January 27, 2020

There’s a community of women who live in a low rise building above a public library in downtown Toronto. They gather regularly to share food and support. These women come from various corners of the world –– Ethiopia, Yemen, Syria. One just lost her son in a drive-by shooting. I know Khairia through a community program we’re involved in at our children’s schools. This weekend, I went to dinner at her home. I brought Khairia a plant that flourishes with very little care. And thanked her for welcoming me into her home. What does one say to a woman who has just lost her child? Over fifteen women gathered in her small living room. Each woman greeted every other woman in the room, moving gracefully from right to left. “Hello, I am Athena. Alhamdulillah.” It’s the only Arabic I know. Dates were passed around. And samosas. Some women sat on cushions on the floor. Others sat on beige leather sofas. My friend Lily and I sat on upright chairs. “You need some injera to soak up the lentils,” Lily said, gesturing to the table of food. So much food. Dhals. Chicken legs. Four kinds of rice. Beetroot and eggs. The woman to my right, Eritrean, lived in Rome for decades. “I make a great cacio e pepe,” she tells me. I need the bathroom, and I’m ushered passed the tiny kitchen of pots and pans and down the stairs to where we entered. I hear children’s voices at the end of the corridor and go and say hello. “My kids share a room and they have bunk beds also,” I tell them. “And they always squabble over the bathroom light. The little one wants it on, and the older ones want to turn it off.” They all smile at me. Their bathroom is spartan, with one small picture on the wall. I notice four toothbrushes and a bottle of mouthwash by the sink. What do you do with your son’s toothbrush when he’s no longer alive. It’s just too much to think about. When I return, the plates are being cleared. I gesture to Lily that it may be time for us to go home. And just as we turn to leave, the women prepare for prayer. Six small mats are placed down on the carpeted floor. And nine women come to the middle of the room to pray. I am surprised by how the other woman go on chatting and eating and clearing plates as their friends pray. I wonder what they’re thinking. Praying for. A few minutes later, they roll up their mats, and go back to their conversations. “Your plant doesn’t need much water. Maybe once every two weeks. And some sunlight would be nice.” Lily and I say our goodbyes. And walk out into the rain. Homeward. To our families.

1 comment

  • Diane

    Oh my gosh. I came here via Kerry Clare’s blog after reading one line in this posting. I hope the community of women continue to surround her, wrap her in their love and thoughtfulness. And pray.

    This post really touched me.

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