I have always been the kind of girl who believes in true love. When I was little, I couldn't wait for my own “happily ever after." Dreaming of my own wedding, binge-watching romantic movies - all that jazz. My definition of love now is different than it was when I was fifteen; or even then it was just a month ago. To me, then, love was a perfect force between two people capable of healing all the hatred and violence in the world. To me, now, love is something too great and complicated to put it into words, but I'll try. Love is interactions. People. Places. Events. Feelings. Colors. Love is the way my Nani (grandmother) reminisces about my Nana (grandfather). Love is my Abboo's (father's) embrace as I cry into his shoulder. Love is strangers offering you iftaar during Ramazan. Love is smiling at yourself in the mirror when you feel radiant. Love is a mother seeing her newborn baby for the first time. We are all bound by love; we are all connected in some way. That's what's so special to me about humanity. While love is the most complicated thing in the world to me, it is also the simplest.
Some might say that a sixteen year old knows nothing about love, but I disagree. I am in love. But not in the way you're thinking.
I am in love with love—completely enamored by the acts of love I have observed and experienced in this world. My three and a half week trip to Karachi has allowed me to come to this realization. It is ironic that I found love in a place that I used to perceive as loveless. Honestly, Pakistan never felt like a home to me as I felt the environment—which is much different from where I live—put a damper on my self-expression. Yet now, this country, though imperfect, has presented me with so many pockets of hope that were invisible to me before. That's another cool thing about the universe. If you open your eyes, you will see a new light everywhere you look. I've been to Pakistan countless times before, but it was this trip where I really opened my eyes. And my heart. During this trip, I have fallen in love with love, with stories, with people whom I met for barely an hour.
I am in love with the young girl who came into the pediatric cardiology clinic on a Tuesday morning and learnt she had a number of cardiac issues. She was bombarded with medical jargon and “isms" yet the only “ism" I noticed about her was her optimism. Her mother sitting next to her was clearly nervous, and stuttered when the doctor asked her questions, but the seventeen year old patient, ever so gracefully, touched her mother's hand and took over, tackling each question head on. She seemed so strong, yet so delicate. Every time we made eye contact, we exchanged subtle smiles. Then, she left the clinic and I accepted that I probably would never see her again. Yet, the next day, she was having an echocardiogram test done, and I was observing. I couldn't see the patient at first as she was behind a curtain, but I recognized the mother right away. I guess the mother remembered me and greeted me with a big smile and nod. When the daughter was dressed and began to walk out of the room, I smiled at her and I expected just a casual smile back, but she stopped to shake my hand, hug me, and ask how I was. I was so happy, that I could not respond properly (my Urdu is really poor), but I think she knew how much that small act of love meant to me.
I am in love with the father of a three year old boy who did not give up on his son when almost all the doctors had. I am in love with his infinite love and passion for his child. While his child was in a coma, he prayed and spoke with doctors in order to do anything for his son. And it paid off. His love woke his child up. His love allowed his child to walk after months and months of physiotherapy. His love is what made his son who he is today. The father's laughter was so pure as he reacted to the doctor's jokes. His arms around his son were dirty, but not in a bad way. One day his son will not fit in his arms anymore, but his father's arms will always be his safe haven.
I am in love with the girl who attended Dr. S's genetics clinic with XY chromosomes. Gender is such a restrictive quality, so being told that you may not be the gender that you grew up thinking you were is a nightmare. When Dr. S confirmed that she was a female regardless of her chromosomes, her eyes and lips seemed as if they wanted to smile, but instead tears came rushing down. Her mother began bawling and hugging her daughter tightly—an act of pure love. Their nightmare was over. I ran out to get them some water and when I returned I handed the girl the cup and looked her in the eyes. I tried to tell her that she was so strong and beautiful through just my eyes, but I'm pretty sure she didn't think much of our encounter. Her mother wiped her eyes soothingly, squeezed her hands, and began to collect their things. As they began to walk out, her mother embraced me so genuinely that I couldn't help but beam with joy.
I am in love with the five year old girl I met at The Street School, who flopped around on her chair that was almost three times her size. Her smile stretched from ear to ear—something I'll never forget. Her older sister kept asking her to repeat letters in order to spell words, and she mindlessly did what her sister said. Yet, it seemed like her thoughts were somewhere else—somewhere greater. As if she was coming up with ways that she and her infectious smile could change the world. She couldn't sit still-- almost like she had so many places to go and be. I asked her what her name was, and she responded with a big smile and no words. I wish I had a name to associate with her gentle face, but it's okay; a single name would not even begin to describe her contagious positivity.
I am in love with Hassan (not his real name), the brother of a little boy with Down syndrome, whom I met at Karachi Down Syndrome Program (KDSP). His heart burst with passion and determination for his little brother. His lips were never sealed; he was constantly saying encouraging phrases and trying to get his brother to laugh. When his brother refused to walk during a physiotherapy session, it was lovely to see Hassan attempt several different ways of getting his brother's attention—never once showing any signs of giving up. The way he looked at his little brother was so beautiful, as if he was trying to send him rays of positive warmth through eye contact, on top of his incessant optimistic words. That boy is the epitome of love.
I am in love with their stories.
And while I recognize so much more positive energy in this world now, my thoughts can't help but wander off to the negative. That's not completely a bad thing though, as negative thoughts push for positive change. I think love is endless, but here in Pakistan (and lots of other places), some people have set a limit on their capability to express love. While I am delighted with the amount of love I have seen on my trip, it makes my heart throb to see the lack of inclusiveness of different types of love. It angers me that society has limited romantic love to between a man and a woman. Why has society given the LGBT community a reason to hide in the dark? Why is love restricted by gender and sexuality when it has the capability to transcend beyond all boundaries? It bothers me that the man is dominant in a relationship of love. It irritates me that self-love is not emphasized here in Pakistan as much as it needs to be. The only way your heart can be fully open to love is if you have a sense of love for yourself. It infuriates me that a parent's love for their differently abled child is not as much for their average child. Restrictions on love make me undeniably upset, but they also present me with opportunities to speak out for what is right. And I love that this trip has allowed me to transform my negative feelings into real change.
DISCLAIMER: Copyright belongs to the author. This blog cannot be held responsible for events bearing overt resemblance to any actual occurrences. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of CCIT or AKU.
About the Author: Suroor Zahra Nakhoda is a high school student born and raised in California. Her interests include writing about social justice and spreading the idea of acceptance through multiple forms of art.
About the Illustrator: Mehak Fatima is a creative artist interested in benefiting society through her art and other creative works.