Feel Your Heart and Find Your Words

by Mohammed Shamma

I have trouble making choices. Once made, I feel I can never go back. It’s all so fatal to me. I hate leaving the other options behind. Sure, I’ll tell you that my favorite color is blue, but subconsciously I’m consoling the others. “Sorry red, green and yellow.  You’re my honorable mentions.” My friends roll their eyes when asking me what my favorite food, movie or song is because they know I’ll never answer the question. “I like them all,” I say.

I have the same trouble when I write. I can never make up my mind between version A or B of the same story. It can get very overwhelming at times – so much that I’ll end up throwing both versions away. And wouldn’t I know it, my endless “indecisiveness,” my personal party crasher was at its peak again as I was working on a story submission for the Salaam, Love anthology. It drove me crazy.

When I heard the call for stories, I knew that if I was going to make it work, I had to approach it methodically. I didn’t dive into the first words of the first paragraph right away. Instead, I started free writing in hopes of clearing a path for the story inside me.  Free writing is like Yoga for writers. It’s a meditative, healing and creative process.  After a few days of this, I discovered about fifteen different stories, including a few poems that sat at the crossroads of love and my Muslim identity. Nevertheless, I was still crashing my own party. I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to write.

I decided to let this party crasher dance until he grew tired and left. The deadline for submission was still a few weeks out, so I wasn’t worried about not delivering a story.  I continued at a leisurely pace, writing about 500 words a day, adding a little more to the stories that reverberated throughout the process.

Let me just say this. My indecisiveness is a good dancer – a dancer whose legs gained strength from all the emotions pouring out of me. My party crasher reeled to the innocent beats of my childhood, raved high on the hormones of my teenage years and robot danced its way through my college years as I searched for a soul mate. But there was one dance that he just wouldn’t quit – the angry head banger inside me that was struggling to accept his father’s death thirty-three years ago.

I wanted to hit my head against a wall when I learned I had the same heart condition that killed my father – Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, HCM for short. I’d spent too many years coping with my anger at him for leaving me as a child. The anger reared its ugly head like a recurring drug addition that he passed down to me, now a father of two. I faced the true possibility that I’d replaced him and would one day leave my family.  I was still processing this anger as I started writing my story. It clouded my ability to produce a singular story about being Muslim and experiencing love and romance.  Instead, all I had written were scratched out vignettes from my life that lacked a common theme. As the deadline drew closer I began to panic. I considered giving up and resigned myself to the notion that I would never “be” a writer.

My wife suggested I take the next few nights off from writing. Reluctantly, I took her advice. I grumbled my way through the unfinished chores and much needed quality time with my kids, all the while still obsessing over my story. I cleaned the dishes, washed the clothes, read to my son and daughter, brushed their teeth and put them to bed.  I sat down at my laptop and cleaned my Inbox and dismissed all overdue events in my calendar. As I swiped away the past, my phone buzzed one more time – Dr. Appointment, Location: Stanford Cardiology Clinic in two days.  I’d nearly forgotten my upcoming appointment with my cardiologist, much less all the heart research I’d planned to start.  In an effort to be my own health advocate, I promised I’d learn as much about HCM and the mechanics of the human heart as I could before my next appointment.

With the Internet in my hands, I found an article detailing the anatomy of the heartbeat and its five phases. Then I began ruminating over the number five. There was something about that number drew me in. Then it hit me. “Five phases like the five pillars of Islam!” I shouted in the middle of the night almost waking my wife and kids. I was pulsing wildly from the inspiration that I could pair the structure of the human heartbeat with the tenets of my religion. I began arranging the stories chronologically and assigned each a one-word theme. I didn’t have to make a singular choice because I could produce a composite story of sin, pain, love, devotion and salvation – the five pillars of my life. As I was intensely typing away, I began to cry – a wall of tears flushed away my anger. I grew closer to my father and myself.

I’m no longer crippled by my disease, but empowered by it. If my indecisiveness and anger start waltzing again, I just fandango around them to the beat of forgiveness and the rhythm of love. We’re all humans in this “big fuss” called life.  We must all make choices with each beat of our hearts. Every beat is a story. Listen to your heart and you will find your story.

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Mohammed Shamma is a writer/illustrator living in Berkeley, California with his wife and two kids. His story, “Echoes” was published in Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy. Read more about his work at: www.mohammedshamma.com or connect with him on Twitter at @mohammed_shamma.


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