Opinion The Traditions Issue

When a text message is NOT okay

There were missed calls, and hundreds of messages. Some were from my closest friends offering their condolences. Courtesy.

You know how you wake up one morning, and as you try to push your heavy eyelids open you just somehow know that your day will not turn out well? That was how I felt last January. Something whispered to me not to stretch my arm and grab my phone that was resting on my nightstand; to just lie there a little while longer, tuck in my warm fluffy blanket tighter and close my eyes again.

But of course, I didn’t listen to my whispering gut. I reached over to my phone. As soon I did, it vibrated in my palm and it was my aunt calling me from our hometown.

‘Khalid…’ she sniffled.

My heart dropped to my stomach and I knew it was time, the day I had hoped I’d never live to see.

‘Your grandfa…’ she gasped for words, for breath, for a way to express the heavy news that lay on her chest.

‘He…he went to Allah and left us behind…’ she couldn’t hold it in, and just as her voice began to break, my heart shattered into a million pieces.

My grandfather, my best friend, my mentor, had left our world for another.

I can’t recall what happened next. There was a quickly packed suitcase, me calling my father, my uncles and those who were abroad, rushing to my car, leaving my keys behind, running back to grab them, rushing out again.

The car’s speedometer pounding. I must have been driving at least 180 kilometres per hour. It seemed that there were no other cars on the road. It was just me on that empty road that led to my hometown.

I arrived, and there was a shovel, my grandfather’s body, hundreds of people joining us for the burial, dirt, and more dirt on my grandfather’s body wrapped in a white sheet that lay still in that freshly dug hole.

A while later a prayer, followed by condolences.

‘May God grant him the highest place in Paradise’.

‘Anything I can do for you, Khalid?’

‘He was just with me yesterday! Oh how close death is’.

There were hugs, lots of handshakes, and then it was nightfall, me in my grandfather’s house, sitting on his sofa in front of an old television set that he refused to replace with a flat screen TV. My graduation photo sat proudly on top.

I reached for my phone. There were missed calls, and hundreds of messages. Some were from my closest friends offering their condolences.

Our home was open for the three days of mourning, welcoming guests who came from near and far; old men who leaned on their canes for support flew and drove from distant cities to offer their respect.

I was touched by how tightly knit these elderly mourners were. Not everyone at the aza (funeral) was close to my grandfather. Some had met him only once or twice 20 years or so ago. But they knew the importance of being there for the deceased’s family.

My grandfather was the first family member to go, and before that happened I didn’t understand why people needed to visit the deceased’s family for three consecutive days to pay their respects. I remember how I jokingly told my siblings and wife not to open our house for guests if I ever died, and how I thought it was a waste of time. Boy was I wrong!

Nothing made my hardship easier than the comfort of my grandfather’s acquaintances, especially when I met some who had actually hitchhiked- yes, hitchhiked – from towns far away to pay their respects. Can you imagine someone doing that nowadays?

What bothered me the most, though, was that many of my close friends consoled me in a text message only. A couple called and offered their words of comfort, but the majority, however, did so via text, and did not bother to call or even pass by me to pay their respects in person when I came back home.

As a millennial, I depend highly on my mobile phone device for most forms of communication, but how is it all right to comfort a grieving person via text message only?

Many complain that the high usage of mobile phones is actually affecting real life communication, but is it making us less human too?

What will our future three days of mourning look like? Will it be in the form of a WhatsApp group, where people pay their respects three days in a row and then exit the group? Will celebrations and mourning be entirely virtual?

What makes us human is how we are there for each other, and what scares me is that we may very well be on our way to being dehumanized, and I certainly don’t want to be there when that happens.

My grandfathers’ mourners taught me the importance of being there completely for someone you care about; not just via phone call, or via text, but to physically be there, and I promised myself to be more like them.

So this one’s for you, the Khaleeji elderly who put their illnesses aside for three days and supported my family, for those who hitchhiked, for those who were too fatigued to get out of bed but came anyway, and for those who know what it means to be there for someone.

Khalid Mubarak is a rising Kuwaiti social commentator.