Sweet child of mine,
As I lie in bed, breathing out what may be my last 12,96,000th breath, my mind flits between what has been and what will be. You know I've never been one to worry endlessly about what will be. As far as I'm concerned, you only need to face something head-on in order to conquer it. And I've always told you that in this unpredictable life, one thing is certain: we shall all die. So each day is to be seen as a blessing. Each day is to be thankful for. The Americans have their Thanksgiving Day. For me, every day is Thanksgiving Day.
When I first got diagnosed with cancer, I was told I had eighty-seven percent chance of recovering from it. The optimist in me never once assumed I could be in the thirteen percent category. But after abortive attempts to control the malignant spread, I have now been given a "let's-pray-for-the-best" chance. Sometimes I get angry that I wasted the last nine months of my life in various hospitals to be finally told that I have one or two months left to live.
It seems to me that Allah has at least given me enough time to make amends with those who I hurt (or vice versa). I have enough time to unabashedly shower love on my family and friends, (and receive it in tenfolds). I have enough time to sort through the mundane worldly duties of paying off debts, writing a will and what-have-you. I have time (don't know if it's enough…but then who will ever have 'enough'?!) to ask forgiveness for my sins.
The only thing I regret is I shall not have enough time to see you, dear daughter, grow up to be a woman.
You are thirteen now and feeling very confused and lost. You cannot fully understand what has happened to your energetic, bubbly ammu. Well yes, I remain bubbly by nature but my body refuses to keep up. And I know you see it.
The way I look at it, at least I have enough time to write you this letter. And how many mothers are lucky enough to do that? I mean, if your life had been 'normal' like all your other friends, you would have grown up in the blink of an eye and before we knew it, your father and I would be bidding farewell to you…for another country, another family…? One has all these pent-up feelings and thoughts that one keeps meaning to share with their loved ones, but life gets in the way or one feels shy or the timing is not right so one never gets to it. But for me, death has gotten in the way. I lost my ability to feel shy after chemotherapy when I stepped outdoors, bald as a newborn baby. And when time is limited, the timing is always right!
Not that I have much 'wisdom' to spew on you. And even if I did, how much of it will you truly internalize? Besides, impending death is no reason to stop being myself. I've never wanted (nor been, hopefully) the kind of mother who lectures on and on. So why start now? That would be like one of those silly movies where you see a dying person wanting to go to Disney World or climb the Everest or roam the world in eight days. What? By doing that ONE thing, your life will become 'meaningful' or 'whole'? So by default their life hitherto was meaningless? Not for me, such flighty thoughts!
I had a wonderful childhood, a momentous adulthood. Like those beauty contestants I so loathe, I have to admit, even the mistakes in my life were okay. Because they made me who I am today. You see, baby, if you don't make mistakes how will you know how to do the right thing? So don't ever shy away from something because you are afraid of doing it wrong. Mistakes are as much part of life's curriculum as life's lessons. Okay?
Speaking of 'curriculum', like every good mother, I pray that you will find a wonderful man to love and marry. But take your time to find the right one. It's better to find the right one late than the wrong one 'in time'. Don't give in to the social pressure of "good girls get married within such-and-such timeframe". I have never believed in such socially imposed 'deadlines' and neither should you. The crux of the matter is not in finding a man, it is being happy with him.
Forget the romance novels. If you ever do get around to reading them, remember: that's fiction. Fiction ends where fact begins. And the fact is that 'the happily ever after' doesn't happen by itself. Be sure to work on it. Whatever your mental list of the reasons you love your man, have "respect for one another" written in bold, right on top. Love may be a bed of roses but every now and then you are bound to land on a thorn. That's when you'll need your list. To refocus. Over the years, I pray that, you will revise your list and add more than you subtract.
It won't be easy. But then nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. Fight for what you believe in. And while you are fighting, make a note of who are on your ringside. They are your friends. I have been blessed with some true friends in my lifetime. But I won't lie. It took some sifting. During good times you will be surrounded by acquaintances. During hard times you will be supported by friends. Therein lies the difference. I have only a handful of people who faithfully come spend time with me nowadays. The number has dwindled from a two-digit number to one-digit. And here I thought I was popular! But, no regrets. Better to have quality over quantity. There is more companionship sitting in silence with one true friend than chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen with five fair-weather ones. Ironically enough, that's how I figured it out. I had such a wide circle of 'friends' when I was mobile and socially active. And now that the party is over, only a few remain in the aftermath.
Regardless of the girth of your social circle, always take time-out for yourself. Find one thing you want to do for your own satisfaction and do it well. Perhaps it will be cerebral like playing chess; or something sporty like karate; or creative like needle-point cross-stitching. It doesn't matter what it is. The only criteria should be that you have fun doing it: throw-your-head-back-and-guffaw-with-delight fun. Whatever it is, excel in it, revel in it.
In good times, you will find that the activity will keep you elated. And in bad times, the activity will allow you time to withdraw for re-energizing. You come into the world alone and you leave it alone. So it makes sense to do something that allows you to enjoy your 'self' alone, doesn't it? During the humdrum of your regular life, the routine of it will discipline you. Win-win situation in all scenarios.
For someone who didn't want to lecture, I have rambled on and on! I suppose it's inevitable when you are trying to connect the dots between what has been and what will be. I hope that telling you some of my lessons learnt from the "has-beens" will make your future "will-bes" that much richer.
I don't know how much of this will make sense to you now. Perhaps with time, it will get clearer. With time, you will grow, you will discover; you will treasure your homestead even as you find new horizons. And with time, you will also heal from losses.
I love you with all my heart and soul.
God Bless you.
By Munize M. Khasru
Photo: Abir Abdullah