I returned to Morgantown, as I have from all of my sojourns on the road, and home embraced me.
This path upon which I ventured when I left New York almost three years earlier, had taken its toll on me. It left me exhausted with my life and my identity dismantled. I didn't even have a bed to call my own. I was living off my parents' credit card. And I certainly didn't have a ring on my finger, a symbol of the divine love I thought I might find with a man. I had just about nothing but my own self and the great divine gift of creation within me. I considered this journey a success. The destruction of my self freed me to begin a new life.
When I began this trip, I had jetted to the Best Western in Santa Cruz, California, to learn the secrets of sexual eacstasy. For a little over four years, I confronted dualities, and they confronted me. Hinduism versus Islam. East versus West. Male energy versus female. I had to choose the values with which I wanted to live. True spirituality versus false opportunism. True love versus lust. The traditional female versus the liberated woman. Purity versus hypocrisy. Ego versus heart. Fearlessness versus fear. Reality versus illusion.
The darkness of Danny Pearl's murder made me confront the limitations of life on this earth if we accept the boundaries of duality. Even in death, Danny accepted neither the boundaries nor the labels others tried to thrust upon him. When his captors made him declare himself a Jew on the video that was to document his death, he did so with the nonchalance that characterized him in life.
I, too, had chosen a path in which I rejected labels and boundaries. To do so meant venturing into darkness that we could have avoided by choosing to live comfortably within the boxes assembled for us. Rejecting those boxes meant taking on great responsibilities. For Danny, the consequence was death. For me, it meant carrying a child within me, unwed. Only the fact that I did not live in a village in Pakistan or Afghanistan spared me a similar fate.
After I had returned to Morgantown, another Pakistani publication attacked me with the headline, "Who are Where is Asra Nomani?" It was the essential question of my identity that had been posed to me in Kathmandu. The lawyer defending Omar Sheikh, the man convicted of kidnapping Danny, said he planned to focus Omar's appeal upon me, calling me an agent for India's foreign intelligence agency. The newspaper claimed I had posed as a student of mysticism in an earlier trip to Pakistan, describing the trips I had made to Sufi shrines with my grandmother. The article traced my roots back to the state of Uttar Pradesh in India and led readers straight to the address of my childhood home on Cottonwood Street, listing our home phone number, too.
I smiled and yelled out to her, "Jaz, I'm going to be a mother, just like you!"
I was going to have a hillbilly baby born at West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial Hospital. My family embraced me. My father, a man who had to face so many new realities because of his daughter, had sent me a simple e-mail when my mother told him about my pregnancy: "I love you." His fingernails were coated with paint as he finished a room that would be home to me and my boy. My mother, who once stood at a railway station shocked at losing her veil, guided me to release myself from the shame and alienation of a culture she had rejected because of its oppression of the female spirit. "You are free," she told me. My brother, a survivor of the demons of darkness, shook my hand and said, "Asra Boo, I love you. Everything will be all right." Bhabi, my sister-in-law, walked with my in the moonlight, burdened by battles in India, trying to save a newlywed sister whose mother-in-law terrorized her, arguing with me that I didn't abandon love by choosing to live without shame. Samir, my nephew, gave me the perspective I needed to appreciate the divine nature of the baby within me, telling me, "Babies are a little bit of heaven brought down to earth." And Safiyyah, my niece and guru, curled up beside me as I slept on her bed with clouds upon the sheets so I would know I wasn't alone.