Saturday, 25 February 2012

A houseplant I named Hope

I woke up this morning and decided to name one of my houseplants Amal, the Arabic word meaning ‘hope’. This plant, a variety of yucca if I am not mistaken, has been nameless since the day I bought it from a moving sale more than six years ago. But today, I realised how much she deserved this designation.

For most of the last six years, Amal has seemed to be on her last legs. Her leaves would consistently wilt at the tips to a dry crisp or sometimes turn entirely yellow, even if I wasn’t over-watering it. Unable to re-generate, one leaf would die and another would not grow in its place, leaving the trunk unusually bare compared with when I bought it.

I tried various plant foods, all of which failed to give her a renewed lease on life. If I thought perhaps she was getting too much sun, I would move her to a more shady area of the apartment, and vice versa. Nothing seemed to work. If anything, the more attention I paid, the worse her condition would become. While my other houseplant has grown to become lush, this one seemed to remain limp, barely clinging onto life. She somehow managed to hobble her way through the years, dormant and unchanged unless to further deplete.

A few months ago, I thought her vigour had finally come to an end. Many of the leaves had turned yellow, then brown and within a matter of weeks I removed about a third of them. I tried relocating the plant from the living room to the bedroom, placing her on the sill of the window that stretches from the ceiling to the floor so she would get a good dose of unhindered late-afternoon rays. I was hoping a change of location would improve her mood – but it didn’t seem to be working. 

Even under the care of my mother--whose green thumb has over the years turned many a bud into tall, massive clusters of lush leaves fit for a rainforest--couldn’t seem to cast her magic on this plant. I continued to remove dying leaves from the plant. Affectionately, I would carefully clean the leaves individually with water and caress them, whispering the words ‘Bismillah’, ‘In the Name of God’.

So, to be honest, I stopped paying attention and with a heavy heart, assumed there was nothing I could do to prevent the plant’s inevitable demise. Every living thing has its life span and if it was time for her to finally diminish, all of my efforts would fail.

God sends down rain from the sky and with it revives the earth when it is dead. There is truly a sign in this for people who listen.
(Quran, 16:65)

Then, in my neglect, the plant discovered hope again all on her own. I didn’t really notice the change as I quickly watered it each week without inspection. My mom was out of town and my sister and I had been travelling, too, so the health of the plant wasn’t the focus of my attention. Yet, somewhere along the way, I no longer needed to pull off dead leaves and the ones that were left started to slightly perk up.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Tunes for a Lifetime

Long before YouTube gave us instant access to all of our favourite music, my older sister and I would wait for the videos of our preferred artists to appear on televised music countdowns and record them on a videocassette so we could watch them over and over again. We would replay the tunes on the family room VCR and, along with our younger sister, often try to mimic the notes and dance moves of our most-loved musicians.

When I learned of Whitney Houston’s death yesterday, my mind almost instantly turned to that videotape because there was a song of hers that we had recorded on it and, at one stage when I was about 13-14 years old, I watched it repeatedly. It was called “Miracle”.  The holding power a great song has over the course of one’s lifetime is remarkable. Hearing it, we instantly tune back to the moment its effect was most palpable.  

Whitney’s immaculate, powerful voice singing the lyrics as she sat in what appeared as a deserted auditorium, juxtaposed with photographs of young people in various contexts of struggle and success, left an impression on me at a time in my life when I was searching for guidance.

We were dealing with some very personal, tricky family struggles that led my sisters and I to become quite closed off from our surroundings. At times, the pressure was overwhelming and it wasn’t always possible for me to derive comfort from loved ones. This video in particular, I would view intently and frequently.

How could you understand the way I feel.
How could you relate to so much pain.
Seems as though nothing can comfort me.
So today, I pray, that someone should listen…

Watching the black-and-white scenes and listening carefully as though Whitney’s lyrics were written for me, I understood the song to be about embracing circumstances, overcoming obstacles and making choices that would change our lives for the better. The song helped me contextualise the struggles I faced against the grander scheme of reality. As bad as things may have appeared, everyone has a taste of anguish and is often faced cumbersome tests of resolve and faith.