بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Thanksgiving is here. Like most holidays in Gregorian calendar (and the lunar calendar), it crept up on me this year. It seems like we just pasted Halloween not so long ago, and now we’re already near the end of November. Subhan’Allah (“God is Glorious”, more or less. Mostly more). Time must indeed be contracting, or perhaps I must just be getting old~maybe a mixture of both even.
I imagine for most, it’ll be a joyous, boisterous occasion of family feasts and football games. I suppose that’s the typical American Thanksgiving archetype, one which I haven’t particularly been apart of. Instead, I had another tradition, one I shared with my mother–may God have mercy on her–one that was much more satisfying.
Our Thanksgivings were not the typical ones you see on television with vast spreads of luxurious food and endless banter from family and friends. I happen to hail from a poor, broken but nonetheless dignified, single-parent household where such dinners, even Thanksgiving dinners, were rare. Instead of slaving over her own stove cooking food, my mother would spend her Thanksgiving mornings in St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the Catholic church where both she and I grew up, cooking for the homeless in my hometown of Pensacola, Florida. It was a ritual for her, something she did out habit and genuine concern for the less fortunate and something she did to conserve the integrity of her own eternal soul.
As a teenager, intending to follow in her footsteps, I would sometimes accompany her into the church kitchen and lend a helping hand to her and the other workers. Even after I became Muslim back in 2005, my Thanksgiving mornings were spent either helping her in church or helping her at home by attending to the food. Those actions, even though Catholics performed them, just seemed “Muslim” in my eyes, as if the people who were doing the cooking and serving were in fact followers of the Prophet صلى الله عليه.
After the cooking was finished, my mother and I would come home where we would have our own Thanksgiving dinner, which usually consisted of turkey, collard greens, stuffing, and canned cranberry sauce, which, al-hamdu’ilah, is much more than most would have to eat in the world. We were only a humble five–my mother, her three sons, and our faithful pit bull Brutus–yet somehow, my mother, despite the loss time at the church, despite the fatigue from cooking all morning in the church, managed to make it work each year. Again, I’m forced to say subhan’Allah: it continues to escape me how my mother, how single-parent women in general, are able to do the things they do for their children. Perchance, as a male, a young one at that, I’ll never fully comprehend the inner strength of women, but their fortitude is a trait I’ve come to admire nevertheless.
I only wish I could say that this day I was by my mother’s side, in that cramped Catholic church kitchen, cooking turkey and canned string beans. I only wish I could say I drove with my mother back to our house, talking all the way about how some White people have screwed up the world, about how hard it is to find a decent spouse nowadays, about the Old Days back in the Tan Yard (the alley way where both my mother and I grew up) where us oblivious and innocent children played bare-foot in the dirt while the grown-folks smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey. I wish I could say I spent ten minutes trying to pick the pork chucks out of my mother’s delicious collard greens. But I can’t, and now I look back on these days with a sharp pang of bitter-sweet nostalgia because I know I’ll never have the chance to help my in those kitchens mother ever again. On October 5th, 3:58 P.M., my mother died of cancer. She had just turned 49.
I haven’t gotten used to telling people my mother is dead. In truth, I don’t think I ever will. When Allah سبحانه وتعالى took my mother back unto Himself, He also took part of me as well, for I was my mother’s child, her own flesh and blood, her own hopes and dreams, her own successes and failures. We are all conscious (or at least subconsciously aware) of the inevitability of death, but when it befalls not just someone you know, but your own mother, the ordeals to follow can make reality seem so surreal, as if you’re living in a dream world. Life must go on–this much is true–but the anatomy of loss makes its passing that much more alien, that much more distant. Maybe I’ll learn to cope with the absence. I may even be wise and strong enough to learn from with and embrace it, but a loss is a loss. I know God is at the end of all things, both in purpose and finality, but a loss is still a loss. And I’m only a human, one who misses his mother terribly, one who longs for those Thanksgivings to return once more.
Thus spoke the Prophet صلى الله عليه, “Paradise lies at the feet of your mother.” I pray I was able to find a mere slice of paradise when I massaged my mother’s swollen feet and when I drew her Epsom salt foot baths while she was sick. Maybe even a sliver a paradise will be waiting for me, insha’Allah, because of those years of trying to help my mother out. I don’t know. I don’t know what her fate will be as she died a Catholic, but I trust in Allah سبحانه وتعالى as being the best of Arbiters.
Peace Itself and Peace to all.