The Pigeons of Iraq

“La ilaha illallah! La ilaha illallah!” I looked up from my book of supplications to hear a horde of men carrying a long rectangular box, clad in black. Curiously, I put on my glasses. As clarity hit me, the hairs on my body stood up in alarm. My first time seeing a coffin. Less than ten feet away from me. Merely a few hours ago, the human being now inside the box was breathing. Like me. Soon, I will replace this corpse as my loved ones form a line behind me, pray for the forgiveness of my sins, and leave me six feet within the dark earth.

In an hour’s time, seven dead bodies came and went and fresh tears escaped from my eyes. Windows to our soul, they say. This was the last morning I spent in Iraq. How befitting that it was here, in the shrine of Imam Ali, that I found the truth behind our fragile existence, for which I had travelled 10,000 kilometers. To feel death after having seen it so close behind the wheel at midnight two months ago, a time when I cried out Ya Ali thrice and Ali immediately came to my rescue. The relationship between life and death, between fear and peace, so delicate.

In “A Life Apart,” Neel Mukherjee writes,

“If he could only push the inevitable away to some unspecified point in the future when he was old enough, a proper adult, he would be able to deal with it efficiently and well, but no, it really was happening now. It wasn’t the luxury of a safe mind toying with dark imaginings in terrified fascination any more. At thirteen, he thought twenty-five was the right age for dealing with Big Events; now, at twenty-one, the notion of a safe age turned out to be a mirage, receding further into the distance as one approached a moving boundary. Perhaps there wasn’t really any safe age for him.”

Are we ever ready?  To face the challenges of this transient life. To let go of grudges and heartbreaks, the pursuit of power and wealth. To focus on self-education that benefits oneself, the community, and life after death. It’s now or never.

How befitting that I am on the way to the birth celebration of Fatima, my namesake, the revered wife of Ali, the daughter who soothed the eyes of her father, Prophet Muhammad. Today, my soul returns to Iraq. Yearning for the peace I felt in the shrine of Imam Ali. To be one of the hundreds of pigeons flying inside the shrine, chirping in resonance to the call of prayer calming that last morning I spent in Iraq. To be free.

The Pigeons of Iraq

A boy runs toward the mosque of Imam Ali in Kufa, Iraq. Sunrise, Feb 2016.

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Kairos over two months

Kairos (n.): The perfect, delicate, crucial moment; the fleeting rightness of time and place that creates the opportune atmosphere for action, words, or movement

Origin: Ancient Greek

This past summer, I was lucky to visit London. I realized on the infamous London Eye that as we moved, the scenery changed, albeit to a small degree. Each moment was perfect in its own form. Over half an hour, I had seen different angles of the city. The sun was setting and our ride soon ended. Similarly, life is like a circular machine, during which we have the chance to experience the world for a period of time. It is up to us to keep our ears and hearts open to what the world has to give us at every breath we take.

I took this photograph when I was standing on the London Bridge.

I took this photograph when I was standing on the London Bridge.

For a little over two months, when I heard or witnessed details that lulled or accelerated my heartbeat for a few seconds, I jotted them down. Here, I have composed a choppy compilation of a few of those moments. Snippets from the lives of others weave together with ours to create a shared history. Through these connections, we give and gain support, a communal relationship which makes us human.

For years Angela worked hard at

a department store without fail.

One day we visited and heard that

she’d died. I couldn’t wail.

For her weapon was to always smile.

She’d once fixedly peered at my face:

“You’re lucky to travel for such a while;

new sights transform life’s pace.”

Her words echoed weeks later

as I hurried to my next class, Today’s Russia

pulling closer my purple sweater.

A swirl of leaves shot me into inertia.

132 children forever fell asleep

as Pakistan drowned in bloodshed.

My uncle and his wife in London weep

in joy at their newborn’s bed.

J, a teenaged participant as a start

shared with me her life’s content side:

love for lacrosse, her boyfriend, and art.

Then: a desperate attempt of suicide.

It’s hard to comprehend people’s lives,

their reasoning and reactions.

I must keep trying as the train strives

to prevent my photographing the swans.