Yesterday, on September 27, a new little person entered the world. My eldest son, Mujaahid, and his wife, Hiyaat, had a new baby girl. She was delivered at home, with a midwife and Hiyaat’s mother present, and by all accounts she is a big baby; Mujaahid added that she is quiet and sweet, unlike her big brother, Suhayb, who, while being sweet, is a wild man. She was born with a caul- in Islaam this doesn’t have any special significance, but I can imagine that my Bohemian grandmother, and my Irish grandmother, would have a few things to say about it. They named her Yasmeen, which is the source of the English word, Jasmine. I pray that she will both spread joy and goodness like the fragrance of her namesake, and that she will find the world to be sweet and scented in the same way.
I wasn’t there for the birth, just as I was not there for Suhayb’s birth, making this a bittersweet time, one which brings home forcefully the reality of distance unrolling over desert and mountain, of time spent apart and the choices which led to this separation.
The first choice, I suppose, was when we sent Mujaahid to study in the village a few months before we ourselves were going to make that transition. He would call every week, his voice sounding small and far away and tearing at my heart-strings. He would assure me that he was fine, and was studying hard, and that everything was alright.
The second choice was when, a couple of years later, he decided to marry and to build his house attached to his wife’s house across the valley. Automatically he became a part of their life, while stepping out of ours in a major way. His brothers and sisters felt the distance at that time; perhaps it was for the best because when we left the village a year or so later due to my continuing illness, he didn’t even consider coming with us.
That was the next choice, and it was both ours, to leave, and his, to not join us. It was so difficult leaving the village. I had teachers there that I loved and respected, I loved learning about Islaam and attending classes and lectures, and the village itself had found a deep and abiding place in my heart. And, of course, as we were bumping off in the pre-dawn darkness over the trackless mountains that surrounded the village, my heart felt like it was being physically ripped in two as part of it stayed with Mujaahid.
I don’t have any photos of Mujaahid as a baby, but last year, when I was able to see his son, Suhayb, for the first time, I immediately saw the shadow of my little blond boy in his face. It made parting with them after a month even tougher, bringing home truth of the saying that when we choose to have a child, we choose to allow a part of our hearts to walk around outside our bodies for the rest of our lives.
Now time, and distance, and political upheaval have made our lives in this beautiful land more uncertain than before. When I think that I may never see Yasmeen, or Suhayb, or Mujaahid and Hiyaat again, I feel an intense sense of loss, and sadness, and a wish that I could somehow change things, while knowing that I cannot. Too much time, too much distance, too many choices made that led us to where we are now.
But I know that even while a part of my heart is with them in their mountain village, a part of them remains, and will always remain, within my chest, as close as the air I breathe. And sometimes, that is all you can ask for.