a sigh of relief. I made it.
I turn twenty-five next month- a quarter of a century- a blip in time: unexpected, minor -but breathing, but here. Nah, I never thought I'd make it. I never thought I'd grow up... maybe that's why I've always done so much with my time, because of that urgency, a knowing that times running out, a knowing that only arises from coming face to face with your end. I've had a lot of run-ins with death- in holy lands, in not so holy lands- I've nearly fallen down mountains, off cliffs, I've been cut off by the tide, I've climbed over so many metal gates, cut across so many railway tracks. I've been lost in winter forests at night, by ramshackle harbours, with only wind turbines and stars for company. I've been stranded. I've been stalked. Yeah I've almost landed, myself in a lot of dangerous situations. Death. Nah, death has never seemed all that abstract or out there or far away- not to me at least. In fact the mere prospect of it feels almost familiar.
I guess I've always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Since I was a kid in Lahore- one of my most vivid memories (to this day) consists of hitching a ride on the back of my cousins bike at midnight, he was heading to the markets and I was determined to tag along and so after much whining he finally let me... tag along- and as he cycled down the dirt roads I remember the wheel scraped against my skin and the sole of my feet was all bleeding. I didn't say anything. I was scared I would get in trouble. I was scared the adventure would end, that I wouldn't be allowed to tag along ever again. Of course he found out, and in a panic he dragged me and my bleeding foot to see a dodgy street doctor. I got an injection and bandaged up- embarrassed- ashamed. A few days later I found myself on a motor bike with another cousin. Because life goes on. I'm a risk taker- always have been. It's like T.S Eliot once said 'only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.' Truth. Truer than truth.
And so as I fast approach 25 I've been thinking and thinking and thinking about where I am, about where I was, and for the first time in forever I've been feeling so content and free. A sigh of relief. I made it. Yeah I've been looking back, and looking forward. I've been tracing dreams and I've realised so much. I've realised that I'm (almost) exactly where I want to be. I've worked hard, so hard, so so hard and through working hard and more importantly through Gods graces I've achieved at 24, almost everything I've ever wanted to achieve- in the worldly sense any way. I've got the job I've always wanted, I've written books, held exhibitions, I've produced so much work; photographs, essays, recordings, sounds, poems, stories, films. I've started up and followed through with so many projects. And I've done this often while going through the sort of shit you can't even begin to imagine, the sort of shit I can't even fathom- the amount of times I've wanted to pack it all in, to quit life and to disappear off the face of the planet: (countless). But I didn't. I kept going. Simply because I didn't have a choice. You have to keep going. In life, you can never stop. I worked hard, I kept going and against all odds, I managed, somehow to turn my dreams into reality. Of course it all comes from above- the granter of wishes, the answerer of prayers- the Lord of Mercy. Of course it all comes down to God and often I feel so undeserving- but to pray, to believe, to put your trust in God, and to work hard--- the alchemy of life: to turn dust to gold.
It's important sometimes to recognise what you have and to appreciate the blessings Gods bestowed upon you- its part of being humble and grateful; recognition. In fact its the reason why I'm writing this- to recognise... to recognise and to remind friends and certain people in my life, people I love and respect that things do change. You can conquer yourself, you can win battles, you can fight, every day is an opportunity- the darkness fades into light, things will get better, and only by reaching rock bottom, can you rise to the stars, can you see the stars. Yes, pain is a gift. I wish someone told me this- all those times I cut off, all those times I abided in the black with no one to talk to, with no hope, no future- only weariness, only pain. I wish someone told me there is a way to get it back- to get myself back, my life back, my strength and spirit. I figured it out the hard way, with much doubt and apprehension- breaking, breaking, falling and rising... rising... rising....a sigh of relief, I made it.
This week, after six months I finally had my appraisal at work and I made it. It's strange, I don't talk much about my work, I've always tried to separate work life and real life, because well for me, jobs come and go all too often and I can't run the risk of leaving myself behind, of getting too absorbed. For yourself is all you have and when you walk away, you take nothing with you but you and who you've become. Groundwork has been different, since I started I've been so involved, so present, so willing to immerse myself in work- evenings, weekends, long days and long nights. My job has been consuming. Through it I've met and engaged with all sorts of people- from conservative councillors in Richmond, to the Mayors of Tottenham, Greenwich and Islington. I've had lunch with MP's, shared conversations with Nepalese gardeners, shared food with people from variety of housing estates across London, I've engaged with apathetic youths, covered numerous stories from recumbent cycling in Kew Gardens to youth music showcases in Peckham. It's been beautiful and hard. There have been highs and lows, but reflecting now, mostly highs. I've gotten involved in corporate days; digging at Nunhead cemetery to painting in the Round House in Hackney. I've been to primary school assembly's, shown up to events like car free day, knitting for kitties, launches, consultations, fairs and ceremonies. I've come up with so many ideas. I've discovered so much, so many secret worlds, so many special projects.
I've been presented the opportunities to work with people I know from separate lives, Lucy from Transition Town Tooting to George from South Kilburn Studios. I've worked so hard and I've achieved a lot. I've had work published in local papers, and national ones too. I've made films, taken hundreds of photographs, written stories. I'm always so critical of myself and everything to do- but this year I proved so much to myself. I created countless posters, developed visual identities, co-ordinated social media strategies and I've done all this, with love and passion and enthusiasm.
But let me tell you, it wasn't easy. It still isn't easy. Working in communications is hard, communicating is hard. People who know me will know there are times, too often there are times when I can't communicate. But with my job, I've had to. Even when I've not wanted to. You have to be brave- and you have to face the added challenges (as ever) that come with being a young coloured Muslim woman in a white world- to have people ask if you're a volunteer and to look at you funny when you tell them you're not. To work ten times harder to prove to everyone else (not just yourself) that you're worthy. That you're worth something. But for me the joy comes down to really connecting with people, as ever, different people from all spectrum's of life- palestinian children, people with disabilities, rudeboys, farmboys, golden oldies,- colleagues.... there's an art to it- to communicating and I'm far from mastering it, but maybe I'm on my way. See working in the environment sector has been a dream of mine for so long, a dream that's finally come true. Groundwork suits me perfectly as a traveller and a restless soul, to constantly be meeting people, to be moving, to flit from projects. And I'm not saying I'll be there forever, knowing me I could leave next week, that's not the point. The point is I'm here at present time. At present time, I'm present.
So that's work, and with every day that goes by, I find myself thinking about where I was this time last year- lost, beaten down, depressed, confused, about to embark on a new journey- to think how far I've come in a a short space of time. It makes me feel free and capable, for the first time in a long long time.... see, personally I've come so far, and I'm learning, still learning to take care of myself- thinking, running and swimming, through staying connected. This is the longest time I've gone without cutting off from every one I know. I've finished another book. I've been wandering and walking, a year of long hikes, exploring, hundreds more poems, hundreds more photos. I've had personal work published in Sustrans, the Guardian. This year I've made films. I've visited so many new places, been involved in so many new projects. I've found a way to stay connected with friends from everywhere. Sure, I'm still shit at a lot of things, I still have demons, weaknesses, flaws, ten thousand of them, but we all do- we're only human.
So the point is. I guess the point is, with every dream we make real, we must dream up new dreams, achieve new things- and sure I still have some big ones, of starting again in Lahore, of setting up something beautiful- something like groundwork- of making a real change in the world. And still as ever, to set your sights upwards, once more,- to the heavens, for this world is this world is the world, and that world is ever-last. And so to now, feeling as though I've done a lot of what I wanted. a sigh of relief. I made it. And so now, if everything falls apart, if everything changes, and of course it will, because that's the nature of life, let me never forget, that with God's mercy and kindness.- against all the odds, I made it, now the present, I made it. Alhumdulillah. I made it.