In the Pocket (Entry #24)
After the trip to the University of Kansas, I am back in Amherst and back to the prosaic state of hibernal being. The trip to Philadelphia remained in my mind, and the thought of going the standard post-Amherst route seemed more and more unlikely. I can’t go back to the Big House—i mean, Drew House—and I cannot get myself motivated for a career. I would write:
“Life becomes very difficult not knowing. The fact of the matter is that ll these folks who are off to law, medical, and graduate school or working on Wall St. are going to die. And most of them don’t have the foggiest idea as to what’s going to happen [after death]. I’ve pretty much exhausted this dunya [the material world: a world of vanity and deception] and have found no peace in it.”
The Prophet Muhammad told us: “Keep reminding yourself of the reality of death, for it is the interrupter of pleasures and the terminator of desires.” I am struggling with what many new Muslim converts struggle with: the desire to throw oneself headlong into the Islam, to abandon worldly concerns and just focus on learning and trying to be a better Muslim, while at the same time having to deal with the reality of life in modern Western society. This is something, I’ve struggled with for many years, and it is only very recently, by the Mercy of Allah, that I’ve been able to conceive some semblance of a balance between the two. Nonetheless, at the time, it was a no-brainer. The Deen (Islam) was definitely to prevail over the dunya.
The dreams were a succor. I had one of what I would later classify as a “sky dreams,” in late February. In the dream, I was looking at the sky, when I began to reflect on Allah knowing everything—that is, Allah knows every-thing of everything. I felt my consciousness expanding and expanding: there was nothing beyond the knowledge of Allah. And whatever I became aware of, even in this expanded state of consciousness, Allah is the One Who Knows and Creates all that I know and all that is known to creation. I said: “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is Greater than everything else) and woke up.
This wasn’t merely a cognitive act of acknowledging a point in standard Sunni dogma. Earlier that night, I had contemplated that Allah’s Knowledge is absolute and is greater than all the thoughts and feelings that run through my body. I thought about the Qur’anic verses speaking about on the Day of Judgment: “And whoever does a particle of good shall see it. And whoever does a particle of evil shall see it.” Nothing I’ve done is concealed from Allah, and all the things I’ve done, including my attempted acts of worship were all according to the Will and Creating of God. Even my personality itself and my self-awareness were both creations of Allah. I could not know, or do, or be anything unless Allah has willed it. In the dream, I not only recognized these facts cerebrally, they formed my very being.
Although my certitude regarding the superiority of spiritual knowledge over standard academic knowledge is growing, I am still interested in the world of books and research. The Truth is the Truth, and I wanted to demonstrate that what I was striving to follow could be realized not only by relatively subjective experiences, but also could be demonstrated by history. Among the subjects I became increasingly interested in was the influence of the the Muslims upon (Christian) Europe in the Middle Ages. Not only had the Crusades or the eight hundred year Muslim rule of Spain had a profound impact on the development of Europe, the Muslims had ruled Sicily and parts of mainland Italy. In particular, the Sufi tariqahs (Islamic spiritual fraternities) would inspire segments Europe to adopt chivalric codes of honor and their own fraternal orders.
Furthermore, some of those Muslims in Europe were black Africans, and their presence can be found in European lore. Africans were not always relegated to a slave status. But some Africans went to Europe as masters and not as the mastered. Again, my idea is that not only a broad history of the world needs to be rewritten, but also the history of Europe—and Islam and the presence of black folk would have to be included.
Also, along academic lines, my fellow “black radical” at Amherst had turned me on to the Amherst College archives. He told me about a senior thesis that had been written about twenty years earlier by a black student struggling to survive the culture shock of “The College.” I would copy from the thesis:
“’This place is like heaven [of course, not literally]; don’t nothin’ go wrong here….’ People who have graduated in the last two years have spoken of the ‘Womb.’ These are my last days of my Time in this Space called the Valley. This place of education has brought me only to a point. With this study I hope to travel to other points of Space and Time on Universal Coordinates.”
I had decided to hang around outside of the “Womb” for an additional year, but I could appreciate the student’s sentiment about moving beyond “The College.” There was a sense of security at Amherst, but it was more than just being sheltered from the concerns of the “real world.” Amherst provided me with ample time to engage in stimulating conversations with fellow students, to read extensively, to be engaged in the world of ideas. Amherst provided me with the long walks, and the solitude, so I could become intimate with myself. But I knew sooner or later I would have to leave my beloved Valley.
In the midst of the internal turmoil of the year before, I did find pockets of respite. One of places I discovered in my final months of matriculation at Amherst was the Vincent Morgan Music Library. Although it was now a year later, and I had for the most part kicked my music addiction, one day in late March, I did go to to the second floor of the music building to put the needle to the groove. I would write:
“Where am I on the most beautiful day of the year so far? I’m in the place where I spent a good portion of my life a year ago… the Amherst College music library with my friend, Mr. Coltrane (as his horn begins to rise above the opening clutter of ‘Ascension’). What an experience it was this time a year ago. There was my return to Amherst [after the “Texas Sojourn”], the hours in the music library just trying to ‘Return,’ or better yet, ‘Become.’ There was Professor Rushing’s class and the taste of blackness at the lily and ivory white school. This was just a year ago.”
As I sat there, I was reminded of a quote I had copied into my Journal the year before by Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) on his seeing for the first time John Coltrane perform. He said it was fascinating and scary, for watching Coltrane play was like watching a grown man trying to speak for the first time. I would say: “I often felt that way last year.” I felt that way, for I was trying to make sense of what was happening to me, and I wanted to give it expression. I wanted to share it and to shed clarity… although, I didn’t yet have that which I wanted to give.
“Thoughts bounce around till my skull is fractured.” (Rakim)
It would be two weeks later before the next entry. Things are shifting. The roommate has has temporarily moved to Houston. I have finally gotten the upper hand on the one-eyed monster, and put an end to my TV habit. Winter is beginning to succumb to the spring. We are getting a few nice days strung together on occasion. The Writer’s Window could now be kept open, and I could have stereo headphones to Nature. Among the sounds to savor were the recently returned robins and even the blue jays, and the toads are making noise in the spring run-off ditches and streams—that is, it is mating season, and toads doing their groove thang is a sort of harbinger of spring in Western Massachusetts.
The days are lengthening and warming, and I am able to put the blue vault over my dome and do more and more strolling through the Valley. On the 19th of April, I walk the back roads home past the cow pastures from the Hampshire Mall.
I had gone to the mall to fulfill a mission. And the mission was, maa-shaa’ Allah, accomplished. …Ya, I got them—I purchased an ultra-light rod and reel and some lures. I’m going to start fishing again. This would resolve my protein issue, if my wet-a-line skills are up to par, and it would afford me the opportunity to engage in my favorite pastime.
The Fort River, which is more like a brook that isn’t much more than 15 feet wide for most of the year, was a few hundred yards from the “Writer’s Window.” I could go fish in the morning before work, catch a few trout, stick them in the frig, come home later in the day, clean’em, and get piscivorous. Small stream ultra-light fishing would take me back to me pre-Amherst, wannabe yuppie days, that when I wasn’t in class, or studying, or working at Burger King, I was in the tan Fiesta driving around looking for spots to fish on the Westfield, the Quabog, or any one of dozens of small streams and ponds in the area. I was finding a forgotten, and cherished, mode of mind, again.
The first day out, the water was high, murky, and cold, and I wasn’t successful. But in the weeks that followed, the weather and water quality improved, and I got into the trout on the regular. Also, the Teacher was also an avid fisherman. We, that is, he, his wife, a Brother from Indonesia, and I went down one day to the Connecticut River to see what we could do during the shad run. (For the record, the shad I am speaking of are ATLANTIC shad, which are good to eat, and not those stinky bait fish that are used to catch catfish).
While most folks are standing almost elbow to elbow throwing shad darts blindly into the main river, I slip off down stream and find an inlet. As I approach the water, a fly fisherman is in a battle royale with a very large fish. I watch with anticipation, and finally, he bends over and cradles an Atlantic salmon, that if I remember correctly weighed in the 15-20 lbs range, which was a tremendous catch given at the time the salmon restoration project on the Connecticut was new. In addition to the salmon, this inlet was filled with hundreds if not thousands of shad. Given that I don’t know if there is a statute of limitations on the fish taken beyond the creel limit, I won’t say how many shad we caught that day, but I will say that for the rest of the summer, whenever I went to the Teacher’s house for a lesson, his wife had prepared for us “dal” and shad for dinner—and I wasn’t complaining!
Most of my fishing, however, was on the stream right next door to home. On one occasion, the Mentor dropped me off where South East St. crosses the Fort River, and I walked downstream the mile and a half back to Brittany Manor. I had the “river” to myself, as I worked the stream looking for the pools and the pockets that might harbor a lunker stream trout—or even an acrobatic smallmouth bass. I was conscious that I might not experience days like this for a a long time to come given that I would be moving to Philadelphia at the end of the summer. Consequently, I tried to suck the marrow out of each moment I spent on that stream.
One Sunday, on a sublimely beautiful morning, I went the Fort River in pursuit of finned quarry. On one miscast, which landed about six feet behind me, a brook trout snatched my lure as soon as it touched the water. It was my first “native brookie,” and it was a beautiful fish.
As the water purled around my legs, in the distance I could ever so faintly hear a school band and then later what sounded like names being announced for a commencement event. A year has passed since my own graduation. That evening, after having three trout and spaghetti for dinner, I walk down the road to one of the nearby farms, sit down, and watch the sun sink into the horizon. Of the worldly things, it doesn’t get much better than this—i am, maa-shaa’ Allah, in an earthly bliss. I had found my pocket, however fleeting it might be.