Last week, I wrote about my attempts not to lapse into an emotional quagmire of the past. In a conscious effort to avoid that, this week I have busied myself in other things.
The first of those is a full focus on my own ‘children’. I use that word ‘children’ in its loose sense since my sons are more young adults and not as dependent on me like they used to be. As it is holiday season, we are almost all together again at home except my middle son has been forced to isolate in his university dorm having tested positive for Covid recently. Alhamdulillah, he is not showing any signs of physical enervation and I pray he will be home in time so that we can all be together even for a short time, inshaAllah. Although I regularly talk to my sons via phone or video calls, those can never replace seeing them in the flesh. That’s something this pandemic has made us learn to cherish – being able to meet face-to-face with our loved ones and hug them.
It’s been two years since Covid first appeared on the world stage and, no doubt, society has been forced to do some internal reflection along the way. It isn’t just about the nature of the illness itself but the fact that it has taught us to appreciate the things in life we had otherwise taken for granted. As I sit here, lamenting the absence of my son whilst the rest of us are reunited, I wonder about the absentee parents around the world who voluntarily remove themselves from their children to pursue whatever it is that is far more pressing than their own families. (I am not talking about dysfunctional families since it’s obvious that those toxic situations should be ended as soon as possible.) What possesses a person to wake up one day and upset the perfect balance and say, “I can’t do this any more. I have to get out and find a new life for myself…”? In my own case, I have told myself countless times that the derision or apathy towards me from my ex-husband was clearly the deciding factor in his departure. There was something about me that disagreed with him enough to make it worthwhile to forsake his own children too. That thought has played over in my mind countless times. However, recently I actually realised that I needed to stop blaming myself. The simple truth was that he chose himself over everyone else. He chose not to try to fix something. The easier and more cowardly option was to walk away. It was also the more selfish option.
I am only separated from my sons because of their university education and now Covid; I couldn’t imagine choosing to chase my own selfish dreams at the price of not seeing them as often as possible. Maybe I have never been as driven in my career or maybe my bucket list was never as ambitious as it should have been. However, whatever goals I have set for myself, somewhere within them there has always been – and will always be – a consideration of my children. All my dreams and desires are secondary to my children as long as they are not yet fully independent people themselves. I guess that’s what separates mothers from fathers. We forsake our own goals in the interest of our children -and sometimes our husbands – only to realise decades later that there was so much we neglected within ourselves as a result. Of course, I know there are fathers who have singlehandedly held the fort too but I am confident that they are a very rare breed.
Having put my own ambitions on the back burner for so long, I am now at a junction in life where I can begin to put myself as the priority a bit more often. For starters, I have become involved in a small charity and the other day, met up with the team to plan future projects. I was simply in awe of being in the company of such an eclectic mix of people. Looking around the table, I noticed that although we were all Muslims, we each represented diverse corners of the world from Ireland, Sudan, Yemen, Bangladesh, Mauritania, Chechnya to Singapore. How amazing is that? The collective life experience we brought together in that room would have been enough to write a book on! It’s these kinds of encounters and exposure to other cultures that has always intrigued me. It’s because I know there is not only one way to exist and that within the Muslim world itself, the variety of ethnicities, cultures and traditions is so wide, it makes it all the more astonishing that this religion has the ability to unify us. It’s also why I don’t believe being static in one place for too long is a fulfilling experience. I would happily pack up and move onto a new country, even for a short time, if it was a choice I could make. There is too much of the world I haven’t seen and would love to still.
Meanwhile, I will try to keep my thoughts focussed on the future. I know there will be days when I become numb to everything but I’ve learnt to simply ride that wave and not go under. For the most part, Alhamdulillah, I am still moving forward. I feel excited as much about my sons’ achievements in time to come as I do my own, inshaAllah. I know they realise too that even Mother still has goals she wants to conquer in her latter years. Some I have already crossed off my list but there are a few more outstanding. Even if I run out of time, at least I can take comfort knowing I never gave up.