Flags

Call it divine comedy, call it the clearest of signs. The Architect of all creation planted a flag on my timeline — an easter egg, if you will — to be unveiled twenty-one years later.

Two postcodes, just fifteen characters apart, two hundred metres between them. The first of them represents one of the most significant moments of my life. The other represents an obsession that had once weighed me down. To others, completely meaningless; a coincidence at best. But to me: utterly mind blowing.

But flags are for those who see them, they’re not for any other. This one for me alone, cognisant of words once poured onto the page which had occupied me at length. None ever knew of my feelings, except to make light of them, as they jeered and mocked me scornfully.

None witnessed the journey of my heart but the Lord of hearts. If none of my companions witnessed the power of that indelible impression stamped onto my heart, once so raw, it was certainly witnessed by the One in whose hand is my soul.

Part of my path of reform was letting go of all that had burdened me along the way, carrying me on towards the light of faith. Eventually I would seek to replace my self-centredness with God-consciousness. The slowest of missions, still in its infancy a quarter of a century on.

This lifetime of mine has been characterised by two things: the desire to go steaming off towards oblivion in servitude to the lowest calls of my soul, and that punctuating yearning to pull back from the brink, turn back to God and reform my whole being. Most of those moments I recall as clear as day.

One of them occurred just as spring was easing itself out of the gloomy winter, a year into the new millennium. I was living in a bedsit in Hanwell on a decaying housing estate sandwiched between fine Victorian terraces and the Great Western Main Line. Like so many times before, I found myself balanced on the precipice of despair.

At that moment, I could fall either way, over the edge into a life of rebellion, or back a step towards the light. These were my inner conversations: the raging debate within. To pursue all that is good and virtuous, or to serve myself alone. It was a battle that bristled for days. But in the end, my minuscule faith would claim victory.

Thus would I repent just then: repent, return, reform. I made a commitment to renew my faith and start over. To abandon everything that pulled me back. To devote myself to this way. To seek the pleasure of my Lord alone. To pursue the path, to purify my heart. To do whatever it took. A moment of absolute sincerity.

Days later, I would find myself sitting in a friend’s flat off Longford Avenue two miles away. I was wearing scruffy jogging bottoms, a grey jumper and white socks. Opposite me on the other sofa, my friend’s wife at her side, a very smart young woman wearing a suit and a gold-coloured headscarf.

Over biryani, we struck up restrained conversation. Momentarily, I had lost my perennial shyness, relaxed in the company of this stranger, friendly and respectful. We hardly noticed our hosts disappearing to prepare dessert, but they returned with smiling faces.

When I arrived that evening, dressed like a tramp, with barely a penny to my name, I could never have imagined how auspicious that friendly dinner party would be, but things then moved apace. Three months later, we were married, our wedding carriage a red Ford Fiesta.

For the next four years, we would live in a tiny flat in West Ealing. Our garden would be an allotment on the corner of Mattock Lane and Northfield Avenue. Reconciled with my family, one evening while visiting our flat, witnessing water pouring down from a leak in our kitchen ceiling, my father whispered into our ears: wasn’t it time we started looking for a house of our own?

A year later, we’d move into our little house in the Chiltern hills, home for us now seventeen years. This year, reflecting on twenty-one years together, my beloved told me a story she had never shared with me before. She too had been having conversations with herself in the days before we were first introduced: whether to repent and reform and to return to her Lord.

The Architect of all creation had planted flags on her timeline too. She told me about them just as I was being blown away by one of mine. Secrets each of us will carry with us, unseen by any but ourselves. But for both of us, the clearest evidence yet that not for naught were the heavens and the earth created. Thus does that revered verse ring true:

We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness?

Quran 41:53

Subhanallah. Mind. Officially. Blown.

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