This afternoon I sat in the backyard and breathed. I breathed in the sound of cicadas surrounding me with a swirling crowd of pure joyous sound. I breathed the fur trees at my back, bending to whisper in each other’s ears, words lost on the low moan of the wind. I breathed the light of the sun and the cool of shade and my daughter’s distant laughter carried through an open window. I breathed, and remembered how to breathe, something so easy to lose in the always moving, always changing, always hurrying world I so recently re-entered. Sometimes my years in Yemen seem almost like a dream; but I know in my heart that they were real, and that this hustle and bustle and rush only give the illusion of reality. The truth is still there, where it always has been, under the voices of chaos that shout so loudly for attention.
Today as I breathed, and reminded myself of who I am and why I am here and what is truly important, I remembered another day, another breath, taken at a time when I was not so sure that there would be many days of breath left to me. I was struggling through yet another attack of the typhoid-like illness that eventually brought my days in my beloved mountain village to an end. My eldest son, Mujaahid, had helped me walk to the small clinic that served the villagers, and then had hovered by my side while my blood was taken and the doctor listened to my heart and asked me the same questions he’d asked me many times before. Afterwards, he took me out to the small covered area in front of the low cement building and helped me to sit down on the edge where concrete met dirt, my arms hugging my legs and my head resting on my knees. He went back inside to consult with the doctor over my treatment. I listened to the voices around me. An old woman spoke querulously to her equally aged husband, who nodded and absently grunted an affirmative every once in awhile, his thoughts clearly a hundred miles away. A young boy sang off key as he walked along the edge of the porch where I sat, detouring around me, his passing causing the air to gently stir the edges of my overgarment. Far off came the sound of schoolboys reciting, their words too distant to be understood.
I knew what the doctor was going to say. More medicine, which we could hardly afford, and which the germs in my body were resistant to already. More protein, the doctor recommending chicken or meat daily, not realizing that an egg a day stretched our budget to the limits. More of everything, that really ended up signifying more of nothing. Ultimately, I knew, I had to rely on Allaah, and Him alone, to get me through this whole and healthy once again. I had to let go in order to hold on.
I pulled my text of the Qur’aan out from under my jilbaab and opened it to the verses Sheikh Bin Baaz recommended for the one who feared that he had been cursed or had witchcraft performed on him. I read them once, twice, and again before the sound of Mujaahid’s voice telling me it was time to go broke through my concentration. I shut the book and put it away. I had been reminded of where I had to go, and Who I had to look to, and it made all the difference.
I breathed the cold, dry air. I breathed in the sound of recitation and the old woman’s shrill voice. I breathed in the young boy’s song. I breathed in the village and the masjid and the center of learning I called home. I breathed the dust of ages past and the sunshine that had warmed the Earth since Allaah had decreed that it be so.
I stood, and breathed, and, finally, went on.
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