But what was most striking to me was the conversation I had with a sista named after a beautiful Persian queen that I'll leave out for the sake of this random posting. She was an ageless Muslima, covered from her eyebrows to her shoe strings, layered in burka and coat, and eager to share a walk to the train with a fellow sistren. My head was also covered, though while my hair hung long below the wrap, I highly doubt she got the impression that I'm also Muslima. She flagged me down as I was leaving the Brecht Forum and insisted on walking with me to the train, which I gladly obliged, as after dark twos traveling by foot are often better than one. On the walk we introduced ourselves and gave our impressions on the speakers who shared. I expressed the same sentiment, that after hearing these stories, I need to call my mom immediately and thank her for her undeniable love, affection, support (financial and otherwise) and mere presence in my life. She shared a little of her experiences as a girl and how they related to the evening's topic, and I smiled as I listened.
Then, still blocks from the train, she turned to me and smiled, "I'm going to share something with you, I don't know why, but with tonight's empowering message I just feel like I should share." And in the course of telling me about her four children ranging from 4 - 16 years of age (I can't escape my special #, 416!), she was nearly in tears when she began to explain that her Muslim husband of so many years (at least 16)--whom she has loved and adored dearly while doing all that she possibly could to be the kind of upstanding wife that a man could appreciate and love--expressed to her that per his religious right, he would like to take a second wife. A SECOND WIFE (and keep HER)! At this day and age: 2011 in Brooklyn, NY! I kept a straight face and listened to her anxieties unfold as we walked, but I could not even imagine what it would be like to hear your husband tell you he desires and intends to take a second wife. She was resolute to explain that though she values being a submissive wife, she is strong and liberated in mindset; she was in the military, afterall. She's obtaining her degree from CUNY. She is doing all that she can to be a positive example of womanhood, being a wife and mother for her three daughters and even her young son who will one day be a Muslim husband. She explained that she even understood that there are many women who are okay with the notion that their husbands may very well exercise their option to take a second wife, so long as it is financially stable for his family. But she was clearly broken from this.
On our walk, she explained how her mother has maintained that she should not stay with this man, but she loves him with all of her heart, and I can understand such a resolve, despite the circumstance. One of the panelists tonight (jokingly?) stated that she is happily engaged to be married for the second time, one year away from age 50, and that she loves this man so much that should he EVER decide that there is another woman that he's interested in leaving her for, she's COMING WITH HIM! "It'll be you, her and ME!" she said... So, this precious queen explained to me that she knows there are women who will not mind their man taking another woman, but she was very resolute that she was in fact NOT that women. But here she was being tested by her husband, and had been on the verge of having to accept his desire as a part of her journey. "It really broke me," she said, and I could see the pain in her face as I listened.
What could I offer in such a circumstance? I've never been married, never been Muslim, never been a mother, and can barely find myself in a legitimate committed adult relationship! Surely, she was just turning to me for a listening ear. I made SURE not to express any semblance of judgement on my part, for I have no business remarking on the decisions between a man and a wife... or do I???
I took this sista, who I very well may never see again, in an embrace on 8th Avenue, and congratulated her on keeping her family together. I confirmed the value in her being a strong young decision maker (i later realized that being 32 I very well could have a 16 year old daughter as well, so she may not have been very much older than me, and certainly didn't look it) and encouraged her to make the decisions that were best for her and her children. I couldn't say too much about the main issue other than I was glad that her husband decided against taking the second wife. Though in reality, from what she shared, it sounds like he actually would have had he been financially able to make it work. Imagine. Of all the things she said, the fact that she is categorically against being a part of a polygamous marriage stood out the most to me. What would she explain to her daughters, and son, she pondered.
We didn't exchange information once we arrived at the train station. We embraced again and went our separate ways after a warm goodbye. But I wonder if I was supposed to get her contact information. Somehow remain in touch. For her to bare her soul to an anonymous sistafriend on a walk from an empowering sistahood symposium to the train says a lot. But we said goodbye.
One thing is for certain. I will never forget her. I will remember to keep her name in my prayers and I will think of her often. Because, her spirit is torn. She said, "I'm glad that my husband decided against taking the second wife, but I know that our relationship will never be the same." And that sounds like the comment of someone who knows she will remain there, committed to that relationship. And because she said that, I smiled as I reminded her that as every relationship has its horror and war stories, years from now, perhaps, she will look back and "remember" when things were really tough, yet bet be encouraged by how she was able to come through completely whole on the other side. Because as one of the panelists reminded us, "It's always darkest before the sunrise" and the seasons of life are ever-changing. In this case, I'd certainly like to think so.
♥ for Lady V.