Not always greener

Recently, I met an older auntie from the Houston Muslim community. I’ve known about her for awhile and have been looking forward to meeting her. Decades ago, she lost her first husband and child due to a tragic accident. “It was instant”, she told me. “It happened, it was over and I was fine. But I really don’t know how that was even possible.”

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to receive a call and being told that your spouse and child had just passed away.

But still, I smiled at her, knowing all too well the confusion that came along with the feeling of being “fine”.

And so I shared my story with her, briefly. And at the end of it, she winced   and asked me : So you had to watch him slowly die and now you’re a single mom.” As if she couldn’t imagine having to go through that ordeal.

At the end of that conversation, I think we were both overcome with emotions. I just hugged her and told her that jannah awaits.

We always think that the grass is greener on the other side, but sometimes, the rocks are rougher too. We all have our struggles and our triumphs. But if they don’t humble us and make us grateful, then what will?

Ding!

“Are you my mommy or my daddy?”

She asks this often, my ever-inquisitive daughter.

“I’m both”, I tell her jokingly. “Call me maddy.”

“No, you’re mommy. Mommies are girls. You’re a girl.”

Well, then. 

“Okay, you’re right. I’m your mommy.”

I pause for a second, wondering if I should ask the next question. 

“So if I’m your mommy, where’s daddy?”

“With Allah, remember?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

And then comes the plethora of questions.

“Is he coming back?”

“No honey, he’s not. But I have pictures of him.”

A light went off in her head. Oh, I should’ve seen it coming.

“Can I see pictures of him?”

“Sure”.

And I pulled out my phone to show her. It was the one of him in the hospital bed, looking at her with pure love.

“Oh, so my baba’s at the doctor’s office. Is he sick?”

How do I answer this?

“Not anymore.”

“Well, is he all better?”

“I believe so.”

And then, the biggest question of them all.

“So now can I see a picture of my new haircut?”

Ding!

Too wise, I tell you. Too wise.

Brightness

A few days ago, I decided to show a friend of mine pictures of my wedding. She’s someone I met very recently and doesn’t know much about my life pre-widowhood. As we sat looking through these old pictures, I pointed out our family members. And I came across this picture of an uncle I had seen my entire childhood. “He passed away a few years ago”, I told her.

And then I came across a picture of my friend’s father, who battled cancer and passed away around the time Rube was diagnosed. “And he passed away since then also.”

“Oh but wait”, I told her. “…..Rube’s gone, too”.

Here were 3 men, from all different paths of life, of different ages and health conditions. One left behind 3 teenagers. One left behind a handful of grandchildren. And one left behind his baby girl. And perhaps the only thing they really had in common is something we all have in common….that we too, will one day leave people behind.

Death is something that frequents my mind, especially with the deaths of Deah, Yusor and Razan. They were so much younger than me but had accomplished so much in the little time that they had on Earth. It makes me wonder…what were the last thoughts on their mind before it all went down? Surely, there’s a reason that they died together. Did they know that they would leave behind such amazing legacies? I’ve heard that a person’s true colors becomes apparent after their passing. And mashAllah, what bright colors these young people have.

It crosses my mind that it could’ve been my sister and I who died alongside Rube. It could’ve been that my friend Asmaa died next to her husband Amr, who was shot by a sniper. It could’ve been that my friend died alongside her sweet, 4-year-old son, after a battle with cancer. Truthfully, it could’ve been any of us. And it wasn’t. But one day, these could’ves will be would’ves.

And what colors will show up when we pass? Will they shine bright, like the glistening of the sun against a crystal window? Or will they shine dull, like a black t-shirt, washed one too many times?

And the true question: what legacies will we leave behind? Or will we leave behind any at all?

Transformation

I looked in the mirror the other day and noticed the tiny lines of crowfeet by my eyes. (Cue: Roll eyes) I ought to make use of my shades a bit more. But the thought that I am a year shy from turning 30 quickly crossed my mind.

I’m near the end of my 3rd decade of my life and boy, what a decade it’s been.

I met him at 21. Married him at 22. Pregnant at 24. A mom at 25. Widowed at 26. Bummed around at 27. Became a working mom at 28. And at 29, I’m  almost done with graduate school, slowly but continuously working my way through whatever God has planned for me.

My cousin once pointed out that before I got married, I was caught up in my own little world. And he’s right. I was a bit la-dee-daa. But then, Rube happened. Pregnancy happened.And cancer happened. Motherhood happened. Death happened. Mourning happened. Transformation happened. I got over that la-dee-daa real quick.

Years from now, when Safiyah is much older and she asks me to tell her about my life, I’d like to tell her about my 20’s. I’d like to tell her that I started it off with my head in the clouds but grew out of it really quickly. I’d like to tell her that instead of growing up slowly, I was given a push and grew up a little too quickly. But I’d like her to know that the push worked out well for me, that it was a blessing in disguise. And I hope that she takes the lessons that I share with her and somehow apply it to her life. InshAllah.

Now, at 29, I can honestly say that I’m happy with how things are going and how they’ve progressed so far. Life is all about progression, no matter how many tough situations get thrown your way. There’s no guarantee that tomorrow is guaranteed. There’s no guarantee that those in your life today will be around tomorrow. So love them fiercely. And live your life wisely. Regret is life’s toughest hurdle.

I did it!

“I did it!”, I texted my good friend. “I did it! I went to Florida. I visited his grave. And I’m back!”

My fingers were jumping with excitement as I typed that overzealous text,

“How do you feel?”

And I told her the truth: that I felt amazing.

That trip, the one I had purposely delayed for 2.5 years was much needed, much reassuring and much enlightening. At first, I couldn’t explain why I enjoyed the little city so much this time but perhaps, I needed to be taken away from it to really realize the magic in the town.

Green palm trees. Blue skies that looked as if it was painted on. Quietness that Houston does not have. As I rode through town, I looked out the window, recalling all of the beautiful memories that had taken place.

And the best thing about the trip was being able to see family members and friends that I hadn’t seen in a few years. As I talked and laughed with them, it was as if nothing had changed and no time had passed.

Until it was time to bid farewell. Gosh, I hate farewells. The trip was much too short and was over way too quickly. But there was something different about the farewells this time around. I told everyone I’d see them soon, inshaAllah, instead of leaving with a sense of uncertainty.

And the day before I flew home, one of my closest friends from that time took me to his grave. It was bittersweet, as it was her who took me to his burial. And there she was, 2.5 years later, taking me to visit him again. The drive there gave me anxiety, I won’t lie. I’m usually in control of my emotions but some things are out of my control. And quite honestly, I absolutely hate showing sad emotions. I tend to keep it inside me and ride them over.

But when I approached the grave, I started crying, as if on cue. But it wasn’t a cry of desperation. It wasn’t a cry of helpless nor was it a cry of devastation. This time, it was a cry of completion.

After all this time, I had finally made it. Normally, I believe that such experiences are the end of an era, a book ready to be closed. But this visit felt like the end of a prequel to the rest of my life.

Alhamdulillah!

Finally.

And so I’m finally doing it. After all this time of telling myself that I cannot ever go back, I’m finally doing it, The plane that I currently sit on is taking me back to tiny-town Boca Raton, the city in South Florida that I lived in with Rube. Back to all those memories that were so lovingly created and so devastating to leave behind.

It’s ironic. Right before we got married, a family member of his emailed me, telling me that it would be strange to see their Boddha (big brother) walk in with a wife by his side. And this time, I’ll be the one walking in but without him by my side.

But, in spite of being a bit sad that Rube won’t be the one that picks me up from the airport this time, I’m excited. I’ll finally see family members and friends that I thought I’d never be able to see again. I’ll be able to hug them and enjoy the few moments that we’ll have together. And most importantly, my daughter will be able to see the city and the people that made who her daddy and momma was as a couple. She’ll be exposed to a side of her family that she hasn’t really met before, having left Florida before she turned 1.

And more than anything, she’ll be able to meet her paternal cousins for the first time. She’s surrounded by so many of my friends, family members and their children that she doesn’t even realize that she has cousins of her own.

Unfortunately sometimes, when a marriage ends, whether by death or divorce, family relations between the two families end. But Alhamdulillah to the max, the bond between the Khans and us are stronger than before. Safiyah has a right to her dad’s side of the family and vice versa. And in trying to fulfill that right for her, I still have in-laws that will catch me with open arms if I ever happen to fall.

And so I’m doing this. I’m finally doing this. I’m going back, just for a few days, to cherish the memories that changed me as a woman. I’m doing this for me. I’m doing this for the Khans. And more than anything, I’m doing this for Safiyah.

Bismillah.

The box

The other day, a box arrived at my house. It was a familiar box, one that I had left back in Florida. But strangely, I remembered it being bigger than it really was. And I looked at the box, thinking that maybe what I knew was in there really wasn’t. Maybe, just maybe, the sender would have replaced the contents with something else. One can be wishful.

But I knew what lay inside. Before moving back to Houston, I packed up my life of four years into countless boxes and shipped them home. Those things didn’t matter much to me, for if they got lost, I wouldn’t be sad. But there was just one box that I could not bear to part with.

Our box of wedding clothes. I had gingerly placed them together. His sherwani. My sari. My lehanga. All folded neatly, the fabrics caressing one another. Silk over satin. And I sealed it shut, locking away memories of a life gone too fast. And I left the box with my cousin, knowing that if it got lost in the mail, I would be devastated.

Fast-forward to the present.

And so the box stayed on my living room floor for a few days. I told my mom to put it away when I wasn’t home, because I didn’t think I could handle it. But a few days later, I was overcome with this strange urge to look inside.

I sat on the floor, and ripped open the tape securing it together. And my mom gasped.

“NO! Don’t open the box. You said you couldn’t handle it.”

Apparently, I was wrong. I think my mom just couldn’t stand the thought of me breaking down. But as I got out the clothes, I could see her staring at me from the corner of my eyes.

And I pulled out the contents, slowly. My fingers touched the clothes. And I smiled. Simply smiled. When the pain ceases, the smiles brighten.

It’ll be nice if Safiyah marries a tall man, like I did. That way, he too, can wear the same clothes that her dad did on his wedding day.