Last week I had another brief attack of vertigo, a remnant from my battle with typhoid a few years ago in the small Yemeni village I called home. It threw me off a bit, this reminder of one of the most difficult times in my life. It was unexpected, but blessedly brief, unlike my first brush with the disease that almost bested me.
It was a time of blows, coming one after another. First, my father died across the world after a long and painful illness. I had not spoken to him since leaving for Yemen, and those silent years weighed heavily upon me, a burden I had to shoulder even though I couldn’t see any other path I could have taken. Within days of his death, my husband left for Sana’a and, eventually, America. Knowing that there is good in all situations, I strove to see the good in this, a space for us to breathe in, to grow separately but, hopefully, not apart. Time for the children and I to learn and spread our wings, and for me to test myself and see how strong I could be with the grace and mercy of Allaah.
Within a couple of weeks of his leaving, war came to the village, and typhoid laid siege on my body. Money and resources were scarce, phones and internet shut off, and I was fighting for my life, feeling more alone than I had imagined possible.
I remember the day I finally gave in and went to the village doctor. Mujaahid helped me walk there. I don’t think he’d realized how sick I was until I slid my arm through his, letting him support me like I had supported him when he was small. Every few feet I had to stop to catch my breath and let the darkness that filled my head recede, just a little, enough to go forward. After we left the clinic I shoved the prescription papers into my bag, refusing to fill them. The doctor had simply said it was an “infection” and I wasn’t prepared to take strong medicines on the strength of such a weak diagnosis. Within a few days, though, I was unable to get out of bed, and I let Mujaahid bring the medicines.
I remember Sukhailah, then eleven and struggling with the chicken pox along with her brothers and sisters, trying to feed the family. I remember dragging myself out into the central room to sit while they ate, trying not to smell the food, pretending that I really was okay, for the children. I remember not being able to eat or drink until after two weeks the doctor threatened to “give me the needle” if I didn’t drink something; I finally found a gingery soda that I could keep down, one sip at a time, half a can in an entire day. I remember the children sitting in my room in the evenings by candlelight, Mujaahid telling stories to try to lift spirits, me doing my best to be strong, be strong, be strong for the children. I remember lessons learned in that time, all of them difficult, all of them strengthening me, teaching me wisdom that has served me well since then. I learned one of the hardest lessons of my life, the real meaning of trusting in Allaah, and letting go. The faith that I had been tending for years truly became a part of my being, with the strong, deep, roots that support and sustain life.
These gifts and others allowed me to take my recent attack as a reminder to slow down, remember what’s important, live each moment as the gift that it truly is. It whispered to my heart, reminding me to listen to the voices that thread through silence.