Happy Birthday

January 24, 2024

Grief is not everything. The sun is.

After my father died, I prayed for rain.

They say that rain cleanses — that water washes away the worst of sins. For the past year, I’d been hoping for a flood or tsunami, for a torrential downfall to wipe me clean of memories, of sorrows, of everything I’d done wrong and all I’d lost. I needed the rain to help me forget.

So I went in search of it and spent a wet summer in England reading Wuthering Heights, the story of hardened souls forged in the precarious Yorkshire Moors. When I climbed the Moors myself, an impending storm in the distance, my father was on my mind.

I had become religious in the last few years, only in the moments I would grasp my father’s hands and find them thinner, almost wispy, within mine. I pressed my hands together with violence at the altar of the gods, thinking that just a little harder might do something. I wasn’t sure that I loved God, or even trusted him. Still, I prayed: there was no one else to ask.

Even after he was gone, I was still hoping for magic – some evidence that this was all one horrible mistake. Every eyelash on my face, every candle I blew out, every coin I threw in a fountain was dedicated to him. The rolling hills on the Moors, everything colored a green so vibrant it seemed unnatural, was one more altar, shocking enough to assume the presence of something great.

There were said to be fairy caves in these Moors, which the Brontë sisters had supposedly once traversed. Wishes, here, too, were said to be granted. In the moments before we began the steep climb to the caves, a storm rolled over us. The storm began as a drizzle and turned almost immediately, into a deluge. We were lucky we hadn’t tried to ascend, the guide told us. That pathway could have been fatal if it were slippery.

With the wind and icy rain whipping my thin plastic poncho, chilling me to the bone in my flimsy tennis skirt, I found myself overwhelmed with grief. I’d come for a baptism and forgotten I was Hindu.

My father was a simple man — he loved his kids, watching tennis, and eating spicy food. He hated the cold. He believed in God and never drank or smoked in his life. The only time I saw him cry was when his mother died. Someone, at his funeral, called him a saint.

My father wasn’t a saint, I’m sure. I mirror him in too many ways for that to be true, the way all daughters resemble their dads: thieves of their hot tempers and their love for their wivemy mother’s coffee. Perhaps his constant stability was why I didn’t believe he would die until the moment he did. Perhaps it’s how I kept believing, through the summer, that some magic being, godly figure, or trade would bring him back.

I remembered, as we walked as a small line of umbrellas, my father and I sitting in our yard in wicker lawn chairs. We’d pull at the weather-worn pieces of plastic and talk about nothing, heads turned up to catch the last of the sunlight after he’d come home from work and I from school.

I remembered, as the group grew silent against the howling wind, a dream I had in the month after my father died. For some reason, my family home’s primary bedroom was shrouded in hazy light as I sat beside my father on his bed. When I touched his leg to comfort him, he flinched away. Then, the air began to shimmer. Glistening and golden, the dream fell apart — I woke up and sobbed, the same way I had begun to cry on the Moors. The rainfall disguised the tears rolling down my face.

After beating down on us for about 20 minutes, the torrent disappeared as quickly as it had come, gusts of wind becoming less violent as we reached a small brook. When I stood atop the hills, still shaking from the sudden onset storm just turned off like God had flipped a switch, the sun came out.

Once again, we trekked upwards, fearful and knowing now of the weather’s volatility with a tentative adoration for the new warmth on our backs. I lifted my head up and felt heat touch my skin. I had prayed for rain, because they say that it cleanses, but it doesn't. It didn’t. I lived on after the rain, unchanged, with painful memories and grief. The cold rain wouldn’t help me forget or move on. It only brought back the tragedy in vivid blues and greens.

In the way some women felt connected to Diana, or Luna, or Phoebe in the moon, Apollo or Surya was a protector of mine — my triumphant sun, killer of fear, beauteous and warm. I lifted my head up and felt heat touch my skin.

It wasn't the water I had wished for. Water would cleanse, but also strip, leaving you cold and shivering. Only the sun, so sparse here, would heal. The warmth would bake away impurities, and set the wounds it creates with a golden glow. The sun would adorn and bless.

These Moors were not meant for me, I thought. The wind and rain beat so ceaselessly, no wonder people must harden their hearts to simply stand. It was the sun that saved me on those hills, Surya or Apollo who revitalized me, who didn’t wash me clean or make me forget but danced light over regrets, turned sorrow into reminiscence.

I picked a small handful of berries and sat, allowing the sunlight to kiss me. I would get off these hills, and return to the warm world of grassland, where grass grows brown yet people grow strong. They bask, we bask, and live with joy in our blood. I didn’t want to be hardened or independent or cold. I didn’t want to wallow or beg or pray — though I’m sure leaving the rain behind wouldn’t mean the end of grief. But it could be a start.

Magic would not bring my father back. But magic exists all around me, in nature and light and the warmth of my home. I found magic that summer, not where I escaped to, but where I ran from — in my friends and family and everything that lives beyond grief, beyond death.

Where the sun goes, I belong. That is magic enough. ■

Layout: Fiona Yuko Forbes & Ava Jiang

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