To the girl who must go on,
In the great wilderness of the world, you and I are trees. Strong stems, different leaves; but trees all the same. From time to time I part my branches and look at you, standing there magnificently, through rain, hail, snow, disease and I wonder, how can she go on so effortlessly? Even through forest fires which burn down everything we’ve ever tried to be, you have been scarred but not mutated, charred but not obliterated; and in that moment this little sapling next to you knew what he wants to be.
To the girl who must go on,
This is not a plea. This could be the first thing you want, or the last thing you need, but please do know that this comes from somewhere deep inside of me. Call it experience or label it compassion, but writing a letter has never gone out of fashion for someone who perpetually lives his present in the past. I know you do too, so maybe this is something you will relate to and hold on to, steadfast. I just hope it lasts for as long as I want it to.
It was a warm afternoon in a month I don’t remember. Oddly, it felt warmer inside the air-conditioned room than it did outside in the blistering heat. I sat opposite a middle-aged, bespectacled man; my mother sat next to me. She was wearing a scarf around her head, one to cover the bare skin where luscious tufts of jet black hair had fallen away after chemotherapy. She looked beautiful though, she always did when she was happy. She’d been cancer free for a couple of months, and all the right changes were there to see. Reinvigorated melanin, a radiant glow that stemmed from somewhere within and how nice her eyes looked without dark circles etching themselves into her skin, it made her look alive to me. But as always is the case with moments of peace, rediscovery is often rudely redefined by reality.
“Your cancer is back again”.
That day, I learnt a few things I will never forget. After I thanked the doctor for wrecking our world with a travesty, I looked at my mother and did something I was constantly guilty of doing. I lied to her. Promises like “It’s just a minor thing” or “It’ll be over before you know it” sounded hollow even in my own head. Maybe that’s why thoughts with empty intentions tend to echo inside your head for an eternity. When she looked at me and offered a weak smile, I just knew she didn’t believe me. Why would she, when I didn’t believe myself?
I could have started this letter by lying to you, but I won’t. You’ll probably see through it too. Maybe adversity makes some blind and for others it makes things easier to see through. But either way, I want to make you believe. I have seen my mother do everything that you’re enduring now; I have broken down while cleaning washbasins stained with vomit and blood, asking myself “Where do we go from here?” Maybe you ask yourself that too. But there are some situations which are best left away from the truth. Somewhere I believe that facts are hidden from us because we’d give up if we knew what was in store. Uncertainty is good, it gives you a chance to fight towards a door without ever knowing whether you’ll get there or if it’ll open. All that matters, is that there is a door. But if you give up now, I promise you’ll never get there.
Anyway, over the next few weeks I saw and felt what relapse did to people. Why alcoholics, drug addicts, chain smokers find it difficult to deal with withdrawal, and why hopes of a rehabilitated future promised little respite in a present that refused to get better. I couldn’t and didn’t even want to imagine what my mother felt. The light at the end of our tunnel was a train. The silver linings to our clouds were the angry glimmer of thunderstorms and rain and sometimes it felt like the forces, natural and supernatural, conspired against us. But in those broken bits we could never put back together, we learnt to live little by little. That is all I ask of you.
Even though the cancer’s back, know that it returns only after losing to you. Against the winds of adversity, you’re a tree that stands tall in its wake, and even if you are about to bend or break your roots have dug far too deep for you to be uprooted or destroyed completely. Maybe that’s why the strongest parts to you are the ones you couldn’t see.
So today, no lies from me. Take it from someone who’s done it before and regrets having the audacity to look into the eyes of the most important part of himself to say that she was meant to stay and not to leave. Maybe you’ll shake and maybe you’ll sway, but those roots of yours have seen and felt all that you feel again today. Hold on, and let the storms pass. Tomorrow, when you outlast it again, and stretch your vast arms towards the sky, I will stand under your shade and thank the heavens and so will a million others who will have learnt how to stand with the best, and withstand the worst.
To the girl who must go on, the world will need your seeds.