Getting Ahead of Myself Entry #19
I’m going to start by getting a little ahead of myself. Typically, I read through my old Journals, while taking notes. I then sift through those notes, and turn them into bog entries. I start the reading of Journal #16 while sitting at the town center in South Deerfield, MA. This was during my momentous return to Springfield and the Valley in the autumn of 2011. It was my first trip back Home in seventeen years or so.
I had been planning an autumnal return to Western Massachusetts for many years, but for a variety of reasons, things wouldn’t line up, and I could not make the trip. For years, I felt like a character from epic mythology who was exiled from his home. I yearned to breathe my native air in my native land (especially my native air in the autumn), but circumstances seemed to conspire against me.
When the opportunity did arise, I anticipated disappointment. I anticipated disappointed not because of some sort of predilection for pessimism, but because I anticipated that things were not going to be the way I remembered them—that my memories had idealized the experiences I had many years earlier. During my time Home, I stayed in South Deerfield, and had an experience that, maa-shaa’ Allah, did not disappoint in the least. On my first full day in the Valley, I put some books, Journals, and a clipboard into a backpack and got to walking, and walking, and walking… and walking up to the summit of Mount Sugarloaf, where I could found myself above the low hanging clouds on that day (and found myself in the midst of a rainstorm when I had descended about half way down the mountain… and it rained all the way back to where I was staying; I had never been so drenched by rain in all my life).
On the second full day of the trip, I took the Peter Pan bus down to Springfield, then took PVTA bus out to Sixteen Acres, and retraced the haunts of my childhood, including a walk by Sixteen Acres School, and then down Barnet St. and to the playing fields of St. Catherine’s Church. From there, I walked past my old apartment in Hamden East. I hadn’t been there in over a twenty-five years. I then jaunted to what I used to call “The Big Woods,” (what is now called, “Woodland Park Conservation Area”) behind Hillcrest Cemetery. I had Google-satellited the area, and I was glad to see the trees were still standing. I took to the woods, and found them deeper and darker than I had remembered them, and I don’t think that was just my imagination. There was now plenty of undergrowth in places that had at once been almost barren forest floor. On my way out of the woods, I saw something that in particular delighted me:
In all the post winter storm trips to those woods to track rabbits, and raccoons, opossums, porcupine, and perhaps fox, I had never encountered hoof prints. Whitetail deer had returned to Springfield!
I stayed at my aunt’s house, and we went through old photo albums that stirred up memories of childhood, and also helped me gain some greater sense of familial continuity. I spent the night at her home—the same house she’s lived in and raised many children in over the past forty years. I returned to the Valley the following day, stopping in NoHo (Northampton) on the way. Over the next few days while in the Amherst area, I would revisit the places that broke me down and transformed in so many ways. The trip, praise Allah, was exceeded all expectations.
As for Journal #16, I am entering the Amherst mode of mind. I have elected to remain in the area. I would be staying in Brittany Manor, which was kinda like the Amherst “ghetto.” And eventually I would be working at UMASS School of Education as a research assistant. It would be in this time that I would start striking “stride with the Valley Vibe.” I would be living in Amherst not merely as a college student but as a resident. Being freed from the excessively academic and hyper-rational constraints of The College, I was now free to pursue the intellectual and metaphysical pursuits of my liking. Nonetheless I was overwhelmed by the ideological choices made available to me—how would I choose properly in this cornucopia marketplace of ideas?
Although I was starting to learn traditional Islamic knowledge with “The Teacher,” I still had a multitude of questions in my mind about a wide range of issues. And I was still trying to confirm what I was learning by independent sources. Readers have to keep in mind that this is in the era prior to the internet, the information about Islam beyond encyclopedia entries and books written by Orientalists, and those books written by heretical and blasphemous factions calling themselves “Muslims” was extremely limited. Books of traditional Sunni scholarship—especially, those in the matter of Doctrine—were few and far between (actually, I am not familiar with any Sunni books doctrine available at the time that weren’t filled with egregious errors).
I am profoundly perplexed at this time, and I feel that I can’t discuss any of this with my non-Muslim friends. They weren’t, after all, Muslims, and for many people in the Valley, knowing who is God did not play a central role in their lives. I did however, want some sort of “objective” input from people who could also be sympathetic to my plight. That was, however, wishful thinking. I would have to engage in this struggle largely on my own, and Amherst was about as ideal of a place as one could find for this spiritual battlefield.