“When my mother’s eyes were not resting on me, I have never been able to look at her without tears springing into my eyes.” ~ Albert Camus
I’ve been living for 11 years as an expatriate in Qatar—leaving behind the scent of childhood and the warmth of calling a place home.
My mother was dying from a lung disease at the time, and I kept hearing she has six months to live for five consecutive years. You can only imagine what this does to one’s soul.
Looking at the person you love most withering away day after day is like dying a million deaths. Everything perishes when you lose a mother; you’re stripped out of your armor of love—the shield that cared for you and prayed for your well being through a gaze of tenderness. All gone!
How cruel God is, I thought, to take her away. She’s all I had left. Why her? Why us?
“The rich man is at home even when abroad, and the pauper is a stranger in his hometown.” ~ Ali ibn Abi Talib
Don’t get me wrong; I am blessed with a fulfilling path of opportunities and amazing friends I now call family. But I was also running breathless in the desert. My days and nights were sacrificed at the altar of a job, speeding my way out of grief, numbing my existence with an excuse called career!
Yes, my professional choices were always met with a set of intact values and that kept my passion on alert, but I was slowly metamorphosing into a superwoman, and I enjoyed my superpowers—or I thought I did, until a nine year-old stripped me naked to the core of my vulnerability.
“True, I am young, but for souls nobly born
Valor doesn’t await the passing of years.” ~ Pierre Corneille
Around two years ago, everything in my life was falling apart once again; the worst after my mom’s passing. I was packing to move to a new place when I received a message from a relative in Lebanon who occasionally checks on me. I didn’t share anything more than, “Hey, yeah, all is fine. Hoping to be in Beirut for the summer.” But this time, she called urging me to speak to her daughter Eman, whom I actually never met. Eman wouldn’t stop crying because of me apparently, or more accurately for me.
The little angel saw us chatting and queried who I was. Her mother explained that I am a close relative living and working overseas. With all the innocence of youth, Eman asked her a million question about my life. The concept of being alienated from home seemed strange to her; it affected her to the point of coming back from school the next day crying, wanting to check on me, so I had to call to soothe her spirit.
As soon as we spoke, she asked about every detail of my life: Why wasn’t I joining family lunch on Sundays, who do I live with, who makes me soup when I am sick, what if I fall alone at home? I tried to appease her worry with an optimistic clarification to every challenge she reminded me of. I created a fictional narrative borrowed from my superwoman suit, and I felt in control until I asked her if she needed anything from Doha.
“I want you to promise me that you will take care of yourself and you will update me, okay?” she said assertively. “It’s not easy to do all of this on you own, okay? Promise me.” With every nurturing word, my accumulated tears found their way out silently, my whole face trembling as I choked the words, “I promise” with an attempt to remain normal—a vow I was not sure I would be able to keep.
I swear I could feel her little hands wiping off my tears as I was restoring my blurry vision. This girl’s empathy just killed me! She cared. She truly cared, and what freaked me out was that I wasn’t used to this anymore. I was terrified at the realization of how exhausted I truly was, and how much I needed to be taken care of—or to just be!
“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” ~ Leonard Cohen
I started to slow down little by little. I took to journaling like I did as a teenager, practiced daily gratitude exercises, and my brain’s frequency started to rewire. I had a promise to keep and that was to take care of myself.
I wrote down the things I am passionate about, and the values and causes my heart beats for. I started spending more time with people I love and surrendered myself to their kindness. At the same time, I eliminated the toxic ones permanently out of my life, and that’s one hell of a relief.
Eman and I became good friends, and she occasionally steals her mother’s phone to send me a loving voice note. We haven’t met yet in person; it’s one of the things I am looking forward to. I learned to use the power of boundaries and the importance of saying no more often. In other words, I restored my self-respect strongly and firmly. This led me to take some crucial decisions in my personal and professional lives—some are bitter but, nevertheless, necessary.
Waking up from a long hypnotic sleep can be a little disorienting at first, but it helped me set my priorities to a more mindful life, and to restoring my belief in the miracles of our existence and opening up to receive them. I have a long way to go still, but it’s worth every tear that comes with it. At least I am no longer angry for the loss of my mother; I know and feel her presence in every beautiful soul I meet.
“Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.” ~ Albert Camus
We all carry a burden of a sort—a volcano that can erupt at any moment. Eman (which means faith in Arabic) made me admit to myself that I am not well, but that I am also not alone. If miracles exist, she must be one of them. Like my mother, her altruistic care felt like a message from above, as if my mother’s prayers were resonating in this universe capturing a caring soul to send me hope.
I had to catch my breath for a moment to experience this magic. For us all, the moment starts by getting off that train and taking a long walk in the woods to reflect on all the ways we’re missing out. We will always step on a thorn and bleed from time to time, and it’s okay; it’s an essential part of the journey. The wound will eventually heal—maybe a little faster surrounded by trees, but it will surely heal.
Truth is, I no longer thrive to be a superwoman, and I’m done running! I’m just a girl, a vulnerable one, and my strength is fed by love and care. That’s what I want to be, just a simple human, and maybe a little bit more like Eman.
Whatever you are doing, wherever you’re at in your life, slow down just for a bit and tilt your head toward the sky, bring out the hopes of the child in you, and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Cry if you feel like it. Then whisper a little prayer to yourself, to the ones who clear your path, and then let the universe take care of you. It has a way; it always does.
You see, the stars never sleep even if we don’t always see them; you just need to believe!
Author: Reem Saleh
Image: Courtesy of J.D. Urban
Editor: Travis May