Does it matter that I say a prayer to the Christian god each night but still take heed of what the fortune teller says? What we believe in is largely bound to who we interact with.
Before having the ability to form thoughts, babies are carried in their mother’s arms to the altar for baptism. Before learning the purpose of crying, baby boys lay on sterile beds to be circumcised. Then, when toddlers begin to make meaningful gestures and sounds, they are taught to put their hands together in prayer or bow their heads in respect of ancestral tablets. When they come of age to enter pre-school, they learn that teachers make you sing hymns or perform rituals before lunch. They see no other way but to follow. Also, at this time, they make their first best friends in Sunday school or the mosque or the temple.
Soon, they grow up to enter Primary schools which are mostly secular. They learn that different races have different religions or traditions of belief but they don’t know much or rather, they don’t bother. Their lives remain closely bound to their family. They go to church with their parents or attend Friday prayers with their fathers, no matter if they like it or not.
Finally, they enter Secondary school and begin to achieve some sense of autonomy. They begin to question their own identity and this is when it all may change. They may refuse to wear yellow amulets around their necks or cover their hair with head scarves. They may choose to discover other religions if their friends come along. It may become ‘happening’ to be seen at a mega church event or be seen meditating by the beach. Religion or belief becomes a social thing.
Then, teenagers become adults. Some begin to realise the lack of need for religion and binge watch Christopher Hitchens’ YouTube videos while others begin to discover the beauty of faith in leading them through the tumultuous stage of adulting. At this time, they no longer attach themselves so closely to families or friends. They form an independence in thought and feeling, to some extent.
Then, adults approach the end of the road…and I don’t know.
As I ponder the single act of shutting windows, I return unwittingly to my childhood. I perceive myself in the room with my sisters. It is beginning to rain and I can hear the wind howling. Always, it would be my eldest sister bolting upright to shut the windows. I remain blissfully asleep. Then, I perceive myself in the room with my twin sister. It is beginning to rain and my father or mother turns the knob slowly, gently and quietly. He/she regards our sleeping forms and closes our windows quickly. Then, he/she realises that I have woken, and leaves half-apologetic, half-urgent. Now, I return to Now. I wake in the middle of the night to shut all windows. My parents are sound asleep and rather old…
Eventually, we will all experience a profound sense of loneliness. We will realise that however close we are to others, we will still suffer intimately, excessively, alone. This assumed isolation from others may drive some to despair and others to desperation; we seek and thirst for attachment. Yet, what isolation do we know of when we have already acquired language, and through language, meaning and association. What loneliness do we speak of when we can already see, hear, speak and write. The multitude of blind, deaf and mute cannot begin to express their sense of separation from the rest of the world. They cannot even assert their loneliness as superior to ours, for we do not know them at all.
A female emerges and disappears throughout her lifetime. First, she disappears as a child, to be seen but not heard; to be encapsulated in dolly adjectives and little else. Then, she emerges as a blooming flower but she hides. Oh, how she hides. Her beauty is uncertain, unclear and her heart remains hidden beneath layers of doubt and even shame. The world regards her unfurling but she silently weeps. Alas as a lady, she emerges to find her place in the world; yet she disappears with her gentleness, her softness and kindness. The world of men would not treat her right and give her what she deserves, for she is not loud enough to demand. Then, as a wife, she disappears behind her powerful man. Her silent tears fill her faithful bosom, which rises and falls unnoticed. Then, with the first seed growing within her, she emerges as a mother-to-be, for all to shower with attention and care. Yet, as her child emerges, she disappears once more, to enwrap her child with all of her.
Yesterday, a ten year old girl asked, “Are you emotional?” I replied confidently, “Yes, I am.” Then, a huge smile stretched across her face and our conversation went elsewhere.
I have almost forgotten this precious moment in the midst of all moments when working with kids. At every stage, these kids face a multitude of insecurities, fears and challenges. At ten, this girl is probably beginning to feel insecure about herself, about her identity as a girl. She might have been laughed at or criticised for being emotional. It might have caused her to doubt her capability, her worth and the fullness of her character. With my simple and straightforward answer, I have given her a boost of confidence and acceptance, to be just as emotional as one can be. We ought to embrace and appreciate the emotional side of ourselves for I have done many things with the strength of emotions. I have cared for children when they were sick, listened to people in need and wrote alot of poems to alleviate the general suffering of life.
It is important to tell your girls and boys that they can be emotional, that it can be a strength to be emotional. Teach them to channel emotions into compassion and empathy.
Peel my petals
one by one with
every womanly task.
Seal my lips
with threads of gold
for compliance is in
every woman’s nature.
Balm my heart
with cold command
for jealousy belongs
to man alone.
Cloak me in
so I may pretend
to bloom once more.
I wish to see
myself across this
sea of trials and
and faith; I am
my own hand
and I lift myself
out of thy miry clay.