Yesterday at breakfast Lowell was reading NPR journalist, Heather King’s spiritual memoir, Redeemed. I just finished reading it a few days ago too. In some ways it’s a sequel to her book, Parched. If Parched describes the depths to which she sunk in her alcoholism and various addictions, Redeemed, follows her journey out toward God. It’s a well-written document of her honest spiritual journey through the death of her father, breast cancer, community and divorce. The cover describes it best when it says, “A Spiritual Misfit Stumbles toward God, Marginal Sanity and the Peace that Passes all Understanding.”
Lowell, in between bites of cereal, made a comment about King’s battle with cancer. Bronwynn, ever listening, asked, “Is this the same person that was an alcoholic and a drug addict?” When we indicated that it was, she continued, “And now she has breast cancer?” Lowell swallowed and nodded yes. Bronwynn’s response was a quick and heartfelt prayer, “Geez God—Give her a break!”
I have prayed that same prayer for many of my friends over the years. There are times when it seems people are doled out too much. The suffering is too deep, too painful. And it keeps coming. No one has just one isolated sore-spot. Pain piles on pain. Divorce on top of cancer. Death next to another illness. Unemployed and then a suicide in the family. Robbed and shot.
Geez God, give them a break.
Lately I’ve been praying this prayer for my beloved Pakistan. Pakistan is the home of my childhood. I grew up there. I have “aunts” and “uncles” and friends and old neighbours yet there. My memories of the call to prayer, train rides through the Thal Desert, fresh kinoo oranges, playing with goats in the chuks (villages), picnics by the canals are vibrant and very much alive. When I played dress up it was with Gulshazia and Nadine in a secluded courtyard. We folded silky headscarves into burqas and we donned them with innocent modesty and giggles. When we played kitchen it was over a small brick fire pit. Sitting on our haunches we madly stirred our imaginary curry and kneaded the dough for pretend roti. Sometimes mom actually let us light a fire. Sometimes we had a real potato to cut into our pot. Sometimes we had real atta to mix with water to make our roti dough.
Pakistan, since its beginning in 1947, has been through the wringer. Political instability, caught in the crossroads of terror trafficking, rocked repeatedly by drought, earthquakes and floods it can’t seem to cut a break. And yet my heart cries out for that very thing, Geez God—give her a break!
In some ways I suppose I’m still trying to process the attack at All Saint’s Church in Peshawar that happened on September 22nd. Earlier in March, in Lahore, an angry mob burned two churches and blazed over a hundred homes of Christians. An earthquake hit on September 30 and another one rumbled through on October 6th. On October 16th, 2013, a suicide bomber attacked the law minister, Israr Gandapur, in his home as he celebrated Eid with friends and well-wishers. Eight were killed and another thirty were wounded. Wikipedia has thirty-eight pages dedicated to “Suicide bombings in Pakistan” –and all that just since 2007! Watching this place that I love suffer so much, so deeply, so repeatedly has been unbearable. Others of us who claim Pakistan, either by birth or by adoption, also struggle to come to grips with it all. It’s become this unbelievable patchwork of griefs so deep and impossibly difficult to articulate perpetually shrouding my soul.
And yet so often it seems to me that Pakistan is so misunderstood. It’s been painted by the media to be the source of all terrorism, and all evil. I want the world to know that Pakistanis are not the enemy. Pakistanis should not be judged by the acts of evil or by the terror-sharers that come from the region. Imagine if outsiders or foreigners heard of the shootings in Colorado, or the tragedy last winter in Newtown, Connecticut and they mistook all Americans as violent senseless evil-doers. We would rise up in protest at such ignorant generalizations. And we must do that now too on behalf of Pakistanis.
Pakistanis are the victims. They have suffered repeatedly at the hands of evil-doers. They’ve experienced more terror and violence than we can ever imagine. War is constantly fought on her northern borders. Relations with India are fragile at best. To the west Afghanistan’s prolonged issues leak out into Pakistan. It’s too much. Terrorists maybe the enemy. But they are not just our enemies. They are Pakistan’s enemies too. Pakistani Muslims and Christians are the prize. We need to fight for and win that precious prize.
I plead for mercy for this, my war-wracked country. I petition for justice for a place where the seeds of corruption were planted generations ago and continue to push up like a noxious weed. I beseech The God of Ishmael and Isaac to show favour on those who seek Truth and Peace. I pray the US has great wisdom in her dealings and interactions with this vulnerable country. Pakistan was never meant to be America’s diving board into the region. The use of drone strikes is unjust and cruel. The innocent are killed. The grieving and the angry; the hurt and the confused rise up like a swarm of stirred up bees. Pakistan’s independence, sovereignty and attempts to rule her own country are thwarted with each new drone attack. A successful hit still doesn’t, in my mind, justify the hundreds of unarmed civilians killed in unsuccessful hits who’ve been killed. (Wikipedia estimates that anywhere from 286-890 innocent people have been killed –including over 160 children.)
Pakistan is a country rich in history and natural resources whose people are warm and dignified, whose culture is hospitable and generous. She has much to offer the globe. She understands the complexities of being a smaller younger sibling in a feuding clan as she stands together with her South Asian family: Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Pakistanis invite others into deep loyal friendships that are laced with a wonderful sense of humour. Pakistanis love children and respect the elderly; they hate to offend anyone; time is flexible and free flowing; they respect modesty. You’ll never eat more delicious food, or drink better chai. There is a deep kindness that cloaks the Pakistani culture. You know it as you enter it. Pakistanis are very gracious and welcoming.
But mostly, I cry from a heart perplexed by the complexities of so much sorrow, and with complete reverence: Geez God, give her a break!