And: to be human means to be born, amid push, and pull, and bright lights – spotlight – to a world waiting, standstill,
and with bated breath,
for your very arrival. Welcome to this world, but know that it is not – and can never be – your Heaven.
Women huddled around, knowing, almost precisely (almost), what to do. Life bleeding forth, gushing, as it does. And here we are, trying to make the ugly, beautiful all over again. And to be human means
Falling off your bike, for the first time. Knowing what a paper-cut feels like: the searing, though ‘small’-seeming, pain. The first lick, come summertime, of a lemonade ice lolly; the subtly disastrous accidental bite of the wooden part of the Magnum. [Blergh]
The instinctual knowing that… nails on chalkboards? Not a great thing. And to be human means
to cry: not merely once, or twice: a thousand-and-one unexpected times,
which come, fill the eyes and the heart, and [it’s okay, they]
But the way that tears might leak out when a hamster or rabbit of ours ceases to breathe. Losing a friend. Or when you had no idea that this would be the last time you’d seen them, before Jannah (Insha Allah).
These things don’t really always make full sense, in these moments. But they have to happen. At some point, though maybe not today, you will see why.
Dear Reader: I encourage – challenge, even – you to think about a very embarrassing moment from your life’s story. Really… imagine it. Conjure it up in thy mind’s eye; ‘relive’ it. And here you are: it’s true. You’re human.
Human is: the first time you touched an earthworm. They told you that if you cut it in half, it would become two, but you found you could not bear to look. Blood, too: the way it can ooze, and trickle, and drip and fall.
How to make an origami rose. How to fold a Tesco bag, to fit neatly into a drawer. The way the sunset trickles in to the cabins of the DLR: the view of the city. How it felt when you first realised… whatever it was, that you realised. To quote my beloved friend’s adorable little cousin (who is hence, therefore, my cousin. I miss him so much. He still hasn’t bought me that Lamborghini though) Danyal, “a hundred million fousand” times.
To be human means: to accidentally fling a rubber band right into your first crush’s eye [a summary of I, as a person]. The buzz that spelling tests – or, BLEEP tests, perhaps, in your personal case – used to give you [ya little show-off]. The knowledge that you prefer sweeter foods, to savouries, (or perhaps, for you it is the other way around).
Fight to be heard. Then yearn for something quieter, less ‘known’. Fight to do good things with this life of yours: it is precious. Subhan Allah.
The chlorine-drenched scent of swimming pool; that song you would find yourself humming – though you don’t quite know why – in the bathroom, most mornings before school. To be human is to have one’s feet ache and ache, after a clambering walk up a mountain in Scotland: and when those hills touch the sky. [Wow.]
To be human means to know what it is, to (really) smile. Laughing, and when you just don’t know why, and can’t even stop. Like the quietest, and still, most fiery, ball of
yellow, up from your stomach, tickling its way up and out. ‘Ugly smiles’, ugly laughter: so paradoxically beautiful. Rainbows spilling from oil spills. To be human is to feel
Loss, grief. Nostalgia, and all that it glosses over: a burning dullness. Blackness. Goodbye, and no more words: you can’t eat, can’t sleep, anymore, for the longest time.
Words: the first time you said “hello”. The first time you noticed the little birthmark on your left, or right, pinkie finger. Those dreams you always found you had, at age five, or six, or seven. Engineer, astronaut, chef, journalist, footballer, scholar, and the rest. The first time you used the word ‘alcove’ or ‘abstemious’ in a sentence.
And all the most beautiful things, here, are so effortless. As organic as fruit-farm apples, picked, and then weighed and priced. No planning for them; just… no telling. They come, and they go, and we try to cut things, and fold them: into neat images for scrapbooks, ‘aesthetics’, experiences made ‘definable’, though these things are, by nature, anything but. Beautiful, breathtaking, subtle, sometimes, paradoxical. You’re planning all these things; Allah is planning, for you, even better.
“So tell me the way home.”
Breathe, little big human.
Hands of the Almighty. Divine Plans: the best kind. Far better than anything at all that you could possibly ever have in mind.
The first time an owl had sat perched, on your hand: the firmness of its claws, and how you could never keep your hair neat, at school. To speak, and to have a steely wordless glare thrown right back at you, a tut, a sigh, a violent “MOVE.”; to mess up, and to say all the wrong things out loud. Trip over seeming air. Laugh it off, though. “Woah man, I could have died.“
The way it would feel as though spiders had been crawling up and down those walls; there are ghosts, maybe, in the attic, and figurative skeletons in these cupboards. An ‘Ankle-Grabber’, even, hiding under your bed. The dread that sat there, in the pit of your stomach, while you drank so much milk, it felt like you would drown under it. She walked off; you felt the weight of what it felt like, to be so left behind.
To be human is to spin – ebulliently, holding both hands of your then-best friend – in the kitchen. To be human is to, for a while, lose complete sight of who you are. “When terror falls upon your bed, and sleep no longer comes.” [T.F.]
To be human is absolutely to be covered in grief, fear, shame: complete, and full, a quietly-incandescent mystery: a red-faced curled-up ball that enters this world, shrieking and wailing. Lost, thinking it might be blind. And we did not get to choose to whom, or where, we were born: Allah did. We arrived, and
We met kind eyes, and cooing ones, for the first time. And somebody stayed up with us, for so many nights, feeding, and telling us who our people are; where on Earth our worlds are. Who are we? Where might we fit in?! We crawled – and then walked. Ran for a while, and then had to rest, and climb, and crawl, and walk – right through a world in which we had no business, in staying.
And each night had been a new night: each dawn brought with it the turning of some new page. I’m scared of growing older: I think everybody secretly is. I’m quite scared of dying: all my chances will be gone, then. I’ll meet Eternity: I’ll meet it when – not if – it comes. [And don’t we want for our graves, to be gardens, at the end of all this?]
To be human is… pins-and-needles. And when you first learned of their name. In one tongue, and then the same thing, but different, in your other one. It’s the first time you remembered remembering something, and then you forgot it: and that was it. Nowhere to be seen again. Stress, frustration.
Questions of, what if?
The similarities that will bind us: recognition. The differences that will intrigue us, now and forever, and which we learn, and discuss, and debate. Comfort, “I finally feel seen!” and ‘I get you’. And, also: what a fascinating different way of seeing this. What a different life journey to my own. Much to bond over, and to explore. This I know for sure:
Eye-bags beneath tired eyes, which still speak so much of animation. Who knows what he hides, beneath those gloves? Who knows the sort of world she had been born into? The number of times she had to change schools? Who his favourite neighbour is, and why?
I had – or, have, as I hope – an old friend. ‘Quiet’ girl, quite tiny… until she physically beat up our other friend (as a joke. I had ‘interesting’ friends, and we were not very ‘normal’ together, and I feel like things were more fun that way). Her handwriting: I can basically close my eyes and conjure up, in my mind’s eye [can you believe that we human beings have ‘mind’s eyes’?!] an image of it. Sweet-seeming, and with something, also, quite unique to it.
She had been the type to send you a note, in class, randomly, with something like, “I am going to kill you. *flower picture*” on it. She would respond to most of the happenings around her with, “Oh.” I think she could have gone entire days without talking to, or smiling at, anybody. Her mum would invite us round, to eat noodles at her house: we would play racing games together, on the Wii; study, go to Sainsbury’s to hit the bakery section! Effortless, ‘organic’, even, in that saccharine multi-coloured fluorescently-lit palace of cake, in our joint humanness. And when I met her little sister: six-year-old and sassy; she would put on her kiddie-glasses, and then my friend and I would instantly be made to become her security guards, her aides, walking, holding her hands, on either side of her. Tiny people can be… quite quietly terrifying, you know. [Do not mess.]
Relatedly: the ‘good’ girl in that History class. Clever, contributive, a kind smile. And when I caught her randomly (and not daintily) kicking her friend’s chair, in front of her. She didn’t even explain herself afterwards: just… carried on smiling. This is normal.
Human is: frustrations that come, part-and-parcel, of not-knowing. And human is: our heads and faces lost, in Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram: check, check, check.
And it’s when I saw Z Khala again, on the way home, that evening, near the swimming pools. [Everybody that Allah puts in our lives]. And I learned that she’s the same Myers-Briggs type as me. H Khala too: after years, there she had been, still trainers, still brave and outspoken, Palestine flag coming out of her bag: still the same old her.
An individual human being: as synecdochically unique – and there is so much to each of us – as a fingerprint. Handwriting. Types of shoes. Voice.
Bedroom decorations; morning routine. Ongoing illnesses? Phobias? Do you feel the urge to burst out laughing, when things aren’t funny at all? [Like once, somebody mentioned something about… a kidney infection or something. And I saw someone else there who seemed like she’d been fighting the urge to laugh. And then! Her eyes met mine, and I had to wage war on my need to burst out laughing, and thereby potentially coming across as an actual psychopath.]
Accidentally-on purpose racing with strangers, cycling: a silent nod to challenge. And then being far too awkward to make eye contact with them at the traffic lights after lowkey-highkey beating them.
One of my (favourite) colleagues likes to wear flannel jackets and football shoes into work. Likes to eat Subway; recommends oat smoothies to clear skin. Pakistani, finds it hilariously surprising, how Bengalis tend to pronounce it. Little things like this. So many human beings upon this Earth, Masha Allah; just so much to our world, and to each and every one.
And it’s that kind of sweet, kind of strange moment when your lil homies – who say that you are annoying sometimes, and they say that you are also their friend – want to do something a little strange. And: “Do you dare me?!”
“Okay then. Fine! I’ll do it.”
Two ballpoint black pens resting on a table. Be real, even when (even though) it is not always the most ‘Jannah-like’ stuff: in truth, we have to wait for all that.
So tell the truth, and live it. A pencil; a ruler, to complete the set. Some of us had been, and still might be, the more ‘perfectionistic’ ones. Others: handwriting explosive, looping upwards, and down. And she had been afraid of even trying: this lack of effort had been ‘self-protective’. While he had tried to make the other boy feel bad. Really, though, they had both been scared. Fear,
Prick the surface a little; probe and inquire, and you will find that we all bleed:
Loneliness, ache, and terror. Shame, weakness, and Hope. Pretence, and then the truth that must come out. We are both sons, daughters, of Ādam; we know one another, very well, already.
“But the world looks better
Through your eyes.” [E.S.]
Leather jacket, motorbike; maybe his pet goldfish is called Princess Jennifer or something, at home. And he has a secret fear of… bridges; hates it when people use the word ‘PENG’. Pretty and stylish clothes, headscarf pinned perfectly, jean jacket, the best trainers all the time. Maybe she much prefers mountains to beaches; used to love playing golf, and somewhere beneath this surface, still very much does; has this (secret-to-strangers, but known-to-home) undying love for… Wotsits or something. Maybe she has a Wotsits cupboard at home; on Eid her sister knew to screen-print her a Wotsits-themed ‘rona mask or something. [Members of this human race of ours can, Masha Allah, be, among other things, very clever and creative].
Maybe ‘big man’ is not really so scary at all: maybe he can’t sleep unless he’s wearing, specifically, Tottenham pyjamas. Has a unique fascination with… caterpillars, may-haps. Dreams about ’em, sometimes, even. Curls up into the smallest possible ball: foetal position. [Mankind is born weak, and in struggle]. Has a favourite orange mug, which he likes to eat Coco-Pops out of, while spinning on a computer chair, working from home.
[Because Wallahi, we are all actual babies that got big.]
And a human being is made up of many, many things.
And if ‘cool’ means unbreakable; always ‘stylish’, ‘fly’ and ‘put-together’, then: so help me. Because everyone, just like you, is forever learning, breaking, unbreaking, crumbling, and being beautiful. We need comfort, here, and this also takes a crud-ton of courage.
We find ourselves standing, alone, though surrounded, on shaky ground, while time just will not stop moving. To be human, here, is: about, maybe, eighty birthdays, each one year apart. And every single thing that will happen to us, and from us, in-between.
There are only so many hours in a day; only so many days in a life.
“If you’re so comfortable,
you aren’t growing.” This life is struggle. Anything else, here, is only stagnation, indolence. Meaningless.
To be human is such intense joy, and comfort; pleasure, and agony. Fast-paced, anxiety. Listlessness, ennui. Feeling boxed-in; ‘misunderstood’. When does something happen? Pendulum swing: why won’t things stop happening? Sleeplessness, depersonalisation, and… breathe. This life will be over, for us, fairly soon. To be human is: to forget. Of this fact, as well, sometimes.
Human is questions. An umbilical cord cut: a deep, deep yearning for Truth, and to know Beauty, and to find pieces, glimpses, reminders, of Home, and to return to it. The first time we fit our mouths around that crucial-most question of: Why?
For what? For what, for what?
I would really like to know what my forthcoming eternity might smell like. It is surely better than anything here could be. Which colours it will be. Who will be there, along, with me.
And Dunya remains Dunya, everywhere in Dunya. Now where, oh where, to turn? To feel held; to stop, for a while, hurting. For the muddy, and constantly swirling, to settle, become clear.
This is a love letter to humanness, and how everybody cries, sneezes, trips up, sometimes, and how the eyes, chico: they don’t, I think, know how to lie.
Like when we’re worried about our weight, so we simply won’t eat. Or when it feels like nothing makes much sense anymore, and we can’t breathe. This is for our human hands, which are wrapped up in our doings, our feelings, and through our heartbreaks; in old fears of inadequacy.
We all are, and become. Beautifully fragile things: handle with care, and try to help others with their humannesses too. [Even the ones who seem the opposite of ‘fragile’, maybe. Key word, there: seem]. And upon our hearts, next to Love, there sits
A little word or two, drawing far too much attention to itself, sometimes. Words of: apology. Only God is Perfect, and I’m only human; I fall so short, sometimes, so:
To be given the chance, the ‘freedom’, to be sad, sometimes. Excited – completely ‘high’ on excitement – at other times. Quiet, at times; there is no need for this to be disturbed. Annoyingly determined, also, perhaps, when it comes to… hugging your little sibling who claims he hates you. And then charges you actual money for a hug[? I love this kid so. Masha Allah. One day, *pathetic, but intrinsically human, cry*, I hope he’ll say he loves me right back.]
There is a voice we humans all need, and I think its most necessary quality is, how it returns:
You’re forgiven. You’re loved. I love you dearly. I promise, I do not want to let you down. ‘Flaws’, terrors, shaking-ness, ‘madness’, genius, strength, hilarity, and all.
To be human is, forever, to fall. And you will get back up again: this is how you have been made.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining:
Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” [A.C.]
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.