The Mountains are Heavy, the Oceans are Heavy….
Life is heavy. But there is beauty in this weight.
I’m sitting at a writing table at home. The home my parents recently moved into after having lived, for 20 years, in a house that was always too big for us. A home we filled with furniture and paintings and pictures and memories…so many memories…. over the course of two decades. I miss that home sometimes. Not because it was big, but because of its loyalty….that home protected us, kept our secrets, and carried us through some very dark days. Our new home is smaller, but it is also lighter. It doesn’t hold the kind of memories our old home did….and it never will. That home created its own era, and this home will create its own. I already feel it happening.
I’m grateful for the lightness of our new home this summer; A summer in which I have had to confront another heavy but inevitable fact of life: my parents are growing old and time is slowly but surely taking back the gift of health it granted them. I had to have to known this day would come, and yet the news has hit me like train this summer. I’ve been home now for 4 months because my father is not well. Everyday I put on a brave face. I wake up and take on the role of a drill sergeant. It’s the only way I know how to keep things going, to keep our spirits high, and to keep from falling apart. But on the inside I am inconsolable. I want so desperately to change the facts. But there is no bargaining with time. I cannot buy it back or exchange it for my own. All I can do is love, and pray. For them, and my self. Life is heavy.
I remember now the first time I realized that my parents would grow old one day. I was 6, maybe, and brushing my mother’s hair. She would let me do that sometimes, after she had brushed mine. On that particular day, I remember finding, amongst her dark brown/black strands, one white hair. I was shocked by its unruly texture and began scavenging for others like it. I remember finding a few others and asking my mother where they came from. She told me white hair was a sign of growing ‘older.’ O-l-d-e-r!!!! Old was a word that I, even then, associated with death. My grandparents were old, and my parents were always worried about their health. News that my mother was growing old hit me, back then too, like a train. I dropped the brush and hid behind the sofa and cried in silence for a long time. I don’t think my mother realized any of this was happening inside me. She had fallen asleep, and while she was sleeping, I devised a plan. I went into the kitchen and took out the scissors and started searching for white hairs in my mothers head. She slept through all of scrutiny and snipping and when she finally woke up…. I was caught red handed, with scissors in my hand. I got a good scolding at the time, but later, when my mother would tell other people about it, she would always hold me in her arms and kiss me, as if she understood what I was trying to prevent. She too felt the passing of time. Its finitude and certitude.
”Every soul shall taste death” 3:185, The Quran
Today, I am a professor. In theory, this is supposed to mean that I know more than I did when I was 6. But my doctorate has not provided any solutions for the passing of time. There is no easy way to come to terms with the fact that the bodies that housed and protected my parents their entire lives, have started to betray them. When this fact overwhelms me, I turn to god, music and poetry.
On days when my fears get the better of me, I listen to Tina Sani singing Allama Iqbal’s “Shikwa, jawab- e — shikwa.” There is so much catharsis in the reminder this poem offers: that I am not the first or only mortal to complain about life’s seeming limitations or to demand that God answer my prayers. And on nights when sleep escapes me, I repeat these lines from Rilke…over and over again. They are etched in my memory: “Do not be afraid to suffer. Take your heaviness and give it back to the earth’s own weight. The mountains are heavy. The oceans are heavy. Even the trees you planted as a child have long since grown heavy….you couldn’t bear them…. but for the breezes and spaces.” These lines from Rilke help me to remember that the weight in me, the weight of my life, is not apart from the weight of this earth; the weight of its mountains and its oceans. It helps to remember that although life is heavy, there is so much beauty in its weight. It reminds me to feel the breezes and the spaces that are made possible precisely because life is heavy.