Throw together a few words with a full stop as the only bridge between them, and the reader is still able to understand what they’re being told. For example, “Happiness. Grief. Love. Hatred. Repentance. Fear.” You know that these are feelings. You recognise them.
In this picture, four of the people I’ve willingly – and lovingly – chosen as my family sit together like those words. Each one unique, and yet, still connected. Somehow.
It was a gorgeous Wednesday. The afternoon sun glistened fiercely over warm smiles. A lot of young laughter and some grateful sunny faces sang away to memories as dreams and ambitions peeked out from the window of a cosy apartment by the sea. The salt in the air. The sea out there.
When the sea and the sun meet, their orange is the colour of what you see when five girls count five years as they grow into their womanhood, together. It’s such a lovely shade because it’s not a mere figment of our imagination; it’s real and it’s tangible. We can feel it in the protective way we guard each other – physically, mentally, emotionally – and the honest loyalty that has our back always. We can feel it in the way we find our way back to each other after foggy evenings, in the peace we find in a mehfil of Gluco and Zeera biscuits and Chocolato dipped in warm cups of tea followed by one samosa after another. We can feel it in the way the air brushes our hair as we drive across the city to a playlist as unpredictable as it’s weather. We can feel it in the promises of not letting time and life and responsibilities get in the way of these five years.
When you’re standing in front of the freezing burst of the air conditioner, shivering a little uncomfortably – but not enough to be noticed – all you can think of is how to turn that damned machine off. A few seconds of good luck that reappear after every minute or so, strikes and the direction of that freezing blast of air moves away from you, leaving you in that very welcome warmth of comfort. It makes you very much comfortable. You may even sigh with relief. And then the cold air comes again.
Unfortunate incidents and bumps in the road are like that; they last for a few days before there’s the warmth of happiness again. Then something else happens to give you another sleepless night before there’s a smile of gratitude. So just like the cold air booming out of the air conditioner, happiness and peace also play hide-and-seek with us.
But what I’d like us to remember is the very comfortable warmth of Love that hugs us. The sunrise after a dark, stormy night of thunderstorms. The laugh mixed with tears. Like a dear friend said, the Madni phase after the trials of Mecca.
It’s a strange feeling resting heavy on the heart. Hurried anticipation for the near future. The kind that doesn’t let you sit still and makes you want to get up and pace around the room. A few deep breaths every other second does no good. Your feet also begin to hurt. Where are the words to describe this discomfort?
Everyone and everything around you is fine. Your aunts and uncles are sharing happy good mornings on the family WhatsApp group and there is love and warmth all around you. But do you really feel it?
How can emptiness feel heavy? But it does! I promise you that! It’s a puzzle, the heart. The missing piece is just your soul demanding to go home. And this home is not in the dusty streets of Karachi or in the shimmering ones of New York or in the rainy ones of London. This home is in His remembrance. Just remembering Him, thinking about Him, His mercy. More than the problems that keep you awake at night.
This home is in the smile you gift to another human being, it is in the ease you create for another, it’s in the comfort your words and actions gift to another. It’s in the noise of the waterfall, in the humming of the meyna, in the sea-shells washed along the shore. In the gratitude you offer as you wake up from flashbacks of a ghostly – or ghastly – past life. It is also – and I’m sure of this – in the guidance we seek, every morning.
And in love. And in Love.
During our end of rotation exam, the spot for neurosurgery had a question on epidural hematoma. The question was a case based CT scan image, asking us to state the GCS of the patient, the radiological findings, and the subsequent management plan.
The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is the scoring system used to describe the level of consciousness in a person following a traumatic brain injury. It evaluates the eye, verbal, and motor response of the patient. In simple words: from a total of 15, the lower the score, the worse it is.
As a doctor-to-be, I often find myself wondering how the world would be if there was a consciousness scale for basic human qualities like kindness, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, mercy. Would we have been as concerned if the ‘score’ was low? Would we have made friendships and nurtured relationships on the basis of this score? More importantly, would we have really believed in the credibility of this score to establish how “alive” a person really is, how “conscious” they are, how “healthy” they are? Will the heart and soul ever win over all that the eyes merely see?
This black and white film illustrating an important organ of the human body is more than that if you choose to think about it. If you choose to think about it. Drifting through the mundane motions of life – waking up, eating, going to work, paying the bills, filling up the car’s tank, all of those worldly tasks – the desire to worship through love and kindness drowns in the darkness of fear and confusion and “what will people think”, and we’re left with nothing but an emptiness that tires us. Tires us because our scores are low. And because they are low, sometimes, the sunrise stops becoming the alarm clock for another happy day of happy miracles; and when the foamy waves hit the shore, you only see them too late – going back, not rushing to hug you.
Before you read ahead, please note that this is just one of those rare moments in history. Okay?
Growing up, I was always very protective of you. It’s the other way around now. You’re not only the taller one, but also – as I grudgingly admit – the sensible one when I happen to take the world a little too seriously.
The courage that you display as you smile through the ups and downs of life is exemplary. To this day, I am in awe of how you laugh through the toughest of times, persevere, and sail through all challenges. If there’s one person who perfectly describes how to burn the midnight oil, it’s you. An academic superstar who is very humble about her achievements, you’ve shown me the new face of dedication, you know that? It seems to the world that I have the philosophy of life figured out. That calls for a ‘LOL’, isn’t it? That’s partly untrue. What is true is how every day, you teach me how to create my own happy place, how to practice wisdom, how to get up every time we fall, how it’s healthy to laugh at ourselves.
Thank you for giving me the comfort of being myself, for your kind and unconditional acceptance of my many eccentricities, for the patience you exhibit when medicine tires me, for being the sunshine of the Masihuddin household. Thank you for letting me steal your clothes (even if you are the one who does that more often…), for keeping me entertained in boring weddings, for all the shared ice cream cones, for letting me win all those games of Uno, for shooing away all those cats.
Thank you for being your annoying, lovely, wise and witty self.
Have a beautiful and peaceful year ahead, little sister!
Here’s to all failed plans and midnight “meetings”!
A few days ago, one of my creative writing students, Samreen, sent me her latest piece of writing. “Today I went for a morning walk with my Khala and cousins,” she said. “I took a lot of pictures of the garden and the trees so that I could use them as an inspiration to write! Like you take pictures of everything!”
This piece that she wrote made my heart dance with joy. I wasn’t just reading words on a screen, I was seeing – once again – how hope and life were waving at me from the spaces between each of her words, how we’re all stories in each other’s stories, zooming in and out. That made me more than happy!
Here’s what she wrote:
I love early morning walks in the garden when everything seems to be bright and breezy, warm and lovely. Everything and everyone looks calm and content.
Mornings hold a special aura that is not found at any other time. The misty green grass, with the golden shadow of the sun shining on them, the shady coconut trees under which you can sit and feel the coolness and serenity descend over you. There are then no conflicts within you or with others around you. You find yourself perched on the squeaky wooden benches and you look at the whole beauty of the garden and say, “SubhanAllah”. Your droopy eyes open wide and you see things from a different angle; you welcome the gift of tranquillity in your life. The cheerful flowers pop up from the ground, ready to bloom and spread their fragrance in this green land, the wind as its accomplice. And when you breathe in, you wonder what heaven will be like…
I’d like to imagine that right now – at this moment – I’m watching the sun rise here and set far away.
Slowly, gracefully, the orange semi-circle of the centre of this known universe rises. The darkness of the previous night shies away as hope and love begin to dawn. It’s going to be a new day, another day, anything can happen! Anything at all! Do you see how big that is? How amazing that is? Good Lord!
It keeps on ascending the azure, singing hymns to the seven skies, admiring the hues of the wild blue yonder, nodding “*subha bakhyr” to all who woke up to say “thank you for another day” to the God who sends little miracles along their way, each day, every day.
And once it’s up there – majestic and all – it just shines down on everyone. The rich, the poor, the weak, the strong, the sad, the happy, the sinful, the pious. And just knowing that it’s there up there, helps you breathe deeply, slowly, calming that erratic heartbeat and sweaty palms and racing thoughts and the doubts and fears. It’s a little hard to believe but when you peek at the crystal mirror, you see your reflection smile in gratitude for another chance at life; for tearing away the heavy, heavy mask that was taking your life away; for this magical walk on the clouds when you lightly put your feet in front of the other and dance carefully, unbelievably light, not believing that the long path behind you is really now that: behind you.
Skipping heartbeats, grateful **sujoods, peaceful eyes. Really, “***Allah O Akbar”!