We all have our own motivations for seeking Heaven: life without pain, wealth, bounty, good food, the Prophet’s home, your home, eternal bliss. I think about and remember those things too when I pray, when I fast, when I pin my hijab into place in the morning. But I also crave Heaven for another reason. I want to meet my paternal grandfather. I want to meet my Jiddu.
We have a picture of my grandfather in my home. He looks royal, sitting the chair the way he is. The picture has not been digitized, and it sits in an old cheap plastic frame with a prop. It doesn’t hang on the wall like our other images. His face should be a strange one to my eyes but it is not. He is in me and in my blood and my father is his son and his legacy and proof that he lived and built great and powerful things and that’s all I need to because it is all that I have.
On a road trip, my sisters and I played a game. We guessed one another’s personalities, how much of us came from our parents. One by one we go down the line. My sister is an extrovert. We frown, my mother is not and my father is not and we don’t know where to place her. My grandmother turns from the front seat and tells us that she gets it from Papa. We all exhale. That makes sense. Of course you can inherit things from your grandparents.
My father does not talk about my grandfather often. He retells the same ten stories when we do ask and we don’t ask often. I know that pain has closed the door to the rest of those memories and I don’t know how to dissolve it for him.
The ache that lasts after burying your own father must be immense. I have not had to hold that burden but my father has and this is why I hold my tongue about it too. Jiddu is the reason my father arrived in the country, and his absence is a part of what makes Baba’s stay what it is. He taught my father the books he teaches to other people now, taught him diplomacy, taught him peacemaking, taught him fatherhood and how to walk and I learn from him too now.
My father’s stepmother visited this summer. We sit on the old brown couch that is new to her because she had never seen it before and tells me that I remind her of my grandfather. She smiles as she says it, his title a song on her tongue and my ears strain to catch the melody. I want to smile too with her, but she has loved him and seen him and held him and watched him and I have not and so I nod slowly instead.
I often think back to that road trip game and so I think about what I inherited from Jiddu, and I sit and I rack my brain about it until it hurts. I count the things I know that he has passed down to me: my last name, my father, his smile. I wonder if I had known him if I would be less ashamed of parts of myself, if they are from him if he knew why they were special. I wonder about how different Baba would be if his father was still alive, how things would not be the same as they are now and how I would know myself in a whole new way.
And so, I pray for Jannah and strain every fibre in my being to conjure up the image of his face when I do. I pray that he is there and that I am there and my dad is there we can all sit down and talk it out. I have so many things I want to ask him, about my father and his mother and everyone else in between. I want to know why he loved God, why he chose this faith. I want to know his favorite foods and read him my writing and sit and wait patiently for him to say he is proud of me.
And so, when I think about Heaven, I think about my grandfather. I imagine him there and me there and neither time nor space can keep us apart past those gates. Death triumphed in 1990 but it will lose one day and I want him to be the first person to prove it to me.
I don’t know why I my heart is so heavy when I think about a man I have never known. But it aches, and it does more and more often as I get older. There is something about what it means to be human that is so wrapped up in knowing who you came from. InshaAllah, one day, I can hold his hand and know my ancestors through it. One day, inshaAllah, I can hear him recite my name and I will smile because it is just as much his as it is my own.