Mother of Orphans

- Hello grandma, how is everything?

- Oh, my dear Seyma, is that you? Since you are calling all the way from America I will not waste much. I am doing well, take good care of yourself and never forget to put aside your charity before Friday prayer every week.

- Sure, grandma, is there anything you ask of me?

- Tell me, if I were to come to collect donations for the orphans in my town, would President Clinton give me any?

- My dearest grandma, you ask this all the time; I am in America, but I really do not meet with President Clinton at all. I am an ordinary college student and he does not roam around the streets.

I then wondered and chuckled, “the audacity to ask the President of the States when you live far away in a rural part of Anatolia!”

***

All of our cousins, aunts, and uncles would gather in her large but simple 4-bedroom home every Eid. Sugar-loaded grandkids would look for trouble and would find money at every corner of the giant hand-woven rug, to which she anxiously warned: “This sac of money belongs to the fridge project for Ms. Aisha; the right corner belongs to the school supplies for Ms. Khadija’s daughters; and the red sack has the money for Ms. Fatima’s house project. Do not even touch, my dears, as these are sacred.”

She built dozens of houses with the funds that she collected bit by bit, day by day, cent by cent and would store it under the rug. She would never let a family go without fulfilling all of their needs and finding a sustainable source of income. A couple days a week, she would take the needy families down to the marketplace to visit businessmen and ask for help. Some of them knew of her sincere intentions while others complained when she arrived. However, she certainly did not care what others would think of her. She would be helping a family or two and they would sit around the table with all of us every Eid dinner. My uncles and aunts were the “elites” of the town, and so this notion was not something we were used to in our normal lives. I then grunted for her absurdness for squeezing us all with strangers.

***

She used to sit down on her old velvet couch with her green thousand-count prayer beads in her hands as she looked out the window and lamented why the municipality would turn on the light at 5:30 pm when it gets dark only slightly later. If she saw an unnecessarily lit area, no matter how tired she was and what time of the day it was, she would hastily run to turn them off despite her old age and swollen legs.

The most striking part of the story used to come when she turned the lights off when my grandfather was in the bathroom. It was typical in most houses to have light switches outside of the room. When he screamed for her to turn the light back on, she, with a great sense of humor and seriousness, shouted back “Get done and come out quickly, there is nothing to see there anyhow!”

The most memorable quote from her was the Qur’anic verse, “…eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for God does not love wasters” (7:31).

I thought she was exaggerating this a bit much.

***

- Granny, I have exams this week. Can you please pray for me?

- Oh, my sweetie, may God help all those in need including you. I will pray for everyone, God willing.

- No grandma, that is NOT what I want. I want you to pray for ME!

With a smile, she would embrace and kiss me on the head.

I was then heart-broken thinking that I wasn’t special to her.

***

Her first name was Ihsaniye, which means “the bestowed.” She met with her Beloved God on a Feb 14th after a long battle with a heinous cancer. The whole town cried – and, I thought I even heard the sky cry – with chants of her nickname, “the Mother of Orphans.”

Now, I have your hand-woven blue-beige medallion-style wool rug, which was the container of your little sacks, maroon-ruby wedding ring, and your green thousand-count prayer beads in my hands to cherish your beautiful heart and soul, the giant heart to fit all of humanity, the soul that cared for the earth…

As I sip my dark and warm coffee in this light and spacious hall, in one of the country’s most sustainable buildings, Kroon Hall in New Haven, listening to professors, NGOs, and private sectors presenting their vision, solutions, and efforts on Climate Change, Sustainability, and Economic Empowerment, I sigh deeply, and remember the Mother of Orphans, my dearest grandmother.

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