Sabr

6 Ramadan 1441

Today, I made buss up shot/roti for the first time.

At 3 PM—after reaching out to CUIT about tech issues, selecting video clips of Toni Morrison to show in class, contacting Apple to generate a receipt so I can be reimbursed for a work-related expense, and going through emails including one that wishes me well on the job market because any university would be lucky to have me—I decided I could no longer continue working.

I closed my laptop, washed my face, and decided it was time to make roti.   

It felt good to brush my fingers through the mixture of flour, baking soda, salt and sugar. Pouring lukewarm water, little by little, into the mixture; kneading it until I had a little ball of dough in my mixing bowl; and then massaging butter and oil into the dough was satisfying.

It felt like a tactile, ritualistic performance of patience.

But the kind of patience that is a healing balm to hold space and hold up— not the kind of patience wielded to silence and punish. 

The people who have known me the longest would say I am a calm person who knows how to be patient in stressful situations. I’m not sure if my calmness is normal—or a defense mechanism—but I now understand the pandemic-induced baking ingredients frenzy purchases at supermarkets. 

I’m sure my wonderful therapist, whom I found after learning my health care covered her, would have a lot to say. 

At the end of junior year in high school, my brother died. I reviewed over and over in my mind what it meant to be patient with that fact for the rest of my life, which may someday be longer than his.

Then, that summer, we found ourselves in the middle of one of the first dengue epidemics in Bangladesh. When my father and uncle were infected and hospitalized, all the adults spent most of their time in the hospital watching over them. My young cousins and siblings were left with me to care for at one of my aunt’s homes. I watched the doctors in our family frantically discuss what could be done, and I watched my aunts cry and worry about my mother’s emotional well-being all things considered. They came in and out of my aunt’s apartment describing how my dad and uncle were clinging on to life and receiving blood transfusions and thank God we found matches for their blood types. As I listened to them, all I could feel was utter calm by the thought that it can’t really get worse than this, can it?

Senior year, my high school guidance counselor asked me to visit her office. She was concerned that out of all the students in the same top percentile of our class who had met with her about their college applications, I was the one who did not come to see her. She said perhaps the trauma of loss I had experienced is keeping me back from applying to colleges across the country. I looked at her calmly and said, No, it’s not that. I’ve decided I want to stay home for college. 

When I was a college freshman, I used to commute to the University of Miami everyday. After September 11th, I stopped taking the train and carpooled with another student from Broward County. One night, on the way home, we were involved in a car accident on US-1. As multiple cars hit their breaks, it led to a domino effect of one car hitting another one by one. When my friend, who was driving at the time, hit the breaks, she could not avoid hitting the car in front of her. I remember her freaking out, scared, saying she didn’t want to die, and closing her eyes—and I suddenly felt calm, my ears were hyper alert to the sounds of cars behind us hitting each other, one by one. I said La ilaha illallah, told her we were about to be hit from behind, and braced myself. And then we felt the impact. She said when I said, La ilaha illallah, she remembered where she was and what was happening. 

Another time, when I was home from grad school, my family and a Bangali uncle who often visited our home to have meals with us were eating lunch together when my sister began experiencing inexplicable pain. She found herself writhing in pain, on the floor, unable to stand. My parents, my brother, and the uncle started frantically crying, expressing over and over PLEASE DON’T DIE. OH GOD, PLEASE DON’T LET HER DIE, unable to do simple tasks. I love my sister, but at that moment, I didn’t feel any of the same things everyone around me was feeling. I walked over to the phone, called 9-1-1, and spoke to the operator who gave me instructions to keep with me an insurance card and government-issued ID. When the ambulance came, the paramedics asked who would accompany my sister in the ambulance. I said I would and the others would follow later once they collected their things — and themselves.

I don’t know what that is, in each of those stories, but I don’t think it’s patience. 

Even more years later, after understanding I have the capacity to function during traumatic events, I also learned what provokes my anger. Few people close to me have seen my anger—a fiery, tearful, anger reserved for a special few.    

Again, my wonderful therapist would have much to say.

If marriage and graduate school taught me anything, it’s that there is a difference between the virtue of patience and the vice of not having boundaries. And although the slowness by which I react to the crossing of my boundaries might look like patience, it’s mostly a demonstration of my needing more time to process the event in which that happened. Incidentally, I learned I am far more quicker at identifying when someone else has been wronged than when it happens to me.

When I was a Lead Teaching Fellow, for example, a few years ago, I organized a series of events on inclusive teaching for my department and other graduate students. A professor one day approached me after he learned about one of the workshops and said, It’s great you are so interested in inclusion and diversity, but I don’t think we have to worry any more these days about such things.

That was right before the 2016 elections when plenty of smart people at Ivy League schools believed 45 was a joke. 

My silence, at that moment, was not informed by patience. It was informed by utter dismay. I still think about what I could and should have said because I am still amazed, that a South Asian man with an accent could be so unaware of what it is like to live and work in the United States, outside of Manhattan. 

Six weeks into quarantine life, I can say I am proud of the moments in my life when I decided a performance of patience was no longer a virtue and recognized my boundaries were crossed and my kindness was abused. I had to work to get to this point, and I am proud of the moments, in particular, when I realized I had enough of someone’s bullshit and was able to manage and use my rage to achieve care, justice, accountability for myself.   

In the last 5 to 6 weeks, I would say I have only had one serious angry meltdown when someone told me I should consider moving to Nebraska or Idaho when the pandemic is over and not all Republicans are bad people. All I could do with that rage was decide I will no longer allow this person to speak with me and be in my head—and that is okay. 

And I know for so many of you, this is a sad Ramadan. Maybe the saddest you have experienced. But I have to say, this Ramadan, I am far more tranquil and less unhappy than I was last Ramadan— because in pandemic times, people with whom I have had much patience and have a knack for crossing boundaries have not figured out how to do that while being socially distant.    

I’m sure my therapist would have lots to say about that, too.

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