I met S when I was 18, a freshman in college. She was a few months younger than I was and we were the same in many ways but one: she is Muslim. I learned a lot about a woman's place in the religion from her - before, I saw her headscarf and other traditions as oppressive, but she showed me that there are many parts of life in which the Muslim ways were advantageous for women.
Despite my new perspective, I felt a twinge when Facebook told me she was married at only 21. She seemed happy and everything about her life showed me that her new husband was a good one...I accepted that my reservations applied only to the world I live in, and in her world, she had made an excellent choice and was looking forward to a good future.
Last year they had their first baby. People complain about how aggravating it is when people flood your timeline with baby pictures and baby trivia, and I AGREE COMPLETELY. Most of the time. S seemed to be experiencing something on a level beyond the usual New Mommy Glow. She did not brag about the organic food she made for her baby by hand. She did not post new pictures of each new baby sling she tried on in the store. When S talked about her baby, and it wasn't all that frequent that she did, it was evident that she was not only fulfilling the biological imperative that she admitted she felt even when I first met her, but that she was finally ascending to her rightful place in her God's eyes, and in her family's home. To see that level of satisfaction was gratifying - it was like watching someone physically scale the pyramid of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I watched an expression of self-actualization spread across S's face, across her life. Much as I imagine women who are childless by choice look on new mothers with a mix of emotions, I looked on S with a combination of confusion (but she's so young!), jealousy (if I ever have kids it'll be much less "meaningful" than what she experienced because I'm not religious or that close to my family), and happiness for her, because she was obviously so happy. For the better part of a year I have watched S's baby grow, along with her joy and her husband's. She and her husband are good Muslims and good people - they're so great to watch because of how good they are. All the faith I lost in Faith while other religious people malign their Gods with hypocrisy (a Catholic friend has premarital sex but doesn't use condoms because he don't believe in contraception, or the loudly Muslim kid in my class who insisted on showing up late to project meetings because he was hung over), I felt restored when I observed S and her family.
S's husband died last week. He was young and good, but he had cancer. Every time I think about her, and I've been thinking about her a lot, I am filled with the deepest depression. S will be all right, of course. She has her daughter and the memory of her husband, she has her family. She has an education and will continue working, just as she did when her husband was alive. But now what for S - now that she has tasted wholeness, how can she ever be happy again? What now for her child - will she know what it means to be happy like her mother was? What now for me, when those who gave me hope are hopeless?