I felt lost. It was more than a feeling of being lost. An old sensation of not knowing what to do crept up, from my tightly curled toes to the ends of my uncombed long hair. Living in my self-constructed solitude for years, there was nothing I couldn’t figure out on my own, there was not much that hammered nails in my mind. The loss of my brother in 2019 was my black hole. My son living in New York was the absence I filled and fill with calls and texts. My loved ones were and are a phone call and a walk to the other side of the house away.
Love strengthened my heart, but cluelessness was the IT in my room, the monster that haunted me even when I tried to hide from it closing my eyes, hiding under covers, watching shows until I fell asleep, focusing on anything but my untreated pain, finding placebos, smiling thinking I had it all figured out, overwhelming my already overactive mind with loud trivia.
What I felt was beyond my self-definition in terms of my maternal and familial ties. A deep unawareness of where my life was headed was the latest exacerbated bewilderment. There was a perpetual struggle of delineating the “right” course for my life. Wondering why I am not where I thought I should be. Overthinking the tiniest created a gigantic chasm between what was and what should be. One day, feeling completely directionless, one thought planted itself like an undetected tumour in my head: my life is over. I didn’t even feel scared anymore. The acceptance was almost physical. I wasn’t thinking of self-harm. I just knew that nothing was going to change. There was nothing ahead.
Tomorrow. Yesterday. Kal. Eyed wide shut, I huddled between the what-was and what-will-be. Today and now often peeped in, but their entry wasn’t a regular feature. If only I had done that. If only that hadn’t happened. If only I could time travel and undo this and redo that. Kash is one of the saddest Urdu words. When will I meet my son? Will I get that thing that could change so much? When will I have enough money to stop struggling? Do I have a story for my novel? Am I ever going to be how I visualize myself? Is my inner GPS taking me in the right direction? Kal shaped my aaj.
The process was gradual but steady. Unwilling to look within, I waited. I was waiting for life to happen. Something big, something that was extraordinary, something core shifting. For years, my efforts to do something substantial always ended in splattered bits. My all was never enough. Almost-there was the residue of whatever I committed myself to. Some day was my motivational mantra. Despite an overall sense of gratitude for the good in the life of my son and my family and my diurnal nothing-badness, that nagging sensation of this-is-it covered me all over, inside my brain, shuffling in my heart, writhing in the unlit nooks of my soul. Getting out of bed was physically painful. Slowly, the disintegration spread. I let it consume me. Without a protest.
Those few days? weeks? months? felt like forever. Was it depression? Despair? Emotional inertia? One day, I sat up in terror. What the hell was wrong with me? What was I doing? When did I become my own worst enemy? Watching the unravelling of me without a murmur. Within me was a voice, a tad hesitant but unambiguous. Moving through the maze of my despair, it came centre stage, looked around, shook its head, and spoke. Get a grip. Stop. Get up. One step ahead of the other. Move. Act. Not tomorrow, not on some vague date, not in the unknown future. NOW. And I listened. Relief spread in an enveloping warmth.
What will be is not in my control. What IS is only mine. Reaching the stars is a dream, but relishing the sunlight dappling the wooden floor of my room is just a blink away. Where I will be a year from now is unknown but what matters the most is how I treat myself today. The culmination of that thing that I want to be a success is not in my control, how I commit to every aspect of that process is within my grasp. That big milestone is so distant it is invisible, what I have is the willingness to enjoy every step of my journey. Where I will end is irrelevant as long as I know that I’m doing what I love, and I love every bit of it. My tomorrow is not my worry when my today is the best of me. Death is without a notification, life beeps every second.
My son Musa talked to me about namaz last year. That the five times I knelt and prostrated is my instant communication with Allah. That each namaz is and should be a single-minded submission. Just me and my Allah. His beautiful advice took my mind off unfulfilled duas, focusing my attention on the now of the namaz I was offering at that time.
Instead of staying immobile, feeling old and weak and overweight, not joining a gym, and chastising the unfamiliar person in the mirror, I started to work out in my room. Hour-plus daily HIIT workouts, and first time in a long time I began to see a change within a week. Gaining strength and fitness and losing weight was just clicking on Susana Yabar’s short videos. Finishing an hour and a half of working out and feeling calm and fit is a great feeling, fitting into my size six jeans is mere bonus.
Writing is my euphoria, and I experience it weekly when I finish my article for Gulf News. My smile deepens when people I write about text me their gratitude after reading in my intro to their interviews the rare encapsulation of the essence of their work.
Half-forgotten was the joy of writing fiction, of finishing my first story in 2021. Musa’s guidance in writing and editing was the reason I could write fiction for the first time. Then I stopped. More than a year later, I started the second part of what I thought would be my first novel. Pushing away my ambivalence, it was exhilarating to reacknowledge that writing is the most intimate expression of who I am, that it is something that is purely truly only mine. I write and I am happy. And that happiness requires for me to just open my laptop, open the file Part Two—My Novel, and start punching keys to form words that evolve into the story of the characters who are so close to me they are like my old school friends.
Writing to an international publisher and receiving the confirmation that she would read my full manuscript gave me a mental distant deadline. Writing a few hundred words every day, almost every day, is the now-ness to completion of my novel.
There are things that stress me even today. My monetary and other struggles are still real, but they don’t define my emotional stability. In 2021, a neurosurgeon diagnosed the decades old pain in my left temple—unresponsive to medicine, always there, never vanishing—as a sign of constant stress in my life. Now I don’t fight it; I exhale and focus on the now. If it’s not hellish that hour, I’m good.
My two dogs make me smile. A steaming mug of tea in bed is a treat. Finishing NYT crossword puzzle is my high five to me. Having lunch with a friend is a happy afternoon. Hearing from an old friend is the best part of that day. Spending time with my favourite cousins is laughter unlimited for that day. Watching Succession and Euphoria is a reminder of the excitement of brilliant TV. Rina’s Banoffee Pie is my calorie-filled bliss. Rereading Lincoln in the Bardo is time well spent. Listening to a tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez is re-falling in love with timeless literature.
Waking up without an alarm on a freezing morning for my fajr namaz is a blessing.
Wellbeing of my niece and nephews and siblings and best friends is a priceless gift. Beautiful is the laughter of the two children in my house.
Hearing my son laugh is the validation of everything being the way it should be in the universe.
Life is not what we dream of, wish for, the faraway, the monumental. Life is real, here, each moment that is. Life is not everything falling into place. Life is chaos of figuring out. Life is not others controlling it. Life is we owning it. Life is not that huge remote achievement. Life is every joyous little moment. Life is not kab, kabhi. Life is ab, abhi. Life is not kal, tomorrow, the day after, someday, later. Life is aaj today this day now.