At the beginning of this year, I made a list of goals for 2012. One of the goals was to call my grandmother at least three times. As I worked through my list in the first months, I neglected this task completely. It was a goal that required pushing 12 digits on my phone. And for the first three months I hardly even thought of it.
Then, my mom called me and told me that my Amee Jaan had a stroke, shortly followed by another one. After the second stroke, her condition severely deteriorated.
Even after I heard that news, I let another month pass. Yesterday, I finally made the first call.
My cousin picked up the phone and we spent a little time catching up. I asked to speak to Amee Jaan and she told me that Amee Jaan doesn't talk anymore. I heard her tell Amee Jaan that I was on the phone for her. She told me that news made her smile. I asked my cousin to tell her I called to see how she is doing. She says Amee Jaan started laughing at that question. I can imagine her laugh. That sad laugh that says why are you asking such foolish questions? She has given me that laugh many times since I was young.
Seven years have passed since I have been to Pakistan. Over those years I have gone to over fifteen countries- many of them several times. I had winter breaks from law school, I had time off after the bar, I had flexibility during my job in Turkey. Why didn't I go home?
Everyone is worried about my grandpa. My cousin told me to reassure him, to tell him to take care of himself, that we couldn't have them both suffering this way. So, I talked to my Babu Gee and I told him that it was ok. That it has been hard for all of us to be away from each other during this. But that there will come a time when we will look at this life and it will be a blink of an eye in the face of the eternal life we will live. And there, we will all be young and healthy. We will not worry about the pains and limitations of our mortal bodies. And best of all, we will all be together. Free of sadness, worry and fear.
But after I got off the phone, I thought of my poor Amee Jee, her inability to walk or speak or even go to the bathroom. I sat across from Feraz as I told him about the phone conversation. And the tears came in floods. I thought of our niece. The overwhelming love that filled us when we heard the news of her birth while we were at Umrah. I thought of how we all dote on her. How gently we held her when she was born and how we have celebrated each little milestone she has reached. I think about how we talk about the world that she will grow up in and how we want to protect her from every little hurt. "They loved me like that," I said to Feraz. "They loved me like that and I have not visited in seven years. I didn't even take the time to call."
The few times I did call them over the years, my grandparents would ask when I was coming to visit. I would tell them it was so hard, that life was so busy, that if there was any way I could come, I would. But that was a lie. There is always time and a way for the things that are important.
It was a simple goal I put on the list. To call my grandmother three times in the span of an year. But I knew that I needed it. These phone calls, these reminders of my family, the lifeline that made it possible for me to come into this world. The lifeline that nurtured me when I was not able to care for myself. And now that my grandmother is sick, I wish I was there, that I could hold her as tenderly as she once held me. That I could care for her and repay even a very small portion of my debt to her.
(Today I am grateful that I finally picked up the phone.)