This is a revised re-run from 2006, when friends of ours moved from Washington, DC, where we then lived.
When you’re my age, it’s hard work finding friends:
a) you love to hang out with
b) you don’t bore them and they don’t bore you
c) you agree with mostly and when you don’t, it’s fun
d) your schedules match somewhat
e) they don’t already have hordes of cool friends they’d rather hang out with than with you
f) both spouses like each other
Finding good friends is like finding a spouse. And boy, that’s hard, I know. And then you find these friends. And then someone has to move, dagnabbit.
Those who aren’t immigrants don’t quite get it (Okay, you might get it, but I’d like to lord it over you anyway.) When I moved from Lahore (where I spent most of my childhood and youth) to Islamabad, I made a whole new set of friends at the Islamic University, soul-sisters that I loved even when they drove me out of my mind. They often did so, with gossip, and asking me intrusive questions (the Western Muslims joked amongst each other that whenever the Pakistanis asked the frequent “Kahan ja rahi ho?” or “where are you going?” they’d all just says “Out.” Same response for “Where did you just go?”)
Meantime (and we’re talking about bad Pakistani phone lines and no email yet) – dust settles on my Lahore friends, and the ties are fading away. This becomes a pattern. Much of the problem is that email comes along only two or three decades into my life. Facebook arrived a good few years later.
With facebook, I can “keep in touch” with friends whom I haven’t had a conversation with since high school graduation. I can actually continue to not have that conversation, yet remain informed without asking them where they are going and where they just traveled to. With facebook, we no longer evade the question: we blurt out the information without being asked. PLEASE somebody care about where I’m going, why I’m sad, what kind of stomach bug I have, and so on.
Then, I got on a plane, and fly off to England. A whole new set of soulsisters in Cambridge, with study circles and tea in my little attic-room on Mawson Road. Email contact still rather slow in developing (okay, so I took a little while to get used to it) and phone calls cost by the minute in that part of the “first world.” Plus, I’m still poor, so I don’t have money for phone bills. Then I take the bus to London, and hang out with an Egyptian family, pick up a bunch of masri Arabic, make friends at FOSIS, and retain some of the Cambridge ties, – but make a whole new set of soul sisters at the FOSIS women’s hostel on Brondesbury Park. I’m now in touch with none of them.
Okay. Then I get on a plane and jet out across the Atlantic, end up in Bloomington, Indiana, make a whole new set of soul sisters (and here, brothers too) and manage to keep occasionally in contact with the Cambridge sisters–but not enough.
But then I get married and move out to DC … and where are we all now?
I thought if I’d just settle down in one country, things would be simpler. Oh, but then I had to settle down in the country that’s like, almost a continent (and I happily concede any geographical and political issues Canadians and Mexicans want me to concede here): so when people move, it could mean you don’t see them again for a long, long time. And it just so happens that we also live in a very mobile culture and very mobile times. So nothing can be predicted about where life, work, and education will take anyone.
Pieces of my heart are scattered in Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, Toronto, Bloomington, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, London, Cambridge, Kuwait, … the list continues. And now, with all these virtual bonds, I’m getting emotionally all messed up.
My universes that were complete at different times, — [Farah, Ayesha, Rasheda, Romana] —> and [Rizwana, Ambreen, Maimuna, Samina]–> [Raheela, Tahira, Saima, Shaheda Kathrada, Qamariya, Mareeya] –> and [Tehzeeb auntie, Nazlee, Sophia] –> and [Gulnaz, Naheeda, Hina, Shabiha, Susan] —> and [Riffat, Shahnaz, Asma, Aliya] and —> [Abeer, Nuha, Palo, Najeeba, Watie, Maha, Siddika] — all my emotional universes keep collapsing and giving way to new ones. Except I’m old now, and my new skins like a snake’s won’t moult and grow so easily. Or I don’t want them to collapse and moult. I just want to keep the same ones and grow old with them.
Nazlee, Mareeya, Ayesha Mannan, Ayesha Saleem, Shaheda and others came back to me. Some friends resume as if we’d never left off. Others have changed dramatically. To others, I have changed dramatically. But to a few of them, the change in me only mirrors the change in them, and neither goes deep.
When you talk to a friend after being apart for two years, or even ten months, something’s usually happened. You can’t just jet off for a visit, and expect that it’ll be like old times. You can’t always just pick up and resume where you left off. And then that bond that you built, over hours of talk and debate and pizza and peanuts, — It’s not lost, but it’s not ready and waiting cosily for you on a Friday evening, like a hot cup of tea in the morning. It becomes a halalco packet of meat in the freezer. It’ll need to be thawed, when you have the time and opportunity to cook it.
We want to act like we live on in predictable lives and solid homes, but we’re reminded constantly that life is unpredictable. Our rizq (sustenance) is unpredictable, and that includes the important emotional rizq–So we’re drawn from attachment to particular Names to the encompassing Essence.
Kullo man alaiha fan – everything upon the earth is perishing. Al-Muhiyy and al-Mumeet are both simultaneously manifesting their glory.
Today, most of my close friends I see a couple of times a year, or once, or once every couple of years. When I went to the ISNA Convention this past week, Svend and I turned to each other after hours of socializing, and said, wistfully, “Some people do this every day.” I’ve seen this: some of my friends, whenever you visit them, they have hordes of good friends, fun people, compatible minds, visiting them or doing fun things with them, everyday, every week. They chose to live in areas where such friends were in easy supply. An ethnic and religious minority group belongs in a global, metropolitan city. In Chicago, this past week, we enjoyed the hours spent with my cousins, my uncle, our old friends, new friends even. But no matter where we are, the nature of modern life, equipped as it is with technology, easy travel and a globalized workforce, takes us new places and away from the old. I remain, even in Chicago and DC, with holes in my heart from lost communities, soul-mates and friends.