Love. The kind through which one first enters the heart of another. Pure, fresh, unblemished. The kind that emerges with the exchange of that very first glance. The kind that, for a moment, dissolves everything else into oblivion, and engulfs two souls in a universe of their own. In that single moment, all that two hearts seek and yearn to offer transpires between them: fidelity, friendship, acceptance, comfort, relief, loyalty, eternal support and companionship. This single moment is the culmination of all that a mortal heart desires from a mortal being. But it is a feeling that is as fleeting as its existence: one that never returns after it has passed.
Once pure love makes its visit, it is gradually worn down by the weight of expectations, selfishness, impatience, untempered words, betrayals big and small, unbridled ego, deliberate injury and ingratitude.
Ah… pure love leaves behind such a shadow of itself, that the heart exhausts itself for a lifetime seeking just one more moment of that unblemished love that pumped life through its every vein.
Why do we feel what we do? Why do these bonds come into being? Why do they take root where nothing was meant to grow? How will they end up if they are nothing like the way they began? Why do they begin if all that will remain is their end?
As a child, I would sit alone behind the living room curtain, staring out for hours at the night, wondering what other children around the world would be doing at that moment – sleeping, eating, writing an exam, getting beaten up, playing, or sitting behind a curtain and wondering about me, just like I was about them.
As a child, I would often find indescribable peace lying down on the marble floor and falling asleep on it. The only thing that rivaled that peace was the serenity I found in falling asleep on the prayer mat.
I would watch TV upside down, with my legs up against the wall. When I got bored of TV, I would look up at the protrusions and wedges in the ceiling and imagine it to be the floor and divide it into rooms and decorate it with different furniture in my mind.
Some memories are etched so deeply in my mind, I wonder why they are the ones that are there. Do we have the ability to so vividly remember emotionally intense experiences that it feels like we’re in that very moment once again?
Like an unforgettable night praying next to my then very busy dad as a child in the balcony and later watching the stars. I can even recall the gentle wind and the distant look in his eyes and the slow pace of his breathing, as we’d finished praying and he was looking out to nowhere, and his lips were moving with dhikr, and I just watched him.
Then another day I woke up for school and caught my eyes in the mirror as I washed my face and felt like I’d seen the most beautiful eyes in the world.
Then one day when I was in KG 2 and my mom couldn’t pack lunch in time in the morning and promised us she would bring it to school. The lunch bell rang and I waited for my mom at the school gates and she hadn’t come. Lunch time was over and I was back with an empty stomach in class. A few minutes later, my mom was standing breathless at the class door with a mixture of anxiety, exhaustion and guilt on her face in her cream and peach scarf. Miss Shirley looked at me and told me I had 5 minutes to eat and get back to class – the equivalent of being allowed to cheat in an exam in a convent. I got out and mom opened the lunchbox and kept it in front of me, and watched me with so much anticipation as I took in the steaming hot fried fish with rice and ghee, as if every bite I took was vindicating her a bit more for committing the heinous crime of keeping me hungry longer than I should have been for one, single, meal.
And when I was 4 or 5 and got red chilli powder put in my eyes. I can never forget the afternoon light in the room and how my limbs moved trying to resist.
And when I was out playing for a long time and came back home and kept knocking for an hour on the door till I fell asleep on the marble staircase. My family didn’t realize I was missing when they left for a dinner party.
And when as a child, I watched nervously as mom cried into the phone to her sister till she completely broke down.
And memories of trying to focus the sun’s light onto my hand with a magnifying glass. Or dropping different colors of paint into a glass of water and watching them swirl so beautifully.
Or feeling like my heart would explode and crying uncontrollably when little Mariam was taken away from her mother and had no idea what was going on as she kept looking back at her mother in A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Or protesting as my young maternal uncle would leave our house and keep teasing me with special nicknames he’d kept for me: Jupiter and ‘thing’ (because I said the word so much).
Days in university with my Turkish best friend, discussing life and existence and revelation and beauty and God. Making her and a British friend try desi food in a South Indian restaurant. Watching her burst into tears and hug me as she read a write-up of my fondest memories, a file that I would give anything to recover.
Sunny mornings of my childhood or when I’d set out for class in university.
When new knowledge opened up doors in my mind I never knew existed and I reveled every second in the unparalleled bliss that only enlightenment can bestow.
The rife and hot anger in my heart when I would experience or witness injustice that I could do nothing about.
When I was in an auto rickshaw listening to the driver desperately discussing how he’s trying to complete the arrangements for his sister’s wedding with his aunt.
When I could concentrate considerably in my prayer which would transport me to another universe.
Exchanging hugs after Friday prayers at university with friends.
Feeling so lonely on the bus sometimes.
Noticing the different shape, texture and color of the leaves of different plants growing in the same soil and thinking ‘God. Only God.’
Missing more than just one beat as my eyes would catch those that searched for mine and mirrored my soul.
A song that stirs up so much longing for so many things that time has taken away with it.
What is the purpose and end of all our individual experiences? Why are 6 billion people having 6 billion different experiences at this very moment and what is their collective meaning and purpose and end?
The infinite emotions we experience and their constant exertion on the heart through the journey of life is so paradoxical. All our experiences have an affect on the heart: the organ that has to work to keep us alive while life keeps wearing it down. And at some point, it’s as if the heart gives up trying to thrive and is just struggling to keep us physically alive and get life over with.
With a heart like that, the only thing that stirs it is when I imagine myself finally getting to the gates of Heaven. I imagine standing alone, light in front of me, as I levitate in a dark starry space. My eyes are closed and my face is turned up and I take in a deep breath. And I’m thinking “Just. Let. Me. In.”
The moment I step foot inside, I fall to my knees with my heart in my hands stretched out towards Him, saying:
If there is anything that encapsulates and signifies the presence of life, it is a heartquake.
A heartquake is the tremor you feel in your heart when something touches your soul, and stirs the very core of your being. When something penetrates so deep beyond your physical existence into the vast expanse of your soul, that it causes a shift in your innermost being and sends an echo of life rippling through the epicenter of your heart, making you physically tremble. It knocks the breath out of you, and leaves you unable to speak.
Heartquakes originate from the most intense human experiences: overwhelming grief, real love, peaking passion, profound truth, sincere faith, enlightenment, insurmountable loss, crippling fear, terrifying horror, breathtaking beauty, extreme inhumanity.
When was the last time you felt one?
When was the last time your heart trembled in awe of your Creator, marveling at His power and majesty?
“The true believers are those who, when Allah´s name is mentioned, their hearts tremble in awe, and when His verses are recited to them their faith grows, and who put their trust in their Lord.” [Qur’an: 8:2]
When was the last time you felt an embrace of real love that made you tremble with belonging?
When was the last time a truth so profound struck you that you had to look for words to say?
When did you last see something so beautiful that you were overcome with delight, unable to breathe?
When did you last feel your heart burst with the agony of loss?
When did you last see oppression in the eyes, till your heart was rattling with fear?
When did you last reach a level of astounding awareness that shook you awake?
When did your heart wrench last, at the sight of a bleeding child?
When did your heart scream last as it witnessed utter barbarity?
I watch my fingers as they struggle to type, words lingering at their tips, unable to arrange themselves in an interesting sentence because they just don’t flow as easily as they used to. I begin to reflect on the evolution of my hands and the things they contained, touched, created and dealt with over the past few years. From books, poetry and coffee; to writing messages of love, caressing, preparing meticulous meals, carefully applying makeup, adjusting my earrings. To writing down my confused, depressed thoughts, to cupping them on my face as tears flowed in them and I prayed for direction. To drafting legal contracts and typing out legal advice. To writing and editing articles and chopping onions for curry. To taking pills for various illnesses and having IV needles inserted into them. To taking off my rings as my fingers swelled. To holding my baby for the first time. To mixing bottles of milk and checking to make sure the temperature is right. To washing dishes, cracking eggs for breakfast, laying plates, peeling apples and boiling oats for baby lunch. To hurriedly getting dressed and fixing my hair before the bell rings. To flipping through Youtube aimlessly on a boring weekend. To making a cup of tea that fixes everything. To doing the bed and rocking my baby to sleep. To applying ointment to an aching neck or foot. To switching off the bed light, hoping for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Under the layers of responsibility, of duties, of diapers, dishes, dressing up, doctor’s visits, expectations and arguments, underneath it all; in the heart and mind of a mother, of a wife, of a home-maker – is a young girl with unfinished dreams of her youth: studying in her dream university, cycling in the sun, laughing in the rain and getting drenched in the sea, pursuing the career everyone had always told her she would excel in, hearing words of deep love and affection, travelling the world, being surprised to tears, having a timeless conversation, taking in a breathtaking view, catching her loved one lost looking at her.
In millions of homes around the world at this very moment, there is a woman who’s probably setting the table for dinner or feeding her baby or packing a lunchbox; who, with the end of every day, buries the young girl she was in her heart. The young girl she was who watches her everyday as she gives, sacrifices, puts up, puts aside, settles, gives up and gives in. Gives every single second of her time and every single ounce of her health. Sacrifices her ambitions, interests and brilliance to routine. Puts up with what she never expected and never thought she had the strength to. Puts aside everything that happened, wipes her tears and forgets. Settles for whatever life’s brought her way. Gives up hope of seeing any change. And eventually, gives in to a life very different from the one she’d dreamed of.
Not all of this is my story. This is a collective story of the daily and eventual life of almost every single woman who is putting her husband and child(ren) first. A collection of the fragments of pain and longing that I come across in the eyes of and conversations I’ve had with so many women who are about to break, or have broken and become numb. Or are relentlessly struggling to make it work, and make it beautiful. This is the story of your mother, my mother, your sister, my sister, your close friend, my neighbor, you, me. You know it is.
Those who’ve passed it say it is a phase and that it will end. But isn’t the ending almost always the same: a woman with a battered body or/and soul, who doesn’t even remember what she was like before?
We’re happy, of course we are, and we love our families. But that does not mean we are not sad. That we do not tear up thinking of what we could have been doing or would have become by now… if we had put ourselves first.
NOTE: Your maturity will reflect in your understanding of this article and its message. Please do not flood me with comments of how to be grateful and look at the good times because if you think this is complaining, you are still too immature to understand.