When I take my son in a tuk-tuk, he asks me to be his seat belt. So I put my arm around him; I hold him inside the lightly armed vehicle. And I think of myself and my father, the perennial exchange. They say ‘born alone, die alone’but that’s a lie. We’re born surrounded by people and, inshallah, we go out the same way.
In the Muslim tradition the symmetry is intentional. The family gets together to wash and shroud the body of the deceased, before is put back in the Earth, facing the honored Kaaba. It is like another birth, going the other way. It’s a beautiful ceremony, done far too often these days.
In any Asian tradition, the idea of ‘launching’ at some abstract age is absurd. Why would you launch your children? They’re not rockets.
Every culture holds its children, and in the older ones you never let them go. In Sri Lanka, children usually live with their parents until they’re married, and usually go right back when they have kids of their own. This is changing, but multi-generational families are still the norm. As they are in migrant communities across the globe.
This illusion of being alone, of being a consumer, a statistic, a bank account, it’s just that. An illusion. This idea of self allows us to fit into the idea of capitalism, into the maw of the state, but it’s not some natural condition. It is a creation, an illusion, and increasingly delusional.
It all looks real when you put it on paper (population is this, per capita that) like there’s no other way to be. But then look at the world. Look at yourself, closely. When are you truly alone? Humans go mad when placed in isolation. A society centered around this idea literally drives us insane.
Hence even mental health is framed as a personal problem, which you need to buy products and services for. A consumer affair. But how often do we ask the questions a grandmother would ask? Have you eaten? Do you need a place to stay for a while? Are you alone?
The Individual, Alone
I am not say that the idea of an individual has no utility. It’s very useful. I’m just saying it doesn’t have all utility. It’s just a tool. Like they say, when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, and this hyper-individualist shit is beating us down.
This is why I left Empire, honestly. I let my US Green Card lapse and I left Canada entirely. I was fucking depressed. I was lonely. That’s why I returned to sender, that’s why I came home. I look at my children today and I’m glad I did. I’m glad I returned to a feeling I didn’t have an explanation for but nonetheless know. I can feel it even on the road.
In the morning we were standing there, waiting for the tuk tuk to come. The kids’ great-grandparents came onto the balcony to say hello, the old lady scolding me for making some stupid joke. Then their grandparents came onto another balcony, in nightclothes, to say hello.
What wealth is this? What untold riches? Yet it would show up in no statistic, in no report. And yet this is life. This is soul.
Here we stand, at a three-way junction, between three families, waiting for the three-wheeler to come. This is not just where my children are, this is who they are. They are not just some confluence of DNA, filed under a name in a capitalist world. They are children, they are loved, they inhabit a much older and much wider web than anyone knows. We live in this illusion of self, but life is never alone.
The truth is that none of us are ever really alone, except broken in torture. In solitary confinement you can feel the thread of our existence being severed, and it cuts us to the bone. In moments of love you can feel it flowing, and it warms us to the core.