Love, Life Stories

I never thought my stories mattered much

I never knew people would care so much about what I have to say.

As I was nearing the end of my master’s career at Harvard Divinity School in the beginning of summer 2014, my stint at the Pluralism Project was also coming to an end. Along with it came the existential crises that begged the question of where my life was headed next – and what I could do with it post-graduation. The assistant director of the Pluralism Project, Whittney Barth, was aware of this predicament, and she helped me in my job search as I combed through hundreds of job postings online.

As I helped shut off the lights at PP during my last day on the job, Whittney asked me if I ever heard of what was then Coming of Faith. I told her that I hadn’t. She informed me that it was a story-telling website that was all about diversifying media through minority women’s voices – and they were looking for fellows soon. The founder, Laila Alawa, was a summer intern for PP from the previous year, and I remembered briefly speaking to her during our PP meetings.

“Ah, but you’re looking for a paying job… never mind,” she said as we boarded the elevator.

“Still… it could be a great resume builder and experience,” I replied.

And from that day until November of 2015 – nearly a year and a half later – I had it packed in the back of my mind that I should apply to become a fellow one day. Although I continuously read articles on the website during this time, I always managed to miss the fellowship deadlines and repeatedly told myself that I’d be on the lookout for the following fellowship timeline. In November of 2015, however, I told myself that this would be IT.

[bctt tweet=”I could bring interfaith/intercultural dialogue, peace, and social justice to the world.”]

I HAD to apply this time and write, because now it wasn’t just about contributing to the website and gaining experience. At that time, I had found a new sense of urgency to tell my stories. Although I have worked in interfaith movements, peace organizations, and social justice positions, this new urgency begged me to focus on me, my stories, and the things I am passionate about. I became convinced that by sharing my stories and writing so avidly about topics such as race, human rights, and culture (as they pertain to my life and others’ lives), I could further bring interfaith/intercultural dialogue, peace, and social justice to the world in a way that was different from how I had in the past.

I needed people to know why I, as an American Pakistani Muslim, was working to build bridges, fight the patriarchy, and combat stereotypes, racism, and bigots. People needed to know so they could get a fresh perspective, become intrigued, or, at the very least, know that they were not alone.

The Tempest would be the perfect platform, and on New Year’s Day of this year, I was informed that The Tempest was actually going to be the megaphone for the voice inside of me that had been begging to speak – or shout – for so long.

[bctt tweet=”The Tempest would be the perfect platform.”]

As I began my fellowship and started writing, I was nervous. Although I had wanted to tell my stories, I thought I was writing too much about myself. I had gone from this new sense of urgency to an anxiety that made me wonder who would ever want to read what I had to say about my life and interests. When my first article was published and marketed online, I was incredibly floored to see my words floating across the screen as they told my story about my interfaith/intercultural wedding. The first comments on the Facebook page in regards to my article were negative, but, at the same time, the “likes” I got doubled… and then tripled…

Before I knew it, my articles had thousands of hits. The more the numbers grew, the more my mind was blown that so many people cared about my stories and interests. People left comments and questions. Many people reached out to me on Facebook and Twitter for advice (and still do today!). One of my friends even told me that he used one of my articles as a lesson plan for his high school anthropology course.

[bctt tweet=” My mind was blown that so many people cared about my stories and interests.”]

I also made new friends through the beautiful group of women who write, edit, and design The Tempest – to work with a highly motivated and passionate group of women who are interested in the same issues is the most encouraging and wonderful situations that I could ever find myself in. From our very first meeting, I knew that this was the type of group I belonged in.

The greatest part of it all are the moments when somebody has thanked me for putting a story out there that they could relate to – and helped them realized that they are not alone in their struggle.

Before The Tempest, I knew that everything – and everyone – is connected someway, somehow. Now, as a Tempest fellow, I’ve come to find that we, especially us women, are more connected than we will ever know. Whether it’s through our upbringings, the issues we face today, or our interests in beauty, fashion, race, or technology – we all have stories that are interconnected and interwoven so delicately in the fabric that we call our world.

Each and every story can make a difference.

I only have the Tempest to thank indebtedly for helping mine make one.

[bctt tweet=”Each and every story can make a difference.”]