“People are the best show in the world. And you don’t even [have to] pay for the ticket.” — Charles Bukowski
You find yourself gazing through some of their windows. Wondering: how on Earth do other people live? How do other people choose to live? Who are these people? Where – and whom – have they been? And where are they going? [And, who, what, when, where, why am I?]
Head resting upon hand, leaning over the table. Wide windows make for real-life television screens, almost. Sort of accidentally-on-purpose. Stage-curtains drawn, dynamically, apart. Or, via Instagram: individuals, and the art galleries they have curated for themselves. What do we come to make of it all?
A glimpse of them practising ballet in their front room, perhaps, canal-side. Painting a picture; carrying out their skincare routines. A selfie. Or, maybe ten. A new boxing hobby. Picking at their skin a little; pulling at their eyebrows. Stretching. Snacking. The ins and the outs, and every single passing moment.
The closer one gets, to a person, the more one tends to come to know, of them. How they might always obsess over the tiniest of details, or how they can so easily get swept up in day-dreams. What they do as soon as they wake up; their go-to composition for a lazy breakfast. The manner in which they come and sit down – or, melodramatically slump down – for lunch. How they prefer to sit, when watching TV. That far-away expression that paints their face, when they are lost – deep in thought. How – and when – they recite Qur’an. Their most favourite parts of their days. Why they may seem so certain, at certain times. And yet, so fragile and falling, almost, at others. [When? And… why?]
Working from home: her industrious typings at the dining-room table – and she also happens to be intermittently fasting – while his chosen space is on the middle floor, caught between two monitors. Phone in hand, spinning on chair. And maybe they have a small child, too. Napping on a sofa somewhere downstairs, for the time being, while Alexa is humming for her a lullaby. A view of picturesque, drizzly and grey England cuts right through their bedroom windows.
Their laughter: four young daughters, playing. Pumpkin plant; apple tree; a cat that has given birth twice within the space of just over a year. The tree’s branches are bare for now, but it tends to come into fruition come late Spring. Equations, incomprehensible-seeming, scrawled across the window in whiteboard marker. The garden table; ceramic ashtray at its centre. You witness these auditory snapshots of their laughter. Hear snippets of heated arguments, too. The echoes that manage to emanate beyond high brick walls.
You’ll feel the good, and
you’ll have the bad too. Because we are made of dirt; of fertile, nourishing earth. Secrets, and laughter, monotony and sighs. Moments, and moments; how time is always passing, and how we spend each of our nights.
Today I learned that the word ‘human’ is thought to be derived from a (proto-Indo-European) word that meant ‘earthly being’. Human: a thing whose corporeal being comes from the earth. And also, back to the ground do our physical forms decay.
The word ‘humble’ is thought to stem from this same root, too. Since we are, each and every one of us, on the physical level, from and of and destined to return to the earth: what justifiable reason could any of us possibly have, to act with Istikbar – arrogance – as though we might be mighty and superior, somehow?
And worldly life is just that, usually: mundane. [From the Latin mundus, meaning ‘world’]. There are the shininesses; the dressing-things-up to show; the snapshots and the images. Zeena, in Arabic. And there are the more complete truths. What goes further than the mere surface level. What we know these lives of ours to be. Deeply, and truly, and in their relative entireties. But also,
Every single thing that you have: did you know that you are likely, in one way or another, enacting somebody else’s dream, right now? You have, for example, the sort of physical ability that they so sorely miss — the type that has long been left behind, to some aged, fading-in-memory days of youth. Back when their elbows and knees did not creak or groan so much; when a walk in the park had been just that. A walk in the park.
Food that fulfils. Rest that regenerates. Cushions for comfort.
Water that flows. Exactly who, and how, when and where, you are here, and now.
Every living, breathing moment. All that is calm, and all that is a little chaotic. The ways through which we learn things. Usually, from others. But in ways that speak best to whom we already intrinsically know ourselves to be.
Also: irrespective of how well-informed or put-together any fellow neighbour human being may appear… Remember that, just as this is your first (and last) time living this life; having this earthly experience… this is everyone else’s first (and last) time here, too. How tender; how actually-rather-reassuring, and conceptually uniting, a thing to think about. That we are all learning – and being – precisely as we are going along. All of us come from rich, humble earth. And, certainly this is where each and every one of us are headed back to.
To live, somehow, a life that does not feel superficially ‘shiny’ or constantly-sunny. And nor should we ever expect for it to. But, to take the necessary good, and the necessary bad. Write, somehow, right between each of these lines. The loops that go up; the curves that extend down. I hope, Insha Allah, that it is a thing of calligraphy that ensues.
I know all this might sound a little cheesy. But, no … all of it does not truly, neatly, ‘efficiently’, ‘make sense’ to me. And I genuinely love that. No two days – no two moments – are ever quite the same. Pouring bleach over all of this, so as to clean it… these beautiful things would also come to die, in the process.
Right now, you see, there are all of these questions; this mystery. This is, kind of quietly, quite the adventure. And one ought to find peace in the fact that this was always meant to be a journey; this was never meant to be the Destination.
You are alive. Human; earthly being, and there is all this grass right there, at your very feet. It is, at once, blessing, and it is struggle: test. You may either stoop down and water it; tend, with due love, to your own garden. Or… you may spend your days imagining that greener grass must exist here atop earthly cradle, but… somewhere other than here or now, in some patch that is simply other than yours.
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021