“I rarely cry at funerals.”
This was the first line of my last post. Since, it’s been a week filled with funerals – the same topic I (somewhat sarcastically) addressed. Divine intervention has always been quickly dispensed upon me; the Good Lord never wastes any time teaching me a lesson. Alhamdulilah.
Sunday, March 1 was the first time I saw my uncle Yousif cry. It was the first time I saw my uncle Hafeez cry, and the second time I saw my father cry. On Sunday, March 1, I stood and watched as the stereotype that ‘real men don’t cry’ was obliterated before my eyes. Grown men cried so hard they bent at the waist, buckled at the knees, leaned against walls and each other for support. On Sunday, March 1, I watched as the grown men of my family wailed in unbridled grief at news that uncle Mohammed Salih had passed.
I didn’t know my uncle well enough. My first hand knowledge of him is haphazard, a random collection of facts-now-memories that don’t mesh and don’t even begin to give a full picture of the man he was. He used to play the oud, very well. When I close my eyes I see me, a little girl of 8, standing a few feet away from him, laying on his back, oud resting on his chest, strumming and singing Mustafa Seed Ahmed songs. I now realize that if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have known who Mustafa Seed Ahmed was. He had a beautiful voice, and when he sang he closed his eyes, in the same way that I just did to conjure up this memory.
He was a giant of a man. His stature would have been intimidating had it not been for his gentle spirit – khali kan 7aneen. He never shook my hand; even when I extended mine in unnecessary formality, he would scoop me close to him and hug me til my glasses skewed and dug painfully into my face. He often kissed my head, let me go briefly only to pull me back to him again. When he (finally) did shake my hand, his grip was strong and his shake fervent.
Khali Mohammed constantly spoke of family and the importance of closeness. He begged us all to be tight knit, to see each other more, (for the kids) to get to know each other better and be as close as their generation was. He dreamt of rebuilding “the big house” – the home his family and my mother’s shared in their village, Alkawwa. This was often met by almost derisory laughter from my mom and her siblings, “There’s no one left in Alkawwa!” “We’re too old to drive so many hours” “Who has the money to build a house we won’t even be living in?”
I rarely cry at funerals, and I barely cried at his. But I watched tears – real tears – flow from the eyes of his family, his friends, his neighbors, his coworkers. I heard women’s voices crack under the strain of alwasif, each line more pained than the next. I felt it. I listened as everyone around me told stories about him – particularly the days leading up to his death. I found myself annoyed, angry, hurt, and now I realize that it was really none of those, that it was actually panic and it’s because he left such overwhelmingly big shoes to fill. How could we ever measure up to someone who gave so readily, so absolutely, so selflessly? How could we ever, in his absence, be as close as he wanted us to be, when we couldn’t even manage it in his presence?
On Wednesday, March 5, I finally cried for my uncle. I cried in sorrow at his passing, in fear of failing him and, while writing this post, in devastation that I didn’t know my uncle well enough – and that I never will.
Allah yar7amak ya khali, w ysabbir ahalak w a7babak.