Letter to A Struggling Spirit


I am writing this letter to my cousin. Her mother died in January 2021. Her sister went into a coma in April. And now she herself has been admitted to the hospital for COVID complications. I am sharing here because I think many other people may be suffering in Spirit.

To my cousin, my favorite, Shelina,
I have tried many times to write you this letter. And have failed at least three other
times. Today, I am compelled to share here my heart with you.
Early on in our lives, I sensed a feeling of kindred Spirit with you. We both like nature.
We enjoyed smelling flowers together, and we photographed beautiful vistas on family
adventures. Remember the volcano and then the beach in Costa Rica? Occasionally,
we both overate good desi food, like those indulgent chai times with samosas and
jugu cake. We shared the giggles when my Dad, your uncle, got grumpy about my use
of ‘bad’ words. We shared skeptical glances when someone dared to tell us “No.” Since
then, I have known that you and I can play in the realm of Spirit. We share a “joie de
vivre,” what the French call the joy of living.

A beach time

Now, you are in the hospital. You have more ailments than I could name or understand.
I only know that you and I share the Hassanali blood. Our propensity for stubbornness,
determination, and appetite have genetic roots in an ancestor neither one of us knew.
Perhaps there is also some tinge of past trauma that lives on in that blood. This trauma,
at times, trickles into our lives with dark symptoms when our Spirit has grown dull.
I know that your whole life has been difficult. You grew up without a father. Through
determination and bravery, you have worked for so long to support your mother and
sister. The last few months have been even harder.

Suddenly losing your Mom was devastating for you. It was tough because you
called the ambulance for her, and then you could not see her as she left this
earthly place. The pandemic has created many problems. And for you, this twist has
kept you from your mother in her last moments. All of this is so incredibly painful to see
and know, even from so far.

Losing Gulibai is still harder as you have been trying for so long to find a way to live
your own life. Now, you feel guilt and depression for wanting to make your own life. I
know, now, that the situation has only gotten worse. Rifat, your sister, my cousin, has
fallen into a coma. The earth has been shaking this past year. And now it seems that
the sky has fallen in.

As you lie in bed today, I want to write to you and remind you that your body is not your
cage. Your truth goes beyond what the doctors say you are suffering; you are more than the names of diseases, diagnoses, and speculations.

You are not limited by your body. Nor are you even limited by the Narrative of your life.
What do I mean by that? You have done so much for other women, for your sister, and
for your mother. But, the story of your struggles does not have to be your only story. All of
this past has been full of difficulty. I know myself. I have watched you struggle from afar. I, too, know this struggle from life. But, I also know more about you. I have seen when your tenacity and Spirit shine through your life situation with my own eyes.

Your caring heart and creative imagination gave you the courage to run as a green
party candidate in oil-slick Alberta! Your union work helped support other social
workers. Your zest for life took you on adventures in Bali, Mexico, Tanzania, Turkey,
among many others.

Our few days in Portugal still fill me with joy. The memories of the tram ride to the beach near Porto, seeing underground cellars full of wine, and our silly photoshoots are fresh in my mind.

In none of these moments did your body nor your story hold you back. All that trauma
going on in you, around you, that is part of you. But, only a part. I hope a smaller and
smaller part slowly. We can cast off the darkness carried on in our ancestry. We are
more than that trauma. I know you have this in you; I have seen the spirit shine in you.
I see inside of you that Spirit. That part of you that cackles with joy. Your capacity to see
beauty in nature, to laugh at absurd jokes, and to find serenity in the third-world
landscapes you have enjoyed.

Your hospital room, with doctors and nurses buzzing about, is all focused on your
illness. They may make it difficult to see that Spirit; it may be a bit blurry. Yet, with all of this
drama going on, and your body weighing you down, that Spirit is still in there. It is there
waiting to soar again.

That Spirit inside of you that wants to live its own truth. It wants you to remember those
moments of bravery and those indulgences of joy. My hope for you is that you will put
that Spirit first. I wish it would lead you and your body from your sickbed. I will be here
waiting to meet that Spirit again.

With Love,
Your Sister in Spirit and Cousin in Life,

  • Fans of James Baldwin will recognize his style from “My Dungeon Shook.”