My rose bush has died a thousand deaths, but it has always come back again. When it would be watered has always depended on my mood. Our yard went through a terrific drought in California. It was very costly to keep the sprinklers going. With the severe sun and heat, every blade of grass in our backyard died. But through the Mercy of Allah, a few roses survived and depended on me to water them. The rest of the yard became covered with weeds and dirt, which made me very unhappy. We lost several trees including a red maple, which I loved.
When trees die, even when our neighbor cuts a tree down, I feel a million deaths inside. Trees are a part of me, being from Massachusetts. But I would go through these depressions, and it would cloud my vision inside. I would angrily think, If no one else cares about these my trees and roses, why should I care? Especially, when I get myself into these situations where I have been hurt, and want to hurt something back, watching these roses and trees die hurts me even more.
I think about my relationships with other human beings. I have a difficult time with boundaries and holding back. I lost so much in my life, in losing my family, that I do not want to lose again. I don’t want to get hurt. It tends to be one-sided because I am very simple and childlike dealing with my relationships with people in trust. Actually, I just want to feel connected with others and feel accepted and be a part of this world like everyone else.
I lost so much in my life, in losing my family, that I do not want to lose again. I don’t want to get hurt. It tends to be one-sided because I am very simple and childlike dealing with my relationships with people in trust.
But as much as I want this, there is a veil between others and myself. I feel that it is difficult to get too close. Although I am very friendly and want to help others as much as I can, I feel very much alone except for my husband and children. I have my own way of looking at things. I could never conform to anything except to what I felt was right. I feel a great sense of right and wrong. I have a stark sense of Reality.
Because of this non-conformity and way of looking at things, I have lost friends along the way. I am very loyal, and it pains me as much as losing these trees. Loss is like the death of a tree once I love someone. If I lose someone, I feel the pain for a very long time.
I am a mix of two cultures. My culture is a mix of being American and Bengali. I cook Bengali food and wear Bengali dress at times, and wear a nose ring. Americans don’t know what to make of me. Some think I am a foreigner. My Islamic name is Bushra. My father in law, my Abba, gave me this name; it means “the one who brings the gospel/good news to the people.” I proudly use that name. I am a mix…I am not totally Bengali, and I am not totally American. Bengali friends will mix among themselves. Other Americans don’t know what to do with me. I no longer fit into my own culture.
So I get hurt, and don’t water my roses, and feel a great cloud hovering over me, between me and my relationship with God. I feel very lonely.
But there are times that we are reminded about the true meaning of our existence. For one, my life is now very short on this earth. I will be 60 years old next year. My mother died at my age of a massive heart attack. Among many of my friends, they have major health problems; some are in pain every day. I have several friends with severe forms of arthritis, friends who have to take insulin shots every day. I have friends who have lost their husbands to cancer. Some who are now dealing with it themselves.
Loss is like the death of a tree once I love someone. If I lose someone, I feel the pain for a very long time.
Outside of my comfortable home, there are wars, homelessness, and other situations. People divorce and children don’t talk with their parents. People grow old alone. I think of my family’s health situation and how we are happy just to have one more day to spend with each other. We forget the outside world, and we are just happy to have just that one person among us. We forget the others, and the drama of losing and keeping. We remember what it is to live in this moment, and just be happy that we are alive.
I have to be reminded of my own purpose in life. Not everyone has found his or her purpose. My purpose was to be a good wife and mother, despite a debilitating mental illness, and to break the cycle of abuse that was in my family — that is above all else. My being an artist and writer is all secondary to that. I didn’t have a career. The fact that I was able to raise my children was a privilege.
In the same week, I am reminded of both life and death, and loss and gain, and the in-between. My friend’s niece had a baby boy. I cry every time I see a newborn. I can just taste the immensity of the miracle, in bringing forth a newborn. I relish it and am in awe of the miracle as I hold the child in my arms, who will also go through gain and loss throughout life, and make peace with it.
With pain in my heart, I realize that I truly do care…. And the problem is that I care too much.
So instead of thinking of loss and gain, of life and death, and feeling sorry for myself, I am at peace at the moment, in being alone. I have gone out to the garden to clean out the dead branches of my rose bush, and the dead leaves. My rose bush is blooming, and we have planted new trees, which I watch as if they were my babies. With pain in my heart, I realize that I truly do care…. And the problem is that I care too much.
Whether we exist in this world alone or with others, God is present. He watches me rake and weed my garden, and tend to my roses.
Stephenie Bushra Khan is a converted Muslim, a poet, and local artist in Temecula, California. She is originally from Winchendon, Massachusetts.
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