As-Salāmu `Alaykum, Alia.
Alia Qureshi died 19 December, 2007. Alia and I lived together at the l'Arche Daybreak "Green House" in 2003. I remember my time at the Green House with mixed feelings. On one hand, it was a joy to be at l'Arche and among people I loved. At the same time, it was hard being separated from people I loved, and un-l'Arche-like politics clouded the time.
Through the months I was there, I remember getting to know Alia. I remember arriving in the house and feeling quite intimidated by this tiny woman in her wheelchair. I wondered how we'd relate to each other, how we would communicate. Others seemed to enjoy a bond with her that transcended the words she couldn't speak. I was scared.
Then I got to know her a bit better. I enjoyed the time we spent together in the mornings and evenings, and bath time, which was really more like spa time. We would listen to music together; she had a tape deck and a number of Muslim music tapes. Sometimes we would listen to "A is for Allah," and I would learn about the Arabic alphabet. More often, we would listen to Dawud Wharnsby-Ali's tape, The Road to Madinah.*
Gradually, as we spent more and more time together, I remember feeling overwhelmed. At one point, I was the only person in the house doing routines with her on a regular basis, I had injured myself, and the general mood in the house was tense (for many other reasons). Meals could take upwards of three hours, and Alia would still be feeling sick through them. Looking back now, I wish I had been able to joy in the time better, but then I was exhausted. I wish I had known her better.
I remember her as a dancer, primarily. The sickness was a disguise. It shadowed her, and when she danced, her real self was allowed to shine. When she danced, her wheelchair was transformed from a necessary encumbrance to a vehicle for her art and her spirit. Many nights when she was well, would would dance in the dining room together, wheeling her in loops and circles in time to the music she loved so much. She would throw back her head and laugh: a deep, whole-body laugh that made you laugh as well for the sheer joy of it, of life and living.
I remember doing so much to try to coax her to laugh. Until this very minute, I was wondering if our relationship had ever been very deep, but remembering her laugh, and all the times I made noises for her to giggle at or danced with her, I realise how much her laugh meant to me. It was infectious, and a delight when it was heard.
Ali-Liu Qureshi. Daybreak core member, daughter, sister, friend. Loved by her family and the many people who lived with her, danced with her, or simply saw her dance.
I compare my time with Alia to my time at Oaklands. At Oaklands, bathing is often done as quickly as possible. There are too few staff for too many residents, and it's a good day when we have time for bubble baths. With Alia, it was simply the way things were. It was important to spend the time together, to relax. It was not a matter of business, it was facilitating a bath that was as much as possible the bath I would wish to be given. It's an interesting thing, and a good thing, for me to remember.
I don't know if other people have trouble thinking of acknowledgements or thank-yous, when it comes time to affix them to a dissertation. I know mine will be a simple matter. To Alia, and Keith, and Jane, Mike, Carol, Francis, Peter, Whitney... to all of you, living or departed. Thank you for opening my eyes and teaching me to love.
Carl MacMillan, the community leader, wrote a wonderful tribute to Alia on the Daybreak website, and I recommend reading it.
As-Salāmu `Alaykum, Alia.