Zen & the Art of Soul Repair

Zainab Chaudary

Zainab Chaudary

Just before they take her away for her MRI, my mother removes her rings and asks me to wear them. They won’t allow metal in the room, and she gets four of her rings off easily, but there’s a set of three that are stuck. She frets with them as the orderly situates her in her stretcher.

“The tech will figure it out when you get downstairs,” he says soothingly.

She sits back on the pillows, looking tiny and forlorn in her hospital gown, and asks for her dupatta so she can cover her head. She hasn’t been out in public without her hijab for almost seven years now, ever since my brother was admitted into the hospital he never left. I know she thinks of this as they wheel her away. I know the beeps of the machine bring back memories we’ve all tried to bury. I watch her til the end of the hallway and try to quell all the fears a hospital brings while I wait an hour a half for her return.

I stare at my hands. I’m wearing my mother’s rings and they feel too big for me – not because of their size, but due to the weight of their history. Here are the two rings my father gave her all those years ago: the tiny diamond engagement and wedding rings that he could afford as a Naval officer in Pakistan. They commemorate struggle, sacrifice, the strangeness of a new life in a foreign country. The two other rings are bigger – the diamond circlet he gave her just before my brother got sick, the year we moved into a new house and were happy, the year things came together before blowing spectacularly apart. The princess-cut diamond he gave her this year, to celebrate their 35th year together and all they have endured. I know the permanence of these rings on her fingers is linked to what they commemorate: survival coupled with faith, faith coupled with love.

Wearing her rings still makes me feel like a little girl playing dress up in her mother’s closet. This, despite the fact that I am already ten years older than she was when my father first put the engagement and wedding rings on her finger, already older than when she had her first child and older than when, many years later, her twin boys were born. Younger, though, than the other two rings. Younger than when she lost her child.

My parents are not old, but their frailty frightens me. I had slept badly the night before, insisting on being the one to stay with her overnight, sleeping on the couch in her room and watching her chest rise and fall in the dark while monitors beeped nearby and nurses disrupted our sleep with their hourly check-ins. I had slept badly because suddenly, I was beset with all the things I didn’t know. Ridiculous things like my mother’s recipe for bhindi – something I’ve never learned because I detest okra. I worry that though I know how to cook, I’ve largely branched out on my own, learning new recipes. What if I can’t capture the taste of her food in my cooking? What if I lose stories about her childhood or the location of her old photographs? What will I lose if I lose her?

My parents and I have always been close – but our relationship changed six years ago into something more. I am acutely aware that they look young on the outside, but on the inside they are broken, haunted by the illness and death of their son. And despite all we’ve been through (or perhaps because of it), I am terrified of losing them too. When you reach my age, you see this more and more: parents who are taken ill, children who become the caregivers. It is a burden of adulthood, a rite of passage that we never saw coming.

Loss changes your molecular structure. Your brain filters out the unnecessary, you begin to have less time for the superficial, the meaningless, the bullshit. You see more sharply, you feel more acutely, and you hide your intensity because you know it frightens people who haven’t experienced loss themselves.

When coming to terms with the possibility of living my life alone and ensuring that I am living it to the fullest without waiting for someone to come along and “save” or “complete” me, it is only moments like these that shake my faith in myself. I’ve been through this before, and I have been through it without the support of a romantic partner. But I know that every time I have to endure something like this on my own, I lose a bit of my softness, and I harden a bit of the walls around my heart. One loss does not better prepare you for another. It only compounds a grief that already exists inside of you, one that is a permanent part of your life.


Ammi comes back in the room, and during the course of the day, the various tests find nothing seriously wrong. For this I am thankful – another test passed, another scare survived. These tremors leave tiny cracks in the soul that are repaired with a dash of faith and a more permanent sculpture of character. In some ways, this could be seen as a hardening of the walls around my heart. In others, it is similar to the Japanese practice of “kintsukuroi:” the art of repairing pottery with gold and understanding that the piece is stronger for having been broken.

Read more by Zainab, here.

Zainab Chaudary works in PR and advocacy communications by day, and is a writer and geek 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