prose// for Mama Nafisah

most days, i am humbled by history.

things cycle and repeat, there is nothing new that can be born out of an earth this old. no human problem has yet to break the surface of things, it has all been seen before. the same songs, just remixed and sampled a billion times over, until we each think we sing our own unique tune.

my father tells me stories about his father and i think, how fascinating those parallels are. i live my life and my father tells me about his early days and i think, how obvious these similarities are. i am him. he is his father. we play the same parts in the same play, i am just a woman in 2020 in this strange country and he was a young man in Sudan in the 80s and so of course things are different (but still, only marginally so, people are people no matter where they are in time or space) 

that can feel suffocating, it can feel heavy, though most days I forget all about it. i wonder when i look at him if i am speaking to myself in forty years? that can feel frightening, and bizzare– all the while, time churns and churns and churns and there is no escaping any of it. 

the people i love are dying. my great-grandmother, a great-aunt, my father’s eldest sister has too been tucked underneath the earth. i clench my jaw laying in my bed. it is all i can do to save myself from jumping out of my blankets and running to the airport to leap on the first flight to Khartoum that i can book. i wouldn’t even know where to go looking for the right graveyards, for where to lay down on the earth and press my heart as close as I can to where theirs used to pulse. i want to be loved by the people in my family who knew Allah. the women, their images towering, giangantic lily flowers that sway in the wind of my own memory, as the seasons of adulthood blow through them. i want to smell the bakhour on their clothes and infused into the cracks in their hands. i want to be held, i want to be cradled, i want to be left to be still in their arms for a century. sure, they don’t really know me but they knew my father so they truly know me. they knew my grandfather so they know him. they know our story so they know us all. right?

what are you supposed to do when you arrive at the Bridge of Awakening and you discover The Secret? do you run past it? do you lay down and nap it away? do you keep on walking, turn to your parents and look them in the eyes and see the people-ness through them all? what ought you do when you see the unmistakable glassy water and your own reflection bending on the surface?…

…bending. yes, bending. we bend for the people we love, we bend and contort ourselves to avoid becoming the people we know, and end up in the same exact knots. we bend over backwards to make things fit where they do not, to make ourself fit where it does not. we bend to cradle things that need cradling, we bend to hold things in balance and hold ourselves upright. 

i am tired today. i am bent out of shape. i arrogantly try to hold the world and i have no business holding anything beside my own fragile ego. the world is weighty and i love too much, i think. it burns me to the glass of my own candle.

i have wondered if my grandfather receives progress reports of how well i’m doing…. what kind of sense we are making of these strange times. i wonder what he would make of my father and i, feaverishly trying to figure out Rightness and experience Joy and attempt to know what it means to dress in Contentment no matter what is selling out on the shelves. i’m sure we are not as graceful as he was.

i wonder what Jiddu would do and say if he was alive. would he let me hug him and just linger there? i close my eyes after prayer and imagine my deceased grandmothers’ arms– cloud-like, something to sink into. in my dreams, they soothe me, tell me about life once you learn to let go of everything that does not exhale in prayers. i want to be loved by my ancestors. if they loved my father maybe they could love me too?

tonight, i honor the women who raised the man i will grow up to be. they chose to love children not their own, and taught them how to Love the One Who Owns Love through their own embodied graciousness. tonight, i run to them in my own memory, peeling past fictional versions of myself, thin and cardboard-like in the clutter of my own mind. before me, a row of beauty, each of their faces amalgamated behind my eyelids, their hearts out-stretched, offering me the history that i will never know but perhaps can one day feel…

i choose to believe that i am loved by history as much as i am afraid of its strangeness…. it haunts me and guides me everyday. i yearn for my sudani grandmothers’ arms, the one who has passed and the one who is living a continent away. tonight, i mourn the death of her mother Nafisah, the fragility of lineage, the knife-like nature of this disease silently sneaking through each corner of the globe. tonight, i try and say their names, squeeze my eyes and render their faces, and try and try and try to hear voices i have never known. the ache inside could swallow the moon.

to God we belong and to Him we return.

—-

mama nafisah, may Allah raise you to the highest levels of Jannah. i just hope i can make it there one day to be able to hold your hands and tell you, from the bottom of my little heart, how indebted I am to you, for raising the incredible woman who raised the man whom i love the most, for all of your sacrifices, for all of your prayers for protection and guidance. may Allah make it so.

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