Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Long Car Rides with Daddy

It's been a long New Year's Eve. After work, I drove home to pick up Daddy and we went to Philly to visit my sister. I like long car rides with my dad. It gives me a chance to talk with him without any distractions. Ever since his neck and back surgeries, it's been hard to hold a conversation with him. He's either in too much pain to concentrate or too drugged up to show he cares. It can be annoying or even embarrassing and most of all painful, but it's the truth.

It's just the way it is.

I don't know what it was-- maybe just the emotional weight on both our shoulders of overcoming another year -- but my dad and I had a particularly special conversation on our drive back from Philly.

What made our conversation special could have simply been the fact that I can't remember the last time I've been able to speak with him about such deep subjects for as long as we did... but it was more than that. It was the manner of our words and where we were, physically and emotionally, when we spoke them.

Though 2013 may just be a number, it's hard to forget the significant changes associated with the year. It's hard to overcome feelings of sorrow and it's hard not to pray for a lighter burden or for conversations with my dad like I had today to be a normalcy - not a rarity.

But at the same time, I've learned this year to not ask for a lighter burden but for broader shoulders; to not ask for more when I think I have less but to appreciate what I have today and consider all that comes tomorrow a blessing.

The truth is my parents are getting older, as am I. Time can't be stopped. And with new hours, new days, new years -- come new responsibilities, new lessons.

The car ride with my dad today - coincidentally only hours before 2013 is no more -- was special because it reminded me to value all that came and all that comes, but perhaps most important:

All that is.

Happy 2014. Stay blessed.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Blessings in Disguise

Friday marked the final day of the first semester of my college career. As many of you may already know, I haven't had a great semester. In fact, I can recall more negative experiences looking back at these past four or five months than positive. It hurts to even think about it.

I had some pretty serious health scares, and my parents had and continue to have even worse. I had really bad luck, and I made some life-changing mistakes. And of course, all of these had an impact on my academic performance in college.

I reached an all-time low, both physically and emotionally. Happiness became a rarity. I felt hopeless, lost, scared. I faced trials I never thought I would have to, saw and felt things I never wanted to, and went through experiences that I will forever try but never be able to forget.

Yes, I'm only 18 and yes, God-willing, I have plenty more of my life to live, but I felt and feel even now that these past few months were the worst I've ever lived through. It's more than failing tests and car accidents and illnesses -- it's the pain. It's the memory and it's their consequence.

I've tried to take solace in the thought that maybe all of this was expected. But I never could have expected to go through all I did in such a short time. Honestly, I expected the opposite.

I realize now that I can never take solace in expectations. The only consolation is faith. The only comfort is in knowing how each and every trial and tribulation I've been through is a blessing.

It was easy to complain. It was easy to seek sympathy and empathy and pity. It isn't easy to move on. It isn't easy to view misfortunes as blessings and remember my privileged status.

The fact is -- I have to. Some experiences were so tough that I'll probably even always regard them as the worst I've ever been through. What I can't do is regret. What I can't do is not move on.

I'm not the most religious person but there's a Qur'an verse that always hits me whenever I recite it. In the chapter titled 'The Beneficent', this verse is repeated multiple times after listing the many blessings we enjoy in this world: "So then which of the favors of your Lord do you deny?"

Yes, times have been tough.

They've been tough for me, you, and everyone else. It hurts to think about it that way, and it is easy to not. But the truth is -- each hardship is a blessing in disguise. Each disease, sorrow, sadness, hurt, distress is a lesson to be learned.

Each misfortune is an opportunity to grow into a better person.

It's easy to lose hope, and I did. But now, I look back at my recent past not with regret, but with wisdom. I look at my scars as stories.

I look at this recent past as the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

I look at my future with hope.

Stay blessed.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Poem I Wrote Some Thousand Feet Above Florida

As I was flying home from my vacation in Florida this morning, I decided to write a poem to reflect on my trip. This is what came to mind some thousand feet in the sky above Florida:

And there --
like the sun finding its niche beneath the horizon,
like the marks of feet soaked by the sea;

The memories.

They appear when eyelids close
like oysters hiding pearls
or apples harboring worms.

They round our squares
and sharpen our vertices.
They pump our beat
and raise our hair.

They exist for us.
They are us.

And etched in the past,
they become nothing more than
lost shoe-prints
deserted fingerprints;

Shared breath.

Love once had.
Life once lived.

Memories made.

Photo taken on 11/30/13 in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Be the Better Person

My writing professor shared a story in class that really caught my attention and heart. She told us about how when she was in fourth grade, she and her girlfriends would tease one girl in their group who was known to be a bit silly.

One night, at a sleepover, they decided to play a joke on the girl and told her to stay in a room, count all the numbers she knew and only then would she be able to exit and join the rest. As my professor told the story, she choked up.

"What a mean thing to do."

My professor's mother went to the room where she found the girl who had already counted to 500.

Several years later, my professor had fallen ill and was hospitalized for about a week. As she told the class the next part of the story, there were tears in her eyes. She told us that she received cards every single day from the girlfriend whom she once teased.

"I can't help but look back in regret that I wasn't the one who gave the card, but the one who teased. I want to be that person. I want to be the person who gives the card. What a better person to be."

My professor remarked that indeed, we all do wrong when we are young, but there is no justification for being mean - not age, not anything. She shared the story so candidly, and it really made me reflect upon my actions in the past and present.

No matter the context, I always want to be the one who gives the card, the one who is kind, the one who loves.

Be the better person.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thank You, Teachers

I went to my high school's Homecoming soccer game today and it was probably the best time I've had in a while. As exciting as it has been so far, the start to my freshman year of college has been just as rough. In the past few weeks, I've gotten into a car accident, spent consecutive days visiting the doctor or the ER, suffered from a staph infection, and then a serious allergic reaction to the drugs I was taking to treat the infection -- all of course which have had a negative impact on my academic performance in college. Nonetheless, this is the first week I've had in a while that I finally feel ME again, and I'm hungrier than ever. I'm back, and I know what I have to do to succeed.

My friend and current Student Council President, Karla, and I at Collegium's Homecoming game.
I love seeing my teachers and friends from Collegium. But once I saw Mr. McAboy sitting in the crowd, I knew I wouldn't be able to pay any attention to the game lol, and that's a good thing. An hour speaking with McAboy feels like the wisest minute. It was just what I needed. I then had some time to catch up with Miss Carmichael, Blankenhagen, Battle, Kendrick. It had already been some time after the game.

Then, as I was ready to leave, I met with my high school PE and Health teacher, Mr. Esche. It was the first time I had seen him since I graduated, and at Collegium, he was one of my closest teachers and someone I've always regarded as a mentor and friend.

We spoke for almost over an hour. He spoke about how his year was going and I told him about how my past few weeks have been really tough for me - physically and emotionally. I didn't expect the conversation to carry on so long, but it was JUST what I needed. We spoke about everything, and he gave me such great advice. And to tell you the truth - though he said it eloquently and gave me such overwhelmingly motivational words, everything he said made me realize one basic thing: I need to get my shit together.

Yesterday is yesterday. Today is today. And I have to get back in drive and move on.

What Esche told me in an hour or so probably changed my mentality for the rest of my life, and I'm not just saying that. It's the truth. And the reason I'm sharing this long status isn't to just say that, but to really say to everyone at Collegium, everyone still in high school -- take advantage of every opportunity you get. Have as many conversations with your teachers as you can, and listen to them. Seriously.

I was so fortunate to have teachers that motivated me, made me work hard, and made me struggle to succeed. What Esche reminded me of today is that the struggle only gets harder, and I have to do whatever I can to overcome it.

Thanks, Esche. And thank you to all my teachers. Ever.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thoughts on 10/13

The pen without ink
Sleeps on an arid blanket
Without an author.

Yet its final etch
Stains along viscous valleys:
Marks of legacy.

Instrument of love.
Engagement of new scripture.
Completed vows.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Life in the Eyes of The Old Man: "All That Withers"

I've never posted anything quite like this. 

I wrote this piece when I was in high school for a creative writing assignment and it was probably my favorite piece I've ever written. 

The following is fictional, and is in short-story form. I write from the perspective of an old man, a widower, describing another morning in his daily life.

I hope you find value and purpose in reading this story. It was an amazing experience to write and imagine myself in the psyche of an old widower. I hope the story engages you in the same way.

All That Withers

Always a beautiful morning watching the sunrise hiding behind the willow tree.

This bench has served a symbol of my adulthood, withered by carcinogenic moss and children’s inscriptions still managing to stand, or seat for that matter, the test of time. It’s fought its own wars, bearing all the weight and sweat of the homeless, the obese, and the load that’s weighing on each of them. When all others have left, this bench remains – stable and stagnant.

The warm breeze is just enough to rustle and allow the attentive ear hear the weep of the willow. The elongated leaves, the slender branches, each carved with persona, an inexplicable maturity present and represented by its roots.

Quite serene when man takes time to listen to it.

It’s unfortunate that most folks these days seem to run right past, earphones drowning them into their own heads as if they haven’t sunk already. A stroll in the park with earphones in is as futile as a writer with a sword. What’s the use? Must we not escape the prisons of our idiosyncrasies?

Permit the air to cleanse our ears of obstructions more potent than wax. The thick bigotry exacerbated by these partisan media hacks, the gruesome screeches blasphemed by those who call it music. Ignorance of your beauty isn’t "what makes you beautiful”, recognition of others’ is. The more they clog their ears, metaphorically and literally, the more these kids feed pretentious obliviousness.

If only these kids felt the rhythmic intensity… those were the days, weren’t they? The Mamas & the Papas, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and even the Marvelettes. And to hear the very sounds from one of my childhood favorites, Otis Redding, abused by that man who said George Bush hates black people. No use remembering his name.

And Etta James ‘auto-tuned’, or whatever they call it; not only is that awful, but the man who created the atrocity has a name that is forcing children into a repetitive, disturbing mispronunciation of Florida.

It’s hard to be optimistic of a future when the present is so distressingly debased.

But - as my Pop always said, there’s always hope – “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”. The scene would agree with Pop. Despite the air full of pollen and the din of sprinklers gunning water over the flowers behind me, the chirp of the mockingbird still sings. Merely that is enough music for these timeworn ears.

Yet, the reality is my old man is long dead, and my ears aren’t the only things that have changed since those days. They are forced to filter frauds on the television set. It seems like nowadays the only use for a newspaper is to stain ink on fingers of those selling them. I wonder why. With all the technological advancements we so graciously pride ourselves with; the newspaper still sheds ink when handled.

Perhaps it’s just the charm.

The only thing television news has taught humans is how not to read. How can someone sit for so long, spend so much valuable time, sinking into a television set? I still get the local from the poor woman standing on the bridge above the creek. She’s there every day. Nice woman. Never engaged in conversation, though.

I’m always afraid to put my peepers on to read the headline – some depressing news of corruption in Washington or another senseless crime here or there. To give credit, there are always one or two articles praising good Samaritans.

The rest, however, is just a spotlight for criminals. Black on gray hypnosis is what I call it – the sensationalism ingests us. The headline reads – ‘Boston Marathon Manhunt’. Alliterative journalism. Article reads, “The police and FBI have a single goal in the manhunt now unfolding in Boston: toss a law-enforcement lasso around the suspect, then slowly tighten it into a noose.” Alliterative and imaginative.

Yet, I can’t help but notice the sun stealing the words off the paper as it is born again for another day. A shadow has emerged on the page and I’m forced to look up. I didn’t even sense it, but his neon bouncing ball had rolled through the gap of my shoes and found its place under the bench. The young boy has a hint of innocent frivolity. As a young boy should, I assume. Five or six.

“Sorry”, he blurts out.

First time since I came to this park after Eleanor passed that someone has spoken to me.

Feels a bit peculiar as I usually enjoy my sunrise in the silence of my own head.

Eleanor would have loved this moment. He bears a striking resemblance to our grandson, Jacob – the adorable features of his father and the modesty of his mother. The ball is still between my feet; his hesitance is evident in the manner in which he taps his fingers on his chubby cheek; his pinky narrowly in his mouth.

I give him the ball and he runs away. A woman seeming to be his mother with another child in a stroller turns back to see if he achieved finding the ball before she finds him hiding behind her leg. She waves to me; a beautiful smile escapes her face – a window to show a heart is at home. I manage to part the sea of wrinkles on my face to share the momentary bliss in diffidence.

I didn’t need an apology. It bothers me that after six years since Eleanor’s passing, after six long years of me marking this seat, this territory on this bench every morning, that the first word ever uttered directly against my very presence was an apology.

Especially not from Jacob, or whoever that child was or wasn’t.

I left. No one has left me. This bench has suffered my weight – the weight of sorrow of leaving my own children for selfish mourning, and not being able to face my son only because his complexion bears similitude to Eleanor’s. Yet, who am I fooling? I wallow in loneliness patiently waiting for the next call, the next visit. It’s never too often, always too late. Warm hands, cold hearts.

 And like that, another day has passed. Another sunrise witnessed, another newspaper buried, another bench warmed – for the beauty is always transient.

Even the willow will one day weep its last cry, and the sun will pierce too deep.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

365 Days of Aadil's Life

I take a photo every single day that represents a moment which serves as a mnemonic device for me to remember every single one of my yesterdays. I post these photos on my personal Facebook page. I call this project '365 Days of Aadil's Life".

Today was the last day.

What a remarkable 365 days it has been. From playing Scrabble to haircuts, staying in bed to long walks, meeting new people to saying goodbye to old, witnessing love to seeing hatred, suffering sickness to seeing others suffer worse, becoming an uncle to remember those uncles I’ve lost – every glimpse, every thought, every moment, every photo captured in the last 365 days overwhelms me with emotion and humility.

I started the album on September 2nd, 2012 as a completely different person, with no idea that the upcoming year would bring both the best and worst days I’ve ever lived. My idea of the future was limited to graduating and starting college. Those were my only hopes. My only legitimate dreams and desires. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that I would accept an award and speak in front of 700+ people on Day 196, or that I'd speak on a televised Senate Education Hearing in front of state legislators on Day 201, or see my face on the front page of a newspaper on Day 202. I never expected to work for the Senator on Day 303.

I never would have thought that I would witness the worst day of my life on Day 114. I never expected to say goodbye to my best friend Haider on Day 241. I didn’t think I would have the courage to move on and start www.AadilMalik.com on Day 281. And I never imagined for an even worse day than Day 114 to arrive, but it did on Days 327 and 330 when my mother suddenly fell ill and was hospitalized.

I never expected myself to grow so much, see so much, and become who I am today. And despite all the struggles, I wouldn't have the past 365 days any other way.

It’s been a quite a ride.

Each day, each photo invokes so many emotions and thoughts and memories. Each photo shares a lesson learned, and motivates me to continue striving to create better yesterdays. Alhamdulillah, I am reminded again and again through obstacles and achievements how blessed I am to live the life I live.

I’ve learned so much from doing 365 Days of Aadil’s Life. I am constantly humbled by the amount of support, love, and kindness all of you who followed me on this journey have shared. I’m indebted in gratitude.

When I first started this photo project, it was designed for me to learn how to accept the ends of things. How to let go of my past and continue moving towards the future. Yet what I’ve learned through this entire experience is nothing ever really "ends", every single thing remains – alive for us to witness and alive as we remember.

What a beauty it is to live.

Thank you all for being in my life. For making this year one of the best I will ever live.

Here’s to a better yesterday. Here’s to imagining a better tomorrow. Here’s to living a better today.

Here's to 365 Days of Aadil’s Life. Until next time.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gordon Ramsay and Prophet Muhammad

One of the most inspiring people in my life has one of the most recognized faces of any chef on Earth. He owns restaurants in seven countries, has written innumerable best-selling cookbooks, and is the host of several highly popular television shows. Yet, he is most infamous for his swearing at the sight of undercooked salmon and raw scallops. Some of his eloquent one-liners include: “Oh, look at that, overcooked on the bottom, crispy as fuck, and it looks like Gandhi’s flip flop!” and “Oh my god, right now… I’d rather eat poodle shit than put that in my mouth!” 

Chef Gordon Ramsay’s use of expletives has earned him as many critics as fans. I remember watching my first episode of Hell’s Kitchen – the very first time I was exposed to Chef Ramsay’s colorful language and boastful demeanor. I hated the volume and the manner in which he spoke. Yet, I kept watching – and what continuously engaged me wasn't the drama of the television show, but the realization that his anger actually had a time, a place, and a purpose. I began to watch his other programs, including “Kitchen Nightmares”, and my favorite, “Gordon’s Great Escape” in which he escapes to India where not many know who he is, discovering the most exotic cuisine and traditions of Southeastern Asia. His respect and passion, perhaps overcooked, for all forms of cuisine and his fearlessness is why he is my inspiration. All his yelling and swearing—it's because he cares about what he's doing. Chef Ramsay is that devil’s advocate you don’t want by your side, but know you need, and that is why he is my inspiration.

See, as I've grown older, I've learned inspiration is quite a versatile feature of life.

From the very beginning of his mission to spread Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was opposed by his people. In fact, some of his worst enemies were members of his own family. When the Prophet gathered all of the people of Quraysh, his tribe, and said to them that he was the Messenger of God, his uncle, Abu Lahab, shouted, "May you perish!" and sent the people away. Abu Lahab was so vehement in his opposition to the Prophet that he would actually follow the Prophet along the streets of Mecca and told everyone Muhammad was a madman.

Whatever a person believes, it’s hard to refute the fact that these stories are more than mere tales. Islam was once a religion that never existed; spread by one man victim to opposition, Islam today has a following of over one billion believers. And it doesn't take one to realize that incredible feat.

Prophet Muhammad and Chef Gordon Ramsay may sound vastly dissimilar to even be uttered in the same sentence, but the fact is – both have one thing in common – me.

Whether I’m reciting a speech, writing poetry, or speaking to my inner doldrums, inspiration seeps through every fiber of my body. Inspiration defines what I do, why I do it, and who I am.

Prophet Muhammad and Chef Gordon Ramsay may be on opposite sides of a secular spectrum – but the fact is, both are human, and each has successfully implemented their passion to shed prosperity in this world.

Human life is amorphous, yet we all have the power to inspire and bring form into each other’s lives. We are each the product of another human's inspirational palette.

I can only wish that I absorb even an ounce of the wisdom of Prophet Muhammad and an atom of the will-power of Gordon Ramsay and hopefully, one day, be able to be a passionate piece on another person’s puzzle of inspiration.

But honestly, I would be more than grateful to live a life finishing my own puzzle.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Letter from the Aadil of 2010

At the end of my ninth grade year, my teacher, Mr. Carey, gave us an assignment to write a letter to ourselves in 2013. Yesterday, I opened the letter. The Aadil Malik who wrote the letter in 2010 had some very interesting things to say to the Aadil Malik who will be stepping on a stage tomorrow to accept his diploma. Here is the letter:

June 14th, 2010

Dear Aadil Malik,

It's funny that Mr. Carey is making me, or the whole class rather, write letters to ourselves. But maybe I won't be the same person four years from now. Maybe I will look different, write different, smell different. But I will never change the fact that I am Aadil Malik.

Two days from now I am going to be giving a speech to the entire student body. I am running for Student Government President. To some, it probably isn't that big of a deal. But to me, it is.

I have many dreams. I have a dream of becoming the President of the United States. I currently have a dream of becoming a writing and grammar or history teacher. I also dream of opening a law firm, maybe with my cousin and best friend, Faisal.

I've always wanted a job where I have to wear a suit.

I feel like I will be a different person in a few years. Age isn't the only change. But I feel that I will better myself, Insha'Allah.

I love my family. I love my friends. It just feels weird that I'm writing this today and that I will be reading this "tomorrow".

I feel like there is one fact I will not forget in the following years to come, and I do not want to either. And that is LOVE. Love for my family and overall, love for humanity.

As I prepare to close this letter and envision when I will be opening it in the future, one though comes to mind:

Who is Aadil Malik?

I am Aadil Malik.

Always love and peace,
Aadil S. Malik 2010

P.S. I hope my signature doesn't change.
P.S.S. Mr. Carey just told me I have a final grade of 97 in his class.
P.S.S.S. I'll miss you, Aadil.

But I'm ready for the new me.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Launch of www.AadilMalik.com

Being a Muslim-American teenager, a son of immigrant parents who tread and have continued to overcome a difficult path to providing a stable, successful future for me and my siblings, I have always found myself in interesting predicaments of both opportunities and challenges. At the infancy of my high school career, I began to notice and experience a stigma existent as a blemish against those of my faith, culture, and age. I have understood it to be my responsibility to counter these stereotypes by example.

Throughout my years in school, I have had the good fortune of experiencing many opportunities and meeting people that have inspired me to become who I am today. In elementary and middle school, I remained reserved and quiet. However, in ninth grade, I was inspired by my history teacher to express myself. With his help, I founded my first website, www.truthfromateen.com - Truth from a Teen (TFAT), with a pursuit to change and represent the voice of my demographic which is often overlooked.

TFAT had managed to climb up the charts in search engine results, garner hundreds of comments (and even more Facebook 'likes'), and get over 75,000 page views. In the website's prime, it was one of the first blogs to get in contact with Florida Pastor Terry Jones' followers during the 'Burn a Koran Day' controversy, and therefore was in contact with the Mayor of Gainesville, several news stations, and local churches, mosques, and even the Vatican. In fact, in March of 2013, I was the recipient of CAIR-PA's Youth Excellence Award for my efforts on my website.

I began to realize that I could use my societal circumstances as opportunities to challenge everyday notions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and be heard by thousands worldwide.

I have spent the last several years of my life building my confidence and finding my purpose in an attempt to not be futile in a world filled with innumerable opportunities. As a Muslim teenager, I have struggled to prove a stark disparity to the negative narrative surrounding those of my religion and age. Through TFAT, I had aspired to be both proactive and reactive in defining myself. The truth is, a person does not need to be an 80 year-old wise man with a long white beard to bear an ounce of perspicacity. It can very well be accomplished by anyone at any age, and I am constantly in pursuit of trying to prove that fact.

I have and will continue to use the challenging circumstances I find myself in as a driving force to become an agent of social change. My parents have struggled for their children and have incessantly encouraged us to not be afraid to follow our dreams and desires. Because of their continual guidance and the tutelage of those I have been grateful enough to encounter throughout my life, I have been able to twist my fear of futility into an inspiration to become an instrument of change in my school, my community, and hopefully the world.

As an African proverb states, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have not spent a night with a mosquito”. I owe eternal gratitude to those who have allowed me to recognize the power of the human voice - on both minuscule and massive spheres. I have learned to not waste mine through reticence; rather, I aim to capitalize on my place in society and continue to express and aspire.

It starts here. Seeing yesterday, imagining tomorrow.

Welcome to www.AadilMalik.com.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Celebrating THREE Years of Truth from a Teen

Wow. On this very day, 3 years ago – I began a journey. I had no idea where it would lead me, the people it would guide me to meet, the path it would create for my soul to tread. All I began with was a passion. A passion to aspire to inspire. The past three years of TFAT - Truth From a Teen have been… well, something quite incredible. I’m incapable of describing the impact this experience, this website, has had on me. From April 2010 to April 2013 – I’ve made an attempt to prove a disparity to the negative narrative of those of my religion and age, I’ve received awards, recognition, criticism, love, page views (just crossed 72k today!)- but MOST importantly – I’ve received your endless support. I’m constantly humbled and honored.

There have been days where I have felt the desire to give up on this dream, but I’m constantly reminded of my responsibility and the faith people have so graciously instilled in me. I write this post with sadness in my heart as it marks an important but bittersweet milestone. Today not only marks TFAT’s 3rd Anniversary – but its FINAL. It is time to move on. It is time to move forward. The journey continues. The passion is stronger than ever. And the mission is still alive. I ask you all to join me in ushering the next era in my mission of aspiration and inspiration. In the next few weeks, my website will transform from Truth from a Teen to another name, but the goal remains the same. Thank you all so much for all you have done for me. Much love.

It’s been real, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Inspirational Bus Driver

I dreaded every second of it.

One hour every morning and another in the afternoon, forced to inhale that slight but penetrating smell of exhaust fumes, and attempt to drown the rowdiness of other students through my headphones.

Every time I took those three steps on to the school bus, an unpleasant feeling plagued my stomach. It was a combination of fear heading to a school with students still unknown to me and a hatred for every facet involved in riding Bus 123.

Yet, this same bus became my cocoon - a platform for my metamorphosis during high school - and my bus driver, Mrs. Cathy, helped drive me out of the abyss of my reticence.

A lot had happened in so little time at the start of my high school career. My father was diagnosed with kidney cancer, laid off from his job, and got into two separate car accidents. In the meantime, I was struggling to define myself in my new school. The only time I was liberated from these struggles was on the bus.

One afternoon, Mrs. Cathy broke my routine of sitting alone in the back of the bus by asking me to sit behind her. She noticed I was being reclusive for a purpose, and began to converse with me and ask about my family. From that day on, I never moved back. Every day, I would sit behind her, gradually opening up, transforming, and escaping the prison of my idiosyncrasy.

My perception of Mrs. Cathy would change from viewing her as just my bus driver to an individual who inspired me daily with her genuine compassion. It became much more than just a bus ride; it became a chance to discuss my life, thoughts, and have unique conversations every day with a special person.

I still cannot comprehend how over the years, seated behind her, staring at merely her eyes through her rear-view mirror, has garnered some of the most unusually important conversations of my life.

However, not for one moment do I let the unconventionality of our relationship create doubt on how much influence she has had on me. I continue to walk up those steps and sit in that seat as an extremely fortunate person to have met such a loving, caring, and kindhearted individual.

When people ask me why I am “so close to my bus driver”, I tell them I am not.

I am close to a woman who deserves my utmost respect. She has humbled and continuously motivated me through her inimitable generosity and kindness. She was never obligated to take the time to lend me her attentive ear; it was never a part of her job requirement.

By example, she has taught me the beauty of human interaction; that we must not allow stereotypical preconceptions drive our perceptions of people, and that even the smallest acts of kindness can leave an everlasting mark on a person’s life.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Story Of My Twin Brother

My father and I.
You don't get closer than being together in a mother's womb.

Ever since I can remember, I've always had a inexplicably strong feeling of loneliness despite having two of my own siblings. It's an intense feeling of emptiness combined with an endless desire to search for a part of me that's missing.

To this day, I ask the same questions I asked when I was five: what if my twin brother was alive? Would I be doing this right now? Would I look the way I do? Talk the way I talk? Act the way I act? Be the way I am?

Quite often, I even feel guilty. Why was I the one who got the chance to see this world's wonders? Why couldn't it have been the both of us? It isn't fair.

The details of my mother's final pregnancy when she had me have faded in the abyss of memory as time has passed. My mom knew she was pregnant, but not with twins. Yet, it wasn't the first time she had the potential to give birth to twins. Before my eldest sister was born, my mom was pregnant with two boys. She had a miscarriage in September 1988.

From then on, my parents had my eldest sister, Amara, in July 1989, and my other sister, Amina, in April 1992. And another 3 years later, I showed up.

Yet the story of when my mother gave birth to me is one that 90% of the world's population can't understand, because only 10% of people are womb twin survivors - and I'm one of them.

My mother carried my brother and I for three long months. After experiencing months of pain, an ultrasound revealed that she was carrying twins. However, my twin was stuck in the Fallopian tube, and my mother was forced into immediate surgery.

In order for me to survive, the doctors had to perform  an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy - a life-threatening condition to the mother in which the baby stuck in the tube cannot survive.

The risks were very high, especially because my mother had faced complications in the past and in addition, throughout this pregnancy, she was forced to take a lot of medication.

Fortunately, the ectopic pregnancy was successful, but now it was a matter of ensuring that I would be born a healthy baby boy. Studies suggest that when one twin dies, the survivor is more likely to suffer serious adverse outcomes, such as cerebral palsy, gut atresia, and learning disability.

For the following months, I remained alone in my mother's womb.

What had happened in those three months? Despite my brother being stuck in the Fallopian tube and not with me in the womb, I can't help but imagine the consequence of lying inches apart from another human being in an enclosed space - not for 3 hours or 3 days, or weeks, but for over three months. At three months, a baby is only the weight of a banana and the size of two thumbs. Yet, the brain continues to grow new cells and make connections between those already in place. The fetus develops physical reflexes. The eyes are in place, and eyelids are beginning to form. The fetus cannot control its movements, but it can react to stimuli by moving its arms and kicking.

Something had to have happened in those three months. We developed together, despite being in two separate places in my mother's body.

This type of condition is known as a heterotopic pregnancy - a rare complication in which both extra-uterine (ectopic pregnancy) and intrauterine pregnancy occur simultaneously. It occurs in only 1 out of every 10,000 patients.

The prognosis for the extrauterine fetus (my brother) was very poor, having an estimated 90‑95% mortality rate. The mortality rate for the intrauterine pregnancy (me) in such a case is approximately 35%.

After 9 months of intensive preparation, my mother's C-section date was set. I was born on July 9th, 1995 - a seven pound, 21-inch healthy baby boy.

I was pretty chubby.
It amazes me.

Knowing that I could have a brother for all these years that I've lived has carried some heavy emotions. Without a doubt, everything could have been different. Yet, as much guilt and sorrow as I feel, I also feel an overwhelming gratitude.

I'm humbled by my mother's strength to have gone through such a difficult and risky pregnancy to give birth to me. I'm humbled by the thought that I am the only fortunate human being in this entire universe to have witnessed my brother's identity. I'm humbled by the idea that he, just like me and all of us today, would have developed his own unique set of dreams and desires. I'm humbled by recognizing the force that controls this tide of reality - whether a person believes in God or not - that force, that power exists, and it is beyond anything that we could ever conceive.

I'm humbled by the fact that I exist today, breathing the beautiful air of this Earth - living a life that others don't even get a glimpse of, a reality my brother could not witness.

My parents have always called it a miracle, but as I've grown older I've realized everything happens for a reason and a purpose. It's just the way this world works, the way God works.

And for that reason, I'm incessantly grateful to be alive.

This Saturday, I will step on stage to accept an award for Truth from a Teen at a banquet in front of hundreds, but my eyes and thoughts will only be directed towards my parents, my sisters, and God. For the first time in my life, I will be able to feel one of my biggest dreams come true.

Alhamdulillah, I will be the recipient of CAIR-PA's Youth Award at their 7th Annual Banquet on March 16th.
But I won't be on that stage alone. Though science proves otherwise - for me, my brother is alive - in humor (my parents have always called him Badil), and in faith. He's been with me ever since I have been here, because I think about him almost everyday I live. I think of what he would have done to make my parents proud.

As I step on that stage this Saturday and see my parents and sisters in the audience, I know of my responsibility and obligation to make them proud just as much as I know my twin would.

It's a weird feeling, but it's what has made me who I am today and who I will become.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

I Would Rather Be Blind Than Have Sight And No Vision

My first ever journal. Has a lot of good stuff in here... a lot of good stuff...
Since the January 2nd, 2006, the day my then-aunt Zubia (my uncle and her got divorced a day after I arrived back home from Pakistan) gave me my first journal, I became fascinated by the ability to retain memories. I found myself at an interesting point in my childhood – in the middle of Lahore, Pakistan visiting my sick grandma – a land unknown to me, but still so forcibly close to my heart. I remember being there and wanting to soak it all in, every moment. Of course, I was only in 5th grade. I was not having the most profound thoughts, but the ideas were there.

I knew a future Aadil would want to read life through a past Aadil’s eyes.

As I grew older, I felt inclined to hoard as many memories I could – not through a mere fear of moving on, but through a passion for learning from my past.

Yet, even these journals do not do justice to the childhood and even recent memories still locked in the abyss of my mind. I could have written about too much, but any omissions were not errors or through deliberation. Everything I included in those journal entries from 2006, to the blog posts I made and continue to make on my website, to the photos I posed in my 365 Day's of Aadil's Life Facebook album – each had meaning, purpose, and value - even if I did not know or assume it then.

It’s definitely humorous to recount instances of peculiarity in my past, or instances where I didn’t know at the time how bratty I was being – but it’s also unbelievably valuable.

Even if the Aadil who wrote that he felt like his sisters treated him like a rock on April 27th, 2006 didn’t know the Aadil of today would move on past those pessimistic thoughts, even if the Aadil who was kissed by Aaleyah on October 16th, 2007 didn’t know it would give the Aadil of today a hearty laugh – every word and omission means something – in the indelible past and present.

Today, as I type these words, I am still on the same course of transformation. I still write in a journal. I still post on my blog. And I started a ‘second edition’ of my 365 Days of Aadil’s Life album on Facebook to capture moments through my graduation.

I honestly do not think I would be the person I am today if it weren't for me hoarding memories. Writing in my journal. Taking photos. Blogging. I can't even imagine how many thoughts would have been lost if I weren't given my first journal, how many images in my mind would fade if they weren't captured through photography. I'm able to look back at all of these mementos and have sight of the future with a vision shaped by my experiences in the past. The eyes are useless when the mind is blind.

It is the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring and the certainty of what yesterday brought that motivates me. It allows me to wake up every morning and know I have the power to create what I will, say what I mean, and do what I choose.

I am reminded that as time passes by, I am continuing to become more and more aware of my existence. As years pass and my understanding of who I am in this world grows, I can't help but recognize the thinness of time.

Imagining the future is a beautiful thing, but it often hurts to know it is near. Even if it’s slight, I’ve seized notions, thoughts, photos, memories, lives, deaths, laughs, smiles, and cries - all to remedy this pain. And it’s worked.

And the best part about it is, I continue to tread this path – whether through the metaphorical or literal turning of pages, I am not only still ‘living’…

But I still live.