18 Feb KEEPING THE FAITH
They say keeping the faith hurts, especially when it fails you. I didn’t predict it, or wait for it, I was just preparing myself by envisioning my Tuesday lunch without you. I won’t get my 6 AM calls from you, or rush to your apartment the day before I had to travel to have your warm frail shaky palm on my head as you recite prayers for 5 mins and no less. Our awkward silence at breakfast where you would call me last minute to have a meal you and I only liked would be interrupted by your stories, the ones where you rose in victory through every sacrifice, even when it hurt you. It’s your name, Sadik, meaning honest one, that embodied and encapsulated everything that you were. It transcends piety.
When I prayed, I didn’t pray for you to get better. I was losing faith, instead, I prayed for Allah to have mercy on you and remove any kind of suffering and pain. I felt so much guilt and shame that my whispers turned into whimpers at 4 AM. I’m sorry for that, but you’re a doctor, and I knew that you always knew your time was coming, because I felt it too, and I broke every pencil in my hand whenever the thought emerged. Many will say I didn’t keep the faith, but if that meant you’d get out of this alive with more suffering rather than rest, then I’d rather break it.
I haven’t kissed you in a year, but death was more intimate as he kissed you gently, removing any kind of suffering as if he was a friend. I envy him. My family and I are eating your favourite meals in your memory, but I can’t taste anything. The spiced rice lost its colour, the bread doesn’t melt as easily on my tongue. My tastebuds are tired. Each bite is forceful, a burden.
You were the kind of man that left the dinner table early with the warmest thank you, sufra dayman, may your table forever be filled, bil afrah, in all the happiness we shall meet, bil saha wal salameh, in health and in safety, w yihmeekom min kul soo’ inshallah, and may he protect you from all evil in God’s will. You said this at every meal together, always with increasing sincerity.
Keep the faith, they said, and fate will take its course. You were a man of great faith, and I liked to think that I took after you. But you are the biggest test in my life now, and I’m not sure I’m doing so well.
Without you, I will never know ease as I used to. Knowing you, you would hate that I said that, and maybe it won’t be true, but COVID has deprived me of so much. It deprived me of time with you. Our random glances at each other when all of us would sit together in the loud salon, bored, sipping over-sweetened tea, and you would laugh silently towards me, and blink twice, and blow a kiss.
You acted as both parents to six girls. You did it all on your own. You were both their mom and dad; the loss they feel is immaculate, and they wear it silently and eloquently. You taught me to forgive with no expense, and to surrender to faith. That was your secret to living the life you did.
I keep thinking of your legacy. Because you remarkably put your whole entire heart into your practice, you were the ultimate healer, a dream in fact. Your eyesight was filled with terrors from the war, but you chose to turn them into miracles through your hands, wit, and prosperity. You wore your profession on your sleeve until your last breath.
I’m counting the things that I’ve lost along with you, like when you’d ask me whether I preferred eggplant over white beans for lunch or when I’d rush over to come eat after you called last minute and you eat precisely at 1, when you’d read me a four-page quranic verse 40 times so I could get into my first choice Master’s at the same place you studied, or when you’d yell at me for having my hair wet as I went downstairs to greet you.
You had a dream to see the Iraq you grew up with. You lived, breathed, and tasted destruction and war while being both a single parent and a magnificent healthcare worker. You were the glue that held our family picture frame together, and now it’s dried up, the frame is falling, leaving a scratch on the wall. Alb ala alb, you would say, put one heart on another.
Oh, how large shoes we have to fill. No one will ever reach the magnitude of your magnificence and love for your country. Your immaculate legacy is beyond reachable. Fighting for equal healthcare for every Iraqi.
COVID taught me that keeping the faith meant thinking the thought of what’s best for you, and not for me. It taught me that although the outcome would be heavy to carry, your comfort is evermore lightweight.
You never surrendered, and neither did you ever complain, I think that’s the price we pay for trusting our fate. You never feared death, for meeting Allah was a privilege you always wished for, but the cross path between our realm and heaven was not a journey I wanted you to go alone, yet COVID demanded you should.
All we could do was park outside a convenience store near a highway exit and wait for the hearse to come. The screaming purple sirens stole my voice and blinded me. We followed you for 20 minutes and 12 seconds and parked on the airport exit for the hearse to open its trunk. It was so easy to dissociate in that moment. My mind couldn’t comprehend you were in this dark grey casket that my mom could’ve sworn was white. We followed you as far as we could. We couldn’t even go near you and recite the opening verse of the quran, we couldn’t stop thinking of you as a victim when in fact you were a hero. We couldn’t tell you we were there for you.
COVID stole you away from me, and you made me trust fate, but trusting fate took my mourning, and for that I loathe it. Thinking that the last noise you heard was a flatline and fuzzy mumbling with a dull image of a hospital roof with hazy blues of worn-out scrubs is something my heart will never heal from. COVID took away my chance of making sure that the last feeling you felt on this earth was loved, not lonely.
You’re finally in Iraq like you always wanted and you got the goodbye you deserved. The tears that were shed on the way could drown the city of Najaf itself. They were heavier than blood, pressing our chests so hard we heaved until the soil touched you.
Jedo, you’ve left the biggest scab on my heart. Regardless of it all, I still keep the faith even when you’re gone from knowing how much you wanted to meet Allah, and how dearly you missed grandmother Heyam, I can hear her say wa akheeran, finally, as she reunites with her love.
Rest easy habibi, I’ll live through you forever.
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Hareer Sulaiman