A very near memory was triggered when I read something about food and diets in one of the blogs around New Year. Strange how one piece of the puzzle will jog the entire picture to mind. Mine is from the winter of 2005/2006:
It has been six months since Tariq died and nine since Ammi left us after a tumultuous time. (See posts: How I was called to Hajj, a Childs prayer and Once upon a time Tariq had a friend named Im)
I have put on a brave front, doing everything that normal people do, including sharing my grief with all the wonderful people both near and afar geographically. I have attended weddings including two in one weekend in two cities 150 miles apart. All to make a statement to those siblings of the boys that all is not lost and that they are also an important part of our lives. That I as a parent am not going to be consumed by grief to the exclusion of all else.
Though time is a great healer and it is said that with time wounds heal, but that is not so for me. Time is just a confirmer that Tariq’s departure is irrevocable, that with the winter break while all of Tariqs friends are home, his car sits conspicuously silent in the garage covered with the soft blue cover. I no longer hear the bass through the roof of the garage as he pulls in.
It is now January of 2006, I am eating, as I have been before when Ammi was sick. It is not as noticeable in weight as in my demeanor. Whenever I miss my mother I drink tea. That was our ritual, of letting down our hair over a cup of tea. Thus the cups of tea have gone up exponentially sometimes replacing meals.
Sadness is relieved by another poison: sugar. The local Indian grocer carries these diamond shape sweets that are crushed cashews held together with tons of refined sugar called Kaju Khatli. A bite of it uplifts your mood and energy immediately and in an hour and half crashes you down and then you start again, until it is time to go to the grocery store to get more.
How can I eat when I am sad? All the novels talk about grieved people pining away with no appetite, why am I the opposite? My dear friend and sage Jan explains “Food is nurturing. When you are down or do not get nurtured by your fellow human beings then you turn to food to nurture yourself”
My eldest brother is visiting briefly for the weekend and our home is full of well wishers and Tariq’s friends, I have a hacking cough that neither brings up anything nor goes away. I sound like a TB patient but I know it is not TB. I have treated it in all the normal ways that allopathic medicine recommends, to no avail. I have given up. As it is life is not so great as it is made out to be. So be it.
I down another cup of tea with milk but no sugar and feel the euphoria spread through my veins and feel the gyri of my brain relaxing. For that moment the soft comforting feeling is beautiful. I am reminded of how alcoholics explain their feeling after drinking. This is not alcohol I tell myself.
I have noticed recently that with the tea a fire has started to rise from my epigastrium to my throat, which is sometimes cooled with food and sometimes not. Subconsciously I know I am in the fast lane to self-destruction, but consciously I rationalize that I have done all the treatment I can, and there is nothing else I can do.
It is breakfast time and I ask my brother what he would like and he asks if I have oatmeal, I reply yes and he adds ‘Could you please leave the milk and sugar off’. I am mildly surprised; I have never experienced this brother of mine to be on a food fetish.
He eats his oatmeal with some flax seeds sprinkled on, no milk, no sugar, with two pieces of fruit. He pulls out a box of dates, eats two and offers it to others. Everyone declines, who would eat dates for breakfast?
My hacking cough begins and I have to leave the table. My brother approaches me and offers me his tea. I look at the label it is by Alvita with a picture of a flower on it called “Echinacea”. “Drink this three times a day and stay away from the other tea for now” he says. Medical advice from an English professor? I smile.
The line of fire from my epigastrium to my throat has become a permanent feature so I decide to go his route. What else? I ask him. He explains with a smile, “this is the diet of Prophet Muhammad PBUH who at the age of sixty could run and mount a bareback horse. His diet was grains, dates and very little or occasional meat” I am intrigued, I am not a diet person, but what a wonderful opportunity to follow the Sunnah and heal this fire in my belly. What I am unaware at this time is that the path of the Prophet (PBUH) is also going to heal the fire of grief in my heart. I ask my brother for details and he refers me to his daughter, my niece who has researched this meal plan.
I am now on a variation of Prophet Muhammad’s PBUH diet, with the addition of green tea and some fruit and vegetables. I still cannot practice his (PBUH) method of only filling one third of my stomach with food, but in eight weeks I am better. I have also visited my doctor, who has confirmed what my brother the English Professor has treated with the Sunnah.
I am spurred to learn more about Prophet Muhammad than just his diet and so I begin on my journey into the life of the most revered man in this world.
I start out by listening to Yasir Qadhi’s rendition of “Muhammad (PBUH) morals and manners” It is riveting. I am trying to understand how he (PBUH) had the time to do all that he did and then also did prayers and nafls and fasts.
This is the beginning of my attempts to get off the fast lane to self-destruction….. I feel I am groping in the darkness of grief for the Nur of the guidance of Allah SWT.
He (SWT) says, and I paraphrase; if you call me I listen, you take one step towards me and I will run to you.
I am not aware of this from the well of my grief but ……even in the pitch darkness of my grief, I feel He (SWT) is patiently waiting, listening, and gently encouraging me to call on him or at least to make a gesture to turn to him…………… and I do, slowly, stumbling and clumsy in my approach.