Once upon a time, Yann Martel visited the office where I was interning. A toast to Beatrice & Virgil was followed by a book signing exclusively for the staff at the publishing house. I was not exceedingly nervous or jittery, but the weight of the occasion pressed upon me: how do I convey to this man, in the space of the five seconds he took to sign my book, what it was like for me to read Life of Pi? That that book came to me during a time of severe spiritual drought and emotional isolation, that it kept me company for some long evenings of my first Canadian winter, that its difficult ending was incredibly self affirming to me about where faith and the story-telling experience intersect?
Of course I didn’t say all that. He took my book, asked me my name, and as he did so I managed to squeak something out about the life-affirming bit. A polite smile and nod, and his attention shifted to the next person.
In another more recent experience, I saw a scholar deliver a brilliant talk about being Muslim women in today’s age in a manner that pierced me, that recognized and gave meaning to the fact that I once tried to work in publishing, that suggested that perhaps the journey is not over yet. After the talk, she was inundated by members of the audience, and once her attention was finally on me, I forced something out that tried to do justice to what her speech had done for me. She nodded, still in a bit of a daze from the last woman who had tackled her, and before getting dragged away by the event coordinator, managed to say that she was glad to hear it.
These people didn’t mean to disregard or skim over what I was trying to convey. They just had their hands full, their minds full. Their cup overfloweth, and they are cognizant of and grateful for it.
Knowing all of this doesn’t at all change the despondency that comes from not being able to connect or reach those people in the windows of time that were presented to me.
It’s not about having heroes and expectations about their enthusiasm for my enthusiasm. It’s about the greater issue of how a person can only communicate so much to another, a phenomenon that gets especially pronounced when the parameters of time, space, and the connection of speaker/listener are more definite.
Sometimes I think that heaven is free, unfettered communication, when everything one wants to share and express to another flows freely and is received in its wholesome, original form without judgment or background noise to drown out the message.
Next time something like this happens, I’ll try not to be sad about the confines of worldly existence. I’ll try not to fret about the fact that the person really didn’t get what I was saying. I’ll convey what I can. The rest, I suppose, I’ll just convert into duaas and good vibes that hopefully turn into blessings. They may not need my validation, but if there’s a way I can give something else, something they need, so be it.
I’ll do that, and I’ll dream of a heaven that transcends our conception of connection.