For an hour in the morning and another in the evening, I have the distinct honor of riding the BART to work. I wisely spend that time answering work emails, reading food blogs, and scrolling through Instagram. Oh, and I people watch because golly, the most “interesting” things happen on BART. Like the time a Paris Hilton look-alike demanded a separate seat for her tiny chihuahua on the crushingly crowded morning commute where people have lost limbs trying to score the last seat. Oh, or the time some guy thought he was Kanye West’s double and insisted on rapping the whole way. Leather pants and all.
But aside from the BART characters, the overwhelmingly majority of people have a glazed expression on their faces as they stare at their phones or in the distance. More often than not, the air is rife with a general apathy (and the smell of old laundry). Occasionally, someone will get on with a laughing baby and no one will look up. Or an elderly person will get on and no one will bother to offer a seat. It’s truly apathy at its finest and that nothingness is so much worse than actual anger or malice because being malicious requires some effort. Some thought. But to do nothing is an indication that you just don’t care and that is truly concerning.
My son loves running around in circles. I mean that literally. He’ll grab a favorite hat or bear and sing and dance while running in circles through the house. As great as he finds it, I personally do not like running around in circles. And yet this is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past three months with my insurance company. Due to an error on their end, my son’s claim did not get processed properly, leaving us to foot the bill. They acknowledge their error, advise us to do XYZ, and then weeks later, say whoops! We were supposed to actually do ABC, and then we run in circles again once more.
It’s not the end of the world. Sure, I’d rather spend the money on a nice outfit and some shoes. Or a lavish meal at a fufu steakhouse. Or fifteen orders of Vietnamese Pho. But at the end of the day, worst case scenario, if we have to pay it, the sky will not collapse upon our heads. It’s just frustrating. Unfairness is frustrating. Being on the phone with a squirmy baby, a hollering toddler belting out twinkle twinkle little star with the intensity paralleled only by a Metallica concert, while getting transferred from department to department until I’m back where I started – I might as well have had a conversation with my bathroom mirror for all the good this did me. Not a fun way to start off my morning.
I know some people are naturally centered and calm in the face of stresses both big and small, but I remain a work-in-progress as my natural inclination is to feel a hard knot of frustration building in my chest that even twenty-five koala bears doing incredibly cute things like chewing bamboo shoots while batting their eyes could not properly diffuse. And the problem with the frustration isn’t the frustrating thing itself, but the domino effect it can have on a day.
I often wonder about love after death.
After the bodies are buried, janazas are done, and people become memories – how do we love souls then? Is it in the past, like a faded memory? Does loving end when the grief ends? Can we continue to love, and have our lives shaped by that love, after the person is gone? What if…. they never actually really leave? How do we love through transitions into the hereafter?
This past July, I went to South Asia to caretake (“babysit”) my maternal grandfather for a couple of weeks while my aunt was out of town on business. He was a strong, tall, gregarious man, always the center of attention. He had just had his 86th birthday, and aging had taken its toll after the recent deaths of my Nani and two years later, my Ammu.
“‘I love you’ scares me,” he admitted, looking nervous. “I’m not sure I know what it even means.”
I sighed with exasperation. It means everything, I thought. You could paraphrase it as I see you. Better yet, I read you. There’s nothing else important to say, really.
I didn’t become a hopeful romantic because of rom-coms or Disney. I grew up without a television in a progressive household, and though my parents have a marriage suitable for any American dream story, I was raised to be an independent thinker. My parents turned gender roles on their heads and upended social norms about race and consumerism without ever uttering words like “feminism” and “capitalism.” Without a TV, books were my first love. Saturdays at the library were the highlight of my week as a child, where I’d pile volume after volume into stacks so tall I could barely carry them. I’d drag them home and arrange them beside my bed in order of decreasing appeal, so the book that most excited me was on top of the pile, ready for me to grab when I woke up on Sunday morning to start my day by reading.
They tell you that to just focus on yourself. The instructions are to become a good Muslim. You pray and you fast. You do not talk to girls or smoke or hit the clubs. You remain virgins while focusing on your careers and education. First you get the bachelors degree because no parent wants a salary of less than $80,000 a year. Every parent you know insist that it is for the best that you save up money and get ahead in your career development.
You listen because you love your family.