Friday, April 10, 2009


On Friday, April 10, I turned 25. So now I can officially say that I've been having a quarter life crisis - evidently the newest trend in my generation.

So what is a quarter-life crisis? Well, it's sort of like a mid-life crisis, only instead of changing the direction of your life, you're struggling to establish the direction of your life. It makes a lot of sense for my generation I think - since going to college has become less of the "becoming an adult" experience and more of a "celebrating my youth" kind of experience. At least that's my take on it.

And then there are those like me who are having more of a leftover identity crisis from their college days. In my case, not only in career path, but personal development as well. Two years prior to my year-late graduation I not only totally flipped my previously hardcore career path on its head, I also definitely chose a path-less-traveled for myself personally - conversion to faith, and Islam at that. Of course, I don't really regard the second as a decision, more as a calling. I wasn't looking for faith - it came to me and I couldn't ignore it or deny it.


Here I am, trying to keep my tiny craft from sinking in the sometimes storm-surge waves of life on my own in Los Angeles. My analogy at the moment is like being stuck on a tiny craft in the Caribbean, far from land without a compass. I've figured out East and West, and being relatively close to some major piece of land gives me hope - I just have no idea how close or far from it I may be. Further, I'm not entirely alone - every once in a while a big ship comes by and tries unsuccessfully to take me aboard, but then another hurricane hits, we're torn apart, and I'm struggling to keep my head above water again.

OK, so that might sound a little extreme, and maybe it is. But, the upside of being stuck alone on a tiny craft in the Caribbean is that you learn a lot about yourself. Yes, on this tiny boat there has been a lot of deep thinking about life, who I am, God, and the beauty around me. After all, it's the Caribbean! And sometimes you're lucky enough to find reprieve on a gorgeous little island for a while.

Most recently, to continue the analogy, I finally found refuge on a nice-sized tourist boat. I rested, ate, drank, washed, and enjoyed a welcome back to civilization, though it housed just a handful of tourists. But, just when I was feeling solidly optimistic about returning to land and making my plans and getting lost in my company, I discovered that the boat's captain was lost. Most likely I wouldn't end up alone on my little craft again, but where would I end up? And when? And at what cost?

Not entirely accurate, but I guess it gives a good feel to the current situation. In November I finally had found a job that would support me and a solid place to live. Over the next couple months I started to regain ground financially and re-stabilize my life. But then I had persistent health problems. And I couldn't save money. And I stopped going to capoeira (which has been my primary source of happiness since I've been in L.A.) and found myself increasingly isolated as I just tried to figure out what was wrong with me.

And I'm still in that stage. But I feel I have passed through the worst of it. At it's peak, I was terribly lonely and struggling to deal with a health problem that I couldn't identify - digestive issues - and one more frighteningly definite - periodontal disease (advanced for my age). I may lose all my teeth, they told me. Or need braces or expensive surgery that I most certainly couldn't afford. Going back to school would be cheaper. But, sadly, doing that wouldn't make it go away, of course. No known medical techniques can. Scary stuff.

So I cried a lot and it haunted me through miserable shifts at work. And, like people sometimes do when they're ill for too long, I wondered if I might die. Maybe it's cancer! Or worse! Attention K-Mart shoppers: we are now having an existential crisis.

And I think that was the worst of it: the night I was sobbing on the floor after praying. For story-telling's sake, I wish I remembered my own history in more detail. I don't remember exactly what I was thinking, just that I let all of my own fears out. And that somehow, after that, I was incredibly grateful for everything that I have. More than that, I realized that I had mis-aligned my life. Do you know what I wanted when I changed my life so dramatically those 2-3 years before graduation? I wanted to be one of those unusually good people when I got old. I wanted to explore my interests, drop my bad habits, and establish good ones permanently. Of course I wanted to have the kind of character that's mentioned in the Qur'an - but this was in addition to people whose traits I've wanted much of my life. I wanted to have the warm, loving, intelligent personality of and family ties like my grandma Barton. I wanted to have the solid sense of right and wrong and responsibility of my grandpa Herron.

And over the past 1.5 years I ignored the most important thing of all. I didn't realize it until I couldn't escape my loneliness and fear. I didn't remember until I had to get out of my usually comfortable room and house to the most comforting place I know of in L.A. - the mosque. During one of my days off in the middle of this I went there mid-day just to make prayer, read the Qur'an - my only real solace- and rest, away from my demons. The sun shone in through the front doors as I sat on the soft, cushy carpeting in the prayer area, a large area only populated by a handful of people in the middle of a regular day. I couldn't help but just sit there a while and take in the scene - that unmistakable sweet mosque scent and indescribable peace and quiet that even rowdy children can't complete destroy. It was then that some kids were running around, playing with their relatives who had brought them as well as the desk attendant. Their care-takers - be they parents or otherwise, I don't know - were at ease and peace, one even stretching out on the carpeting on the other side of the hall, the other playing with the kids when they ran his way.

That is what I want. I want the kind of peace and love and beauty that I find in the mosque in my life. And I want the kind of warmth of family and friendship that I see among Muslims. There was no mean joking, no harsh words, no threat of punishment to those kids. There was no weariness or resentment or fear despite a failing economy and the end of a work day. There was no drama, despite kids interrupting the peace and the use of the mosque by hundreds of different people, of different income levels, of different ethnicities, with different values, from different places and cultures and skin tones. And there was, simply, that indescribable peace and beauty of putting the most importance on the things in life the matter, and acknowledging all other things as a decoration.

So, at age 25, here I am. It has been a little traumatic, and certainly quite dramatic getting here. But I think I've finally realized how I need to live my life. Remembrance of God, and prayer, and a path of faith needs to be the center of my life. Career, and money, and yes, even health, are decorations. If I were to die tomorrow I would want to feel like I've put something good in this world. I would much rather have taken my last day of life to give food to the hungry or give someone a helping hand than something relatively selfish like going to France or eating the world's most lavish meal.

Now I need to live my life this way. Now I truly remember what the best path is. Alhamdulillah.

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