He Who Has, and Has Not
It's been a week of stresses in the world of Miss O' (though not only stresses, as I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful garden party at a restaurant on W. 14th Street in honor of my friend Frances's birthday), and so this week's post must be a little post, like those notices you get from your health care provider, reminding you that you had some kind of treatment back there, and that you might owe money, but not to them. This is just a little notice, is all. I hope that, unlike that waste of paperwork I mentioned, there is in fact something to be gleaned, some useful insight that does not clutter your desk or dull your day.
To begin: On these warm evenings out on my porch here in Queens, H and your Miss O’ commune with the three visible stars, the occasional slice of moon, the floodlights of the Con Ed gas line trucks, and wonder why the fuck we have no money. It’s a real shame, what we might do and cannot do. Still, we work, are honest in our dealings, are essentially good people. One would think it would be enough.
Somehow, it is not. Words of wisdom from my love, H’s, father (whom I know well here as a hi-bye friend of limited English, but great heart and expression), enter our conversation. “Speaking of bein’ honest,” says H, in that lovely Albanian accent of his, and he starts to laugh, “when I was young, a young man, say fifteen, sixteen, and I’d tell someone the truth, like if I wanted a girl, and I tell her I want her, or if I admit I’m with a girl in front of my mom, an' she would hit me and call me a bitch, my father would do this, he’d say—” and here H makes the fingers of his right hand as if to make a peace sign, turns them to point toward me—“my father would say, ‘You know, son, Honest and Stupid are two brothers,’ and he’d move his fingers, like this,"—and H moves the index and middle fingers as if they are walking—"and you know, the longer I live the more truth I see that it is. Look at all these dishonest motherfuckers, all the money, all the control. And here we are—” and here H walked those two fingers. And we laughed.
Honest and Stupid Are Two Brothers
So my love H asked me the other night, in another philosophical discussion in the New York night breeze, “Suppose I was happy—” and here he gestured, arms up, to show the largeness of this happiness—“and suppose,” he continued, “you were unhappy. I was so, so happy, and you were really, really unhappy. What would you do?”
I was resting in my chair, legs crossed. I took a beat. I said, “Well, if you are happy, I am glad you are happy.” I looked at him. I felt my head lean in. “But what do you mean exactly?”
“For example,” he said, which is how he always begins a story, “one night, back in Yugoslavia there, in the Communism time, I was walkin’ around with bees in my head—” and his fingers stretched to his brain, briefly swirled—“so angry, my god, why who knows, but as I’m walkin’ there, I see a house all lighted up, and I see people there, drinkin’, eatin’ a bit of food. They are laughin’, talkin’ there, and I suddenly—” and here H’s hands arched out a bit, as if grasping breasts he does not have—“I feel so full, so full of that happiness, and I am happy. Mashala, it’s called.” H took a drag of his cigarette. “It’s a word we have. Mashala. A good word, this happiness you feel, this appreciation that others are happy. You know what I mean?” I knew what he meant. “And there’s a man there, he comes over, he says, ‘Come in,’ and I say, ‘I don’t know you,’ and he says, ‘I don’t know you neither—have a drink, come,’ and so I go with him. ‘Beer? A shot?’ and I say, ‘A cold beer is good,’ and I drink it, and he says, ‘Eat,’ and I say, ‘No…’ and he says, ‘Yes,’ and so I eat a piece of food, finish my beer, talk a little. When I left, I say to the guy, 'Mashala,' and I smile, and he says, 'Mashala.' The unhappy feelin’, it don’t go away, but Mashala, when you have that, for others, you are happier yourself for a while.”
|Roses bloom in Queens. They really do. Mashala.|
Praying Any Which Way You Pray
Saturday morning, after the Con Ed guy rang my bell to check the meters ("Don't you guys have keys?" "Uh, I don't know if they work?" Did you try? "You're new aren't you?" I said, and I walked him around the complex in my pajamas, because I live in New York City), and then the exterminator showed up early, and then my mom (bless her for her belief in phone brevity) called, I was just about to settle in with a cup of hot, delicious coffee when I got a call from my friend Rina, who is in Vancouver by way of New Delhi working on her Ph.D. for a month, before returning to her college to teach in July. ("Did you decide to pick up your phone?" she asked playfully.) “Leeza,” she intoned in her musical, rich Indian accent, “my college has promised me a sabbatical for next year so I can finish this horrible dissertation. Leeza, I need you to pray to your pagan god that I will get this awful thing done!” I assured her I would, and then I asked Rina if she knew Mashala. “Of course I know Mashala, but how do you know Mashala?” I told her H’s story, and she said, “I had no clue that Europe knows this word, too. It’s an Arabic word, and so it’s used in Turkey and Pakistan, and so also India.” We agreed that it’s a marvelous word, the way it encompasses a concept too little expressed, and I began to wonder how often it’s felt. I can promise this: When Rina finishes that Ph.D., you just come to Queens and witness the biggest fucking expression of Mashala you ever saw.
Another expression that H wanted me to know was the Turkish avash, avash (“you say it twice,” he explained, "avash, avash"), meaning that things cannot be rushed; things happen all in good time; little by little. (When I went to look up this Albanian (from the conquering Turkish) expression, I came upon an explanation in this lovely blog, and realized that lots of us are writing letters to the world via the web. We writers are hyperlinked, literally and metaphorically, to the world we experience. Not a bad way to live.) So sometimes, when you think you want it all now (like some goddamned gun laws, for the love of my pagan god), you might have to take a breath and say, "Avash, avash." And then drink.
So look: We’re not doing as well as we’d like. We’re low on funds, or we’re low on energy, or wherewithal, or enthusiasm for our jobs, or creative inspiration. We’re aware that there are more than a few bad habits we might kick. "Time," says H, "it's time that is the most important thing we don't have." Too many people would take things away from others rather than look to their own hearts to fill their emptiness, and in turn they take our precious time. (Think of the needless obstacles to gay marriage or to solving climate change, to take but two examples.) H and I are of the same mind, that no amount of other people's stuff can make you happy. (Except Rina's Ph.D.) Everyone has to learn this, dammit, but it can't be force fed. (As H's father also says, in Albanian, of course, "If you took all the money in the world today and divided it equally among every person, by tomorrow morning the same bastard would have all of it back again.") And in the meantime, salud!
It’s been such a week—so much of world problems (as Rina might express it), no way to beat the man "because he’s the man" (as H knows only too well, and don't ask), health concerns (like a friend's biopsy coming up) and lots of anxieties not worth troubling you kids with—but Miss O’ would like to encourage you to be open to Mashala, for fuck’s sake (just as I enjoyed four hours of exquisite Mashala at Frances's surprise party, for example). Why not cultivate that in your daily life, be surprised by joy, as C.S. Lewis might say. It could be worse, and someday it will be. Mashala. Avash, avash.