National Poetry Month: Day #2

I look in the mirror
to find you
who they’ve called Aaliah
“exalted one”
but for today
I want to rename you

I’ll call you Aidah today
“returning one”
because I know tomorrow
you’ll be back
greeting me again
with the hope
of a little girl
who was named Aaliah

National Poetry Month: Day #1

I’ve been falling in love
with seasons lately

first summer, then fall
and slowly but surely

but spring
I’ve known I’ve loved
all along

so when the cold
withers away,
I whisper sweet nothings
an ode to spring

and I dream of fields
of tulips
I’ve only seen
on a screen

the soul of spring
is caught in April
with all her whimsical,
wild, and wonderful

the spring I’ve known
I’ve loved
all along

The Authorities of Meaning: Cosmic Conversations on Faith and the Humanity of Hawking

Reading the news of Stephen Hawking’s death this morning took me back six years in time. It’s the spring of 2012, and I had just turned twenty, though my unconventional schooling as a teenager and the way I carried myself gave off the impression of an even younger woman. I didn’t see myself as the sheltered girl that I was, and perhaps that’s why I never anticipated that my life was about to change that semester of my junior year in college.

Every semester the honors college at my university would offer a class on a special topic. I had taken courses on global citizenship and the art of winning presentations through these unique course offerings, but, by far, the most significant class I signed up for was The Quest for Meaning taught by the Dean of the Honors College at the time. As its name suggests, it was a class about what it means to be a human and where we derive that meaning from; it was about technology, science, religion, poetry, and love, and about how death and the way we perceive it can powerfully shape our lives.

That class was, as I hoped it would be, an opportunity for me to examine my beliefs and live with more intentionality. I had been fascinated by the question of life’s meaning for years and, being raised in a fairly religious household, my answer to that question began and ended with God.

My orientation toward God had drawn on the mind and heart equally, and, for the longest time, it felt unshakeable. After countless conversations, lectures, and contemplations about the necessity of a Creator, I was confident my faith was built on sound logic. And, in choosing to dedicate my high school years to learn about my Creator and spend many nights in prayer, I had tasted the sweetness of faith. Yet, what I was missing all these years was the exposure to ideas that were radically different than mine and people with entirely different values and lifestyles. So, as you can imagine, college was a journey of unparalleled growth.

By that Spring 2012 semester, experiences at home and in the classroom had led me to an uncomfortable state of doubt. The questions I had been grappling with, the pain I had felt witnessing people I cared about getting hurt, the new connections I had to people without faith, all culminated in my confusion and the ensuing sense of urgency for answers. My prayers felt off, and I was growing more conscious day by day that my inner world was transforming. So, for that spring semester, Thursdays from 4-6:40 PM quickly became the most important segment of my week.

Each topic covered in that class is rich enough to deserve a post of its own, but this post is specifically about the class we discussed faith and science and Stephen Hawking’s book The Grand Design. 

I began reading the book as soon as I could get my hands on it. I was anxious at the thought of having my entire worldview refuted, and I raced through the book in search of answers. By the time I had gone through all two hundred pages something still felt unsettled. In a way, I felt cheated. The book claimed to have answers to the following questions:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why do we exist?
  • Why this particular set of laws and not some other?

Philosophy is dead, the authors (Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow) claimed, and science is the only viable approach to answering these fundamental questions. Yet, many of the answers offered in the book were philosophical. And I was left with these unanswered questions:

  • How does being emerge from nonbeing?
  • If the law of gravity explains why the universe can come into existence out of “nothingness” then what do we mean by “nothingness” and why is the universe governed by laws?
  • Given the ever-expanding realm of science, how can we be certain discoveries won’t change the latest theories in physics? And since we can’t be certain, isn’t this just another theory that may one day be disproven and can never be proven?

I felt cheated that day because Hawking made the unsubstantiated claim that we don’t need God to explain the origin of the universe -as though it were possible to finally be certain that we, as humans, finally figured out the answers to these existential questions once and for all. Hawking hadn’t even defined what his concept of this god was, yet he wasn’t careful in choosing his words when drawing a conclusion. He was a man of far-reaching influence, and I felt it reckless of him to speak of so conclusively on the matter.

During the class discussion of the book, I shared my opinion of Hawking’s argument, but my professor, a vocal atheist, dismissed my objections to the book’s conclusion –stating that Hawking was the leading authority on the subject of physics and that if I didn’t see his point it was because I had missed it. The silence after that moment was uncomfortable. I wanted to argue back that he never answered my questions and I wanted to explain more, but I didn’t –thinking, instead, that I must’ve been at fault. I thought this was perhaps a truth too bitter to swallow. And that’s where my lack of awareness of my aversion to conflict played an important role. Had I known that I was silencing myself to create harmony at that moment, I may not have taken that response from the professor to mean my beliefs were not strong enough.

When I revisit the journal entries following that class, it’s apparent to me how this was the beginning of my doubts shifting from subconscious to conscious. And the years that followed were difficult ones. I delved into the problem of free will and read more texts that challenged my religious beliefs. I spent many nights unable to fall asleep because my mind was too active. I longed for peace many nights, and it wasn’t until years later that I had finally landed on an answer that I knew was right in my mind, body, and soul.

My journey back to God, and myself, hasn’t ended. In many ways, it’s still just beginning. But it feels wonderful to be at peace again. I was reminded of that today when I read of Hawking’s passing. I thought about his journey and how it might have felt like to live with Lou Gehrig’s –how that must’ve played into his perceptions of a just, merciful creator. I wondered about self-awareness, or rather the lack of it, in scientific circles. I thought about how far I’d come toward more self-awareness, where that had taken me, how much farther I still have to go.

Hawkings was a remarkable man, in more ways than one, but he was also a flawed human like the rest of us. He was a symbol of human potential, and it’s tough to not respect a man of his genius, but we don’t have to blind ourselves to his fallible nature either. Hawking was a controversial man known for his often inflated ego among his peers and even at home, and it makes sense given his story.

I stumbled upon this quote of his that I found oddly comforting:

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”

You see, even those who believe in the meaningless of existence believe in the beauty of purpose and the magic of love. What does that tell you of the human as a purely rational being? And what does that tell you of the spirit? Why do we seek to create lives of meaning –even those of us who believe in ultimate meaningless?

Talk to me about the universe. But tell me, first, of your place in it. We are spiritual beings in a material world trying to make sense of it all. We’ll get nowhere if we don’t know who we are.

Introducing: a sunshine state of mind project #100DaysOfSummer

A Hanauma Bay Point of View

Summer is my favorite state of mind. It’s a strawberry sweet season of sun-soaked fun that we know will be over in the blink of an eye. It’s a season we wait for every year and one we don’t take for granted. The best of summers are not just filled with pink lemonades, late night adventures, and ocean views; a true summer warms your soul with new memories, deeper connections, and a sense of gratitude.

Follow @fillawesophie on Instagram for a daily dose of The Sunshine State of Mind Project.

Photo of Aaliah launching a lantern.

imperfect beginnings

For the longest time, I planned to launch The Fillawesophie Project on the 1st of January, 2017. Something about aligning my beginning with the start of the new year felt poetic. Perfect. Yet, tempting as it may be, I decided against striving for that perfect beginning, because if I’ve learned anything about success, it’s that taking action with what I have in the present is better than waiting for the “right” moment sometime in the unknown future. It’s a bit like launching a lantern into the sky. You create a flame, but the lantern catches fire when it’s ready. You lift your arms higher, but the lantern flies only when it’s ready. There’s no telling when the lantern will be ready, so there’s no use waiting for the perfect moment. You do your work and the lantern meets you when it’s ready. And together, you light up the sky.

So here’s to an imperfect beginning —and all the poetry that is in it.

growing pains

I’ve stopped writing for much longer than I ever wanted to.

Looking back at the attempts at poetry and prose I shared on my various blogs, I never felt proud of my work. I don’t think I’ve written anything yet that’s struck a powerful cord with me. Yet, when I go back and look at the posts from a few years ago, I feel at peace for having caught some moments, captured some images of my mind, and carried them with me into the future. And, more than anything, I wish I were able to carry with me more memories adorned with language and preserved in a common place where they cease to belong to just me.

Perfectionism is evil. It’s the enemy that kills creativity, contentment, and progress under the false promise of attainable flawlessness. But in striving for perfect, we never take the step that makes the next one even possible. Instead, we hold on to a painfully high bar, waiting for everything to be just right so we can let go, not knowing that release is a choice and not a reaction. In believing in perfect, we accept that it is defined by an entity outside ourselves, that our own ideas of beauty, success, and happiness are meaningless and worth less.

I’m tired of holding back myself and my creative pursuits for fear that my work is not great. Today, I am not great, but I will take better. Such is the path of growth.

not even lullabies

It’s 2 AM and I can’t sleep. Soft lullabies fill the gaps between my thoughts, but I keep thinking of the ones I love. They keep me awake.

I remember a conversation with a professor of mine who told me he could never sleep at night. He says this to me as we clear the tables after a charity dinner in honor of his loved one. Ever since she passed, he can’t sleep at night. He takes these pills, swallows them with his 3 A.M. restless thoughts, as he grades student papers or reads the latest publishings on the state of our world.

I’ve never met a man so able at hiding his pain, though I’ve often heard men are good at that.

my rosary prayers

this is for the kids who clutched their rosary beads too tightly they broke
and they still search under tables and behind doors for the missing pieces
this is for the young men and women who no longer know where to lay their prayer mats,
how to mend their souls, or why they still show up at God’s doorstep:

you may have forgotten how to chant, but you still know how to sing.

my cherished one

My Nana preferred beads necklaces over gold. She liked dolls and covered every wall in her house with pictures of her children and grandchildren. Her home always smelled of fresh cooking and her TV was always a notch too loud. When I hugged her, she squeezed me tightly. She smelled like baby powder and Irish Spring. When my parents visited Egypt all she ever asked for was candy, Kool-Aid, and Irish Spring soap. On her nightgowns and dresses, she attached a picture of my father. She changed clothes and my dad aged more than 20 years, but always his wedding picture hung from her dress.
This is my favorite image of her. She is smiling with her mouth closed. No matter how happy she was, always she smiled with her mouth closed. Her eyes were the most innocent and lively. She liked it best when I put the eye drops in them myself.
The last time I visited Egypt, me and my nana were roommates. That was five years ago, the last time I ever saw her. She slept in my sister’s twin bed on the other side of the room. We talked before bed if she wasn’t too tired. She told me stories of her life with Grandpa, how he fell in love with her when she was just a teenager. She got married young and lived a life very different from my own. She told me stories about my uncles and aunt and my father as a child. I listened to every story with a sense of enchantment that the no matter how much things changed, humans were always the same. After each story, she reminded me how much she loved me, and I went to sleep a happy girl.
Nana, I will always remember you. I will make pasta the way you always did. I will cherish pictures the way you always did. I won’t lose hope. If I live as long as you did, I will try to look at the world with wonder. I’ll cherish the little things. And the big things. I’ll try not to forget.

fine lines

a fine line

between everything

and it’s opposite

the world’s hanging

on a loose rope

pain and Suffering

thick minds and hollow hearts

we’re running on quicksand


let go


take my hand


i’m scared

not many caged birds can sing

you freeze, crack, feign your presence

it’s too cold to watch the sunrise

but I’ve captured the early morning dew in my eyes

trapped the sunshine under my scarf

meshed with locks of hermit hair

I’ve held the memory of that moment

with tight fingers

then slipped it in a locket

I wear it around my neck

so even when I let go

it rests against my soul

breathe in

breathe out

it moves with my heart


i’m light

i’m hanging on a delicate chain

and there’s beauty in that fine line

1 2 3 4 5