It was a sound unfamiliar, and I wasn’t sure if it was human-made. As I entered the hospital this morning, she was in the hallway, surrounded by women. Her child, a little boy, had just passed away. The sound, it was hers.
Here’s the thing. I’m here for a handful of hours to brighten and help, so I’ve been walking around smiling at everything and everyone. In the elevator, I crouch down so I am eye-to-eye with the kids, smiling. Even when my mouth is hidden beneath a mask, it’s clear that I’m not a frowning frowner. Every single person smiles back. My purpose, then, really is a little happy-making. Because this is what I can offer.
After experiencing this woman’s pain, it was a challenge to do this; by Grace alone did I manage it. At the end of my shift, I went into the washroom, locked the door and spent a few minutes wiping a few tears but breathing through them and locking them down and in. I have cried enough tears to split rocks since August; my body and spirit are exhausted and because of it, they helped me hold on today. Or so I thought.
After 57357, I went to the house of my mother’s best friend’s neice. My mom and Mariam’s aunt have been best friends since Gaza, and I have always adored her. One summer spent in Gaza 36 years ago, I met Mariam. I was a kid and she was a stunning, super cool university student; she was unforgettable. This afternoon and evening, I spent with her and her family. She is still as cool as I remember, and just as beautiful. She made six Palestinian dishes tonight, from each one I took a little, each one a step closer to home.
Her mother (sister to momma’s best friend), often fed my mother during university. And when my baba went to London and to Saudi Arabia, it was to her address that he sent love letters to my mother’s attention. This really is family. We went to her house to say hello and have Turkish coffee, and it is next to her that I am sat in the photo. I had never met her before today, but knew well how she took care of my momma before I was even an idea. So, when she put her hand on my arm and gently gently gently asked me why I had not yet married, all of the restraint I managed at the hospital took a hike. She held onto my arm and kept repeating ‘naseeb’ (fate), while reciting little prayers until I calmed.
The calm lasted for the rest of a wonderful night with the family, but blew apart once I was on the phone with my favourite uncle for my one hour drive home.
Not having any privacy since my arrival, this was our first private conversation. We needed to discuss the sadness of his daughter, within which is reflected a mosaic of my own. Blood and salt-water mixed and his compassionate response to my own shattered heart and trust is, I can feel, without limit. That compassion, it is safety and it is mercy, and in these spaces are where my walls come down and my pain comes out for a hug or a kiss on the forehead.
I cried when I told my uncle how much I had adored him, even when I didn’t like him at all. I cried as he told me that he understood my pain, and that I was entitled to every bit of it; that there will always be hope, and it’s okay that my heart is presently in darkness; that my pain would pass but for that, we only have the passage of time.
Nearing my arrival, and like the Air Canada employee who offered me tissue at the counter 17 days ago, I found a box of tissue in front of me held quietly by my uber driver. As I stepped out of his car, Muhammad said “Inti albik tayib awi. Allah yi7meeki” (You have a very kind heart. May Allah protect you). I fumbled for more tissue and kept to the shadows wiping tears before coming upstairs to hug my baba hello.
Today, I am grateful for:
1. Soft tissue.
2. Family. Blood, and otherwise.
3. My own personal history, which extends far beyond my birth date.