A chant of courage

Psalm 91

New King James Version (NKJV)

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
8 Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.

9 Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
10 No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
11 For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
12 In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

14 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.

I was nearing 16 when my folks decided it was time for us to shift houses.

With my sister having left the country for higher studies and I myself having a meager couple of years remaining at home, I guess they felt it was finally time that they put their dream into action, for they knew their days in the land we called home for over two decades, was greatly numbered.

My father worked for the country’s oil company since I was born and along with it came the privilege of a villa (it is rare for expatriates to live in anything but apartments in Kuwait) under the governerate that pretty much belonged to the oil sector of the country. Since the time I was a kindergartner I remember being ridden along the area, that still perched in its influence of British housing with rows and rows of absolutely similar looking villas, my folks talking enthusiastically about how we would one day live here in one of these houses. I suppose they tried real hard to make us look forward to the time when we could actually live there.

They took my sister and me to the tiny park there with a couple of swings tied to a majestic branch overlooking a fountain and I remember it was where I first realized how much I cared to swing, something that has stayed with me till date, it was in a tiny theater nearby next to a chain of so many Arabic restaurants that I was taken to watch my first ever movie on the big screen. We were taken to the company’s hospital, the grounds and the parks there, we were often to dine at my father’s canteen, we were shown the oil tankers striped white and sky blue that every little portrait of the country bore and shown the head offices of the country’s leading oil and petroleum sector, we were taken on long drives in our car every liberation day because the area was entirely done up in lights and decorations like no other place in the country, We were taken to some of my father’s closest friends homes in the area and made to admire their tiny purple and pink flowers, their date palms and to smell their eucalyptus leaves by crushing it in our palms, we had over a decade of raw exposure to what was to come, but fact remains that it doesn’t arrive till it does and nothing could have prepared me for the heartbreak that was to come my way.

I began to notice my folks having long serious talks and asking me odd questions oft and again around the time I entered the eleventh grade, I didn’t have the slightest clue what to make of it and I suppose it never bothered me much for an idea such as shifting homes never occurred to me after over 13 years of living, in the most content manner imaginable, in one area of the country. When they told me about the new house, it wasn’t a possibility, it was a statement, we were shifting. All I could muster to speak was, ‘Do we have to?’, which was again more rhetoric than a real question.

My mother was excited about her front lawn and gardening and my father, about finally living  where he deserved to live from so many years. I suppose any grief I bore would have been wasted energy being voiced, so I held it and my heart weeped for I was leaving behind all I ever truly knew to be a home, leaving friends, leaving a house, leaving customs and traditions, leaving the only everyday life I knew, but what took me down exponentially was leaving behind all the memories, leaving behind the land that conceived my past and forever harbors it somewhere within itself, it was truly leaving behind a life.

I remember making the first call to my, then, closest friend and telling her that I would be leaving, followed by a few other phone calls and a lot of reminiscing. Entries over entries flooded my journal of how much the place meant to me and how I would be leaving a part of myself there that no other place I move to in life will be able to fill up. I spent nights thinking about all the memories that were made, the Christmases and birthdays with family, the way the whole area lit up during the festival of Diwali, the long pointless walks my best friend and I would embark upon where we would have the most bizarre experiences from seeing  an odd boy trying to grow flowers in between a deserted ground of nothing but dry sand, to being asked to be traded in for bicycles, the almost yearly knock on our door by our neighbor bringing sweets to celebrate the birth of yet another pair of twins (they were on their 3rd pair by the time we left!), the summers we basked in there, the journeys we set forth from and returned home after there, all the pain and suffering and giddy laughter and quick heart racing conversations that no place but that knew of, Oh how could I ever give it all up?!

The thought was overwhelming and it was one of the earliest feelings of loss I remember which I could not make any sense of how to go about. As my house began to be slowly cleared away of all its furnishings, I lay a few empty nights on the dark green carpet which unlike the lighter shade of carpet that covered the floor in my living room, lacked smoothness and plush, and for the first time I recall being grateful for it as it gave my free falling mind a hard cold rock to lay against as I tried to figure out what to make of this inimical sense of loneliness and botched direction. It was like I decided that night to pour all of who I was into one tiny corner of that place in exchange for a little of that land that I nip tucked away into one of the safest corners of my being.

The week I moved into my new home was a whirlwind of decisions on paint shades, flooring, furnishing, cleaning, clearing and a lot of family dinners and even, as I remember, my baptism.  But the storm brewing inside of me was a greater challenge than any slight settlement troubles that I may have had. I, for the first time in my life, felt uncertain of who I was after leaving behind all of me in the only place that I ever knew and called home. I no longer knew where I was coming from and thus, where I was headed. Life, in the only form that I knew it, had been given away, taken away and I couldn’t, no matter how ardently I sought, beguile my mind to falling in love with this new ‘home’.

I always functioned like an emotional avalanche so the stolidity I felt from within was something of a foreign infidel to me.  It was about a week or so after I shifted, on board my school van (another huge distortion to school life after over 12 years in the same school bus!) when I first felt the force of sanguinity stirring up my defeated spirit. My van consisted of (as luck would have it!) my class teacher and her two children, 6 other kids and me and it was a ritual of some sort that the teacher had upheld that once every one was on board, one of us would have to recite Psalm 91. I suppose she regarded it as some sort of prayer to keep us all safe on the journey or something to give us hope and strength at the beginning of each day but she had no idea how it was to change my life the first time she handed me her Bible (as I was still new and didn’t know it enough to recite it) and asked me if I would like to read it out that day.

The words on my mouth spoke to me that day more than anyone else, and no, not on a religious front whatsoever. That day the Psalm told me to be brave. It told me I was not going to be alone forever. It told me that there would be someone I could always lean on. It told me that no harm would befall my path though I wasn’t looking that day. It told me that it was okay for me to take as long as I needed. It told me that there was a path waiting for me to travel when I was ready and I would be shielded upon it.

The summer that followed was a period that marked great change, but every day I made it a point to try and learn the Psalm, the one that first told me that everything was going to be alright. And it was. Indeed I did find a new way of life and renewed direction. But hearing that Psalm every morning for the next 2 years only reminded me each day of the same, that I was always going to make it through come what may.

Even today the Psalm remains very dear to my heart, sometimes because I still feel safe when I say it, but mostly just because it was a marker of the time when my belief in life was rekindled when a way was made at a dead end.

I hope to share this favourite Psalm of mine as a time immemorial tune that emboldened so many when they stood against a fork in the road, one that helped me nonetheless, and I hope may give courage to some of you too.

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