At 3.32 am on Monday morning, however, I'm ready to face the week with a great deal of enthusiasm. And it's because of the following people.
My husband's best friend was visiting from the UK this last week and he joined us for lunch one day. This friend has only recently been through a harrowing experience: his two-year old daughter has a rare condition because of which she's been having seizures since birth and her physical development has been slowed down. With every seizure, the chances of brain damage go up and so when no other intervention seemed to be working, her parents opted for brain surgery. It was, as you can imagine, a decision the likes of which no parent should have to take. There are no guarantees in brain surgery. And she is two years old. (Please allow that to sink in for a bit before reading on.) But they did what they had to do and what I'd like to tell you today is the aplomb with which they did it. When I told them that Solom said his first namaz to pray for their daughter, they took the time to thank us and said: 'They just started her surgery. We have left her in Allah's protection.' I remember being taken aback by the strength in that simple declaration of faith. As I told someone later over Twitter, I can't imagine having the courage to let my child go into the operation theatre. I don't think I could actually let either of my sons go, physically, into someone else's arms knowing that someone's about to cut open some part of their body. Even writing it makes me cringe.
And yet, a week ago when this little girl's father was sitting at our dining table, recounting the experience, he was not beating his chest over the horror of it all. He was searching for meaning in what had happened. And he was grateful. "There must be a reason for all this," he said twice. "She was getting the seizures, we didn't know what to do. My transfer to the UK came unexpectedly at that same time, so we could now get good healthcare for her. And think about it, Afia, my daughter was operated on in one of the best hospitals in the world, and I didn't have to pay a penny for it. And she hasn't had a single seizure since the surgery. There must be a reason. Somewhere, there is something I have to do to make up for the way things have worked out for us. I just haven't figured out yet what that thing is."
I very nearly forgot to eat while he was saying this. Because I'll whine and whinge at practically anything you can throw my way and here is this man talking about how he has to repay a cosmic debt because his daughter's been through brain surgery. I was humbled and it gave me some perspective. In the pathetically minor case of Solom not performing at his school parade as I was hoping, I had to remind myself to let go and be grateful that I was lucky enough to even have him, dammit. When looking at the trials others have been through with their children, who the hell cares whether their child says, "I'm a builder" the first, second or third time they're asked? Who cares whether they ought to have been a builder, a pilot or a butcher? Who cares how their school test or interview went? Every other consideration sounds like nonsense when one considers the fragility of this exquisite equilibrium, in which one can carelessly throw around words like 'family', 'children' and 'tomorrow'.
This doesn't mean that I suddenly went from being Mrs. Bates to Mother Theresa. But I spent time with Solom this last week, you know? I read to him more, talked to him more, played with him more. I didn't allow myself to obsess endlessly over his manners, his attire, his speech, his food, his TV time, his posture, his confidence, his performance, his safety, his social life, his feelings... God, the perpetual guilt of having to discipline and then worry about the child's feelings! And so, Solom and I hung out. And we loved being with each other.
It didn't end there. One of the things we'd been really looking forward to for this Saturday was a concert that our friend Azfar Ashary, owner of the Gloria Jean's franchise in Karachi, had helped to put together. Not only was Strings playing, there were also performances by Todd Shea and Lanny Cordola under the banner of Sonic Peacemakers, a movement to forge peace through musical collaboration between countries. I couldn't go, of course, but pushed Azfar-the-husband to make the effort (which he agreed to immediately... surprising, huh?). Anyway, he came back that night full of praise for the concert, the music, the things Shea said and above all, the production. Azfar-the-friend had apparently pulled all the stops out to make this a gorgeous event: comfortable seating, coffee and mineral water for the attendees, excellent music system, beautiful stage - you name it. There was also a four-CD set available (which is now for sale in all Gloria Jean's outlets in Karachi; proceeds all for this good cause) showcasing a mind boggling number of singers and musicians from Pakistan, all of whom had donated songs to this amazing 'musical movement for change'.
I couldn't help but marvel at the passion with which Azfar-the-friend had approached this project. He worked like a maniac to make it happen and showed the kind of attention to detail that only people who know the meaning of the word 'quality' show. As I was listening to the music today, I kept thinking, "Good for you. Good for you, Azfar-the-friend and Sonic Peacemakers, and the 50+ musicians who got involved with this." This was something to be proud of, something that - once again - gave some perspective. If you have to do something for the greater good, make sure it's great, not just good.
It's 5.28 am now and my attention span's wearing thin, as I'm sure yours must be. But I have to mention the two remaining people who made this week as inspirational as it was: my husband's colleague and his wife who've started designing and selling handmade lamps - just because, you know, they want to. Isn't that beautiful? A husband-wife team embarking on an entrepreneurial adventure in pursuit of a shared interest. We went to their company's (christened Tints & Flints) first little foray into the world of commerce tonight at Port Grand's basant mela and found them with their table, their shelf, their panaflex banner that kept falling off the table, and the loveliest lamps you ever saw on display. These two have a bottle fetish when it comes to their lamps, so they go hunting in Karachi's botal gali (bottle street) every week for pieces that grab their fancy and inspire them to create art. Hence there was an Absolut lamp with a gorgeous berry-twig accent, and there was a decanter lamp with a wrought iron accent. All the lamps were lit from within, creating an unreal ambience around their stall. And there they were in the middle of it all, hungry as hell and tired out of their minds but still excited about taking orders and working with customers to create beautiful lamps and, above all, radiating this warmth and love that comes with pursuing what you are inspired to do, with the person who inspires you.
So here's my announcement, in light of all the above. From here on, I am going to work hard to make every day count with my children and my husband. I do not know where fate will take me or them, and while we are here in this particular place in our lives, I'd like to make the most of it. I am going to aim for quality and beauty in everything I do, whether it's setting up our house or writing a short story. And I'm going to do something with Azfar-the-husband... something that we both love to do and that does NOT involve our children. We already have a project going but I want to make a public commitment so that we make sure we see it through. We are writing a book together - a collection of non-fiction 'stories' on a wonderful theme. I can't reveal any more here but some day in the medium-term you will see something out there with both our names on it, inshallah. Consider this a promise.
And on that note, I bid you a happy Monday morning.