The Deepening of the Spirit

by Maira Butt

The field of friendships is the one where I got most of my cuts, bruises and scars. In the unpredictable area of social interactions, I was always adrift, confused and unable to comprehend people fully. I either gave too much or too little, received too much or too little. I understood others only to remain a source of mystery to them, or vice versa. I didn’t know a thing about boundaries, either being a doormat, tyrant or people-pleaser. Until I met Umaima. And if you’ve spoken to me for more than 5 minutes, you probably know who she is.

We have very little in common on paper, the superficial differences between us are quite vast. She is Omani and I am a British Pakistani, we have entirely different family backgrounds, and our personalities are almost entirely conflicting. She’s very dry and sarcastic, I have dad humour. But during our final year at university, on every Wednesday during semester, we found ourselves arriving at the Sister’s Circle together, sitting with our legs crossed as we listened to our friend Jasmine repeat God’s words on the purpose of life, the Hereafter, the heart, the world and sincerity. And we unknowingly proceeded to build the foundations of our connection with Allah together, growing in the only way that seemed to matter, in heart and spirit. So after university ended and things went downhill for me, it was not surprising that she was the only one who really knew. Not that I told her, I crawled into my hole and didn’t come out or look at my phone for days at a time. She fought for our friendship, being blunt with me in a manner that I was unused to, and it gave me the strength to fight for my own life and mind. To demand of others and myself, the reverence I knew we are all due as receivers of the gift of life.

It is a cliché, but for some of us who aren’t entirely motivated by unshakable self-belief, the unconditional acceptance or patience of another gives us the strength we need to peek out of our comfort zones. Umaima has a supernatural level of self-respect, this is where her compassion and empathy for others comes from in my view, and it translates into respect for others. It wasn’t just me that she treated well, it was everyone. This does not mean universal agreement, but treating people as complex and autonomous, reflections of their own will and products of their context. Being around her can be liberating.

I have had friends in the past who declared their undying love for me, complimented me in every effusive way possible both publicly and privately, only to disappear or act disrespectfully. Umaima is not really a complimenting kind of person, she used to regularly feign puking at any hint of romanticism, but she has affirmed me in every other way. She has accepted me as I am, been genuinely interested in my growth, read up on things which she thinks are important to me, and watched rap videos with the lyrics on rapped to videos she knows every single lyric to because she is an amateur rapper in her free time actually, in order to understand some of my favourites. I do the same for her. I remember when we first met. She was so genuinely curious about me as a person, that I felt totally seen for the first time. Up until that moment, I had believed that people were blank slates. But I found myself talking about my past, my dreams, my history, even my pains to this woman I thought I had no previous connection with. Since then, I have come to a deeper understanding of myself, and have shared my experiences with people, where before they were a source of shame.

I have made many good friends since, but I always joke with her, that she was the original. Therefore the unforgettable, therefore the irreplaceable. I am sure she cringes when I say these things. She is quite stoic. Before I met her, I had a very fixed idea of what friendship was. It was allowing people to do whatever they wanted and reconvening every now and then to see how everything was going. Now I know it is intangible, it is simply an auspicious meeting of two souls in mutual familiarity and mutual transformation.

‘In so many love relationships, there seems to be a runner (someone who is more aloof) and a chaser (Someone who is more eager to connect). Often these are established patterns- some of us tend to either chase or flee in every relationship- but not always, as many of us have fears in both directions (the fear of abandonment, and the fear of being engulfed) and live out both patterns at various times. As we heal our wounds, we shed these patterns and get more comfortable with being with only those that meet us on equal footing- eye to eye, heart to heart. That’s when the real vulnerability begins.’ – Jeff Brown

I often felt like an anomaly, like I fitted in everywhere and nowhere. It was quite isolating, believe me. Until I met Umaima and felt sane for one of many first times. Wanderers appreciate true company more than most, especially when they meet fellow travelers and can find meaning in their wanderings. I pray we are able to travel this path of life well, and be reunited upon our return Home iA.

All praise is for God who guides the ebb and flow of souls in our lives. Often the losses we experience in love and friendship seem catastrophic, we feel rejected and heartbroken. But there is nobody that I can genuinely say that I miss. There is no-one who ‘left’, that I can’t see was for the better for them or for me. The restlessness never seems to end, but sometimes He sends us people within whom we can find some rest.