Crinkled leaves of orange, yellow, brown, and green spotted the earth. They pirouetted and turned in delicate bursts from a haven of limber branches, outstretched towards one another as if they yearned to share a moments embrace. Bikers surged forward, emitting the ripe scent of damp earth and renewal. Bearded men, veiled women, and their children meandered along the dirt path, smushing rosy cheeks and crunching leaves in their wake. My mother and I examined the map before us, then, began our journey.
Two men and their respective children sat before a wooden bench.
“Oh my God, I know him. Wait, I know both of them. They were my students, my babies,” my mother gasped. “Assalamualaikum!” She crouched, replicating the boy’s height. To the right, clusters of trees rose and fell, relenting against the stormy green waters of the Potomac. Gray boulders bathed within the water, poised at the river’s center.
One of the boys offered a tentative smile.
“I missed you so much,” my mother said, greeting one boy.
The young boy sprinted toward her, his arms outstretched.
“Where’s your beard? You’re a big man now, mashaAllah,” she said.
My mother exchanged goodbyes with the two parents and their sons, and we were on our way. Along the dirt path, we encountered more of my mother’s students.
“I missed you all so much,” my mother said. The children erupted from the forest, their clothing and hijabs escaping the grasp of the very woods that seemed to enchant each child with sacred promises of mystery and exploration. With each set of little limbs about my mother’s waist, hips, arms– her tears intensified. The childrens’ mothers consoled my own, sheltering her within the embrace of soft-spoken “we miss you too’s,” and tender palms.
The children resumed their play; my mother’s mask having absorbed the salted tears that sprinkled her cheeks in unison with the morning’s cloudy drizzle. We trekked forward, pausing for photographs and greetings to gentle strangers and affectionate familiars, ‘assalamualaikum’ prepped to escape our tongues.
“Can we stop for a minute,” I said. My mother and I rested against a wooden bench, our ‘Make My Heart Firm’ brown bags in tow. The bench sloped towards a small creek, its contents muddled with leaves and flat rocks. A family of five peered into the water, their hands interlocked— the two parents indulging their sons’ curiosities as a single unit.
“There’s tadpoles!” One of the children shouted.
My mother crumpled her bag. “Time to go,” she said.
The map had presented a simple, easy route about the river, and yet, each twisted branch and fallen leaf lended itself to the wonderment of an entire community once scattered by a pandemic that relegated millions to their homes.
Reunion. As my mother reunited with her students, their parents, and her coworkers, we were also reunited with our surroundings, and the One who created them.