I do apologize because this was long overdue, but I hope that does not affect in any way how much I want this to help you. So here goes.
Those shoes you wear today were never made to be walked in. I know how they feel, how they make you squirm and suffocate every inch of your skin. Those shoes are claustrophobic, and they are too heavy to walk in. Heavy, with the burdens of a million hopes, prayers, expectations and emotions which weigh you down with such force, that the will to keep moving breaks you in slow, painful breaths. Every day of your life people will find you inching forward, dragging your shoes, emptying every last reservoir of strength, and then have the audacity to say “I understand.”
Very rarely will you find people who truly grasp the weight of the words or the worlds they pretend to have existed in. But the ones who do, are the ones who will teach you how to live. Which is why today, I ask you to listen to me.
I know just what it feels like, when your Mom has cancer. I can paint the very same, heart-wrenching picture you see everyday; the most beautiful smile you have known withering away into a tired silence and muffled cries of pain. I can tell you how it feels, to watch the one constant love of your life slipping away. But I’m sure you already know all that.
As I write this, eyes glazed with tears of memories from which I have tried a lifetime to run away, I can feel the same emotional fatigue that I came to dread. That helpless feeling of inexplicable tiredness that comes from asking the same questions again and again- “Why me?” “Why her?” “How long?”
The Gods inside you and the ones above won’t give you your answers, which is why your shoes will get heavier by the day. But today Maryam, I ask that you put whatever little faith you have, in the words of a friend who has been in your shoes before. Let me dust your shoes, tie your laces; so that you may not have to bow or bend for any reason whatsoever.
You know how it is, waking up every single day with regret, knowing you must face exactly what does not let you sleep in the first place. But you have to keep going because there is someone who is enduring more than you are, who needs you more than you yourself. Wake up with a smile, even if it’s the last mask you want to put on. Keep it there because to your mother, it will be one of those little things that makes all the difference. When you are broken and trying to put yourself back together, the little pieces will always be the most important.
You see, mothers are conditioned to be the very definition of selfless souls. I remember when my Mom was going through cancer, just how befuddled she left me. Before I could text and ask her if she had taken the two morphine tablets I kept on her bedside table, she would ask me if I was doing well in college and if I’d had anything to eat. Torturous infernos of pain and muscle spasms in her spine kept her awake for endless nights, but what mattered most was if her son ate right.
Your mom is no different. If not for yourself, live your life for her. Laugh, ruffle her thin strands of hair, run your fingers along the black blotches left by the ugly chemotherapies; hug her, kiss her, do anything to take her away from all that she explicitly sees. She does not need to be reminded of the obvious, she does not need to hear that she needs to go on, she knows. Lift her spirits from its knees, and convince it not to grieve. I found it easier to wake up when I lived like that.
For the next few days, months, years, forget everything that is inherently personal. Throw your headphones away, because listening to music and leaving your Mom to decay in silence is a sin that even hell will find hard to pardon. From now on, you do not have your own room, your room is where Mom sits, sleeps, watches TV, vomits, cries, apologizes and everywhere else she wants to be. Every second you spend with her will take her that much closer to recovery, so be there every time she breathes. Bring her a glass of water, a little chocolate, a mug of coffee, even if it is the last thing she needs. It is the effort that counts, get her everything even before she knows she wants it. Tear the world apart to search for her tiniest smile, because even though she is a chaotic mess, when she smiles through it, you will know a feeling that surpasses everything else. Tomorrow when you fall in love and doubt the ability to love him or yourself, you will be reminded that you were one of the few reasons for a beautiful smile that braved adversity by the second.
I also ask you to do one more thing Maryam, although it will be harder than everything I have told you before. You must learn to lie, and you must learn to do so without betraying any emotion, with ruthless precision. For now, assume that your God forgives every lie, so use it dispassionately. Every time you go to the hospital, tell her that you have absolute, staunch belief that she is getting better, even if the doctor doesn’t necessarily share that faith. You must tell her she’s reaching the end of the tunnel even if you’re engulfed in total darkness, because how she fights and how long she fights depends on what you make her see. It may all be an illusion, but magic is an illusion too and look what it makes us believe?
Also remind yourself that your mother looks up to you as much as you look up to her. Resist every temptation to break through the day and let her see that you still are what you have always been; a lively, wonderful girl who lives life in all its entirety. At the end of the day, when you tuck her into bed and kiss her forehead and lull her to sleep, you can lock yourself in the bathroom and uncontrollably weep. Fold your superman cape, iron and get rid of all the creases, because the day superheroes stop is when they cease to be extraordinary, and the urge to live a normal life increases.
At harsh times like this I don’t appreciate distance, borders or that we belong to different countries. I wish I could erase these lines and for one moment, embrace you for the sake of what humanity was meant to be. India and Pakistan have been fighting each other for ages, but the battles that truly matter are the ones we are fighting amidst and within ourselves, the one you are fighting so valiantly for your family. Islamabad and Mumbai are on two different sides of a crazy, crazy world, but tonight you and me are one and the same person.
Here, I come to the end of this letter. I wish I could show you how fervently I pray for your Mother’s swift recovery. I am and will be, very proud of how gracefully you have endured such a soul-staining ordeal. I know there will be times you will want to break down and let go, and in those rare moments I promise to be there, if and when you require me. Talk to me about the myriad of feelings that threaten to corrode your mind, and I will be here, to lend you my ear, my shoulder, my complete, undivided attention. Let us wipe that slate clean, so that you may write about better, purer memories.
Should those shoes get heavier or start to wear away, know that you still have to keep walking. Yes, you might come undone , or fall from time to time; but you need to dust yourself clean and push yourself beyond definitions of ordinary. I cannot promise if things will get better; false hopes hurt more than most things. But I do know if you keep walking, you will find that it doesn’t weigh as heavy as it did before. Maybe you will get accustomed to the difficulty, maybe you will make it a part of yourself, but either way, you will find it easier to go on. Your shoes are tough Maryam, but you are tougher. Wish your Mom the very best for me, tell her that someone on the other side of the border will be rooting for her, every step of the way. I love you loads, stay strong.