The Third Light

15 May 2023

I tie a knot at the line where skin meets skin, and loud waves around me bend softly at the shore in me. I go back in time to the time when things still hadn't torn apart. I clean the mess and watch the bleeding stop, taking the edge of the skin and pulling it from one side to the other; the edges merge. If you leave a gap, it scars. If you pull too hard, it scars. There is a liminal space you keep and preserve. This is what I can fix. I always volunteer to do stitches. I compose myself in the quiet room, under bright lights, and in the story of what made it. I ask about the fight that caused it, the
driving haste, and the distracting thought when missing a step. Once, I stitched a girl's wrist, and she told me she didn't cut deep because she didn't want to die.

I think about all my fingertips that have touched, becoming a part of my fingerprint, a part of me and who I am. Touching the head of a baby right before entering the world, and touching a pulse that is not there anymore; fingers around a neck touched in the first moment of existing, and on a ribcage fluctuant of all forces that did not work; on white sheets and the most fragile bodies; on the surface of the water and the leaves of berry trees, on Nazanin's hand and Fahimeh's skinny back, on all that has been told and all that will never be heard.
To sit with one's pain, I repeat to myself. I'm sitting in the car with Nazanin, pulling herself closer to me. She closes the door and sticks her tongue to the other kids through the car window. I am the doctor from the village nearby.

Taliban took over a few days ago. We had watched rockets flying across the darkest sky, at midnight of the new moon, from the hospital's yard. I had written reports of shot and dead soldiers in the morning and cried with a woman who had lost her child in the war.

"Fire!' she screamed. "Fire, fire, it's burning!"

Lying on the hospital bed, her legs wanted to run away. She was still watching her house burning in flames. "It's war!" she stared at me and shouted. I could see
the remnant of the flames, and I thought to myself: "Will there ever be a day when the flames cool off in her eyes?" I can't remember a night darker than that one.

In the following days, refugees flooded in, running from the land once called home. They would jump from the border wall at night, only to get caught by the border police till dawn. They fed them and sent them back to the fire, many with broken limbs and babies in their arms. I had bandages, pain relievers, and muscle relaxants in my backpack for them.

The children are lost at the border. My white coat is standing out too much it makes me uncomfortable. I'm scared to ask Nazanin what happened to her parents. She doesn't talk about it. Instead, she tells me that she wants to be my assistant. I look down at my
hands. I feel helpless and useless. Fahimeh knocks on the window and laughs. She jumped and hugged me minutes ago and then ran behind the shed crying. I then find out that Taliban forces hanged her father in their home before her eyes. She is five. No one knows what to do with them. The soldiers can't let them pass the border, and no one has the heart to send them back to Afghanistan. They are trapped.

I feel trapped between Nazanin's body and Fahimeh's eyes, ashamed of my instincts pushing me away from there, every cell in me crying to run away. That's where Fremember the sentence passing me by for the first time: to sit with one's pain, stop making it look unbearable. I close my eyes and try to let my clenched muscles loosen. I smile back at Nazanin and ask her: "Who should we go to, dear assistant?" She screams in a
squeaky voice: "I know!" And runs out of the car. She comes back with soldiers. She has memorized every detail of them through the past days she had stayed with them: "This one coughs a lot, this one's ankle hurts, one of the boys with us gets stomachache every time he eats." In the seemingly barren, abandoned, and empty land, she had kept every single detail of life, trying to protect it, and even heal it.Working as a doctor in poverty- ridden places is rough. You keep trying to fix things, but they keep falling apart. You get impatient, but they look you in the eyes and invite you to their share of patience. Most of the time, the light in their eyes looks tired and sometimes wet, but it's always there. An old Persian myth says the eye that looks gives light to what it looks upon. When two eyes meet, their light meets halfway in between. The two lights coming across create a new light, eye, and presence, waiting to be dis- covered, understood, and caressed. In that remote hospital I worked, I learned to look at life, despite everything. Much more than sor- row, I found the strong urge for ex- istence rising against all that denied it. I surrendered to that invincible force of life and bowed in the very depth of my soul to it. It drove me to do whatever it takes to protect thatlife. And it never left me.

I don't know what happened to Nazanin. I could never return to that borderline. But I took her lead with our patients on that day. We meet hundreds of eyes each day as doctors. We face life, death, hurt, and smile after the reassurance that everything will turn out alright. We are the ones who can make that reassurance, and sometimes not. And through it all, I believe we keep creating the third light. The light is born from the two eyes crossing. The space between the two fills up with a chance to trust and a chance to fix. If you leave a gap, it scars. If you pull too hard, it scars. There is a liminal space you keep and preserve.

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