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Storm Cell Sunrise

Storm Cell Sunrise


I’ve settled into a habit of falling asleep at earlier and earlier times. My usual frame of a 1am-2am knockout has turned into a 9pm-10pm drift-off. While this is an advantageous thing on most fronts — after all, I’ll be needing to account for a seven hour time difference soon — it means I’m often asleep long before my roommates. Meaning: when my roommate Hiba texts me at 11:10pm I, in theory, won’t see it until morning. However, this morning, I happened to stir around 2am and catch sight of her message: Sunrise is at 6, wanna be up by 5:30?

Loyola’s MSA (Muslim Student Association) has a little tradition bookending each academic year in which whoever feels up to it is welcome to join a generally small congregation to the east of the Madonna della Strada Chapel for fajr by the lake. For those who may not know what fajr is: a great deal of Muslims follow a theology that prescribes five daily prayers. Fajr is the early morning prayer, before sunrise. Whereas the MSA doesn’t host fajrs by the lake over the summer, Hiba and I intermittently venture out there ourselves because, let’s be honest, it is awesome. I mean that not by the word’s connotation, but its denotation: inducing awe, admiration, or an overwhelming feeling of reverence. Clouds make up the most awe-inducing sunrises for me. With even just the slightest smattering of clouds, a spectacular palette of pastels wraps itself between the shadows. This morning’s just so happened to have a thinning storm cell easing in from the north that served as a sort of cradle for the light. The tail end of the cell sat just beneath the sun after it had risen a bit from the horizon, and by the end of the hour, you could see it dropping rain over the lake.

Sunrise by the Madonna della Strada Chapel

If there’s one thing to be learned about me, it’s that I thoroughly adore rain and storms. Hiba does as well. Maaria, on the other hand, another roommate of mine, is utterly petrified by them. Last summer, when Maaria and I first moved into an apartment together, we spent many a stormy Chicago night stationed at our northeastern window watching the lightning. I crouched at the sill with eyes wide while she often stood a few feet back, sunk into her shoulders as though needing to defend herself. Watching storms with Maaria always makes me think of a verse in the Quran: “Among His signs, too, are that He shows you the lightning that terrifies and inspires hope…” 30:24 [M. A. S. Abdel Haleem translation]. Toss the two of us into a storm and watch what reactions manifest; I feel we tend to illustrate that verse rather accurately. Of course, with Hiba added to the dynamic, the three of us now spend most storms with Hiba and I quite literally hanging halfway out our fifteen-story-high windows, arms splayed, and at times becoming downright drenched while Maaria tentatively calls us back inside from the wall furthest away.

This morning, Maaria was in the suburbs with her family so it was just Hiba and I for fajr by the lake. As soon as 5:30 hit, the two of us were out the door, walking less than a block north from our Sheridan Road apartment to the Lakeshore Campus. We spread out our prayer mats several feet to the east of the golden chapel doors and concluded our prayers in less than five minutes. Hiba set up her phone to capture a time-lapse, I took a few photos of the burgeoning sunrise, and we spent the remaining twenty or so minutes quietly commenting on the clouds and occasionally mulling over other things we’ve previously decided to do before my departure, like riding the new Ferris Wheel, visiting the Museum Campus, and holding a Lord of the Rings movie marathon. Truthfully, there’s only so much comprehensible conversation one can have in the last minutes of 5am; most of it was spent in a subtle silence. A sizable flock of birds frenzied in the shrubs to our left at each passing jogger, a security woman meandered around the footpaths by the Chapel gardens, and as soon as the golden hue of morning bloomed a bee fell into orbit about our scarved heads to which we could really only cringe and recoil lest we manage to make it angry. Subtle silence.

Today marks thirteen days until my departure and two weeks until my arrival to Rome. I unabashedly admit it: I’m terrified. I’ve been abroad before, though never for longer than a month. Granted, many whom I know regard my move to Chicago as its own cultural dissonance from what I’m presumably used to — considering my upbringing in rural Ohio — but while I agree with that sentiment to some degree, Chicago doesn’t speak a language foreign to me. I know English. I certainly do not know Italian, but I suppose I will be learning. So again: I’m terrified. Though… I am quite amused with the mostly adult figures who attempt to ‘console’ me at my mentioning my fear. I understand the well-intended expression of support and encouragement, but a part of me genuinely wishes for there to exist a space in which this apprehension is allowed to be. There are many kinds of fear, and this isn’t so much the fear one feels when threatened, but rather the fear one feels when pushed to do something they’ve never done. Believe me, I very much expect of myself by the end of this to be turning to anyone who will listen, shouting “Let’s do that again!” But for now, just let me be wary. Dare I say a little trepidation can be a good thing? Maybe. For the time being though, my mind isn’t so much on what is to come of my new presence in Rome as it is on what is to come of my absence in Chicago. Hiba and Maaria. Having lived together for a year, I already know that leaving them will be my biggest grievance.

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