved our relationship a lot to have that three whole miles of space. At the same time, had she not been so adamant about me going to college in the same city, I would never have had those last few blessed months with her. My mother never got to see me graduate from college; were it not for the fact that I graduated high school a year early (in large part due to how she believed in me), she would have not lived to see me graduate from high school. I think Allah waited to take her from me just long enough for her to know I could stand on my own and be okay first.

Even in her death, she was still teaching me. I’ve been through a lot of very painful things in my life, but there is no pain that even compares to losing her. In some ways I think she was teaching me with her death that I have the strength to survive any trial; maybe she somehow understood the tests that I would have to go through in my life after she was gone. For this, more than anything else my mother gave me, I am the most grateful.

Crossposted at my blog.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. dawn permalink
    April 1, 2010 4:27 am

    all i can say is *hug* and ❤

    • April 1, 2010 6:10 pm

      My sister from another mother ❤ ❤ ❤ I love you.

  2. kaimalino permalink
    April 1, 2010 11:37 am

    Clearly, it is not just your sister who is made of some strong stuff! Thank you for this amazing post.

    • April 1, 2010 6:09 pm

      Thank you for reading! ❤ I can't wait to read more from you. *big hugs*

  3. becky permalink
    April 1, 2010 12:00 pm

    wow thats my lil sissy and my mommy! let me just add some thoughts from a slightly diff perspective…it’s funny how diff yet the same two sisters can be….and how age and time can lead to such diff perspectives….okay so first i dk that poor was the right term…lol. poor is a relative term. we didnt have a lot of money but we had laughs, love and a mom that would have sold her soul for whatever we wanted or needed. money is relative…you can’t take it with you and it always seemed we had enuff…u have to remembr i went to those crappy public schools and wouldnt trade it for your private school for anything. mom grew up as a girl in GA in a time that said that as a woman her highest expectation should be to either be someones wife or become a secretary or nurse…never a doctor or lawyer…at best a secretary or wife/mother. so she wanted u & i to realize that we had the right to dream & more importantly the right to become whatever. I have a totally diff view of mom for 2 reasons. 1) i am 13 yrs older so we were each raised independant of each other @ diff life times by the same strong/loving/wise woman & 2) i was raised by the 1.0 version & u were by the 2.0 version…lol. lets face it i broke her in & wore her down for you…lol. im convinced she was at her core the very same mother but b/c our personalities are so diff what we each took from her was so diff in some respects. i believe she pushed us both in the same ways but where you were tender hearted & quick to blame urself i was hear headed and quick to say screw it! so when i heard you have to get good grades so you can go to college i was like yeah lady, whatever, u better be glad you got those grades…lol. you heard the same thing and it struck fear in your heart & god love you but you were so afraid to disappoint anyone even if it meant you were miserable inside…you had to make everything appear perfect to all and i could really have givin a crap so long as we all had a good time…lol.

    i dont remember and specific instance but i always just knew, maybe b/c her actions always showed it, that i was perfectly loved unconditionally by her no matter what i did. that is such a gift for a child. no matter what i ever did, how much i may have turned out diff than she expected, i always knew on a cellular level that she might not like what i chose but she loved me & u more than anyone else on the planet. i guess i always took for granted that you would know and feel this just as surely as i did. she pushed us b/c she saw we have far more potential than our own limited understanding. she would have paid for us to fly to the moon and done whatever to get the money if we needed it. she would have gladly paid for college if she had the money but she also knew we had many resources at our disposal if only we utilized them. and she knw that sometimes the things you work for yourself are the most cherished. im sure that she is very proud of you…but grasshopper you didnt realize that she always was proud of you…no matter if you had str8 a’s or all c’s….you and i could stand to be a lil more like the other in some ways…lol. where i am yin you are yang. put us together and we are her greatest achievement…more than money, more than prestige or fame…she was THE BEST MOTHER. we are her college diploma, her great high paying job, her perfect marriage…we r the sum total of her. being a parent is not easy. i now have a great reverence for all she sacrificed. it is hard to be the good guy & bad guy, the mom & the dad, to know that ultimately the future of these two individuals rest in your hands…there is no one there to catch you if you screw it up…so i can only imagine how she felt. i had years with her as a young, idealistic, mom & wife. i also had years with her as a person who lost the love of her life and had to be strong & alone, but most of all i had years with her as an adult, best friend & grandmother to my babies.

    i hate that you will never get that chance to be friends…we all act like brats when we are young…lord knws i did my share. but i hate that you only had a few months of what could have been. mom wasnt trying to keep you at home b/c she wanted you home. child you must remember that she sheltered you from a lot. for all your book knowledge you had little common sense and she felt that was her fault. she couldnt send you out to fend for yourself. it wasnt that she didnt want you to fly…she was afraid she had handicapped you so she felt she needed to ease you into it. she never doubted you would soar! and she felt dad had ulterior motives for pushing you to move out…that may or not be true…but you surprised us all and took to college like a fish to water. i just hope that you treasure mom…yes she could instill fear b/c she had to as a mom…but proof that she was good @ her job was that the fear was enuff…you rarely ever felt the wrath. i was much more afraid for others b/c she took no prisoners & pulled no punches when defending us. i know from experience. she was the mother lion who fiercely protected her cubs…good or bad. she was not perfect but being a parent is the hardest job we ever have on this earth. you know how i feel abt it…she earned my respect & loyalty b/c she did the job & dad chose not to. giving up was not an option and she made mistakes but she was ALWAYS there…holding us when we were sick, holding our hands, calling us out when we did wrong, loving us when we didn’t love ourselves…she wasnt perfect but i knw she was always there no matter what. i hope you know that i will do my best to fill her shoes b/c you dont have that when you need it.

    but she always knew if she left us we had each other so i know she wasnt worried. you are such a sensitive soul but you are more like her than you know…you are strong like her but in a quiet reserved way….and i wldnt say i live in the ghetto…more like the country hood…lol. its important to know that there is LIFE out there bigger than a small town, limited funds, ignorant people, and low expectations….regardless of where we are….i love you so very much…i cant express how proud i am of you & i knw mom is smiling down on us. you are a much better person than i am and u make me want to be better. you and i are her legacy…and our path is one that honors her and allows her to live on for us and my girls…shes not really gone b/c she is on my mind every hour of everyday, she giudes me some days, i hear her wisdom when i am faced with a problem and i see her in my girls…so she is still here….always will be. we dont ever really die…not when we are loved by others!

    okay i just realized that those & were inserted for my triple periods. sorry. i really dnt use & that much. LOL. i swear.

    • April 1, 2010 6:09 pm

      Sissy! Edited your comments to combine them together, remove those curse words so I don’t get dirty looks from Saya & also that part where you were lying on me – I SO knew how to cook and do laundry by the time I was ten! You know mom’s other motto was, “I had kids so y’all could do the laundry for me,” lol. I may not have been terribly conscientious, but like I said when I texted you, that’s why I found a man who has OCD. 😛 And I fully admit to having absolutely no sense of direction and choosing not to learn how to drive. These days the fact that I can MapQuest like nobody’s bizness makes up for it. Sort of. 😛 I did finally learn my way around pretty well when I moved out, though.

      I knew she loved me and I knew she pushed me cause she loved me. I hope she would have been proud to know that I was able to survive on my own even though it always felt like y’all were convinced I wouldn’t be able to find my way out of a paper bag cause I only had “book smarts.” -I- shocked myself with that, too. But I wouldn’t have been able to do it if it weren’t for her and I know that.

      What you said about grades tripped me out – I never realized she was hard on you about grades like she was on me when you were little. I used to get so mad cause I knew she’d made Cs in high school sometimes and I didn’t think she had pushed you like she did me. I guess I just took her too seriously 😛 But you know me…I am so afraid of disappointing people, it’s practically a character flaw. But I do treasure her and I know she loved me unconditionally – and that she would have loved me even if I’d made Fs (although I would still have been terrified of her! LOL). And you are so right…poor is a relative term. I guess it always hit home for me because of going to Trinity and stuff. But I wouldn’t trade the way we were brought up for anything in the world, because it made me who I am and I’m grateful for that, and because Mom always loved us so much and would have done anything for us, so it didn’t really matter.

  4. Smiley_x permalink
    April 1, 2010 6:56 pm

    This is beautifully written. Your mother is an amazing amazing person and you are very lucky to have her.

  5. April 1, 2010 8:31 pm

    Wow. Subhanallah. I am just blown away by this. You wouldn’t think one quiet, unassuming person could contain the whole universe in her soul just like that. I’m not even sure who I mean by that – our mothers, their daughters? I don’t know. It’s having one of those moments where you feel like the tiniest molecule in the vastness of creation.

    > ‘we are her college diploma, her great high paying job, her perfect marriage…we r the sum total of her’

    Becky, that was perfect. And I would add one more thing that makes all of those things come together: grace (barakah) – the grace that comes from goodness, that comes from mothers, that comes from an otherworldly source…from the place where souls are made.

    I feel amazingly privileged not only to read your post, Noor, but Becky has made this doubly powerful by adding her perspective of the same magnificent woman. There’s a kind of alchemy in reprocessing your experiences through someone else’s eyes, isn’t there?

    Have you heard this quote from Ibnul-Qayyim?

    The heart in its journey towards Allah (swt) is like a bird; its head is love, and its two wings are hope and fear. When the head and the two wings are sound and healthy, then the bird will fly well. If the head of the bird is cut off, it immediately dies, and when either or both wings are deficient, the bird cannot fly properly and it may become the victim of a hunter that passes by.

    Reading your post also made me think of this – about how fear is important, and love alone doesn’t do the job – but, as with all things, only in its proper amounts.

    I had a zillion thoughts about this, but I’ll have to spread them out so I don’t write an essay. ❤

    • April 2, 2010 12:18 am

      I hadn’t heard that quote before, subhanAllah. It’s so true.

      And Becky is so right about that. It’s always amazed me how we are our mothers’ worlds. I know Raven and Na’Kyah are Becky’s world, and we were the center of my mother’s. It’s such a blessing.

  6. April 1, 2010 8:51 pm

    PS – Hijabification win!

  7. Anonymous permalink
    April 1, 2010 10:41 pm

    wow you and becky loved 2 write but thats my ma. i read it to. and my mama saids the same thing. and becky saids it 2 raven n ky ky all the time. and i never want to see my momma or becky 2 ever do that lol love you cuzn!!

  8. becky permalink
    April 3, 2010 1:33 am

    meggs u knw that last comment was from mary addison. i just read the other comments. its so sad that you never truly appreciate what you have until its gone. i want u to read the few journals i found of moms. it opened my eyes to how strong she truly was. the most surprising thing that i learned aftr her death was what a gr8 listener she was. ppl i didnt even knw she had touched took the time to tell me how she would listen to them, give good advice, and never turned a friend away. i knw she was that way for us, but i guess i took for granted she was just that way for evryone. it is so tru that lessons r taught thru love, hardship, fear. she was open minded and supported us whether she agreed w/our choices or not. she was surprisingly easy going abt things othrs in our family freakd out abt. i miss her so very much. but i have pieces of her in u and my babies. love never dies so she is jst as alive 2day as she was 5 yrs ago. i miss you so very much too! we are so blessed to have our ‘extended’ family called friends…it appears she still has a hand in sending wonderful ppl to help us in our journey. thank u guys for supporting my lil sissy. i look forward to meeting you! blessings & love!

  9. August 6, 2013 11:16 pm

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this post
    and also the rest of the website is also very good.

  10. Nicholas permalink
    November 12, 2013 4:03 pm

    God bless you lady.

  11. April 5, 2017 7:08 pm

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  1. There are no words that can express how I feel. « بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمـَنِ الرَّحِيم

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