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Day 21 – Rearranging Truth

Every hardship comes with an ease, subhanAllah

11/11/11

The theme Surah for this Hajj has been Ash-Sharh, through & through. Every hardship comes with an ease, subhanAllah. It’s also a bit of a relief to find that each soul is only tested with what it can handle. Some people bear such heavy burdens, Allah has also given them broad shoulders, mA. I’m not saying this because I’m in a test now, I’m actually very much at ease, but I do want to preserve these reflections iA. Others around me are starting to face severe tests in trying to travel back home, so something big may come for us too. We’ll see iA.

Translation of Surah Ash-Sharh, #94:

1. Have We not opened your breast for you (O Muhammad)?
2. And removed from you your burden,
3. Which weighed down your back?
4. And raised high your fame?
5. So verily, with the hardship, there is relief,
6. Verily, with the hardship, there is relief.
7. So when you have finished (from your occupation), then stand up for Allah’s worship.
8. And to your Lord (Alone) turn (all your intentions and hopes and) your invocations.

The nature of these tests is so interesting. If you think about it, what is it that’s being tested? It’s whether or not you remember and turn to Allah. That’s it. It’s not a test of whether you overcome obstacles- often you’re in situations you have no power to overcome. That’s not even the point. All you have to do is remember Allah and remain patient. He then supports you, when the time is right, with His Signs and Divine Support and pulls you out of the situations He puts you in. He may show you an open door when you turn to Him and that’ll be your way out. Maybe, the test will be more severe and so the Signs and Support won’t come right away- in those cases, how long will you turn to Allah, especially when there’s silence? How long will you continue to put your faith there? That is part of the test as well. The test is not about winning and succeeding on your own merit. Sometimes, the only way to win is to lose miserably. Success is only in achieving nearness to Him, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala. Turn to Him, you pass, every time. For as long as the test lasts, stay turned towards Him, you pass. Turn away, try to rely on your own abilities, try to show pride and arrogance, you fail- or, the test will stay and endure while your efforts fail, one by one, in hopes that you see your own errors and finally turn to Him. Pass. Or, maybe He’ll allow the test to subside after you’ve made an effort without turning to him, allowing you to believe in your own self, that’s the worst failure by far. It looks like success, but just sets you up for a very, very rude awakening later on when He stops letting you just get by. All success is through Allah alone. Just turn to Him, khallas.

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The Qur’an is a major key, so is Salah. They’re tools that will help me retain this state and improve on it once I return, I know it. How exactly to employ them, I’m not 100% sure yet. Hopefully, I can gain some further insight before I head back tomorrow. Ya Rab, please help guide me in this effort.

I need to look into this further and do more thinking, learning, reflecting around this subject iA. Hearing the imam recite Surah Ta-Ha in ‘Isha and knowing some of the background behind the Surah did things to my heart. After Hajj, I’ve also had more of a strong desire to read and recite Qur’an, so I’ll randomly bust out into recitation and totally love it :). Salah, which uses Qur’an to communicate, is also somehow vital. I’m realizing more and more that there’s an art to it, and I totally want to master it. There’s way more depth to it, much greater than the mindless recitation and empty movements we’ve unfortunately degraded it to. Ya Rabb, Master of All creation, make me a master of salah, benefit me with this most generous bounty, Ameen.

I’ve also been contemplating our time, compared with the Prophet’s. So many of our problems are the same, yet we have to adapt our approach, change/tweak our solutions, to make them more applicable. For example- Qur’an is such a great source of guidance, but so many of us just don’t speak Arabic, even as Muslims. So not only should we learn it to understand better, of course, but we have to consider how we intend to spread the message to those unfamiliar- while presenting it as something native, like the Prophet did. The message, logistically, was always local and organic, very much a Meccan phenomena. Such is the wisdom of Allah- presenting things that are difficult to grasp through comfortable channels of access at least. We have to do the same thing when we present the message- not as an Arab thing, but a natural, relevant, localized thing, that’s the real key.

There’s also the case of the inevitable connection with the Arab/Muslim world, the so-called “3rd World” in general. In the West, having to connect to a body that lives in such a state would be seen as regression, not progression. It would be perceived as moving backwards, not forwards. So, our role can be twofold: to present the message in a way that makes it relevant for the people being addressed and to try uplifting and improving the developing world, most especially the Hold Lands, to more modern standards and quality of living. This should benefit all, while keeping touch with the essence of the message of Islam. Ya Allah, please guide us to accomplish these ambitious ends. Please use us to do Your work and guide and bless our efforts at each step. You have blessed us greatly, please help us to show thanks for these blessings and to find ways to spread them throughout Your Dominion on this Earth.

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Day 18 – Like Clockwork

I recognize that I have to get tested with everything I have that matters to me, to see if I turn to Allah with that threat of losing each thing.

11/8/11Hajj, Day 5

On the way to Sai’y, the adhan for Dhuhr went off. I was on a walkway that passes over Safa and Marwa, on my way to outside, to find a staircase to the roof. The walkway was maybe wide enough for 6 people to stand side by side. When the adhan goes off, people stop wherever they are, throughout the city, and form lines and pray right where they stand. I got stuck on the walkway,  tried going forward to get outside, but everyone in front had already formed their lines, there was no way I could turn back either. So, I stopped where I was too, and just formed a line with those next to me. Others behind me kept pushing through, even after the prayer had begun.

It was so packed, I started weeping in salah. I just had this thought like, “Look, this is what we do, we crunch ourselves into tiny spaces to worship you, Ya Allah. People push past us on their way out, carelessly shoving us while we pray, but we must bear it and continue. This is our nature, this is who we are – small, insignificant. You are truly Magnificent and Glorified. You tell us to come here, to complete these rituals, exactly the way You say and we do our best to follow. Please forgive me, please protect me, please benefit me by what I’ve done for your sake, for I have no power to benefit myself. I have no station by which I may protect my own soul. It is truly all in Your Hands. My existence is completely at your whim, just as I am now, physically, in sujjud (prostration), an inch away from those around me. My face is pressed into the same ground thousands of people, myself included, had just been walking along. Allahu Akbar.” In retrospect, I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to Allah in prayer as I did then.

I went upstairs and ended up on the roof. The rush everywhere else was unbearable at this point, I was much more willing to brave the hot, midday desert sun and heat, on the uncovered roof, than pushes and shoves. First though, I needed to rest, desperately. I found some shade and sat down, then laid flat on my back. Reminded me of that yoga position, “open and ready to receive”. It felt amazing, like I was melting into the cool marble floor. After a while, I got up and wanted to write for a little bit, so I pulled out my journal…and was horrified. It was soaked. I was like, OMG NO! I went through the pages to see the damage. The edge of every page I had written on so far was soaked..with sweat..? I think I sweat through my bag and soaked the book? Or maybe it’s from being pressed against other people and getting their sweat on it? I’m not entirely sure. What’s amazing is that the pages I hadn’t gotten to yet were dry, subhanAllah. Only pages with writing were wet. That’s purely a test.

The words weren’t bleeding, the ink wasn’t running, which was very, very good. The pages were stuck together though. I didn’t want them to dry that way or they’d rip when peeled apart after drying and maybe mess up the letters and become illegible. I remembered suddenly that I had packed a small hand towel in my tote bag that I still hadn’t used, from the airplane. I actually yoinked it from the first class bathroom, after I snuck in when the lines were too long for the bathrooms in our economy section. Finally came in handy though ;). I put the towel on each page and pressed down with my pocket Qur’an to soak up the moisture. Took me a little over an hour to do each page, 90 in all. It was time-consuming, but it was working, the pages were dry enough that they didn’t stick. Alhamdilillah, I think it worked out, it’s still not entirely dry, at 4:30am, but it’s almost there, and the unused pages are totally unaffected, so I can continue to write without issue.

I would have been so devastated had I lost it, the collection of my thoughts and heart’s reflections and ponderings. Had to get tested though, I understand. I recognize that I have to get tested with everything I have that matters to me, to see if I turn to Allah with that threat of losing each thing. The only other thing I needed to get tested on, the only thing left, was my parents. Suddenly, when this thought crossed my mind during my Sai’y, I realized that I had totally left myself open to be tested there too! We had set such a shifty rendezvous place to meet at after we were all done with our rituals, what if I can’t find them! I went to the edge of the roof and looked over to our meeting spot, the bathroom in the courtyard outside of the masjid. There were like 100,000 people standing around our meeting spot. I had already taken an hour and a half break, what if they get there way before me and can’t find me and freak out and do something hasty?

Sure enough, the test came like clockwork :). I finished my Sai’y on the open roof, which wasn’t so bad, I did it in an hour. There were very few people up there, so there was no rush. It was also made more comfortable with the easy access to the cold ZamZam fountains all along the sides, which are normally jam-packed during Sai’y. I moistened the hand towel I had with cold ZamZam and covered my bald head with it to stay cool and to keep the sun out of my eyes. So glad I chose to do this instead of doing this indoors with everyone pushing and shoving and packed tightly together.

View of The Sacred House From The Roof, During Hajj

When I got down to our meeting spot, I walked through and around the entire area in search of my parents. Nothing. No cell phone either, and we had to take a taxi back still, we HAD to go together. Even though I suspected this would happen, I still had to deal with it somehow. I made du’a, and went around a second time. When I was inside, in the shade, I heard my mom call out to me. I saw her and was like, SubhanAllah, this is all Divine Support. Give in, remember Allah when you’re tested and He supports you. It’s real. My favorite thing about Hajj has been learning to trust Allah and how to seek His Help and Support. Hajj is like a crash course in dealing with hardships and tribulations. You need this now, not when you’re old, with one foot in the grave. Go as soon as you can, trust me.

My parents had just gotten there 2 minutes ago, so we basically got there around the same time. We tried to get food but couldn’t make up our minds about where to eat. Not having decent options made it difficult again. We ended up just grabbing ice cream and hopped on a bus to go to the Jamarat. It was 3pm. SubhanAllah, I was so amazed at our timing. I even took a break before doing Sai’y and we still ended up together at basically the same time.

The bus was packed, we had to stand the whole way. We were all so tired, my feet were blistering. We finished our ice cream on the bus and I was looking for some place to set down the empty cups. I placed them in an empty overhead compartment and they somehow fell over and spilled. My ice cream soup fell on the old Indian man sitting beneath the compartment, his seat and shirt got stained. I felt so bad! :/ He didn’t really say anything though, he actually even moved over and offered to let me share his seat with him. How sweet mA. I couldn’t do it though, the orange stains across the shoulder blades of his otherwise pure white shirt made me feel too bad. Another test. That was the first time I’d really done anything ‘harmful’ to someone here, and thankfully it was by mistake at least. I apologized to him and he made no fuss whatsoever.

The trip took an hour, the driver got stuck in so much traffic that he couldn’t take the bus any further. He told everyone that he refused to go on and made us all get off, a mile away from our destination. We got out and walked the distance to the Jamarat and did our Rami’ (stoning) and made our way back to the camp. We had to stop like 4 times on the walk back, we were all in so much pain. We even laid out our prayer rug and just sat down and chilled until Maghrib, outside of the Jamarat. For miles, everywhere you sit, the police come by and yell at you to get up and keep moving. You can’t even rest peacefully when you’re so exhausted and worn. Thankfully, since prayer time was close, they let us stay in our place until after prayer. Off in the distance, you can see the clock tower of the Haram, protruding into the sky. At times for prayer, the tip of the tower sparkles and glitters to show that the adhan is being made. We watched from miles away, until the lights stopped flickering, and then performed our Maghrib prayer. Immediately afterwards, the police officers returned and shooed us all away again, so we set back onto our journey back to Mina.

It took like an hour and a half to walk back, all through the refugee-lookin parts of Mina again. We got back in, that’s when I laid down and just knockedd outt! Now, it’s 5am, time for Fajr. I’m gonna pray and sleep for a bit. We’re gonna catch a bus to leave Mina at 4, so we have to go to the Jamarat one last time between 12-4pm iA. If we don’t leave before Maghrib, we have to stay here one more night and complete the stoning ritual one more day. I’ll continue with more later, good chat :)

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Day 15 – Arafah

“The hardships must always accompany the ease, such is the nature of our existence.”

11/5/11 – Hajj, Day 2

The Day of Arafah. Finally, we are here. It is a beautiful morning, maybe 65 deg, light breeze, clear skies. It’s 6:30am. After Fajr, I was planning on sleeping, but I stayed up to watch the sun rise over the mountains. It’s not as delicious as the sunsets, but it has its own majesty about it.

Minute by minute, the world around me is coming to life as the sky fades from dark to light, blue & black to orange & white. I’m sitting with my mother now. Hugs, kisses, asking about our night’s sleep. Waiting for the sun to break from behind the mountain – just a few more minutes now, iA. There’s sakinah (tranquility) and peace here. It’s so thick in the air, you can feel it in your bones. The Day of Mercy has begun.

Last night was more of a mess, none seemingly worth mentioning anymore – though I will briefly, for the sake of this journal. The hardships must always accompany the ease, such is the nature of our existence. My shoes were stolen, from inside the tent. Someone probably took them by accident and left theirs, which looked similar, but I can’t take those when they’re not mine. I’ve resorted to my backup flip-flops, no harm done. They’re terribly uncomfortable though, I don’t think they’ll be very useful if I walk alot.

We slept, packed in our tent, practically pressed against one another – 15 men in one small tent. We got dinner at least, Alhamdulillah. I took the HajjCoach’s advice and used earplugs and an eye shade to sleep and it worked beautifully, Alhamdulillah. I knocked out around 10pm and didn’t wake up until someone shook me at 3am to wake me. I took off my mask and it felt like I just entered the land of the living for the first time – sensory overload. Right back in the thick of it all over again. At least I got some rest, some time away Alhamdulillah, before everything came rushing back.

This morning, we had to leave before Fajr, which is against the sunnah of Mina, but we had to in order to catch our bus to Arafah. With millions of pilgrims traveling in such a short distance with limited resources, we don’t have much control over our situations. They said there were fatwas saying it’s ok to go to Arafah before Fajr, because of the sheer volume of people traveling at the same time. We were already going anyways, but that made the pill easier to swallow.

I got upset with my dad too, sort of lost my cool for a sec. He kept telling me to “stay together”, said it like 6 times. I would be standing no more than 5 or 6 paces away the entire time. I sort of snapped, and was like, “what are you talking about? I’m right here, where am I gonna go??” This was while we were gathering to board onto the bus to leave Mina this morning. I felt bad afterwards, he was trying to make sure everything would go smoothly, in his own way. So much virtue in keeping your mouth shut. I think I’ve saved myself alot of headaches on this trip by staying aloof and staying quiet. Yesterday was the first time I got involved in the drama – out of sheer curiosity and I regret it. It brought no benefit and just gave me a crucial migraine.

Alhamdulillah, it’s behind us now. We have finally been blessed with Arafah. After all of the tests, hardships and setbacks, Allah has allowed us this magnificent day. May He accept our prayers and make us amongst those whose prayers are answered. Ameen.

Here comes the sun…

Sun Rising Over Arafah

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Day 13 – Tests in Question

“The ultimate goal is not to “pass” the test – often there is no real way to pass or fail – the goal is simply to return to Allah. 

11/3/11

I was taking a shower, at around 1:30pm, and in the middle of it, all the water in the bathroom runs out. I’m standing there, covered in soap, well I rinsed off some of the left half of my body when it ran out. These little tests crack me up sometimes, cuz they always catch you off-guard, but they’re real and you actually have to deal with them.

So, I stood there like, wth??And I hand-squeegee’d as much soap off my curves as I could…please, ladies, this is a Hajj journal. SMH. Then, I was like ok…maybe I’ll just use the water from the bidet or the hand shower, or the sink, shoot I’ll use whatever, short of toilet water of course. All water sources had run dry – no water in the entire bathroom. Totally forgot I was in a 3rd world country. The water reservoir had probably run out, especially from people doing their laundry across the hall. So, I just kinda stood around…hung out for about 10 minutes, laughed at myself in the mirror. Suddenly, some water came back & I rushed to clean off. Got through it, Alhamdulillah.

That still raises the question: how am I best meant to interact with these tests? Just show patience and wait for them to blow over? Show diligence in the future to plan more efficiently and prevent falling into the same situations? Take advantage of the opportunity and work to fix the situation? Maybe a combination or selection of the options, based on the situation? That’s probably what it is. I have realized though, it becomes much, much easier to deal with the tests once you recognize you’re being tested. It sort of allows you to step outside of the situation and regain your personal identity. You are not your test. The test merely helps you to know better who you really are. All tests are from Allah. Stepping away from the situation, mentally, allows you to connect better with Him as well. He gives you the test, and will give you the answers if you ask Him. I always loved teachers like that :)

Why would He just help you if you ask? Because the ultimate goal is not to “pass” the test – often there is no real way to pass or fail – the goal is simply to return to Allah. To recognize & assert His role in your life. Communicating with Him in the midst of a test or hardship is the way to succeed. With that step, you more forward & prepare yourself for His Divine Support.

When I ran out of water in the shower, I go, “Yo, God – you testin me again, right? That’s funny LOL.” I don’t say, “Oh no! This always happens to me. FML. I have the worst luck, maybe God just hates me.” Tests are not necessarily earned, though they are tailored to you specifically, according to what you’re capable of handling. You don’t necessarily get a particular test because you deserve if, so it’s not personal in that sense. However, The Educator knows His Creation & what pushes your buttons, so tests are handed out accordingly. Similarly, He knows how far He can push you, and stays within the limits when He tests you. This is something that should provide relief. If you face some challenging situation, know that your Creator believes in you, and He has equipped you with the capacity to overcome your difficulties.

Also, if you see others in the midst of a test, be gentle with them. They are facing their own tests, which are according to their own capacities. Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” So much wisdom in those words. Others can not face what you are tested with, nor can you face what they are tested with, subhanAllah.

The Prophets faced the most severe tests, but also turned to Allah & He supported them through their hardships. These tests made them the closest to Allah. So, our tests, though they are smaller and less intense, have the same aim – to garner the support of our Educator & to draw us closer to Him. The constant remembrance of this situation relates to our level of faith. Perhaps, that is the greatest remembrance, to remember our constant connection to Him, to see it in every step. Not just repeating chanted incantations, but seeing their applicability within our own hearts, in the lives we live. May Allah guide my heart & make me of those that remember Him, receive His support and “pass” His tests. Same for you :)

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Day 11 – Familiar Faces

The worst thing about the trip was the frustration of being trapped, not being able to go anywhere, do anything…These are events which try your patience.”

11/1/11

The desert calm that clings to the soul. Forcefully grabs hold and enshrouds the heart. There can be no escape, only surrender. It is to this tranquility we retreat. There is no salvation from it, until the desert is left behind – mountains at your back, city streets under your feet. Only then, may you find peace from the Peace. A peace, by which, there is no solace, only yearning – for the perfectly blended skies and warm radiant rays of the brother you left behind.

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2 things: SubhanAllah, nothing compares to the beauty of a desert sunset. I was in total awe, I could have stared forever.

Second, 6:30pm, SubhanAllah, we stopped at a random rest stop on the way to Mecca to pray Maghrib & I saw Ali Hanif! SubhanAllah, that was incredible. Hanif is a good friend of mine from college, I met him and his wife, Nasrin & took pictures together. Allah is the Best of Planners. We may not get to meet again, but I’m grateful to have found a familiar face & extend a warm embrace with my beloved brother. He’s staying at the Al-Massa hotel, I remember seeing the sign, it’s somewhere around the city center. I’ll try to run into him again iA. I made du’a a few days ago to run into people I know, because I was ready to share these moments with my friends & I was finally granted the chance, Alhamdulillah. I was in the prayer area and I saw him standing there. I just rushed up to him and gave him a big, crushing bear hug :) Squeeze first, ask questions later.

I saw Mona Haydar yesterday. Though we don’t talk, I knew she was coming to Hajj from her CNN video, so it was cool to see her. She was in Medina, in the courtyard outside of the masjid, carrying a bunch of shopping bags :) May Allah accept all of our efforts & make our Hajj Mabrur iA.

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That was the perfect ease to accompany this hardship, my heart feels at complete peace. That was, until the slow-boy crew grabbed the mic and started the dyslexic talbiyah, short bus status. The speaker system in the bus needs to get regulated by someone with some courtesy. Can we not have the mic circulate between 4 people with equally horrendous voices that sound like their throats are closing up from peanut allergies? Seriously, man? That’s too much self-confidence, put the mic down, walk away. Take some Benadryl.

Cool thing about the drive from Mecca to Medina is that there are signs posted with different adhkar (reminders of God), periodically along the sides of the road. Reminders to remember The Most Near, Allahu Akbar!

7:20pm, dark, on the bus, not enough light…

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8pm, about an hour left iA. I’m remembering our drive to Medina & how awesome it was. Our driver was something special, subhanAllah, what a character :). That Pathan restaurant was so amazing!! My dad said it was the best food he’d had in years. Not to be taken lightly. I want to remember that whole adventure well iA.
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We got to Mecca at 11pm. It was 11:30 by the time we got out of the Pilgrims Processing Center. The bus ride got much worse before it got better. We hit insane traffic & were stuck for 3 hours. I was also getting talbiyah brainwashed, with it blaring repeatedly, directly over my fatigued head. At least I got to get out at the Pilgrims Center and use the bathroom and blow out some face phlegm (gross, I know – wait till you get here :P). I’m feeling a bit more refreshed, Alhamdulillah. That’s the awesome thing about this journey, I suppose – you get hit with stuff tailored to make you go insane..and want to punch old Persian men in the face…and other group members…sometimes even complete strangers…But, you learn your limitations, your weaknesses and your actual capabilities. Don’t worry, no one got punched. Not by me, at least.

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Allahu Akbar. We finally got to our rooms in Aziziah, just northwest of Mecca. It’s 3am. Our trip from Medina to Mecca really did just take 12 hours. That’s as long as my flight from DC to Jeddah. Normally, it’s only a 4 hour drive between Mecca & Medina. I’m so tired and hungry, but so relieved. The worst thing about the trip was the frustration of being trapped, not being able to go anywhere, do anything. We were caged in on the bus and had to just wait for things to take their course, on their own sweet schedule. These are events which try your patience. The drive to Mecca has been difficult both times now, while the trip to Medina was actually alot of fun & was really memorable. It was so dysfunctional and ridiculous that you couldn’t help but laugh. There was nothing amusing about the hardship this time.

I think things are getting more and more difficult as the time for Hajj nears. I wonder if it’ll be easier once we’re done? I’m *hoping* things will ease up once we’ve completed our Hajj. We’ll see iA.

Things take so long for no reason other than to test your patience.

My dad went down the street and picked up some pizza. It’s actually really legit, I’m totally killing this at 4am. No hesitation. So good…

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Thus far, I’ve seen two things which are amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life – the Ka’aba & the desert sunset.

The Ka’aba is a masterpiece. It carries such magnitude & grace that it’s just awe-inspiring. It is significant for so many reasons – it stands as a historical landmark, a spiritual symbol, and a social phenomena, amongst other things. It is the anchor for so many worlds. Gazing upon it will make the heart swell & put one into a trance-like state. The hypnotizing, ceaseless circumambulation of pilgrims penetrates the soul with its beauty. Everyone orbits the Ka’aba in fluid motion, while that structure stands as an absolute pillar, from which we all draw stability. Not only whilst making tawaf, in the Haram, but all around the globe, it is our direction of prayer. It is a metaphor for our Universe in so many ways. We orbit, as celestial bodies in space do, mimicking them in movement & in appearance – joining ourselves to the order of the galaxies. It is also reminiscent of the nature of our very own existence. We derive stability from the only Absolute in the Universe, while fluidly in motion, according to His Whim. This is the epitome of “going with the flow”. Being a part of that phenomena, participating in this analogy, is what makes this place even more fantastic. If only we could carry the lessons with us, throughout the other aspects of our lives.

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