Before I go to bed, I can imagine my grandmother rising for morning prayer. I can hear her whispering my name and my brothers’ in Urdu, asking Allah to protect us. When I close my eyes long enough, the image becomes so real it almost terrifies me. The soft slope of her back, hunched over in prayer; the floral print of her blouse; the silence of the house she lives in.
I hope that she can picture the prayer I offer her in return. It is more informal than hers; it is me, sitting criss-cross applesauce in my bed, eyes closed, asking Allah to watch over her if He can. And if my requests get misplaced in His junk mail, or if He’s too overwhelmed right now, maybe, could He send an angel as a proxy?
In a way, the prayers that my grandmother and I send to each other are the strongest source of communication we have. Outside of prayer, I find my texts to her stilted and shy. There is something so daunting about writing to someone you have not seen in many years and someone you fear you might never see again.
I don’t know how to say that sometimes a small gem of a moment with her resurfaces in my mind and finds its way into a poem. I don’t know how to tell her that I wish so badly that I could speak Urdu and send her my poetry in her native language. I don’t know how to say that I wish I could tell her all about the woman I am becoming, but I am scared the generations that span between us are seas I can never cross. In these moments, I find that saying, “I prayed for you last night” comes closest to expressing the weight of all I feel.
My grandmother is currently in her house, self-isolating. When I ask her how she is getting food, she doesn’t respond. I wonder if she knows how to have food delivered, I wonder if she has enough hand sanitizer, I wonder if she feels small in her empty house. I think about how she is my only root in Pakistan; hers is the only other roof in this world I could call home.
She tells me it is bad outside, a simple sentence that lingers with me throughout the day. Self-isolating is a privilege that not many can afford. I think about the fruit vendors who have to go outside to earn an income, I think about those without shelter, I think about those for whom home is no home at all.
Praying takes a fine understanding of how much suffering this world can really hold. As a quasi-Muslim, quasi-agnostic, my prayers never follow the template of a particular ideology. They are simply acts of deference. Withdrawals of mind from body. Self-fulfilling prophecies: By asking for help from someone else, you find the strength to help in the ways you can.
On the news last night, I saw a video of five nurses praying in the staff room of a New York hospital. Seeing those with the most power to heal turning to prayer is immensely humbling. I don’t know if angels can stand the smell of blood. I don’t know if God’s inbox is too full right now. In solidarity, we pray anyways.
And in a way, reading through this column can be a form of prayer for you, too — a few minutes in which you hold the thought of the world’s collective consciousness. A moment in which you extend the most humble hope that suffering will end. To be true to the part of your heart that so earnestly wishes for healing, and in solidarity, pray.
KIRAN MASROOR is a first year in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .