“What you seek is seeking you.” That inscription on Kamala Khan’s bangle comes from the famed 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi. He’s still a widely read and influential voice in the Muslim world, but his famous quote transcends time and cultures. It speaks to the shared experience of wanting something from life. What exactly does it mean and how does it apply to Kamala’s story? Ms. Marvel‘s fourth episode featured three generations grappling with the same goal, as each seeks to find their place in the world.
Search for a definition of Rumi’s quote and you’ll find countless answers. But each offers their own interpretation of the same hopeful idea. If you put your heart into searching for what you truly want and love then that’s exactly what you will find waiting for you in the universe. Because the things we seek—the things that drive us and motivate us—are out there. Their very existence makes us yearn for them. And when we reach out to them they reach back to reveal themselves.
Does that mean you’ll achieve exactly what you set out to find initially? Possibly, but we all know life isn’t always that neat and tidy. Nor do we always get what we want, especially since sometimes we don’t actually realize what we want. But the quest itself will lead you exactly where you are meant to go. Dedication to a purpose is itself an achievement, and often knowing we did our best is enough. Other times following a meaningful path takes us somewhere we didn’t know we wanted to go until we got there. Because even though we don’t always find what we initially set out to find, the end of the road often reveals what it we truly wanted. Sometimes we don’t know what our hearts wanted until we find it.
Of course, the beauty of this quote is that it can not be uniformly defined because what resides in each of our own hearts is so different. Therefore, like life itself, what we take from that saying is unique to each of us. It might mean something different if what we seek is love or revenge, contentment or fame, or something else entirely. Or, as is the case with three generations of women on Ms. Marvel, if we just want to figure out our place in the universe.
Kamala’s grandmother, a woman whose life and identity was literally split in two during Partition, told her granddaughter that even at her age she still struggles with understanding how she fits in the world. “I’m still trying to figure out who I am,” said Nani. “My passport is Pakistani, my roots are in India. And in between all of this there is a border. There is a border marked with blood and pain. People are claiming their identity some old Englishman had when they were fleeing the country. How is one to deal with that?”
Nani’s daughter, Muneeba, has had her own struggles with identity her entire life. She left Pakistan and her mother behind for America. She wanted to get away from her neighbor’s taunts about the weird stories her mom spoke of. For a woman who has impressed on Kamala the importance of family and community, she once went halfway around the world to get away from both. She believed a foreign country would give her a better life.
And yet, she only found happiness in the US when she reconnected with her church and her community. How does someone reconcile such opposite and contradicting actions and feelings? How can someone make sense of leaving their life behind only to realize how much you needed it? And how can you do all of that while asking your daughter, who is so much like the person you once were, to suppress who she wants to be? Muneeba is both Pakistani and American, a rebellious daughter and an overprotective mother. How can one person understand who they are when they’re naturally pulled in so many directions? As Nani asked, how is one to deal with that?
Kamala was dealing with those very same questions even before she got her powers. She’s “weird” and at constant odds with her family. She idolizes the Avengers and pushes back against the person her parents want her to be. She’s as American as any other kid, yet her family’s deep religious and cultural roots have her straddling the border between two worlds, same as her grandmother and mother. And just like them—same as her two best friends also trying to make sense of who they are and what they want—Kamala hasn’t figured out how to simply exist as Kamala. She doesn’t know who she is or who she is meant to be. And that was before she had to make sense of her role in a story that spreads across time and two different dimensions.
Learning she’s a djinn with incredible abilities didn’t create Kamala’s internal struggle, it merely magnified it. How can she protect her community while her very existence puts it at risk? How can she keep her family safe and happy when she can’t explain to them what’s going, which in turn makes them worries and heartbroken? Kamala is trying to figure out how to be a superhero even though she couldn’t even figure out how to be a Pakistani-American teenager. Only now she also needs to find answers about her mysterious ancestor, which is intimately tied into her entire identity. Her place in the universe is only getting more complicated to find.
But that’s why Rami’s quote is and always will be hopeful. For though Kamala, her mother, and her Nani are all struggling to understand their place in the world, their place in the world is looking for them. And so long as they keep searching for it they will find it. In fact, it might have already found them.
Nani held her family together through tragedy and pain. She’s a strong woman and passed that strength on. She raised a strong daughter who in turn raised a wonderful kid herself. Muneeba might worry about Kamala, but we can see the best of Kamala’s mother in her. She’s brave and caring. She worries about others and tries to protect them. She is everything a parent could hope to see their child become. Kamala is the descendent of a long line of brave women, each of whom had a role in making Kamala who she is.
We don’t know if or when Nani and Muneeba might find what they seek. But Kamala seems on the verge of finding her place in the universe right now. Her magical bangle took her back to the night of Partition, when her family lost Kamala’s great grandmother, the djinn Aisha. Is Kamala experiencing that night via the ancestral plane? Or is she actually there via some sort of magical time travel? Both? Neither? The “what” and the “how” of what is happening to her are interesting, but neither is as important as the “why.”
Why she is there is simple – the universe wanted her at that train station. It’s going to show Kamala how she fits into this story – the story of her family. As Rami wrote, the very thing she seeks is seeking her. And when she finds at that train station will show Kamala who she is. She’ll realize she’s not some Captain Marvel knockoff. She’ll realize she’s Kamala Khan, a kid with a big heart who loves her friends and her family and protects innocent people. And when she does she’ll realize who she is and how she fits in all of these worlds simultaneously.
Sometimes the brown girls from Jersey City do save the day. Because when you truly want to be a hero the universe is seeking all the heroes it can get.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.