Starting college daunted and overwhelmed me. In trying to figure out the difficult balancing act that is going to college, I briefly lost sight of the big picture. Unfortunately, I regained perspective only after the death of a family member.
I had just begun my first year at UC San Diego. For the first time, my family would not accompany me on Eid al- Adha, a Muslim holiday signifying the concept of sacrifice. Meanwhile, my uncle in Pakistan was terribly ill.
The night before Eid, my parents heard good signs from our family in Pakistan. My Uncle Aleem's condition had improved. Relieved by the good news, I woke up Eid morning feeling hopeful.
Usually on Eid, I wore traditional Pakistani clothes. This garb was occasionally uncomfortable but abundant in sequins, embroidery, and color. I missed this festive clothing now, as I tried to piece together a South Asian inspired top with a maxi skirt and a blazer. Having missed praying with others, I walked out of my dorm excited for Eid prayer. The San Diego Convention Center would be full of Muslims of all kinds. It was a day of celebration.
Wanting the celebration to continue, my friends and I had brunch in downtown La Jolla. I wiped my plate clean and appreciated a good cup of coffee. As brunch came to a close, my phone rang. I quickly answered to hear my siblings utter, "Aisha, he's gone." I hung up abruptly and waked outside. Attempting to distract myself, I breathed in the sweet Southern Californian air that I had grown quite fond of. My friends, noticing my unease, asked, "Aisha, are you okay?" I responded with mostly silence and "yes, I'm fine."
Later, I sat in my dorm thinking. My uncle had passed away. I had never met him. He had dwelled in a country I had never seen first hand, though I had wanted to. Thinking of the conversations I had with my parents nights before, I remembered the painful details.
Initially, things did not sound good. My uncle had been very sick but ignored his pain. Days passed and he finally decided to visit a hospital. My uncle suffered from Dengue fever, my father reported. Uncle Aleem had received this virus through a mosquito -- a delicate winged creature that I could demolish with a pinch of my fingers. Surely, I could transform the insect, a killer, into a bloody pulp.
As my father further explained, he highlighted the dangers that threatened my uncle and our family. Within the city of Karachi, dangers permeated in numerous forms. Disease, poverty, and violence marked the streets of Karachi.
I recognized a frustration, an almost guilt, in my father's voice. Frustrated as a physician, my father wished someone had caught his brother's illness sooner. If my father still lived in his homeland, Uncle Aleem's situation might have been different.
At that point, I pondered my parent's past. My father parted away from his family in Pakistan after marrying my mother and finishing medical school. In this regard, both of my parents made sacrifices. My mother married young and held off on many of her aspirations; my father left the country he called home. On this Eid- al adha, this festival of sacrifice, I hoped my father did not regret the things he had left behind.
Amid my thoughts, my father also explained the difficult conversations with Uncle Aleem's doctors overseas. The unyielding distance between two doctors and the lack of trust on both sides, disallowed a comfortable conversation about disease, medicine and treatment. My father continued to wish he were there. My parents planned to travel to Pakistan and watch my uncle steadily recover. Sadly, my parents expressed these thoughts not knowing my uncle would not survive to see their arrival.
After my uncle's death, I thought intensely about my father, my grandmother, and their pain. My grandmother lost her third son. For the third time, my father lost a brother. Aleem was number three.
The days that followed stung. On a Saturday morning, I turned to my neglected Arabic and Anthropology books. It seemed as if they awaited my attention. I traveled to a coffee shop, hoping to ingrain information into my brain. Soaking in my surroundings instead, I noticed the sweetness yet bitterness of my caramel macchiato and the barista who resembled James Franco.
Unexpectedly, a Skype call soon interrupted my thoughts. It was my cousin in Pakistan.
I ran out of the coffee shop and instinctively answered. I greeted my aunt and cousin on the other line. For the very first time, I chatted with some of my cousins, an uncle, and an aunt. I studied their faces, wishing I could meet them in person one day.
Eventually, my grandmother appeared on my iPhone screen. In Urdu, I gave her my condolences. Paying close attention, I listened to her. She spoke of grief but also of patience and strength. I observed a sense of peacefulness in her eyes. Sakoon, an Urdu word for peaceful state of mind or serenity, elevated her. Seeing and listening to my grandmother, further reminded me of what life is all about.
During the days that followed, I came to a few conclusions. My privileged life was made possible because of a series of sacrifices. Those who make the biggest sacrifices, the kind that give people like me a privileged life of opportunity, freedom, and hope, exhibit the greatest patience and strength. I just wish I gained this perspective without losing my Uncle Aleem.
An eternal thank you to those brave enough to make similar sacrifices.