The Force Is Strong With This One

The Force

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

– Yoda,  “Star Wars: the Phantom Menace”

We were sitting in a hotel lobby late at night, after our conference had ended, having one of those intense conversations you can only have when you’re both loopy and tired and running on a nervy sort of wired that is hard to recapture when the moment is gone. Somehow the conversation had turned to siblings, and I quietly told her about my brother’s passing four years ago. My new friend looked astonished.

“But you seem like such a happy person,” she said.

I’ll let you all in on a little secret: sometimes the people who seem the happiest are the ones hiding the most pain.

 This time of year is not the easiest for me. December begins the four-month cycle of a timeline I’d rather forget: the emergency room, the coma, the hospitals we practically lived in, the parade of doctors unable to explain anything,  Then, inevitably, in May, losing my brother forever. I can close my eyes and draw up these terrible memories like they happened yesterday, the details replaying behind my closed eyelids. The dates pile up like looming cliff. If I’m not careful, I can find myself buried under a mountain of grief.

Usually I am careful. Usually, I have control over these demons. I compartmentalize like a champ. As soon as they rise to the surface, I hastily package those memories and the feelings that go with them into figurative boxes and shove them to the very back recesses of my subconscious.  The solution is anything but permanent – shadow creatures and monster memories escape occasionally and rampage around my head, like little malicious children jumping on a bed and tearing down a well-ordered room. The slimier ones seep through the boxes (sneaky things) and are harder to recapture. But eventually I wrangle them up and stick them back in their tiny prisons, hoping each time that they will stay put for longer.

I thought things were the worst ever immediately after my brother’s death – that I’d never actually pick up the pieces and feel human again. But I did, and this surprised me. And when I did, that moment was the Big Bang: the explosion of my little piece of the universe. Out of the chaos, planets formed, and galaxies. I’ve been spinning people into my orbit: friends, kindred spirits, creative helpmates, others who’ve experienced what I have and grapple with their own measure of grief. But there are black holes too – the dark matter in a galaxy of light – just as there is a dark side of the Force. I’ve described it in geek terms to friends before – after experiencing death, there are times when you are Darth Vader (numb, unthinking, unfeeling) and times when you are Luke Skywalker (brave, strong, powerful). The switch between the two is often jarring.

Maybe that’s what sets people who grieve slightly apart: we see the balance between light and dark as we navigate a tightrope between the two.  It adds an unexpected element to the process of finding love. When I first meet someone, the safe small talk question “tell me about your family” becomes a minefield. Do you drop the D-bomb right away, do you say it in passing, in an offhand manner or with a pause? How do you alleviate the inevitable awkwardness that follows? Do you move on, do you talk about it? And further on in a relationship, how fair or unfair is it to lean on him when you’re having a black day, one where you could mind-choke a Stormtrooper with the dark power of your mind? How do you relearn leaning on someone again? How do you deal with vulnerability? How do you find the Han Solo to your Princess Leia?

They say (side note: I have no idea who “they” are in this case), “We are all searching for someone whose demons play well with ours.” I take that to mean that we all have our own monsters in boxes in our heads. Allow them to run rampant and you succumb to the Dark Side. Allow them to disappear entirely and your delusional ignorance leads to the mass murder of the Jedi order. The key is finding someone who knows that your monsters can make you who you are and can also be your undoing. You find the person who helps you bring back balance to the Force.

Just slap a lightsaber in my hand and call me a Jedi.

ZainebBrotherZainab Chaudary works in politics by day and as a writer by night. Her blog, The Memorist, ruminates upon travel, religion, science, relationships, and the past, present, and future experiences that make up a life. She tweets @TheMemorist

2 Comments on “The Force Is Strong With This One”

  1. Peter says:

    A wonderful tribute to your brother.
    You have faced the Dark Side and become stronger for it.
    There will come a time when you’ll be with someone, perhaps a date or not.
    For some reason you will look over and half-see your brother, looking at a book he might have liked or just watching the people go past.
    When you turn back to your friend, you will realize that they knew what you were seeing and they don’t say a word about it, just take you over to get some chai.
    That’s a friend.

  2. Thank you for this most moving post. I’ve heard it said that the worst loss is when a parent loses a child. But I have to think that losing a sibling (especially a younger one) is almost as terrible. When my sister passed away at the age of 48 from congestive heart failure, I just went numb for a long time. I would rather not elaborate but there is some weird kind of comfort in knowing that other people who lose a sibling face the mental and emotional challenges. This kind of experience goes far beyond any belief system to the point that faith labels don’t have as much meaning. One change it made in me was that I do try to see everyone as ‘family’ in a larger sense. So, hugs to you my sister. Carry on!