“When you were a little girl, you used to wake up happy.” My mother said this to me as we rode in the car down a wet highway. When I turned back to comment, I found I had nothing witty to say except, “I don’t anymore.” Her eyes darted from the road to me and back again, a sad smile on her mouth that did not reach her eyes; crow’s feet would have appeared to mark the many days of joviality that her eyes had known, and though she would not believe me if I told her so, I thought them beautiful. No one but my mother could make crow’s feet look beautiful; but then, there was never a time in my life when my mother was not beautiful.
When I was a child, she and my father seemed different in so many ways; often I found myself wondering how they had ever beguiled each other to begin with. He, a man of few words, would only speak when deemed necessary. Even then he was slow to respond, answering in the heavy, deliberate rhythm of an Ent out of a Tolkien novel, accompanied with the sonorous voice of Mufasa, which was enough in itself to turn any head in a room. A composed and reverent man, he seemed impregnable in every way imaginable, sapient beyond compare, with eyes as deep as fathomless wells bored into the Earth for miles, harboring an unsettling ability to penetrate your soul. I tested his tolerance only once, and I found it truly did have an end; I spent the night sporadically getting out of bed to spit out the soap that I had been subjected to use to cleanse my dirty mouth and conscience. Needless to say, he is the best man I have ever known.
My mother was a completely different story; or rather, she was an unfinished novel. She talked and talked, sometimes to me, sometimes to my father, sometimes to my grandmother, many a time to herself, even the dog; she talked and thought and yelled and laughed and cried. She flitted through your vision like a sparrow, darted about like hummingbird, always moving, never fixed, seemingly chaotic, helter-skelter, deranged; but inside her restless mind, there lay an elegant, masterful design. She was built to withstand the acrimony hurled at her, immune to the malevolence and deceit that plagued mankind, was made to penetrate to the crux of a situation faster than any one person had any right to, fashioned with a heart that meshed freely with her mind. She lived with the standards, yet found a way to remain outside them. This is a feat I hope to accomplish someday.
When I was two, I lay dying in a hospital bed in an intensive care unit somewhere in San Jose. What had begun as a simple rash on my cheek in the shape of the Hawaiian Islands, had distorted my little face and body into a swollen, gargantuan mass, with a skyrocketing fever of one hundred and five. I can imagine how monstrous and pitiful I must have looked, my ballooned frame speckled with tubes in my legs, arms, mouth, and a breathing apparatus covering the lower portion of an inflated face. My mother was in the waiting room, accepting comfort from a friend, preparing herself for the grief that accompanied the loss of a child, wondering how she was going to face all our family and loved ones and tell them of my death, when she began speaking to the father of a Muslim family sitting near her. He relayed that while driving parallel to her, he had watched a vehicle barrel into a car that contained his wife and two children. She suffered innumerable fractures and shatters in all parts of her body, and had to be transferred to a separate hospital away from her children, leaving him to run back and forth between the two in order to visit with both. He was told his first child would heal; his youngest, a three month old baby, had suffered irreparable brain damage and was not expected to live. The man listened to my mother recite my situation in the same somber manner, each sharing in their anguish, both bracing themselves for the departure of their youngest children, both asking different Gods the question always on the lips of the recently abandoned; “Why? Where is the justice? What sin of mine is being punished? What sin of theirs? Why not me in that bed, in that car? Why?”
I read once that Muslims do not pray for non-Muslims, for we are the non-believers. The only offering they can give to us in prayer is the hope that one day we will see the light, and become one with Allah, their only true God. But that man in that waiting room prayed for me. Prayed, for me. I regret to say I am not learned in the rituals and ways of other religions, in fact hardly in that of mine own; I don’t know how many sacred laws may have been violated in that one act of benevolence. But since my mother told me of this momentous time in my life history, I have carried with me an unshakeable sense of spirituality that pervades every decision I make. Someone somewhere heard his prayer, the whispered wishes of a bereaved dissenter in silent grief. Whether he had lost his faith when he bore witness to the collision and no longer cared if labeled an infidel, or he had truly asked his God to show mercy on a little girl, or he just merely pretended to pray out of pity for my non-Muslim mother, I cannot say. However noble or ignoble, I am only grateful for the effort.