My life had, hitherto, been so simple, carefree and far from involved with problems of any significance. Mum and Dad had hastened always on winged feet to free me from the bother of working out single-handedly the few problems that I had encountered thus far, most of which were ludicrous and trivial. My parents’ abundant love surrounded me as if I were a priceless treasure to be guarded. But the likelihood of my being bruised like a little kitten by the overly protective mummy cat was not a far-fetched scenario. How I was going to deal with such a hydra as confronted me, and which defied an easy solution, was totally beyond me.
And then, in my heart of hearts, I knew that Dina was right about everything she said. Offending religion, notwithstanding my enormous love and affection for Martin, appeared like an insane enormity that would inevitably make the blood of tradition boil, and spill into a disgraceful disaster. Tradition and religion bore arms and ruled, and such harebrained defiance of their governance was bound to bring about detrimental ramifications. Dina, after all, talked facts, inarguable facts, which she put before me in their complexity, seeing to it that there was no room for misconstruction. The prospective civil marriage was anticipated to arouse sharp and uncompromising condemnation on every hand. Being the one-and-only kind recognized, Church marriage for the Catholic majority among Iraqi Christians, who were renowned in the region for their rigorous religiosity, was a sacred and irrevocable institution. There was little that angered both, church and the Christian community, more than the frivolous underrating of the inviolable rudiments of faith, most insufferable of which was the hideous conversion from Christianity to a different religion. The upshot of a civil marriage carried the opprobrium of living in sin, and was so grievously noxious as to prompt excommunication from church, inviting thus the derision and contempt of the Christian community.
Having acknowledged all that, there was still the peculiarity of my personal context, which further promised to exacerbate my already convoluted situation. My family, celebrated for its adherence to religion and faith, not to mention the numerous men of the cloth it had offered unsparingly to the church over the course of a century, had put me strictly on the path of being God- loving and God-fearing. They held to the dictum that “religion gives strength and inner sense of purpose”. My family’s honour and reputation had, likewise, never lost precedence in the hierarchy of my values, occupying a hallowed space in my innermost self. Daring to think outside the borders of the impositions of culture and tradition was stark staring madness. Such weathering was not for me; my heart cringed with consternation. True, my love for Martin was overwhelming, but so was my love for, obedience to, and fear of God. And marrying Martin implied that I jettisoned the precepts of a lifetime. I had never in a life of staunch devotion ceased supplicating God to deliver me from the sin and vices of life. But the horrifying transgression of God’s commandment that civil marriage was bound to bring about ate at my heart and was as painfully wounding as the lash of the whip. Such foolhardiness, in the eyes of the teachings that I had long imbibed, epitomized the direful forfeiture of eternal life for the sake of this mortal one: “Life, irrespective of length, would always be short; then comes the crack of doom, time when God will decree the fates of human beings according to the good and evil of their earthly lives”. Such was an example of the deterrent instruction to which I had been exposed. And such was the object lesson that I had biddably and acquiescingly learned since my tender age.
God and faith for us, Iraqis, regardless of faith, religion, or extent of devoutness, remain the essence of existence, the beacon and the light, “in the absence of which straying from the path of virtue would be inevitable”. The notion of sin and hell and everlasting torture was all too appalling. And I was young and innocent, also godly and dutiful. I loved and revered God with all my heart, and had never angered Him before. My design was that I would never do so. And then, how could an incredibly innocent girl with the purest mind and heart ever tolerate the slightest hint of angering God? “But marrying Martin will definitely anger God, and it will also hurt the parents I adore most, leave alone the ensuing affects that will reflect harshly upon my family’s social standing”. Dina made this inescapably clear. Such unsettling thought sent a shuddering chill down my spine. The bliss of meeting Martin and the wonder of having him in my life was overshadowed by this horrid eventuality of sin. It was marred by the dreadful and gigantically cosmic retribution that the church incessantly fore-fingered. It was beyond the capacity of my innocence, and my fledgling life-experience, to even imagine perpetrating an act that would bring about retribution of such magnitude. The price I was bound to pay for giving up on all that which had constituted my life so far seemed exorbitantly high. This was my first hardship, wherein I was crushingly placed between the pestle of tradition and the mortar of religion. And the obnoxious position of being crushed between the two made my life a waking nightmare. Shots of forgetfulness with which I had been purposely injecting myself were increasingly losing effect, becoming more like opium, briefly soothing, but the climb-downs were excruciatingly painful. I was prepared to clutch at any straw that might help palliate my fears.
Paradoxical as it may seem, Dina provided one.
To Be Continued.......