A young Jawaher Salim Khalfan Al Shuaibi must have hit rock bottom, when, as an expectant young mother, she lost her first child. How does anyone even handle that, let alone use that loss to motivate their achievement of life objectives?
Well, the determined young student has defied convention, and completed a very good graduate project, ironically, on the topic of the poetry of Emily Dickinson, renowned for her themes of death and mortality. In doing so, she has found a new level of faith, an understanding of the greater love of God, and a million reasons to celebrate the joys of marriage, and life yet to be lived.
Around twelve months ago, a bold, authoritive, yet at times strangely introspective student sat across the desk from me, thoughtful yet uncertain. Not, it appeared, about her ability to complete the task ahead of her, as many students, but of her ability to convince me, her project supervisor of the topicality and wisdom of her academic project. You see, I’m not convinced about the merit, literary or philosophically, of Dickinson’s work, and I wondered aloud if this was “an appropriate topic, and whether there was enough positivity in it, to make it sustainable?”
The reaction was positive, bristling, metaphorically setting me back on my heels, and left me in no doubt as to Al Shuaibi’s determination to stick with her chosen topic. “We all see life differently, so why should we not see death differently,” she said quietly. “I have my faith to sustain me, and seeing how Dickinson’s poetry must have been an intensely personal expression” She continued, explaining that as “Only 12 of her 1800 poems were published during her lifetime, so they must surely reflect her personal emotions and feelings, because surely nobody writes so much from the heart, without sole intensity of thought and purpose?”
I surrendered my opposition there and then, even before she had finished speaking, and determined for myself that the earnest student would be supported to the best of my ability. It was never going to be easy, and we clashed, academically speaking, more than once, with me demanding grammatical robustness, and I noted in her file that while she needed to “assemble her thoughts, to integrate them better, and produce definitive conclusions,” that I was enjoying the level of academic discussion she was engaging in.
I had seen a movie, “A Quiet Passion,” starring Cynthia Nixon, about Dickinson, and suggested Al Shuaibi watch it, to enhance her knowledge and understanding of the poet, and from her own perspective my advisee forced me to confront my own recent bereavement, having recently lost my mother. This project was becoming a symbiotic, cathartic experience, only I never realized at the time how much, or why.
We ‘jousted,’ as the scholar produced what I called, ‘the bones,’ of literary discussion, developed her thoughts, and refined her conclusions, as her passion and academic resilience joined forces. She proved resilient, though sometimes tiredness or a flagging level of interest was reflected in variations in her work. But no sooner would I feel that maybe she was ‘dropping the ball,’ she would bounce back with a word or a phrase that had to come from a place of discovery, analysis and evaluation. The student was becoming a critic and an artist within her chosen realm of research.
With the wisdom of hindsight, I can now chart this strong young woman’s journey from loss and devastation, through introspection, contemplation, scrutiny and the thousand different versions of “why me?” that any of us would ask, as just a couple of weeks ago, a very different student sat across the desk from me shortly before her project examination. There was a new found confidence it seemed, vibrancy, joy, certainty, and an impressive knowledge of her project that was unusually profound.
Not only did she know her project, every word of it, but as she demonstrated during her examination, an ability to interpret between the lines, the pauses, punctuation and vocabulary. This strong woman, with her husband Hashil Al Maskari, is now blessed with a gorgeous young son, Sultan, who embodies all of his parent’s strength and fortitude, resilience, and above all, their faith, which was, she explained always there for her in her time of need.
“Safe in their alabaster chambers, untouched by morning, untouched by noon, sleep the meek members of the resurrection,” runs one of Dickinson’s works, shedding light where one may have encountered only darkness. There is too, a true and just God in academia, and Jawaher Al Shuabi was awarded a deserved “A” for her research. Somehow, it was a fairy tale ending to a story of faith and love, an inspiration for all to cherish.