“So, now what?”
I’ll get back to this in a second. I don’t think I know yet.
It took me a while to stop crying today. It was either grief (sobbing, wailing prayers) or complete despondence. I knew I wasn’t alone, because all over my Facebook, my Twitter, my text messages were Pakistanis with black profile pictures, sharing article upon article, trying – and failing, as we all did – to articulate the sheer extent of the horror they were experiencing. No amount of begging God to stop this, beseeching Him to have mercy on our country, saying, “Hum aur nahin seh saktay, we can’t take it anymore” is enough.
Because if it was only one person’s grief, we could handle that. If it was pain on a micro, individual level, that’s comparatively easy. But when you’re saddled with a national tragedy, all notions of individuality go rolling down the shitter. Here is what national tragedy feels like: it’s when you can’t stop crying because you’re trying to shed enough tears for 180 million people whose hearts are broken and whose lives are at a standstill; it’s when the words of an article can make you shudder and shake as if someone riddled you full of metal; it’s when the face of a little angel taken from the world so soon looks just like your baby cousin, your brother, your sister, your child; it’s when every single moment of your day, you bear the grief of ALL your countrymen (and that isn’t even counting the diaspora, the study-abroad and exchange students, or the hyphenated, dual-citizens).
It’s when you yearn so deeply to be back in your motherland or to be together with your family because there is nowhere you would rather be than with your people. Academia be damned, political analysis rendered null and void, because when it comes to the emotion and the pain and the trauma of one school, we are all reduced to being feeling creatures: being human in the most painful, absurdly tragic way. People slept, woke up, and still felt the heaviness of 130 children taken from the world in their hearts; others, still, have not yet slept because they have not been able to. Facebook is still populated with pitch black identifiers where there used to be people’s faces. And that’s not an entirely inaccurate representation of how we feel.
National grief is like being enveloped in each others arms and sobbing openly and without shame. It’s the traumatized whispering of encouragement that you want to hear in return. It is when nationality takes a nose dive from out of its political definition and turns into something solely emotional, a connection forged from hurt and collective mourning. Then you have to foray into the world outside the huddle of camaraderie.
Ugly, isn’t it, when you naively decide to brave the comments section of a foreign news site to see glimpses of support and sympathy and instead see vitriol. “Monsters; barbarians; backwards; sandn***ers; Arab monkeys; Taliban sympathizers-”
And that’s when you snap and start crying even harder because no amount of rage is cathartic enough to erase the stamp the world has decided to label you with. Ignorant, untrue words that still hurt. Like finding a bear trap in a meadow. Because, of course, we had this coming – us dirty Islamics with our Koran that tells us to kill indiscriminately. Because, of course, we’ve been aiding the Taliban, and so it’s okay that our children have been slaughtered en masse; because, of course, this is exactly why we should stop being so up in arms about the torture report from the CIA, because all us Islamics are the fucking same; uncivilized monsters that are the same as those that have routinely tortured US, threatened OUR existence, murdered OUR children, ruined OUR lives.
So while we cry and mourn and wail and watch our mothers trail after child-sized coffins, you can sit there and watch our theater of the absurd from your balcony seat and throw popcorn at our pantomime every time something happens that you didn’t think should have been in the script. Please. Go right ahead.
And now go to your favorite news source; find the death toll of the babies murdered by our enemies; mull that number over, swill it around in your mouth like bitter wine, let it ferment in your mind and jump at you when you least expect it. That’s how many lives were taken from us today. That’s how many little boys and girls, young adults with promising futures, had their lives destroyed. Now add a few more numbers to that: that’s how many people will never be the same again.
Now add 180 million to that. Look up all the attacks that have happened in Pakistan over the past year. Now look at the past decade.
Next time you meet a Pakistani, I want you to look them in the eye and remember that number. Remember all those numbers. So when you open your mouth to spew your bullshit, you remember just how many memories you have disgraced with your foul words.
The tears never seem to stop when they start. The wound never heals itself enough to be completely averse to the possibility of being ripped apart and left to bleed again. It never gets any easier; trust us, we’ve had enough practice. Magar hum aur kitna seh saktay hain? Aur kitna bardaash kartain rahaingay? How many more times will I utter “Ya Allah, khair” by the time this year is done?
And how could I ever stop thinking of the parents and the faces of all those little babies…
I’m still not sure. I still haven’t figured that out yet. I haven’t been able to use my words until just now, and now that I’ve said all this, I don’t know if I’ll be able to go to sleep.
Every time we think we have had enough, the universe throws Pakistan another curveball. Somehow, we survive it. Maybe there’s such a thing as being too strong. Whether that’s a bad thing, I haven’t really figured it out yet. But all I know is that somehow, somehow, we’re going to be able to find our lives again. We’re resilient to a fault, us Pakistanis. But the world can be sure of one thing: we never forget, not one of the hundreds of attempts on our livelihood that have been made will ever be forgotten. And the Peshawar attack? Time itself couldn’t swoop in and erase that etching from the tablet of our history. We won’t let it.