Reclaim your light, and wash off the darkness

Today was a crisp, beautiful, sunny afternoon and a good time to revisit Lake Michigan.
I washed off some of the darkness I’ve had to glance into, and reclaimed the light.

Reclaim your light. Shed the toxicity: you don’t have to carry it just because it was brought to your door.

death is real

Our last photo of Yeti with Ghost, just 3 hours before he died.

When you love, you feel pain. Again and again.

My cat died Thursday evening. I held his dead body, stared in horror at his glazed wide-open beautiful eyes, struggled to hold up his limp neck. It occurred to me that his is the only dead body I have held since my parakeet died in 1977 and my kitten died in 1987.

Death is an awful presence.

I’ve been sad all weekend. It gets worse when I cuddle with Ghost, and I wonder, is he sad? Does he miss his brother? His only species friend? My heart breaks all over again.

Today I hauled myself to an academic lecture at the Northwestern University MENA lecture series. Though not directly in my scholarly area, it turned out to be fascinating lecture about the history of medical practices, medical teaching, and practices of bodies/cadavers in colonial Egypt.

My mind didn’t wander once. But as Dr. Khaled Fahmy spoke about the dignity of dead bodies, the weight of Yeti’s body returned to my arms.

Death is not something you can prepare for. It is not theoretical. You can read about it, and pray about it, but it is far beyond all of those things. Death is real.

the certainty of death

I am grieving all of the world. Wildfires and destruction in Australia, hate in India, crackdown in Kashmir, fear of new wars, Iran.

And Yeti. My cat.

Yes – it’s weird to be grieving one cat in these terrible times.

But listen: Yeti was alive.

He dropped & died in seconds. He fell, gasped, and was dead.

We can die in one SECOND.

How would we live if we were truly certain of this?

I am You and Me and Us

We used to joke about how Ghost was always the more attractive of the two. Yeti was lanky, a little clumsy, not as elegant as Ghost.

But now that Yeti is gone (it hurts to type that), I realize that Ghost isn’t the same Ghost now.

As my daughter put it, we’ve lost not only Yeti but Ghost-and-Yeti.

Humans, pets, creatures don’t operate as individuals. They function together and create something together.

And if I may, human cultures, racial groups, tribes, and nations work the same way.

Together, we are Love and Majesty.

We ourselves will not work if we try to eliminate each other.

We need each other to be, to live, to survive, to love.

Farewell, Yeti (2014-2020)

June 30 2019: “I had a moment where my heart burst into a prayer for Yeti – ‘May Allah bless you with a good life and health’ – and I felt cosmically connected, and I felt him purringly turn toward me and my praying heart.” This was soon after he had stopped eating for some time, and was dangerously weak.

My kitty, Yeti, a long-haired white cat, suddenly died today.

He wasn’t the strongest cat, and had a bout of serious illness earlier this year, during the summer. We had a road trip planned, which we canceled. But at that time he rallied, and went back to normal.

Today, I went downstairs for something. When I re-entered the living room, he was sitting there by the door, watching the door. As I entered, he suddenly got up, fell sideways, gasped a few times. And died within seconds. It was like he waited for me to be there before he died.

Yeti loved to engage with me personally. On this occasion, as I stood by the chair, he jumped up on the edge of the chair, made eye contact, and then offered his head for a kiss.
He did love sitting on paper, bags, placemats …
The night before he died, I found him cuddling with his brother, Ghost. Ghost was resting almost on top of him, unlike their usual snuggle pattern.
he did love to watch over me.

Happy new year/decade. Please no inspiring triumphalism

Hi inspirational celebrities:

If you struggled & got success this New Year or New Decade, congratulations. But know that your struggles and successes are yours. Please don’t give us “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps (like I did)” or “Pursuit of Happyness” lessons.

Don’t ask that we – regular folks who aren’t in your position – find meaning/hope/lessons for ourselves in your stories. It is exhausting to try to do so.

Not to take away from your achievements, but we don’t live in a meritocracy.

So don’t strengthen the narrative that Every Triumph is potentially Everyone Else’s Story.

It’s one of the worst stressors of a stratified society.

Lost data?

Today, I had that moment of complete terror. My external hard drive hiccuped as I moved data to a new laptop. It seemed that there was nothing on it. I’d already wiped and sent off the old laptop, and the new one had a few bits and bobs, but not much.

For some time I thought I’d lost my data. I have other ways of saving it – Backblaze and the Cloud – but I hadn’t checked on my storage in a while. What if I had lost all of it?

It was a terrifying moment. What if I had to start anew, with nothing from before?

How did people think of themselves, their papers, their histories, their identities, their roles, their networks, their creativity, before (almost) unlimited storage, before access to paper – unlimited paper and writing implements?

How do people *be* when they can no longer write memories onto their minds?

For a moment, I was terrified. Who was I without all this?

Then I thought, what if I started fresh, without the detritus? Without all those old resumes, old course syllabi, old writings? A new person?

The story has a happy ending; the hard drive stopped hiccuping, and my data is all there. But I emerge a wiser woman.

PS: Part of my problem arose because I had to figure out what to do with the smaller storage on my new Mac. Do check before spending your money on a new Macbook.

Hunting down your joys

(This is a journal entry from April this year. )

It’s been a rough time recently. Today, I found some of my joy back, just sitting with my Muslim familia at the Webb Foundation weekend school – chatting about Punjabi, Iqbal, and Sufi books while the kids played basketball.

The hour-long trek through driving snow in mid-April? Still worth it.

As my ammi says: خوشیاں ڈھونڈا کرو Khushian dhoonda karo. “Seek out joys for yourself.”

Don’t wait to stumble upon them. Don’t wait for them to change your world or to alight upon you. Hunt them down, claim them, and enjoy them.

Homes away from home

We stopped to get some food at a small desi restaurant in the Des Plaines area yesterday. The order took a while, so I dropped by the nearby Owais Foods, an ethnic grocery store.

I approached the counter to pay, and took a quick look at the young man. “Are you Owais?” I asked. Yes, he said. Somehow, glancing at him, I knew that he had inherited the shop from his father, and was running it. I have a desi spidey sense. I just sensed a paternal love emanating from the shop, and from the young man, I sensed a comfort, a confidence in the young man, a knowledge that, while laboring, he was resting in the labors of a loving father. Owais Foods reminded me of my father’s private practice. He opened it in 1974, in Gulberg, a small clinic, but one that ran for a long time. He named it Imran Clinic, after my brother, hoping that one day, Imran would run it with him.

As I paid for my okra and my kulfi, my eyes fell upon these two handwritten signs. I don’t see much handwritten Urdu these days, and these signs felt – I don’t know, alive. I took a picture. Owais asked me why I’d taken the photo.

I told him.

“I don’t know what it means,” he said, “But my father wrote it.” So he left it there.

“The sign says: ‘Borrowing is like magic: if I let you borrow, you’ll vanish,'” I told him, relishing the terse, acidic caress of the words. So do you work with your father?”

“Yes, he set this up,” he said. “And he named it after you,” I said. “Yes, he did, and now I have this store,” he said. “He passed a couple of years ago. He was in Karachi, and he died there. He lived here for years, and he died there. I didn’t even make it to the janazah in time; I was on the plane, two hours away.” Owais and I immediately connected, in our loss, in our shared experience of rupture. “My father passed last year,” I told him, “and I didn’t make it to the janazah either.”

Owais is still cradled in the love and labors of his father, who worked for years in this cold city, far away from home. In the aisles crowded with spices, rusks, ghee, and lentils, I can feel Uncle’s gratitude that Owais is going to be okay.

The second handwritten sign, also by Owais’s father, says: “Such a beautiful relationship between me and Allah. I don’t ask for a lot, and He gives without measure.”

Stop calculating

At bedtime, I feel the force of societal control pressing down upon us, and I see my child preparing for the next day, wondering if she has done enough.

To undo the damage of school and the body control, the devastation it wreaks upon the self I say to my 8th grade child at bedtime:

“School doesn’t define you. Homework doesn’t define you. Grades aren’t your worth. You have inherent value.”

And I struggle to do this, but I say to myself too – so I remind you too:

Work doesn’t define you. Productivity doesn’t define you. Success at work is not=your value. You have inherent value.

Your conference papers, publications, committees, teaching, research don’t define your worth.

Do it because you want to or if you must, but don’t imagine that this adds up to your worth. You are of inherent value.

If you can do none of this, none at all, you are of value.

If you have no job, you are of value.

If you have no money, no savings, no status, you are of value.

Your worth is not = what work or labor or funds you contribute to an organization, an employer, a family.

Don’t let anyone force you to do the math to prove what you are.

You are of inherent value.