I listen to the sweet lilting of a Persian poem, perched softly on my bed. It has been a long day. The sun came out in all her summer glory and then the clouds gathered and had their say. It rained a while. Then the breeze picked up, wrecking havoc with my hair and going deep into parts of me I barely remember. A day, I muse, is a metaphor for an entire life. There is a dawn and a dusk, and a span of time in between. And then there is sleep.
Maan aanam keh az sang, aaiyineh saazam, says the voice in my ear. It is a verse from Iqbal- it is I who make a mirror out of stone. I think about the stones we clamber over in our search for life and love and meaning- and the price we pay. In the story of me, I go back to that one night seven long years ago. That night, I felt like I was grabbed by the armpits and flung off a cliff in one cruel swoop. The mighty ocean battered on the rocks below, and between those merciless rocks, I became ten thousand glistening bits of bone and flesh for cormorants and gulls to feed on. The ocean reached out her clammy fingers and claimed what she could. What little thread of life still ran naked and desperate on that shore fled deep into the caves. What rocks and stones, she would say. What does this ugliness want with a fucking mirror. The tide ebbs and flows with the moon, and the seasons ebb and flow with the sun, and not one of those mighty lamps could ever penetrate the darkness that was my home.
Maan aanam keh az zahr, noushineh saazam, sings the voice in my ear. It is the last verse of the song- it is I who extract the cure out of poison. I ruminate; cure and poison, life and death. Each one slumbers deep within the other. Sleep arises out of wakefulness and wakefulness arises out of sleep. But, dear reader, death is not a gentle visitor. When she claims a part of your heart for her own, she leaves a black poison behind. That night seven years ago, all ten thousand pieces of me screamed as I watched them carry my father’s funeral away. Then the tide came in and even the gurgling was silenced. With each crashing wave, the quiet became a palpable, living thing. In the cavernous dark- who knew where the poison flowed. Who knew.
And yet in seven long years the death that haunted my every step was not his absence. That gut wrenching shattering- that crash that must have made the stars flinch- because dear god did they not hear? Did they not hear me scream as I was split into ten thousand? Did they not hear the keening in that blackness, where I lurked endless summers and winters? Did they not hear me forget so much that light itself became a whimsical dream? That shattering was the shattering of me, the death of me. One can find peace by a graveside and watch the flowers grow tall. There is life in that death. But where is the life in the face in the mirror? Who is that? Who would carry that burden now? For years, and years, and years- I threw rocks at that mirror.
That is grief, dear reader. The one we love is forever a burning talisman in our hearts. They flow in our veins. Their story is, for a time, at an end. Grief is taking the stones that shattered our old corpse and letting them tell us the next part of our own story. Grief is polishing them into a mirror and looking at that stranger in the eye. Grief is slowly stretching your hand out toward her. Grief is letting her begin her story. Watch her gulp down the poison burning your throat, watch her die. It is I who extract the cure from the poison. Tomorrow is a new day.
Seven years later, I sit on my bed, talking to you. Grief has been so deeply private for me, even as I watch almost everyone around me experience it in one form or another. Like a germinating seed, grief needs the still and dark silence to reach her fullness. And I swear to you- no matter how the sands of time swirl and blind you- when she bursts forth from that dark silence the stars will flinch again. This time, they will flinch in awe. The cliff is you, the rocks are you, the ocean is you. The lights are you and the dark is you. The stones are you and the mirror is you. The poison is you and the cure is you. The death, too, was you. And the life that explodes from it- will also be you.
Maan aanam keh az sang, aaiyineh saazam
Maan aanam keh az zahr, noushineh saazam
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