On this final night of Ramadan, I’m thinking of relief. Of the well-meaning sentence repeated in a month of late spring days, after years of summer fasts: Give thanks we have what we need to quiet hunger and thirst, some don’t. I’m not sure this is said outside the company of self or similarly blessed.
Is this a poverty of the heart, to create a comparison between those who have and those who don’t? Is it a quiet way to say: Give thanks we are not them?
Give thanks we left home and came home without incident. Some don’t.
Give thanks we bathe and pray in peace. Some don’t.
Give thanks we study and plan with the materials we need. Some can’t.
Give thanks we know to give thanks. Some don’t.
Is this an imagination lacking in generosity? Are we so poor in heart that baseline favor is not starving, not gasping for water, not facing wanton slaughter?
What is height without base.
In this era of perpetual streams of numbers, of feeds ascendant from admiration or static from disregard, it could be these gratitude-and-empathy exercises reify the status quo we say we must dismantle. This house is no good; its ground is uneven. This house is standing on the heads of other people. Take it apart, and…. If only its guardians were weaker. If only we could see its blueprint and find its vulnerabilities. If only we had the right tools. If only we could build a better place, or imagine something else altogether, or get comfortable with a fertile blankness as an exercise in faith because we’re building something we’ve never seen, becoming what we’ve never been.
On this final night of Ramadan, I’m trying to expand my notions of foundational needs and consider various difficulties, some I had to experience to recognize. The ones not so easily quantified and captioned: Institutional lack of welcome when inquiring how to transcend this sometimes-heavy realm. Pain when told your pain is not real or doesn’t deserve a cry. Disinvitation from a holy house when your intentions and actions are sound. Grief in response to historical, environmental, and psychic crimes. Loneliness coupled with the sense that retreat is the only known safety. Sorrow that follows departure from an innocence. Desire to share joy, mixed with embarrassment of it. Scattering of one’s material and immaterial goods; reaching for them by instinct. Fatigue from noise. Fatigue from silence. Yearning for one’s tribe, especially when heart outpaces feet. Seeking reflections and finding ghosts, echoes. Familiarity with abuse, jumpiness with affection. Longing for a sweet or ordinary dream instead of nightmares, or nothing. The desire to exercise love, and the circumstances that encourage this practice.
Ladan Osman is the author of The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony. Her writing and photographs have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Rumpus, Transition, and Washington Square Review. Osman is a contributing culture editor for The Blueshift Journal. She lives in Brooklyn.