I heard this in the car the other day, as my mother and I drove back from visiting my grandparents. Yes, I remember the moment now, before I forget it. We were at the split of 23 and M-14, backed up in the construction that rendered much of 23 a parking lot. I turned on the radio because my mother and I really weren't having a stimulating conversation. And this song was on.
I think I've heard this song maybe once before. I remember hearing it once before, and it must have not been the whole thing, or else I would have been completely captivated. I kept telling my mother, "I've heard this song once before, maybe once." It turns out, it's on one of my favorite albums of all time (if not my favorite album of all time), Songs in the Key of Life. And so true that it's in the key of life, just like this song is.
"Joy Inside My Tears." Wow. I've been listening to it on repeat all night, as I'm for some reason unable to get to sleep. I'm not sleepy at all, and I don't like to be up this late consuming information that may give me nightmares or at least involved dreams, God help me.
We were driving up to Flint to see my grandparents. My mother does this every Sunday almost without fail. She brings them food, keeps my grandparents company, checks my grandmother's blood sugar and gives her her evening insulin dose.
Visiting my grandparents these days is very different than it was when I was a kid, necessarily. When I was a kid, my grandmother was the great matriarch. She dyed her hair jet black and was never out of the house without her khimar or at least her turban. She was on her feet, cooking food only she could make taste so good and cleaning and keeping up their modest home. My grandfather sat back in his chair, with his dictionary and his coffee, did odd jobs around the house, drove on weekday mornings to have breakfast with other older men at McDonald's, and came home with stories. He had stories from years, decades. And my fast-talking grandmother had stories of her own, chided him, made fun of the darkness of his skin, frequently dominating the conversation while telling someone's business in the family.
This was Grandmother's house. I had almost 40 first cousins, and a few second cousins were being born. The house was always full of cousins, uncles and aunts. Family was always to be had. We all took off our shoes and greeted my grandparents with as salaam alaikum. It was one of my favorite places to be.
It still is, even though it will never be the same. Grandmother is wheelchair-bound, able to shakily transfer from her recliner, which matches Grandfather's, to her motorized chair, but unable to help herself in the bathroom. Her daughters and sons have to help her there. Her spirits these days are better, but she insists that she sees people in the house. She feels that her house is no longer her own, that it's been taken over by "ugly people," mainly women who try to seduce Grandfather and children that wreck her house, reflecting some of her lifetime domestic fears, most likely. Grandfather is losing teeth by the day, but my family can't afford to get him dentures. Grandmother's have long been worn down. He's broken his hips and his mobility is much reduced. He is so happy to have his walker on wheels. It helps him get to the bathroom or his bedroom from the living room as quickly as he might, which are the only places he goes. Grandfather is the ultimate homebody...he will not leave his house. Now that he can no longer climb the ladder to reach the feeder, he implores his children to feed the neighborhood squirrels.
It's a far cry from the house I knew as a kid. The carpet is stained, the furniture is failing, and the refrigerator is filled with surplus and meals on wheels food. My grandmother laments this, but is helpless. The sign that reads that this is a Muslim home and to take off your shoes is still up in the entranceway, but only me and one of my cousins take off their shoes anymore.
I can't stop. I always walked through my grandparents' house barefoot...I always did.
Saudades...it's longing for something that you know will never be again as if it could really be.
It's not like I'm reaching for that now. I'm not. I had a very happy and full childhood, and I don't regret anything of the time I spent getting to know and love my grandparents. Grandmother and Grandfather are as they are now, on the outside, but one thing that keeps me going in the mercy of God, knowing that when it is their time...oh God, when it is their time, and I cry, because I miss them already.
When it is their time, they will be with God, essentially restored to their youthful vigor, and I'll be back with them in their best, not their current state of crumbling, hanging on for another wedding anniversary. Insha'Allah 66th this year. Hanging on for another birthday. Grandfather reached 87 this year and insha'Allah, Grandmother will be 84 this year.
Insha'Allah never felt so vital, so real, as in used in the case of one's ailing grandparents...
And driving back from my mother's weekly visit, which I make whenever I'm able to come home, I heard this song, that took me until the 6th repeat to begin crying.
"You brought some joy inside my tears."
That's what I hope that experiencing death will be for me. Bitter tears of missing loved ones that can never be in this realm again, while I'm stuck in this realm...but rejoicing knowing that they suffer no longer, and that they are with God, and have everything they've ever wanted, and more, more than any of us can imagine.
And such a joyous family reunion it will be! It'll be nothing like that heaven-feeling I got during the family reunion in 1996 and the whole family sat together, a bunch of my grandmother's siblings that have since passed... What a joyous family reunion it will be.
The song ended as we rounded the bend, the split between 23 and M-14, and I resolved to download this song. I just did. And I listened to it on repeat. And there are so many other things this song could mean for me.
It could mean what seems the sometimes insurmountable wait to be wed, while in constant fear of what it will mean to be married, to merge my life with a dangerous unknown, if God so has mercy on me. It could mean the future, my embarking on a career for the first time, away from home again, responsible for the lives of patients, never looking back. It could be my time spent at home, knowing that no time is going to be like this time I've spent at home...
It's everything. It's life. My faith is the only thing that can bring joy inside my tears. I will never trust a human being to be the consistent source of this, because promise as they will and try as they might, they can't be with me in this realm, on this earth, forever.
Life is so fragile. Every day we risk our lives, and God brings must of us back again to go at it another day and another. Sometimes, I won't lie, it feels like prison. I can't control it, I don't understand it, I'm trapped and I can't leave or cower when things get hard. The hard will be there. And then, we could suddenly die, or someone we love could. My brother took too much of his seizure medication at once last night and as I went to sleep, I feared for his life, just to be relieved to hear him chortling happily in his room the next morning, him relieved to have been excused from another day at his program...
My faith is the only thing that can bring joy inside these tears.
As I wonder why, if I'm as beautiful as people say, that no one wants me...and do I even want to be wanted in that way? With every potential for great joy there is also potential for great pain.
Joy inside my tears.