Friday, 26 September 2008

My brother...

It's a rare day that I will admit this, but today, I needed to go home to a man who loves me, who knows how to be there, who could just hold me. I needed to walk in the door and, without a word, walk up to him, close my eyes and put my head against his shoulder, then feel his arms go round me.

Then I needed to cry. (This bit I can do later in my room, since I started at exposition)

I talk about my immediate family so rarely that friends who've known me for years will ask if my parents are dead. Cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents all figure in my stories. Friends who've known me a decade or more and can reel off the names Rabia, Amna, Nageen and Ambereen will ask if I have any siblings, even whilst I ask about theirs.

So not my favourite topic of discussion then.

Today, my cousin's husband, S, popped up on facebook chat. What with it being a slow day at work and my penchant for having facebook chats up behind other apps, I said 'hi'.
He responded, and we chatted about everything from his long hair to their boys, when he asked how long it had been since they'd seen me.

Last time we saw you was whenever you were here last.

I see your brother more than you!

And your parents!

What a shame.

My brother. I froze. I hadn't been in touch with him because the only way is through my parents, and I haven't spoken to them in four years. Even when I WAS speaking to them, he was 'never there'...and there was never an offer to have him ring back. So I said to S:

God, please tell me he's not still living with my parents

his response: Of course he is.
Me: *Shoots self*

To make a long story short, my father is very controlling: my mother couldn't talk to male colleagues, I couldn't talk to male cousins after the age of about 10 and wasn't allowed to do evening activities at school or really have a circle of friends - Dad's favourite line was "You can't trust anyone but your family." The academic pressure was incredible: my brother was supposed to be able to add columns of 3 digit numbers when he was *5* - my mother set him 10-15 problems a day. I had to teach him because I was 'such a good teacher' - so if he didn't get them right, we both caught it as soon as mum got home. Which made me a...less than patient and kind teacher, I suspect. No, I know.

He was FIVE, for God's sake.

We were 7 years apart, and we could be close or fight like cats and dogs, like all siblings. I was the one who would shout back at my father when it all got too much; he would withdraw and not speak. I don't think my father could cope with that from a male any more than he could cope with the fact that his daughter was perfectly happy to yell back at him or physically enter the fray when he'd go for her hair. That didn't mean that there weren't times I shut up out of fear, but I was the mouthy one.

Nor could my father deal with the fact that his daughter would walk out the door at 21 with only a few bin bags full of clothes. Only a few weeks before, my friend Frances had turned to me and said, "Get out. Get out before they take the life out of you and you can't." The words 'arranged' and 'marriage' made me take her advice.

I should have taken him with me then. He was almost 15, we could have worked something out; he might have grown up able to be himself. But I hoped and prayed that he'd follow my example, that if his big sister could do it, HE could do it. Time and again when he'd ring me, I'd beg him to leave, tell him to come and stay with me till we sorted something, anything. Every time, he said no.

And I saw it happen. I watched him slip into the business world, get my father's praise, stop laughing, become very conservative. Defend them. When he came here to visit me in 1998, we did almost nothing but row. I felt like he hated me for rebelling; I assumed he'd taken their side and had been truly assimilated. I thought he was happy living in their basement, free rent, free food...I just thought he was being lazy. To my shame, I held him in contempt for it, for not having the guts to struggle, to fight, to do it the hard way.

Let's pick up the conversation where we left off:

S: Don't laugh. N tries to help him, but something's not right with the guy.
Irim: God, getting away from them was the best thing I ever did. Tell me.
S: He seems so nice, gentle, harmless.[Irim thinks: lifeless?]
Irim: but...
S: She looks very, very old- big belly, gray hair. You don't communicate with him?
I: my parents wouldn't let me. [as in, except for their number, I had no contact details for him. And yes, I tried to google him]
S: He, not she! Oops. Fuck your parents.

[And as much as love and appreciation as I have for parents in general, I think that was probably the best advice I've ever been given when it comes to mine.]


Irim: is he angry, can you sense that?
S: No, just depressed. Very low key.

*Puts head in hands* Mea maxima culpa. I know my parents so much better than that. I should have known his hands were tied somehow.

I'm so sorry, kiddo. I've been absolutely crap and totally unfair to you, and I really, really should have pushed to talk to you, but I *do* love you. And not with the 'spider love' (credit: Martha Beck) that our parents gave us. I don't give a shit if you want to be a bin man or an investment banker, Democrat or Republican, love a man or a woman. I just want you to be free to be who you are, not the person you feel you have to be to survive. S, N, A - if you can, get him on facebook and NOT tell my parents. Let's see what we can do. I know you've all been trying - maybe another shoulder to the door will open it an inch.

And sometimes, an inch is all it takes.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Irim as lolcat

After last night's post, I couldn't resist. Imagine any member of the Catholic hierarchy as the tabby: Fr Voldy, Cardinal Keeler, etc. In my mind, it's Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict. Now imagine me as the Siamese.

Totally, eh?

For some reason - and I'm sure my psychoanalytically inclined friends will go to town with this (with my blessing) - I can see the tabby as my *mother* (NOT my father, which is interesting).

So: the tabby is either my mother or a member of the male hierarchy of the Catholic Church.


I think not.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Why mass made me shake with rage

I went to mass today to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham - after all, it is in Walsingham that I've felt touched by God in so many ways: from finally completely forgiving my uncle his sexual abuse to those wonderful God-filled conversations with John F. and others. And let me tell you - there's nowhere like the smoking tent out back of the Bull at about 2am for finding God.

I know, I know. I've drifted away from church to create a reasonable balance, so that when I do go, I'm not driven crazy by liturgical Nazis, the mediocre choir, the high proportion of shallow, narcissistic parishioners. But I can't drift forever - I must decide whether to stay or go. From the Oratory. From the Catholic Church. And I can't do that from the position of rebellion and general ill will I've been feeling. So I'm going to try to maintain a balance where I'm more involved, so I can make a decision from the right place. But that's another post.

It started off well. I popped in, said 'Hi' to John W. and went to the novena. I was reasonably cheerful despite the cheesy Marian hymn with which we began mass (note: WHY do all the Marian hymns have inane Victorian words and playground tunes? Is that how little Catholics think of the Mother of God?). There was even an adorable 3-4 month old girl with the most gorgeous smile being good as gold a few rows in front of me. I entered the wanting-to-hold-baby melting phase that I would DIE before admitting to in front of any of my clerical friends. Tough bitch works so much better with men in dog collars.

Mass was in Latin, my preferred language, said by someone who has a semblance of Italian vowels. (Fr...ex-Parish Priest's vowels make me want to climb the damn walls) I prefer Latin not because it's the only liturgically valid language (*hurl*), but because of its sensuality - liquid vowels, soft consonants. Latin is sexy.

It was all fine until the Eucharistic Prayer, when the woman with the baby decided that she needed to kneel and read the translation of a Eucharistic prayer she hears in English every goddamned day. That, of course, meant that there was no room for baby. So what did she do?

She put the baby on the hard wooden floor in the central aisle of the church. Without a seat or even a blanket. Or even her precious coat.

Yes, that's right. The baby was directly on the hard floor of the centre aisle, so that, I won't use the c-word...could kneel, look pious and read a translation she KNOWS. Oh, and she looked over about 3 times in 15 minutes.

I went from mushy to shaking with rage in 2 seconds. You do NOT put a vulnerable person in danger. You do NOT place a child on a cold, hard floor in a heavily travelled aisle in church. Granted, no one should have moved during that time, but you can't be sure. You do not place YOUR 'need' to act pious over a child's safety. A baby's need for love and security trumps EVERYTHING.

I nearly went over and picked her up, but I retained enough sense to know that it would make matters worse. Even so, I wanted to stand up and say to Fr Provost, who was saying mass, "THIS.THIS is what makes me angry. THIS is what I hate about your parishioners - that they place piety over what is really important. That you reward this apparent piety in every form it comes - from the asskissing parishioners to the insufferable altar servers, even when others are placed at risk. THIS is why I walked."

And even after she no longer needed to kneel, she left the baby on the floor until she had to go up for communion...

..which I received in a towering rage. But since I felt my anger at her placing the little one in danger was justified, I haven't a twinge of conscience about it.

Mass ended, I knelt to pray, then turned on my heel and left.

Fortunately, none of the three brethren I would have talked to about this came through just then, because I think I would have cried tears of rage on the shoulder that appeared as I told him what happened. I might well have said, "Remind me. Remind me why I'm here. Why I care. Why I keep trying to make this work. Why I don't just leave."

Even now, I'm not sure I can answer that.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

A guilty secret...

...I am utterly mesmerised by watching my male friends light up. And yes, I have to admit, whether I fancy a man or not, I find it incredibly sexy.

Damn. Probably not something I should have let them know.

Before we move on, no, *I* don't smoke. It doesn't appeal to me, except for the idea of being able to gesture and pose with some kind of coolness and authority. Liquorice cigarettes in a holder would work just fine for me. I'm not keen on how my clothes or hair smell after I've been in a roomful of it, and yes, I DO worry about the health implications for my friends who smoke.

End mandatory disclaimer.

What has always really interested me is why it's so hypnotically sexy, and my interest was further piqued by the fact that Ari, who hates smoking like I hate Edward, the Oratory choirmaster, finds it sexy as well - and she can't explain it either, despite being one of the most articulate people I've ever met.

Things that make you go hmmmm.

First, let me narrow the definition of lighting up: cigarette, not pipe. The latter is lovely in its own way, as a calming ritual, and the smell of pipe smoke brings
to mind affectionate, avuncular figures who smelled of Imperial leather and sandalwood.

With the definition out of the way, let's look at the obvious reason: there's a whole Humphrey Bogart/classic leading man association - tough, male, capable, smouldering, just plain hot. But that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Going a bit deeper, part of it is that I love watching people's hands. Hands perform so many actions, punctuate our words, mark out our territory, hold someone close, heal through touch. In the darkest night that words won't penetrate, a hand on a shoulder or a hug often can.

Watching a man's hands as he lights up not only allows one the aesthetic pleasure of looking at the shape of his hands, but more importantly, it allows you the pleasure of watching how his hands move when he's not consciously directing them: for example, I have a friend who is so controlled that his speaking gestures are staccato, but when you watch him light up, his hands flow much more, indicating a more sensual, relaxed worldview beneath what he perceives to be the required Catholic uptightness.

And that's really the crux of it all. When a man lights a cigarette, he withdraws from being in relationship with you and moves back into relationship with himself. The mask drops, and suddenly,
in the matchlight, you catch a breathtaking glimpse of the beauty of the man behind the defences - the vulnerability, the grief, the gentleness. If you're lucky, the glimpse lasts through the first couple of drags as he slowly refocuses and comes back into relationship with you.

I've been moved to tears by that moment: the sudden relaxation of a face perpetually tense; the glimpse of a grief that won't be verbalised; the sight of the young boy he once was; the wound that won't heal. I've been hard put not to somehow acknowledge what I've seen, but it would feel intrusive to do so, as they're not revealing it to me, they're simply allowing themselves to be.

It's sexy because it momentarily opens the curtain on the window to their soul.

So, boys, don't mind me.

Keep lighting up.

I wish...

a. I could do qewl things like this.
b. I could look this good in a picture whilst needing my own postcode. I'm dreading the pics from Anna's party being posted on Facebook!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Could someone tell me...

...what on earth an inexperienced, celibate "ewwwww sex/relationships" perpetual Peter Pan of a priest is going to do NOW? Especially after he couldn't be bothered to get their pre-nuptial counselling right?

Of course, it could also be my parents. And yes, I'd probably be right in assuming that they only had sex twice, seven years apart. Trust me on that.

Looks like a catastrophe to me...

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

How I pray...

For various reasons - from Alphaville's "Forever Young" in an advert to Ruth playing A-ha whilst I was at hers - I've been hunting down the music of my youth. Music from the 80s makes me laugh, cry, dance like a maniac.

It's also the way I pray.

"Kyrie eleison", meaning "Lord, have mercy", has been part of my everyday vocabulary since I became Catholic. I use it in prayer, as an interjection, for any reason going. E.g., "Kyrie eleison, will NO ONE do us all a favour and push Edward out of the choir loft??!" My usage of it is probably (and I'm happy for my Saffa friends to correct me on this) similar to the Afrikaans "Jislaaik" or "Agh".

But this song came out long before my Catholic days, and I used it as a prayer from the moment I was mesmerised by the opening verse:

Kyrie eleison
Kyrie eleison

The wind blows hard against this mountainside,
across the sea into my soul -
it reaches into where I cannot hide,
setting my feet upon the road...
My heart is old, it holds my memories,
my body burns a gem-like flame:
somewhere between the soul and soft machine
is where I find myself again...

I'd never heard a song like it before, but it resonated in a way that the young Irim couldn't articulate. All my life, I had felt like my feet had been set on a road, that I couldn't hide, that someone was always beside me, that God was closer to me than my own skin - I never needed to have faith in God; I knew God existed, just like I knew our house did. Just like I knew that there was somewhere, somewhen I was meant to be.

I was always trying to find a way to get closer to God: I wanted to pray with my mother, my cousins in Pakistan, but I always found talking to God in my own words the easiest. You know, words such as, "Lord, I know you're trying to teach me patience, but NOW is NOT the time." It shouldn't surprise me to find myself currently drifting away from mass, only to find myself in an empty church lighting a candle. I don't do God group talk very well. I can talk to God by looking up, by being with those I love, maybe most often in those I find most difficult. (Not that I handle THAT well.) But telling me how to relate to God and what God wants me to do is very likely to get you an impolite gesture - figuratively, of course.

But that rebellion against being told what to say and how to say it doesn't stop me from borrowing someone else's words when they're absolutely perfect for my conversation with God.

I used the chorus of this song as a prayer for years - I still do when the song comes to mind. But my prayers have always been a personal variation on it- Mr Mister just put it more succinctly:

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel,
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night,
Kyrie eleison, where I'm going, will you follow?
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light.

And my favourite bit? When, during the choruses at the end, one of the singers comes out with a heartfelt, "Will you follow?" Because that's what I always ask when I start something new: "God, do you have my back on this one?"

Because I know I have yet to reach that somewhere or somewhen that I've sensed since I could toddle. And you know, God, sometimes the going has gotten really tough, and I have had to sit down, wanted to turn back, just quit altogether or take an easier road. But every time I've asked, you've promised that you have my back, that you will follow. That no matter who else has left, you won't.

And if you will follow, I will keep my feet upon the road. Then all that is left for me to ask is:

Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light.

Monday, 15 September 2008

In laughter we trust...

I know I said I'd post thoughts on the US presidential race here, but I've spent a lot of my political energy and creativity commenting at the wonderful Shakesville site. I will get round to it before election day, I promise.

And now for something completely different...

Last Thursday, I went out with a good friend of mine and was aghast to discover he had been just like some of the Oxford pole-up-your-backside males (the Catholic version attends the Oratory; the Anglican version attends Pusey House) - striped jacket, straw boater and all.

To top it all off, he's the oldest child and was a school prefect. You can picture it, can't you?

He's so relaxed and wickedly funny now, it's hard to believe. When he told me, my jaw hit the pub table, nearly landing in my sausages and mash.


He laughed at my reaction. "No, the hat, the jacket and everything. God."


Now his shoulders were shaking with laughter. "Ja," he replied. "Ja, I really was."

This led to a conversation that made me pause, tilt my head, and ask a tough question - the answer to which was risky, because it could have meant censure.

A question which a number of other friends would have fudged, pled the Fifth, or maybe even lied. I can't tell you how I would have answered it.

He told me the truth.

There are moments when I sit back and am just amazed at how wonderful my friends are and how blessed I am to have them - e.g., Ruth's warmth, openness and huge personality last night (but that's another blog post) - and Thursday night was one of those. I was moved by his integrity, ability to laugh at himself and his care for others.

Pat yourself on the back, doll - you're no longer that straw boater, pinstripe wearing twit of a teenager - you've grown into a man your parents should be proud of.

Like every last one of my friends, you absolutely rock.

Thursday, 4 September 2008