I have been back in touch with an old-best-friend from high-school (meaning forty-three minus something like fifteen years ago...), and today she leaves me a voice message on Facebook (in response to a message I’d written her, some time ago), marveling at the idea that I am no longer an extrovert:
“I... I just can’t imagine you as an introvert.”
And I understand entirely, what she means. If I’d have known me in those days, and even all those days after, through O-levels and A-levels and NYU and Razorfish and even the first years in Italy... I was one of those people that brought people together. I was not just a node but a hub. Not just circle but center. I don’t mean to say I was important or anything. But when you look back through the photo albums (and that too, for those years, is telling—that there are even photos of me, that I let the camera in...), you keep coming upon someone who thrived and thrummed and reverberated. Someone wired to pulse. I still remember Ayesha Aunty telling me, years ago in those days of Zainab’s wedding in Montreal, that when they had been looking—it was the night of the mehndi—for an electrical outlet for some tree or structure or thing (I can’t even remember now) that needed to be lit up for the evening’s festivities... Someone had said (it was a man, and she wouldn’t tell me who it was, so I’m guessing it was maybe a married man, or anyway a man who maybe should not have been saying it...), that all they needed to do was give the cord to “that girl there.” Because “anyway she’s lighting up the whole room.” Something like that.
And now there is me. Wanting always to distil so far down into a moment and its meaning, that if I could whirlpool myself into it I would. What happened? The easy explanation (though easy is hardly the word), is that my father died when I was thirty, and I didn’t get there in time. And my khala died when I was thirty-one, and I was not there to say goodbye. And my grandmother died when I was thirty-two, and I was not there to say goodbye.
And so... Around then is maybe, where it started.
Five years later, as if I needed a booster shot—new reasons to want to become more of what I had already maybe been becoming by then—my childhood-best-friend and might-as-well-be-sister died. And I didn’t get there in time.
Seven months after that, my mother died. And not only did I not get there in time. Not only was I not there to say goodbye. I was not there to try and unbreak even one of the six dozen things that were broken between us.
I would not have been able to, anyway.
But these are not reasons. Maybe. They are not even explanations.
What is the opposite of an explanation?
Yesterday was what would have been my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. I spent the day looking through scans of old family photos, because I thought maybe it will help to make a piece of writing that I could put here. But all I could think as I looked at every single picture from the nikah and the valeema, one after another, after another, after another, was this:
“Why are my parents not smiling?”
Nobody is smiling in these pictures, it’s true. Not my mother’s mother. Not my father’s father or my father’s mother (though I might know the reason for that...). Not my father’s sisters and not my father’s brother.
And it’s true too, that people don’t smile as much, at Pakistani weddings, as they do in Anglo-Saxon equivalents. (Nobody smiles as much, for pictures anyway, as Anglo-Saxons seem to do...)
Anyway, all of that is true. But even so. Even by Pakistani standards. Why do my parents look so unhappy?
And here I am. I have looked at these pictures my whole life. What can that have done, without my maybe knowing?
What does that make me?
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[lunedì 24 agosto 2020 ore 15:37:00] [¶]
Earlier this year a friend posted a poem by Andrea Gibson. It is a poem so small and holdable that I want, every time I read it, to write it into the palm of my right hand:
There is so much kindness
in consistently asking,
“Who are you now?”
There is so much love
in allowing people to be
continually new to us.
To love someone isn’t
so much to know them,
as it is to know their
Into the palm of my left hand, then, I might tattoo in a line I have been coming across, on and off in recent years, and loving anew every time. Something about attention (or the paying of attention) as/is/being “the most basic form of love.”
(Elsewhere and conversely, according to J.D. McClatchy: “Love is the quality of attention we pay to things.”)
Except I would say it’s more, much more than the most basic form of love. It is the essential, the foundational form of love. If you’re not paying attention, it is merely projection, not love.
It is a mirror, not a window.
And of course there is this, from Simone Weil: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
Except (again), I would say it’s more, much more than generosity. For if the paying or giving of attention is the foundational currency of love, it is a currency that enriches both giver and receiver. When you pay attention to someone you love, you’re loving yourself too.
It’s like watching yourself in your mind’s eye, in those moments when you’re doing the things you want most to do. It’s like listening to yourself listening, when you’re listening hard.
And this from Mary Oliver, in her poem, “The Whistler”:
All of a sudden she began to whistle. By all of a sudden I mean that for more than thirty years she had not whistled. It was thrilling. At first I wondered, who was in the house, what stranger? I was upstairs reading, and she was downstairs. As from the throat of a wild and cheerful bird, not caught but visiting, the sounds warbled and slid and doubled back and larked and soared.
Finally I said, Is that you? Is that you whistling? Yes, she said. I used to whistle, a long time ago. Now I see I can still whistle. And cadence after cadence she strolled through the house, whistling.
I know her so well, I think. I thought. Elbow and ankle. Mood and desire. Anguish and frolic. Anger too. And the devotions. And for all that, do we even begin to know each other? Who is this I’ve been living with for thirty years?
This clear, dark, lovely whistler?
It feels like Gibson is reaching back through the pages, to answer Oliver at last:
To love someone isn’t / so much to know them...
(Elsewhere, for another day, this quote of McClatchy’s: “Vulnerability, not music, is the food of love.”)
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[lunedì 03 agosto 2020 ore 18:08:04] [¶]