a mostly true story…
for Zahara whose name means beautiful flower and intelligence, and
whose middle name is Noor, the purest light
There once was a Pakistani girl who very vocally proclaimed herself to be “liberal” and yet, in her heart of hearts, she’d much rather have been a soft-spoken princess of olden times, wrapped in layers of silk and the protection of her hero.
Obviously, modern-day New York was nothing like the kingdoms of fairy tales. Still, she held out hope for her very own Bollywood-esque love story, complete with an honest, sturdy man meant only for her. He would fight for the love of his life while preserving her honor, respecting both of their families and above all believing in the strength of true love. He would defend her against anything that dared to even attempt to harm her. And he would prove that good always won, that the pure of heart were rewarded and lived happily ever after. They would be as sure of each other as they were of the sun in the sky, completing each other, challenging each other. He would, of course, have a stellar sense of humor and love to dance and always fill the gas tank and build everything from cabinets to makeshift computer tables to cribs and carseats one day!
Hollywood had left its mark on the girl, but Bollywood! Oh, Bollywood was glamorous and amorous. Any struggle, any problem could be solved in a triumphant and glorious resolution that left tears in her eyes and a swelling in her heart. THIS was what her life was meant to be: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Her real-life version wouldn’t be as dirty or bloody or violent, but just as romantic and passionate, full of noble, dignified characters who ultimately realize that real love and strong morality are the same, are complementary, are easily reconciled. And, of course, she would be dressed in just such a gorgeous, traditional bridal lengha, all flowing and golden and regal, as her hero clasped her hand and pulled her beside him and they disappeared into the sunset.
Well, the years went by and this early impression of love remained a steady presence in her life. Love was intense and emotional. Love was full of battles and powerful struggles that eventually led to the happily ever after she sought. So she endured the battles and the tug of war and her war-borne scars deepened, but she kept firm. After all, the women who really deserved happiness only achieved it after remaining steadfast in the face of all danger and sadness. They survived, and so they were rewarded. They stuck by their man, no matter what. They were honest, they were true, they were ferociously committed to making it work. That was love, that was life.
Then one fateful day, all that she had been working to preserve fell apart and the facade of her life fell away. Who was she if she wasn’t a wife? What was she if she no longer struggled to become the golden girl who earned and got and kept the guy?
The years of toiling for the love she thought she’d eventually deserve had left her haggard, gasping for understanding and relief and the tenderness she kept imagining would someday be hers. The loyalty she thought would get her to a place of honor in her own life had in actuality left her laying on the ground, waiting, just waiting, for the hero to appear and save her from her self-imposed misery. It was the point in the story when the hero proves his worth by lifting the saintly suffering princess to her feet. It was the part when he carries her into their happy ending. Instead, she was just waiting. But she wasn’t alone.
The pool of love and kindness and strength that she had kept flowing single-handedly all those years had miraculously produced a beautiful flower, a growing, thriving reminder of all of the hopes the girl had nurtured for so long. The flower was vivid and colorful, alive and touched by magic. A light shone from within it, and even when all of the sunshine had leaked away to a dull gray-black darkness, this flower shone brightly and endured and grew strong.
The girl found herself drawn to it, warmed by its internal sun that needed no outside light to survive. She watered it, sometimes with tears, and laughed when the petals danced without wind. She was entranced by it, by this flower that grew by her side and the magic that grew in their midst.
Little by little, gently, slowly, the girl replaced broken shards of the life she had once lived, with the soft, self-replenishing petals of the magical flower. Somehow, the flower was always whole, no matter how many petals the girl needed to fill the holes her former life had left. The flower entwined itself around the girl’s fingers, giving her the power to create her own light, enveloping them in a glowing, constant, visible circle of protection, and filling every crack with its magic.
Then came a day when the flower required more and more from the girl. And she found herself surprisingly capable of meeting those needs, singing and dancing, building and transforming their world so the flower had all it wanted.
The girl was more woman than girl now, but that young hopeless romantic was still inside her somewhere. She looked around at the life her and the flower had together, and she was shocked at how bright that life was. The circle of light they had created together was immense now, the ends barely even visible. The flower was more a strong plant now yet its magic was still unlimited.
The woman asked herself what else she could do for the flower, what it needed from her now, and then it came to her. She needed to find someplace new to accommodate the size of their joyful cocoon, which was now too big to remain in the same place where they had first found each other. The woman vowed she would find such a place, but in the meantime, she could at least build the flower a pretty promise of that new home.
When the woman was done, she stepped back and surveyed her work. Not bad for a princess-wannabe waiting for a hero to construct everything it took to make a life. She had done it all herself, with the magic powers the flower had infused into her, and now it looked perfect. Well, perfect except for the two screws somehow left over… the woman worried for just a moment that the whole thing would come crashing down, but after checking and inspecting every inch, she realized she had made it stable and secure and safe for her little glowing flower.
She saw where the screws were meant to go and realized she had somehow fused the pieces together so tightly that they weren’t necessary anymore. Sometimes, all the pieces didn’t fit and sometimes what was meant to be didn’t have to be. And she had used her own judgment and her own hands and made something sturdier than any man and safer than any layers of fabric and forced compliance.
In fact, she thought as she sat back and watched her little flower shine even brighter, in fact, a hero had come and fought for her and saved her and lifted her into the clouds of happily ever after. A hero, who very vocally proclaimed herself to be liberal, and who was the queen of her realm, wrapped in layers of protection and magic she herself had helped sew. A hero, who was meant to hold the hand of a tiny flower princess and stand tall and regal and golden and whole, as they walked off into the sunset together.