on the day of the funeral (and tomorrow it will be a month), i remember waking up -- over and over -- feeling emptier and dryer and more barren than i could have imagined possible.
the last time you wake up for the morning -- the time when you are dry-eyed finally -- you cannot understand how something could have taken up that much room inside of you -- such that its absence leaves you with an emptiness that takes up more space and weight, than you thought you took up or had yourself.
i remember putting on my new paisley earrings. which may have been a bad idea in hindsight. the stems dig into your neck when people hug you too hard. everyone that day, was hugging too hard.
in the afternoon i said to an aunt, this is the second-best opportunity i will ever get, to celebrate my father and all the time i had with him.
my aunt asked me what the first-best opportunity was.
i said, every single day that he was alive.
i had been rehearsing those lines in my head, all morning.
all the things i ever got angry about, in those days after my father died, had to do with the ridiculousness of the religion that so many idiots think is Islam.
women don't go along with the men, to bury their fathers and brothers and husbands. if you are lucky, like i am (woohoo), your brother will tell you that you can come, i'll make sure no one stops you. but still, you don't want to make a scene. you don't want to upset anyone. you don't want to leave your mother alone -- you are all alone enough as it is.
you pay some bearded man to read a prayer over your father's body, and he is told the name of the deceased in advance, and still he has to be prompted at the actual reading, in the graveyard, with your father's body lying in front of him, and a world of people around him who have nothing on their lips but the word Zahid.
three days later, when the soul is said to leave the earth, you pay some other bearded man (or maybe it is the same one, how would i know -- the women sit in a separate room from the men -- which also explains, of course, why i didn't get to meet so many of my father's old friends, from school and the early years when he wasn't yet my dad). you pay again, to have him lead yet another prayer, yet another handful of lines that any believing Muslim who actually knew my father, could have done himself. or herself.
about a week later, another potentially bearded man (it's hard to tell on the phone), confirms that yes, my mother -- "the widow" -- must spend the next four months and ten days in confinement. she may not socialize, she may not entertain, she may not have friends and extended family come and visit. she shouldn't wear bright colors. she should try not to laugh too much. because if she does, and if she gets pregnant, it will not then be clear who the father is.
among other things (which include the reflection that one does not have to leave the house to get pregnant, and who knew that one's wardrobe colors affected fertility), my mother is sixty-three.
apparently (shrug all the men to whom this small technicality was highlighted), the Qur'an doesn't mention menopause.
these are the bearded men who make money off a religion that says "no clergy". a religion that stresses, there should be no one between you and your God. a religion that reminds you, that this is what the book is for.
the Lord gave you a brain and a book, and the Lord commanded you to read in His name. i do not understand why -- especially for the stuff that matters most -- you leave the reading to the hired help.
[Ai Tre Scalini, Roma]
[lunedž 27 luglio 2007 ore 19:30:49] [¶]
if one day they tell you too, about end-stage metastatic cancer. about palliative care and praying for good days and good days only.
there are books you might want to have on hand.
one. Doctor Zhivago.
if there is one regret, it is that i did not resolve to read him this passage, even a day earlier, than the day i decided to.
One evening at the end of November Yura came home late from the university; he was tired and had eaten nothing all day. He was told that there had been a terrible scare that afternoon. Anna Ivanova had had convulsions; several doctors had seen her; at one time they had advised Alexander Alexandrovich to send for the priest but later they had changed their minds. Now she was feeling better; she was conscious and had asked for Yura to be sent to her the moment he got back. Yura went up at once.
The room showed traces of the recent commotion. A nurse was quietly arranging something on the night table. Towels and napkins, which had been used for compresses, were still lying about, damp and crumpled. The water in the slop pail was pinkish with expectorated blood, and broken ampoules and swollen tufts of cotton-wool floated on its surface.
Anna lay bathed in sweat, with parched lips. Her face had become haggard since morning.
'Can the diagnosis be wrong?' Yura wondered. 'She has all the signs of lobar pneumonia and it looks like the crisis.' After greeting her and saying the encouraging things which are always said on such occasions, he sent the nurse out of the room, took Anna's wrist to feel her pulse and reached into his coat pocket for his stethoscope. She moved her head as if to say: 'It's useless, what's the point?' He understood that it was something else she wanted. She spoke with effort.
'They said... last sacraments... Death is hanging over me... Any moment... When you go to have a tooth out you're frightened, it'll hurt, you prepare yourself... But this isn't a tooth... it's the whole of you, your whole life... being pulled out... And what does it mean? Nobody knows... And I am sick at heart and terrified.'
She fell silent. Tears poured down her cheeks. Yura said nothing. A moment later Anna went on.
'You're clever, talented... That makes you different... Say something to me... Set my mind at rest.'
'Well, what is there for me to say,' replied Yura. He fidgeted on his chair, got up, paced the room and sat down again. 'In the first place, you'll feel better to-morrow, I know the signs, I give you my word. And then death, the survival of consciousness, resurrection... You want to know my opinion as a scientist? Perhaps some other time? -- No? -- At once? -- Well, as you wish. But you know, it's difficult to put into words, straight off.' And there and then he delivered a whole impromptu lecture, so that he was even astonished at himself.
'Resurrection. -- In the crude form in which it is preached for the consolation of the weak, the idea doesn't appeal to me. I have always understood Christ's words about the living and the dead in a different sense. Where could you find room for all these hordes of people collected over thousands of years? The universe isn't big enough, God and good and meaning would be crowded out. They'd be crushed by all that greedy animal jostling.
'But all the time life, always one and the same, always incomprehensibly keeping its identity, fills the universe and is renewed at every moment in innumerable combinations and metamorphoses. You are anxious about whether you will rise from the dead or not, but you have risen already -- you rose from the dead when you were born and you didn't notice it. Will you feel pain? Do the tissues feel their disintegration? In other words, what will happen to your consciousness? But what is consciousness? Let's see. To try consciously to go to sleep is a sure way to have insomnia, to try to be conscious of one's own digestion is a sure way to upset the stomach. Consciousness is a beam of light directed outwards, it lights up the way ahead of us so that we don't trip up. It's like the head-lamps on a railway engine -- if you turned the beam inwards there would be a catastrophe.
So what will happen to your consciousness? Your consciousness, yours, not anyone else's. Well, what are you? That's the crux of the matter. Let's try to find out. What is it about you that you have always known about yourself? What are you conscious of in yourself? Your kidneys? Your liver? Your blood vessels? -- No. However far back you go in your memory, it is always in some external, active manifestation of yourself that you come across your identity -- in the work of your hands, in your family, in other people. And now look. You in others are yourself, your soul. This is what you are. This is what your consciousness has breathed and lived on and enjoyed throughout your life. -- Your soul, your immortality, your life in others. And what now? You have always been in others and you will remain in others. And what does it matter to you if later on it is called your memory? This will be you -- the you that enters the future and becomes a part of it.
two. God's Mountain, from Erri de Luca.
for during, for when it's over. for so many times afterwards. for both kinds of emptiness -- the one that comes from distance, the one that comes from death.
I speak with Rafaniello. Today weíve got the time. Donít you ever miss your hometown? I ask.
"When you get homesick, itís not something missing, itís something present, a visit. People and places keep you company for a while."
So when I start feeling like I miss someone I should think that theyíre present instead?
"Exactly, that way youíll remember to greet every absence and welcome it in."
So when youíve flown away, I shouldnít miss you?
"No," he says, "when you start to think of me itíll mean that Iím with you."
I write down what Rafaniello said about homesickeness on the scroll and now itís better. His way with thoughts is like his way with shoes. He turns them upside down on his bench and fixes them.
three. every stanza, in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
every stanza, and then the last one. for the comfort of a pair of lines that you can repeat to each other with your eyes closed. over and over. for the strength of grace in literature.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
if you have come here because you Googled end-stage metastatic cancer, like i know people have, and like i know i have.
if you are looking for reminders to yourself, that almost everyone on this planet has to live through the death of a parent, like i know i was looking.
this is what i can give you. this is what i can share.
[Avari Hotel, Dubai]
[friday 17 august 2007 at 23:08:37] [¶]