Kierkegaard was right when he said, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards". It is not until you have children of your own that you have any real understanding of parenthood.
As a child, I saw parenthood as a form of power. Parents were rulers of a small empire and I was their subject. Since the birth of our daughter, Aisha, I have learnt that it is really about service. My wife wouldn't know it, but she has been an excellent teacher.
The lack of sleep was clearly unbearable. Every two hours during the night Aisha would wake. It continued every night for 14 months. For over 400 consecutive sleepless nights my wife suffered selflessly and lovingly. She has known depths of fatigue that would have broken me.
So much of her life has been given to another. She owns nothing of herself: her time, her energy, even her body belong to our daughter. For her, personal time is something experienced only by other people. How she manages to write her thesis is beyond me.
She has endured the humiliation of grotesque tantrums in very public places. She has left event after event prematurely simply because Aisha was getting restless. Yet her response is still endless giving and patience.
She makes these sacrifices almost involuntarily, as if she is compelled by a boundless love. She has often told me how Aisha has driven her to the edges of sanity, yet on a minute’s separation she misses her incredibly.
I feel indescribable love for our daughter, but my wife’s devotion reaches impossible heights. Endless service is its natural expression.
A man once asked the Prophet Muhammad which person is most worthy of his kindness, honour and respect. “Your mother,” came the reply. “Then who?” asked the man. “Your mother,” said the Prophet. “Then who?” he enquired again. “Your mother.” “Then who?” he asked finally. “Your father,” said the Prophet.
I don’t think I ever really understood this story, but now, after watching my wife, it seems a statement of the obvious. I think about my own mother a lot more now. I don’t know how often I woke her up during the night, how many public tantrums I threw or how many of her life’s plans I ruined. It is not something she ever told me, and I would not have understood even if she did.
“Paradise lies at the feet of your mother,” said Muhammad in an oft-quoted narration. How wonderfully evocative is this image. What majesty that paradise, that goal of so much spiritual struggle, should be connected in this way with motherhood. But then, given the extent of maternal sacrifice and the selfless love that inspires it, where else could it lie?
Today, Aisha celebrates her second birthday. Without a second thought, my wife will devote her day to Aisha’s happiness. How symbolic that even Mothers’ Day, a day that she should monopolise will inevitably be about our daughter. How symbolic that it will be like this every year. The sacrifices continue into eternity. Into paradise.
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