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Flashes of Life 18 March 2008

Posted by Ayesha Mattu in BARAKA, Culture.

I can still remember the moment I bit through the bubbly, fried rectangular pie; gooey-hot apple chunks flooding into my mouth. And how the suddenly rattling windows herded us first under the desks and then outside to the field after the big earthquake, where we stood laughing in the sunlight, thrilled to miss class.

I remember the way my grandmother’s hair smelled of the wood fires she cooked meals over in the village, silver waves beginning to stream into the dark, and how she fed me with garlic-tipped fingers. Or the time I decided to run away from home and sat on a curb waiting for Amiji to notice, sweat trickling down my neck until I was too thirsty to stand it anymore and ran inside, breathless, sure she’d be frantic with worry because I’d been away so very long.

Had I managed to stay out longer than 15 minutes, she very well might have been.

My childhood memories are so vivid that when I close my eyes, I taste them. Those years are filled with original memories, the “firsts”, with time stretching out to accommodate a rapidly learning mind. But, at some point, the learning declines, a fruit has already been tasted so many times that it barely registers, and memories become less palpable, less differentiated, so dim that they may no longer even be mine.

We lose our days unless we make a conscious effort to live them.

Too often these days, my husband and I return from a day at the office spent glued to a computer screen, and then spend the evening sitting in the same room still connected to our respective computers instead of to each other. Everyone I know is plugged into the TV, radio, Blackberry, laptop, iPod, text-filled cell phone, or video game du jour for much of each day, monkey minds swinging from thought to thought just like links clicked from web page to web page until one ends up in an unexpected place with no memory of how one arrived there or why.

What happens to memory when one day spent in front of a computer blends into another – does it become as soft and indistinguishable as jelly? If each day will only return to us on the Day of Judgment, I wonder how many I’ll actually recognize enough to claim as my own.

If life flashes before our eyes when we die, what will I see? Will I remember the light on the windowsill today, the fresh *pop* of tomatoes in my mouth, the feel of your limbs under mine? Will I recall reciting a sonnet, inhaling a baby’s scent, kissing your dear, departed fingertips? Will I relive praying under the trees, promising You to make each day sacred, conscious and unique?

Or, will my childhood scenes morph into celluloid montages, celebrity trivia, and thousands upon thousands of web pages browsed, the roil of information sweeping out any original memories in my mind?

Whose life, finally, will flash before these eyes – mine, or Britney’s?



1. safia - 18 March 2008

Nice post sis-)


2. Cella - 18 March 2008

She’s not kidding, folks! I actually have a picture of she and her husband when they first met. In the savory sweet beginnings of their new relationship, I caputred them on film, sitting side by side, gazing lovingly into their respective laptops.

This is a good reminder that sometimes the best information you can feed your always-hungry mind is sitting right there in front of you, in the form of analog conversation with your loved ones.

Thanks for the nudge, Baraka!

I’m going to google to see what others have to say about this. ;)

3. Basil - 18 March 2008

Very thought-provoking post. A friend of mine used to say that we spend the first 25 years of our lives making memories and the rest of our lives talking about them. Perhaps as we grow older, some of us surrender to the safety and comfort of television, the Internet, or other less-interactive endeavors. I guess the question is…are we LIVING our lives?

4. skarim - 18 March 2008

assalam alaykum –

hmm: i don’t know if it’s that learning declines as much as the desire to grow and the ability to reflect (and live our life out internalizing those reflections) . . . ? because perhaps there is some comfort, as basil points out, in surrendering to ‘safety’ without having to evaluate ourselves: the more we reflect, the more we’d have moral dilemmas that’d be signalling to us that we should change even while our ego tells us that we’re all that.

but this is just a theory . . . :)


p.s. love the post!

5. maximus mercury - 18 March 2008

prompted by the thought of us as monkeys swinging from link to link in cyber space wherever we are led: My nani was a very orthodox practitioner, quite stern, & had quite a few interesting & wide-ranging rules to teach us: any time there was a commotion or noise on the streets and we kids would want to jump up and look out the windows to see what was going on outside, she would forbid it – the idea was to have enough self-discipline & poise to stand our ground and not lose control or be swayed by whatever tide was sweeping people up around us. She always gave the example of the approach of qiyama, when there will be many such temptations coming our way and we will have to be in the instinctive habit of differentiating, without which we’d stand no chance and unconsciously self-select into the population of the unfortunate ones. :) There’s my apocalyptic tale for you.

on another note: I always use the word “taste” for my most vivid memories, so it really struck me that you do the same! I venture to say that I know exactly what you mean…and I also wonder about the same things you do about repetition of the acts of life taking the sparkle away. I suppose that’s what makes people jaded at one extreme and wise at the other!

6. maximus mercury - 18 March 2008

wow – just read the Quranic ayat marked “inspiration” beside the post. Very thought-provoking.

7. maximus mercury - 18 March 2008

which I’m realising is general to the website & not just your post, so I’ll repost it here… the importance of community (which you spoke of elsewhere too!) and of staying connected to live people:

And keep yourself content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His face, and let not your eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this life….

– the Qur’an 18:28

Sorry about the record number of comments – I guess I’m making up for lost time.

8. dreamessence - 18 March 2008

Beautiful words–although it left me feeling melancholy on the inside. Living a technologically-advanced existence leaves one empty and devoid of life at times. It is like we lose touch with ourselves through the course of our lives. The important thing to do is to step back once in a while and break away from the world’s forces to truly give ourselves the time that we deserve.

9. Safiya Outlines - 18 March 2008

Salaam Alaikum,

This post really resonated with me. I too have a very clear memory but worry that it’s being used up on trivia.

10. Nerda - 19 March 2008

thank you for a beautiful post and gentle reminder…time to disconnect online and reconnect live

11. Baraka - 19 March 2008

A warm salaam and short note to thank all of you for your comments & support! :)

I’m traveling on the East Coast until Sunday and hope to have time to reply in more detail soon.


12. Safiyyah - 19 March 2008

Salaams Sis:

The older I get, the more the memories flash back to me. It seems that everything in the middle is a blur sometimes.

13. ayesha - 19 March 2008

been thinking about this very much recently, with all the reading i’m doing on homeschooling (you know – would you rather have your kid glued to a screen of any kind, instead of building a model/playing music/reading a book/running outside/just about anything else?).

i haven’t read very many autobiographies, but i have never lost my sense of wonder at c.s. lewis’ “surprised by joy: the shape of my early life,” in what exquisite detail he recalls his childhood from the INSIDE – recalls not only what he experienced but HOW he experienced it as a child.

i’m jealous of it, because all i really have is fading memories of my earliest years (like when you remember a dream vividly, but once you’ve TOLD it or written it down, your actual memory of it seems to stem more from the retelling than from the actual dream?). i started keeping journals when i was 11, though, so from that time on i’ve got a pretty good record! and i’m going to encourage all my kids to keep one, inshallah.

14. Achelois - 20 March 2008

What a beautiful post! Sweet memories and honey-dipped words have made me smell your grandmother’s hair and taste the apple pie. I must also thank my laptop for that :D Right now my husband is sitting a few yards away glued to his laptop! How true is your writing, see!


15. Maithri - 22 March 2008

Dear Baraka,

These words have set my body tingling…

Such deep truth you write here… Such beauty… Such wisdom.

May there be a thousand readers of these love kissed words, A thousand listeners to the voice of this courageous, tender, heart.

With reverent love,


16. Imelda / Greenishlady - 22 March 2008

This is indeed a beautiful post – and that final few lines really brought me up short. Every memory I create now should really be something I would value having present in my last moments. There is such food for thought here. Thank you.

17. darvish - 23 March 2008

Poignant and thought-provoking, sweet and delicious as young memories and old truths. Our minds filter out the dross, so never fear, dearest Sister Baraka, it will be your life that flashes before your lovely eyes (whose reflection is in the computer screen) :)))

Ya Haqq!

18. Baraka - 24 March 2008

Salaam all,

I got back late last night from a hectic trip to Boston and wanted to thank you all again for reading and commenting – it really means a lot to me!

Safia: Thanks sweetie :)

Cella: I want a copy of that photo to laugh over and to remind me!

And weren’t you the girl updating your Facebook status via mobile from the rainforests of South America during her honeymoon?!

(PS- Welcome back to Blogistan :) )

Basil: “A friend of mine used to say that we spend the first 25 years of our lives making memories and the rest of our lives talking about them.”

Thanks for that, it made me reflect on my own life and see that I could be doing a lot more living in this, my 35th year.

SKarim: I look at learning and growth as interrelated. Reflection is a form of learning about oneself; surrendering to safety implies mindlessness or stasis.

But you’re right, this too is just a theory :)

MM: I missed you but here you are back in full force! :) I absolutely loved your nani’s apocalyptic story. It feels true to me: the way we are in life will be the way we are in the grave, the Day of Judgment, and the afterlife.

Dreamessence: Yes to disconnecting from technology to reconnect from the world and the world within oneself. It reminds me of my favorite EM Forester quote (from Howard’s End):

“”Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the gray, sober against the fire.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”

Safiya Outlines: Yes, I too don’t want a mind full of trivia but that is so much of what socializing has become centered around that it is sometimes difficult to raise the conversation to ideas. *sigh*

Nerda: Your splendid story is a wonderful way to reconnect deeply!

Saffiyah: Some of the blur is understandable and human – we simply cannot process/retain all the information/stimulation in the world around us. But I do think I need to fight harder to form & retain what I can.

Ayesha: “Surprised by joy: the shape of my early life” – I love that! And I too kept journals from a young age, and they bring back so much I had forgotten. I hope every child is as encouraged to chronicle their lives as yours will be. :)

Achelois: I’m so glad it took you back to peek into my childhood. And it’s good to know that phenomenon is not limited to Basil & me! :)

I really enjoyed reading your related post on replaying life’s mosaic when you die too!

Maithri: Thank you dear brother, your sun-kissed and love-drenched words are always a joy to read. May your heart touch and inspire thousands!

Imelda: Every memory I create now should really be something I would value having present in my last moments.

What a beautiful vow – thank you for the inspiration!

Darvish: Insha-Allah dear brother, thank you always for your beauty & reassurance.

Thank you all again for sharing your beautiful and thoughtful insights.

Much love to you all,

19. maximus mercury - 24 March 2008

:) I know – we might end up playing tag over the two blogs… meanwhile, I am smiling widely! :) thank you for missing me back!

20. Baraka - 25 March 2008

Hugs! :)

21. Muslimahs Speak Up! April 2008 « Aaminah Hernández - 18 April 2008

[…] Baraka at Other/Matters gives us Flashes of Life and at Rickshaw Diaries, Becoming Sahaba. She also shares with us a spectacular photo, The Perfect […]

22. samaha - 18 April 2008

Beautiful post. About the same time that I got my children each a computer, gave in to the mp3 player, gave in to the xbox – I realized within a few months that they weren’t going to enjoy the same memories that I had. Since then, we’ve travelled and seen some of the world’s most fascinating scenes in Europe, the US and Canada, spent every weekend skiing this winter, spend most summers on weekend bike excursions, hiking, and we’ve just added week day roller blading to the mix. Would you believe that they actually cry – why can’t you just let us be normal kids?

23. Baraka - 18 April 2008

Salaam Samaha,

That sounds so wonderful! Sometimes parents have to do things knowing that their children may not appreciate it now, but that they will later :)


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