On impulse, I turned to my friend and suggested that we rent bikes. I have no idea what prompted me to make that suggestion. The minute I managed to climb on the monstrosity whose engineers assumed that most of its riders would be at least six feet tall, my heart sank. What was I thinking? The fear grew and became a menacing demon that cackled as I, to the heavy cajoling of my friend, shakily maintained my balance and navigated in the midst of the traffic in central London.
It’s a the kind of enormous stress that may seem disproportionate to the task at hand. But due to an emotional setback I went through recently, I’ve been experiencing high anxiety that transitions without warning into crippling despair, a severe vulnerability to even the slightest hints of darkness in the world. Where some may see an opportunity for a new challenge and a thrill, I felt as though I was being slain from the inside. As if to test my limits even further, one of my few close shaves with a parked car included one against a driver who shouted out one of the most severely Islamophobic slurs I have ever been subjected to (at least from someone sober).
My internal world became a grotesque horror show. My best friend, realized the extent of my fear and consoled and encouraged me, pointing out that how big it was in my head, how it was consuming me. We finally made it to the docking point, and as my feet touched the pavement, my legs turned to jelly, and my mind slumped.
As I lay in bed later, reliving from that strange, strange episode whose memory is so severe it seems like a nightmare, I recalled a story a shaykh told us about a bad day he was having which was made even worse when he was driving with his family and was pulled over for speeding. Even then, he said, as frustrated and angry as he was, he rejoiced in God’s ability to put him in this situation, to make him feel these things in such magnitude.
I also recalled reading an incredible piece about finding ecstasy in depression and the writer’s realization that depression was his experience of being close to God.
The shaykh’s story and the article fit together, like two pieces of a puzzle from a new, distant, unconstructed corner of my being.
There wasn’t much relief to my fear. This is not a story where I triumph and pull through and become stronger. It’s an anecdote of pure, hard agony.
Usually one hears about religious people losing their faith when they ask: “Why, God?” or “Why me, God?” and receive no answer, or an unsatisfactory answer. For some reason, I never asked that question. It never made sense to me to ask that question. So I ended up taking an alternative path, one where I don’t ask, but still need to a way to understand what is happening to me.
So instead, I now find myself thinking: “I see you, God. I see you as a whole, I see your attribute as the one to be feared, as the powerful. I feel your mercy and love, yes, but sometimes, I must also see this. I see all of you.” And it helps to know that there is a possibility that it is bringing closer to Him. I suppose it’s the way you feel closer to someone after seeing their dark side, their imperfections. Except it’s better, because you feel closer to the Originator of all things, including all fear-mongering elements of the earth.
I’m not pushing myself to recover from this surreal brush with fear because this isn’t something to recover from. This isn’t something that is meant to be enveloped in Allah’s more gentle and merciful traits. As the Merciful, He may choose to give me that relief. But perhaps I’m not meant to find relief. Perhaps finding relief would be missing the whole point of whatever I am going through.