We haven’t spoken in eight years, so when she finds me on Facebook, it’s surprising that the conversation is as comfortable as it is. We marvel at the fact that we lived a two-hour drive away from each other for two whole years without even knowing it, that we found each other again just a few months after I’d left. In the eight years that have lapsed, we’ve both reached the pinnacle of young adulthood: we’re full of ideas and ideals, rebellious visions of what the world is going to be like under our supervision.
She’s married, and studying social work. I laugh at how well that fits her, reconciling the idea of it with the image of her as a lanky twelve-year-old, too tall for her own good as we giggled in the back row of our Quran halaqa at the local mosque. Her, always looking out for the underdog, and me, well, the underdog, too short and squeaky to know what to do with myself.
She asks me what’s new with me, and I tell her that I’m studying English and Philosophy, minoring in Sociology. We’re in the middle of wedding preparations for my sister, I say, if you’re asking me what I’m doing for the summer. I’m still short, less squeaky, though.
She cracks a joke about me getting married, and in the blink of an eye, I’m raging about what I think marriage is probably like, shackles and chains and the patriarchal oppression of Desi culture manifesting itself in the form of a husband who probably believes I have to do as he says, even if it’s completely ridiculous.
It’s a good thing she’s a couple of years older than me, because her response is calm, and enlightening, and it’s nice to see a happily married young person. (May Allah protect and bless them both.) We laugh a little, as we acknowledge the toxic marriages we’ve seen growing up that probably shaped our earliest opinions on matrimony. We talk about how our married friends seem to be more settled than the grown-ups in our lives.
I say, “I think we, as a generation, are unlearning a lot of toxic ideas.”
She says, “Unlearning has been focal in my growth as a person.”
Unlearning has been focal in my growth as a person, too, which makes me sad when I think of all the years my parents spent socializing me into the institutional beliefs that they’d raised me with, only for me to turn the other way and start stripping that cynicism out of my bones. I’ve spent the past two years re-evaluating everything I’ve ever known, and it feels like betrayal.
It also feels like revolution.
It’s probably a generational revolution, too. My parents are immigrants. Most of my friends’ parents’ are immigrants. They’re unrooted, leaving behind the lives they’ve known in favour of a better world. Over the breakfast table, my parents tell us about the neighbourhood they grew up in, how everyone they loved lived a stone’s throw away. The way they talk about it makes it sound like everyday was a grand event. There were horse-drawn carriages, spontaneous visits to relatives, glasses of lassi on the steps outside their apartment buildings.
There was a dark side, too, my dad says, as he tells us about the kids he knew who died of heroin addiction, the friends who got wrapped up in the wrong gangs, the narrow escapes. He shakes his head seriously, but they were good guys, he says about the drug addicts and the gang fighters, we were never afraid of them. They only hurt the people who deserved to be hurt, he says, confidently.
While I don’t know if they only hurt people who deserved to be hurt, I do know that I grew up without many neighbours, that my parents have always had a strict don’t talk to stranger’s rule, that I’ve followed religiously for most of my life. My parents grew up in a world without strangers, in a world where everyone knew everyone. That may be the reason they decided to uproot and move to a new world.
In this one, everyone is a stranger.
The irony is real, then, when it turns out that the way my friend stumbled upon my profile was through an international Muslim women’s group on Facebook. A group full of strangers, all connecting over the similar particularities in our lives, the peculiarity that is being a child of uprooted parents. Of learning what it means to unlearn everything you’ve been taught for the sake of growing as a person.
There’s a chance we’re wrong about everything we’re learning now. That our children will grow up and meet each other in strange places and talk about how they’re trying to unlearn everything we taught them. They’ll recount our tales from the breakfast table, snickering about the odd dreamlands that we’d grown up in. We’ll tell them, seriously over eggs and toast, (because some things never change, and breakfast is one of them) about the friends we lost to fitnah, the sisters we saw go astray, the brothers we saw fall out of line in prayer, fall into other things, other lines. Of the heroin addictions, the wrong gangs, the narrow escapes.
It’s a baffling thought, that they’ll one day think of this as our generational revolution, before going ahead and starting their own.
They’ll be born -like we were, like our parents were- right in time to change the world.