I used to think that the only time to do things that I love is on vacation. On vacation, I walk a lot. I exercise. I eat lots of salads and do “fun” things. In new places, I seek out things to do using Google Maps. I always make time to write and read. On vacation, I wake up before dawn. I always make a to-do list and goals list before I go on vacation. I have dozens of vacation notebooks, for tracking progress on week-long vacations.
In the midst of a global pandemic, when people are lined up in body bags in the streets of Mumbai, I have rethought “vacation” entirely. I have no desire to leave my home, and family for pleasure-seeking fun elsewhere. I remember the vacations around the world, and do not miss any of it. I hated the time wasted packing suitcases and shopping for things I would inevitably forget like nail clippers. Thanks to our global pandemic, I am now carving out vacation here and now, among my covid circle of friends.
This Ramadan, I do things that bring joy.
Some of these activities are every day things like shopping for flowers, walking beyond my backyard daily, and automating charity. Last year, I was too scared to go to the grocery store. I didn’t have fresh fruit for weeks because I didn’t want to risk exposure for some strawberries. This Ramadan, I have tasted the most magnificent cantaloupe, watermelon, berries, and kiwis. I have bought flowers just because, and gifted flowers and potted plants that make me happy.
I have begun to experience ramadan as a vacation for the first time in my life. With no obligations to an employer (now that I am happily consulting), I do not have other deadlines that keep me from pursuing joy.
During Ramadan, the habit I am cultivating is reading Quran with tajweed. There are no other priorities except earning reward for the sake of God. Even the trip to the grocery store to get milk is reinterpreted as an act of worship, as a way of feeding and serving others. When I shop for books for the kids, I buy extras in case there are other children I can gift books to. The everyday acts of cleaning the floors, wiping down counters, cooking dinners — all these are acts of worship during this month. Even keeping the nanny I cannot afford is a good deed because I am helping support a Muslim woman who would otherwise have no job. Even on the day after a Quran Khatam for a dead relative, I showed up to my tajweed class.
I have found joy in places that I hadn’t noticed before.
One of my favorite things about vacation is getting to appreciate the beauty of someone else’s home. We often stay at vacation rentals, and I always prefer seeing how others set up and run their homes, especially when they open up their homes to total strangers. Our first trip as a couple was to a vacation house in Maui, and I still remember the binder the hosts made titled ‘house operations. It was 100 pages explaining how their house was run, from how to feed the birds, to how to run the washing machine. It made me happy to see this much thought and attention to a house.
Instead of staying in random places, why not stay within the homes of my beautiful friends?
These home have pretty and shiny things, with children who are grown and don’t throw down all the pillows to play lava, where the children do not leave legos everywhere. These are homes where the books are placed neatly on shelves, not scattered in dozens of baskets in various rooms. These are places where the angels are present, because I know angels love cleanliness. These are homes with joy emanating from the children. The homes are full of sakeena, or peace. The kids take joy in doing chores. I learned a lot just observing the ways other families live and interact with each other.
My Childhood Home Needs Some Unpacking
The home I grew up had a lot of pretty things, but it often felt frantic. The flour was in the linen closet, or the good tea spoons were put away in the overflowing china cabinet, inaccessible because of the large dining table that blocked access. I often lost things in my own room. My mother believed in keeping everything forever, so we had a habit of accumulating stuff and not really making things make sense. Sentiment always took precedent over function in my childhood home. Despite that, my brother has become slightly OCD with how things must go where they are supposed to in his house; and I am more on the ADHD spectrum with my inattention to stuff. For example, I remember my wedding outfit was ruined in a flood and my wedding jewelry all stolen from that same house. Yet, I simply accepted it as qadr. I realized I misplaced that stuff to begin with, and I didn’t feel bad that I don’t have those things anymore. My Ma on the other hand still has all the saris her mother gave her plus her wedding outfit. She knows exactly where every single object is in her kingdom. My father had an entire floor to himself, for his office. He had 4 or 5 desks, wall to wall storage, and all the things of a proper office. He always invested in the latest technology, and invested in his business needs. Yet, it was chaos. The papers were strewn all over the desks, piles of manila folders everywhere. I did a mailing once for my dad’s 1000+ clients and I could not believe that he managed to function without proper systems. He and I are very alike. We will spent $1000 on a piece of art, and have no idea where to put it. We rely on other people (like my Ma) to figure out where things should go, and how to make things look nice.
Breakfast Party at 3AM
At 3AM last Sunday, I stood in my friend’s kitchen reheating my french toast casserole and setting up her beautiful table for our group of 6. Her kitchen was immaculately organized, and made so much sense. It was a joy. I had no trouble finding anything, unloading her dishwasher with her daughter, and putting things exactly where they are supposed to go. We ate together; prayed together. I enjoyed the company of her kids, who taught me how to make a proper fort and make slime (my other favorite thing). My friend and I went for a walk, and the dads talked. The children were so happily engaged with toys and attentive older children. It was perfect in every way and we all got what we came for, which was deepening bonds of friendship for the sake of God.
Ramadan is a joy.
It is a time to spread joy. Even the death brings us some joy and ease. I write about the deaths here. Ramadan is a time to perform at your optimal spiritual state, strive to do the most good deeds each and every day, with the right intention. It is a time for creating joy. Joy is not restricted to the Hawaii vacation I will no longer take.
How have you found joy this Ramadan season? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.