There is a time of day, between waking and sleeping, between dream and reality, between one breath and the next, when I feel Yemen as close as my own heart’s blood. The years we spent in the mountains there, breathing ancient air, walking ancient paths, clasping the past and present in one hand, has changed us all, shaped us in more ways than we can possibly imagine at this point.
I’ve been thinking about change, about distance, about journeys, about home. I remember a bright early morning in the small mountain village we lived in for three years. I was walking to class, my books in my bag, my step light as I went over the texts I had memorized for the day in my head, over and over. Even now I can hear the fall of the ax, the cracking of branches as the old women gathered firewood. I can smell the earthy aroma of bread baking in tanoor ovens, the fragrance so strong, so familiar I can almost taste it. At that time, in that moment, I felt like I could stay there forever, as though somehow I could make that small part of that foreign country, my home. The sounds, sights, and smells brought back feelings of my Wisconsin childhood, and made that past startlingly, achingly, present. I felt whole, the little girl that I had been, looking through the eyes of the woman I had become.
Different times, different places, I have felt the sense of wholeness, of the completion of the circle within. Since coming back to America, it has happened more than once, usually as I am walking through pre-dusk coolness, the tang of woodsmoke in the air, the rustle of wind through bony tree tops, the call of some unseen bird cutting through the almost-silence of that time between day and night, light and dark. Sometimes it comes late at night, when the rain rushing against the window panes reminds me of the rainy season in Ma’bar, a time that encompassed both a further spiritual awakening in my soul as the world of knowledge opened up before me, and the breaking of my heart as I re-learned the precariousness of life, and the value of trust.
I find myself searching, now, always, for ways to teach my children the meaning of home, of place, of connection. Their world has been turned upside down, and I know that if I feel this uncertainty, like a stranger looking for a light in a window, that they must feel it as well. We find comfort in our faith, in our knowledge, in our Arabic language, and in our experiences. There is strength in the rope that stretches back, generation to generation, to the very beginning of the call to truth. It holds us up, holds us together, and gives us the strength to always, moment to moment, breath to breath, reach out and carry on, bringing past and present together to make us whole and more able to face whatever the future may bring.