Early last week, Classmate K asked if I’d like to join an overnight trip that she and a few other girls are planning to Napa Valley this weekend. If you’re not already familiar with what Napa’s popular for, I’ll clue you in: winery. It’s also an incredibly beautiful place, or so I’ve heard for ages. I’ve always wanted to check the place out, but it’s hard to gather folks to go… and not join in on the wine-tasting.
They’re hoping to join a wine-tasting and vineyard tour of a privately owned winery and later spend some time around the nearby locales, possibly even check out a supposedly quaint farmer’s market. I reminded her that I don’t drink; she said it doesn’t matter. I pointed out that I’d be the killjoy, the mood downer because then there’ll be this one person – me – who can’t partake in the activities. She gave me a side-eye glare, not even kidding. “You’re saying all this after I just told you that I thought of you and invited you to come along? It’s not a big deal, really.” I hesitated still, because I told her I hate that it always feels like my restrictions trouble others. She insisted it’s no big deal and for me to consider the trip and whaddya know, conveniently, one of her friends walked past us. Classmate K explained the situation to Classmate V, who waved my worries off with a friendly, “Oh no no, come along with us! It’s not an issue, that’s fine. We’ll see if we can even get you a discount on the tour since you won’t be wine-tasting.” I gave it a thought or two, then I thought – ah hell, don’t even. Stop being so scared of judgment that has yet to actually surface. So I smiled at the two girls and said yes.
In short – I’m headed to Napa this Sunday, oh yay!
Mid-week last week, I left that note to the classmates-at-large about my dietary restrictions. Surprisingly, a number of them came forward to me to clarify – what it means for those who’ve never heard of halal or are unclear about halal and kosher; whether this means I still take beef and chicken; switching their entrée contributions to veggie dishes. The truth is not everyone cares (literally), but more people than I would never have guessed apparently… genuinely does. During the potluck dinner last night, none of the friends I hung out with offered to bring me a beer and when dinner finally started, Classmate T sat next to me and asked, “Is there enough food here that you can eat?” I admit – I was surprised he even remembered. I smiled and responded, “More than enough, don’t worry. Thanks so much.”
Today, I worked for long hours as usual with my group mates and friends, Classmates A and L who are such awesome girls. We’ve been doing this for the past 3 or 4 weeks now, every Thursday. As usual at 3 PM we called it a session as Classmate A left for her evening class and Classmate L and I hung around to wait for our 420 PM recitation class. I told her I needed to go somewhere… She said sure. I told her it’d take awhile… She said it’s not a problem. I quietly gathered my prayer things (a scarf, basically) and headed to the building where the prayer room is located. It takes me thirty minutes total to walk back-and-forth and perform the prayers.
When I came back she asked, “Where did you go?” I’ll be honest – in the past, when someone asks me this I always fib. I don’t know why, it’s just so hard to say “I went to pray,” because it just sounds so weird… But Classmate L and I have gotten pretty darn close over the past month and I want to start this friendship right – she needed to know, I thought – and so I responded slowly, “I… went to pray.” Amazingly, the first statement she said following this supposed confession of mine is: “How come you never went before? I mean in the weeks before this that we’ve sat together and studied for long hours like today?” So I explained about how menstruation ties in to that, or that generally I’d pray first before joining them for the study sessions. She asked me then about the basics – “You pray five times a day, right?” I nodded. Then she, ever so sweet, said the sweetest thing, “I don’t know or remember much, but in elementary school we once learned about Islam… There are three pillars?” I blinked, uncertain. “Three…? Not… familiar…” She corrected herself, “Oh! Five?” I smiled and nodded, “Ah that, yes!” From her facial expression, I could tell she was trying to think of the word. ‘There’s… Ramadhan right?” I smiled again. “Ah yes, the fasting month. Oh that’s really cool, that you know it!” We continued our conversation about Islam and myself being Muslim for a few more minutes, before naturally diving right back to our homework. Again, I’ll be honest – I never would’ve guessed this conversation would ever take place.
Honestly, I still have a long ways to go about owning up to this fear and insecurity. Plus, I owe a formal apology to everyone for thinking that this truth is something they can’t accept; my own prejudice and judgment, I sincerely apologize. I still have a long ways to go about being absolutely, totally comfortable about making this known in ways where I can just casually say, “Oh wait can you guys wait? I need to pray for a sec.”
I… still can’t do that, to be honest. It just sounds weird – too holy? Too out of norm? – but if it’s one thing in particular that I’ve learned over the past two weeks, it is that I’ve been mistaken and my almost-four years’ worth of accumulated fear about this: it’s unfounded. The judgment and whatever else I’ve always been so afraid of and the non-acceptance that I’ve always believed will ensue… didn’t happen. Not everyone cares – some just don’t, whether that’s out of ignorance or acceptance I doubt I’ll ever know – but I’m really, really glad that for the ones to whom this matters, they’ve taken the time and effort to understand, learn and remember …for me.
I am not fully there in terms of the destination, but it has started. I don’t just feel it, I’m so happy and relieved that I’m actually actively making sure that I open up about this, one step at a time. For the first time, honest to God, I genuinely feel that I’m finally on my way to being more honest and true to myself and in turn, towards others. The most powerful lesson I have learned over the past two weeks is this:
Coming out of the (Muslim) closet was the best decision I have ever made.
It hit me today, as it has for the past few days – here’s one of the many lessons that I needed to learn. Here’s one of the many lessons which necessitated this specific life-path, this particular detour. There is no doubt in my mind that I am meant to be here, based upon the near-miracle ease at which this opportunity came about but I admit – as I struggle to adjust, I’ve internally questioned over and over on the whys, hows and whats.
Now I understand: there are still lessons which are necessary for me to experience, learn and overcome.
Praises to God, this is honestly the best that I’ve been feeling in the past nine weeks I’ve been here; I am liberated.