When a great man or woman passes away then the world around them slows down. We pause our lives and think about the person, about how they marked history, where they left this mark and what we have lost. When that person is no more, then adapting to their absence takes time because they were a force of immense strength and influence in our lives. History belongs to each family, the marks made impact a community at a time, and when we die, those marks are passed on to our children. But history dies with us, until new stories are created.
I fear waking up one day as an old woman with my memories faded. I fear that I will forget long walks in the mountains, the smell of a certain pipe, the terrible song that once upon a time refused to leave my mind, the high notes of a certain laugh and the furrow in a certain brow. I fear losing all that to time.
Our lives inevitably have to restart and we plough on at full speed. Two years ago, a family paused in grief around the world and wondered how they would ever recover. I was in college, at a party. Blaring music, flashing lights, laughter, exhaustion from all the activity, tired from a busy week, watching the world with a blurred, giddy vision. Stumbling my way out of a raucous affair, phone in hand, could I have anticipated the voice at the end of the line? Then running home, sitting on the bed, lying down, sitting back up, staring at the wall, waiting, waiting, waiting for the inevitable, holding onto a phone that is a lifeline to home, our past, knowing that across the world, something is crashing down and we are all getting caught under the debris.
You picked up the wreckage and dusted us off. You kept us alive and vibrant, and even when you left us, even when the spark that lit our flame was gone, you stuck around.
The last time there was a wedding in the family, you were racing around the tracks, frantically preparing for the most important moment in your son’s life. You argued, laughed, fought, hugged it out, joked, planned, prepared. You were pranked by Mamoo over our visas to India, your bar was mysteriously raided and you could never catch the culprits, you had to manage a dysfunctional gang of thirty as we journeyed across the subcontinent to bring back a new member of our growing family. Throughout that harrowing ordeal you kept your humor. While we fought over seating arrangements, dance numbers, gift-wrapping, you made sure the party kept going.
We still play games, laugh, fight, cry, argue with each other. We will play trumps in Nathiagali along with Scrabble or Poker. The victor will raise their hands in triumph. The jokes will continue being shared as the arguments grow louder. Yet our laughter is muted. Behind Khala’s smile is pain. The young now have the eyes of those who have seen years of pain. Even in our anger, we now lock ourselves up. In our furious rip roaring arguments, we now build walls to contain our deeper grief in case it threatens to bubble up onto the surface and engulf us. There is a grief that no amount of apologies or hugs or kisses can remove. Your family’s hearts broke and no amount of time can fix them.
But this family doesn’t need fixing. To mend a broken heart means to move on from grief. We don’t need to move on because we don’t want to forget you. One day we will grow old and you will be a memory that leaves this world with us. Until then, you live amongst many broken hearts. Broken, bruised, torn up, wearied and wizened, but in those pieces of flesh resides the wonder that still holds us together. I would rather live the rest of my life with this heart than wake up in peace without memories of you.
There are few families in this world that can air their grievances openly, taking the time to write letters to one another about their feelings, who have a collected network of friends that revel in their joys and weep in their grief. There are even fewer families that maintain bonds of love similar to ours. You are the reason why, despite our walls, we still stand together.
One day when our self constructed walls come down, we will withstand the onslaught of emotion. We will remain your dysfunctional, loving family. We will plough on despite the odds stacked against us. We will hold onto you, knowing that moving on is overrated and silly. In our loss we realized our vulnerability, our mortality and found a big hole in our armor that left us exposed. Perhaps we were left weaker. Perhaps we realized our imperfections. But our weaknesses pulled us closer together. Made us a stronger unit and we no longer needed armor, or walls or anything else for that matter.
The long and short of this is, that I am excited for December. I am excited to see you in your family. When we sing, dance, argue, reconcile, gather and part ways, I look forward to your arrival. In Saher’s smile, Bhai’s receding hairline, Aaminah’s attitude, Zehra’s joy, I’ll find you and remind you that you owe us a song and a dance. Don’t forget.