I’ve been visiting my mother and grandmother for the past few days. I wake and have one cup of coffee by myself, then one cup of tea with my mother, then she leaves for work and I have a third cup of tea (and a glass of a terrible terrible fiber drink) with my grandmother in her apartment. I sit at her table and look at her plants in the sunlight and we listen to my grandfather’s voice from the CD player and I ask her questions. Sometimes I want to take notes, but she is so polite, she stops talking whenever I start writing, so I’ve given that up. She hasn’t had an easy life. She has lived through the redrawing of political lines, through wars and through personal grief and trauma.
Our second morning at breakfast I asked her, “What was the happiest day of your life?” and she put down the spoon she was stirring her tea with and sat back. Her face relaxed, she brought her hand to her mouth. Her eyes widened and squinted, the edges of her mouth turned up and went slack. She clicked through her good memories for at least a minute. Remembering and smiling. Looking way way back. Then she blinked and looked at me. “I can’t tell you, child.” And I said, “You don’t have to. Watching you go through that catalog was enough.” And it was. Really.
She did eventually tell me the story that led to the ordinary sort of day she landed upon when thinking of her best day, one where nothing happened but hope was restored to her, a bright line on the horizon. Honestly, these 22 hours of travel each way were worth it for just that. But of course there’s been much more. Long time with my mother, which I needed, her holding and laughter, our patterns. All the other spectacular Dhaka people I love. The basket of marigolds, the fruit and the noise and the progress of this city.
This city makes me want to write. It is squalor and the criss-crossing of lives, people walking boldly into traffic, everyone going somewhere and I want to know where. I want to know the story of each person. When I was a kid, I used to spend my summers looking out the window at the people who lived below and narrate their lives, and it seems I could still do that today. Observe and try to see what they are doing, to imagine these lives so different from my own, as precious as my own.
If you haven’t read “Home” by Warsan Shire, you must. It is heartbreaking, gut-wrenching. I read it to my mother and heart-sister yesterday. I’ve tweeted and facebooked it. I’ve read it a lot to myself. It must have been so hard for her to write. But she did it. She imagined the lives of others. Now more than ever, that is needed. Make space for light and praise, but don’t turn away from the dark–push through and imagine other lives, figure out what the world really needs from you, then give yourself over to doing.
Praise Song for the Day
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each other’s eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair. Someone is trying to make music somewhere, with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum, with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice. A woman and her son wait for the bus. A farmer considers the changing sky. A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin. We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed, words to consider, reconsider. We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of some one and then others, who said I need to see what’s on the other side. I know there’s something better down the road. We need to find a place where we are safe. We walk into that which we cannot yet see. Say it plain: that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of. Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables. Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself, others by first do no harm or take no more than you need. What if the mightiest word is love? Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light, love with no need to pre-empt grievance. In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, any thing can be made, any sentence begun. On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp, praise song for walking forward in that light.