Childhood Haunts

Last summer, I was planning a visit back to the forests of my childhood, to stay in a cabin in the woods of my memory. The cabin is where it has always been- perched on a cove on Lake Ossipee in New Hampshire in a forest that goes by the name of Sherwood Forest, the same one that Robin Hood lived in and the namesake of the woods surrounding the camp I attended as a child – Camp Robin Hood. This is the camp where I picked up my first comic book in 1979. It is the camp where my son Hamad picked up his first comic book in 2005. The place hasn’t changed. I have.

I was particularly excited about this visit. This was to be five days of walking around in my childhood. Today I live in a part of the world where some children can not recognize their own childhood day to day- a part of the world where today and tomorrow may as well be eons apart- yet I had the luxury of reliving mine decades later.

Few things remain the same when we grow up. My children go to the same school I went to ­ but it looks different and is attended by different people. The house of my childhood no longer casts a shadow. My eldest son was about to conclude his second summer at Camp Robin Hood in wood cabins that still bear my childish scribbled signature. This is my gift to him: memories that will last a lifetime and that promise neither to change nor disappoint. Memories that promise to stay young. The writing is on the wall.

I made time for a haircut and beard trim on West 66th Street in New York City ­ camp’s antithesis-in preparation for my visit. The barber’s beard trimmer froze my thoughts as silver sheaths mercilessly cut through my childhood memories and nonchalantly rested on my black apron. I smiled in sadness, tipped the barber and went off to pick up my car. I felt old.

Camp was great. It was a vacation long overdue. After having spent three years in the setup of Teshkeel Media Group, I was yearning for some time off. My bed barely fit my adult frame yet every morning I woke up to the same voice I woke up to as a child ­ the voice of Chuck Illig who had just completed his 41st summer at camp. For a few seconds I felt young again. But then I would feel two of my children who shaped themselves to the contours of my body for warmth. One found his niche at the folds of my knee. The other found his between the cabin wall and my chest. How and when they chose to exercise their mammalian right of using my warmth I am unsure, but inevitably it happened every night.

After camp I went back to the barber but instead of accepting the black robe that he held out to his returning customer, I reached behind him to grab the last remaining white one.

The 99 is all about picking up the last remaining white robe. It is about a conscious choice to not let others define who you are. It is about being proactive in choosing the backdrop against which you are to be judged. Today I was to see only the black hairs as they carelessly billowed onto the apron. I felt young. Better yet, I felt born again.

Islamic culture and Islamic heritage have a lot to be proud and joyful about. The 99 is about bringing those positive elements into global awareness. We have been reactionary for too long trying to defend ourselves and saying “This isn’t Islam” and “That isn’t Islam” every time something terrible happens.

This week, Time Magazine joined the growing list of international publications to feature our work. Thank you Time Magazine. And thank you reader.

I spent the better part of last year telling the world that next Ramadan the world would have new heroes.

Now it does.