Familiar Strangers

Memoir by
Jan 18, 2013 · 5 min read

Life’s circumstances can make you either bitter or better.

Nineteen years into my life, I was finally blessed with the opportunity to meet my maternal grandmother for the first time. To say the least, the winds of life blow every individual in a different direction, each with different circumstances.

The whole situation was rather bizarre, come to think of it. One phone call led to another, and suddenly, my grandmother was scheduled to arrive within the following week.  She later told me that I must have some magical way with words for my uncle to have agreed with such short notice. However, I knew our long awaited meeting was beyond our simple human capacity. There was a divine hand involved throughout the entire process, perhaps in response to sincere prayers.

A long week later, we were standing at the airport for her arrival. I have never seen her except in a vague memory of an ancient album photograph. My brother, of course, took this opportunity to pull my leg by directing me to random passengers as my grandmother. My heart leapt with anxiety each time. But after a couple laughs, he told me sternly, “Please, Raakin, keep our family dignity alive and do not make any bowel-movement jokes for the next two weeks.”

Finally, he pointed out an Indian-looking woman in the crowd. Even then, I sensed a familiarity in the atmosphere, a familiarity that could only be born by blood. Still, it was an awkward introduction. My grandmother and I were both advancing for an embrace, but there seemed to be an intangible barrier that resulted in an awkward moment. That barrier would soon be demolished in the following days by the time we spent mutually exchanging our knowledge and wisdom. I would teach her the articulation points of the Arabic language and she would impart pearls from her long-lived experiences.

On her first night, she shared a story about outhouses in Uganda. As soon as my grandmother called it a night, I excitedly shouted to my brother, “And you told me I couldn’t make any bowel-movement jokes! She’s my grandmother, she knows me well enough!” That was certainly the icebreaking point since the awkward embrace at the airport, soon sealed with a kiss that came only a couple days later.

Not even in my wildest dreams have I imagined such an encounter with my grandmother. However, I always did wonder what it would be like to have a grandmother like the ones my friends would describe. Life is unpredictable in that way. We never know when and where the divine hand will descend. Instead, we simply accept destiny with contentment and a pinch of curiosity. In moments of sadness and in moments of joy, we remember that each phase in life is fleeting.

Looking back, I am amazed at how it was only that one beginning phone call that sparked it all…one phone call that contained all of my hope and faith. I remember much apprehension and hesitation as I played the possible conversation scenarios out in my mind. Yet, renewing my faith with good intent, I remembered the motivation by which all can live by and none can fail. It was the motivation rooted within me from the seed of my faith in the One.

I knew Allah would support me when I needed Him. As stated in the hadith qudsi, “I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him if an assembly even better than that. And if he takes one step towards Me, I take ten steps towards him. And if he comes walking to Me, I go running to him.”

There is no harm in taking a chance if we seek positive results with complete faith in the Unseen. If anything, there is only much to gain from the Creator, whose treasure never depletes and whose mercy is unimaginably existent. Since we define the experiences in our lives through perspective and reliance, we can choose to sit back and relax, or we can actively play a role by taking it a step further.

Besides, life is too short to not venture into the seemingly impossible. It’s not just about bungee jumping off of the Empire State Building or risking finances in entrepreneurship. Rather, there are costs and benefits in all aspects of life. Even taking simple steps towards self-reformation can be an exhausting challenge, such as maintaining the spiritual high after Ramadan or remaining consistent in dietary goals. However, with intention and prayer, anything can be accomplished. Stranger things have happened, as they say.

In the profound words of Helen Keller, “Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” We cannot achieve much without striving beyond the comfort zone. The pious predecessors were said to have sacrificed everything down to their last penny in their struggle of acquiring salvation, even placing their lives on the line. Yet, it is that step of courage, that leap of faith that results in their stories being recorded for our benefit today. Centuries later, we are still dazed by their devout achievements that exceed our dulled minds.

One call across the world bridged a grand divide. Imagine what the ultimate call to our Lord can do.

Meeting my grandmother was only a simple example of such divine possibilities. I knew deep in my heart this was just the beginning of a belated, beautiful relationship.

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5 Responses to "Familiar Strangers"

  1. Saba Nasir says:

    Assalamualaikum…this piece was so sweet, so heart-warming….particularly because of your immense trust in Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and your love for your grandmother, MashaAllah. Makes one realize how a sincere dua’a and a simple step can make dreams come true. MashaAllah! Simply profound! =)

  2. SumaiyahKhan says:

    MashaAllah <3 this piece was so heartfelt and sincere. Well written..

  3. Raadia says:

    This work had be “aww”-ing all over the place! Of all relationships, I think ones with the parent of a parent are the sweetest. Despite the age gap and perhaps even cultural gap, there’s always a lot to learn from a grandparent.

  4. Shahin says:

    this was truly touching! I can really relate to this as I also used to have a very close relationship with my grandmother, Alhamdulillah. Recently though, because of her sickness, we haven’t been able to spend enough time together. This post has come at the perfect time to remind me to rekindle what I see flickering in front of my eyes. May Allah reward you and May He strengthen your relationship with your grandmother even more. Ameen.

  5. onlinebusiness says:

    Allah always with us

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