Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Category: Life Stories

Winter Morning

Morning in KunriIt’s hard to get out of bed in the winter in Kunri.  My Canadian friends laugh at that.  But in Canada we live in heated houses with thick insulated walls.  In Kunri we live in airy cement blocks.  It’s not the force of the cold, it’s how we are set up to deal with it.  We put on our sandals before pushing open the bedroom doors.  Feet go quickly numb in the winter.  And once they’re numb it’s hard to get them feeling right again.  Short of a hot shower.  But those are hard to come by in Kunri.


MorningFajr wakes us up while it’s still dark.  We groan a bit to each other and thank God that our religion isn’t so loud so early.  But we don’t really begrudge it, I think.  The quiet minutes after Fajr, before we slip back into sleep, are wonderful.  Especially in the winter when we have heavy blankets to huddle inside while we listen to morning birds in utter darkness.  And especially in the summer when we sleep in the courtyard with nothing between us and the sky but a thin mosquito net and a sensually warm breeze.  Especially anytime, I guess.

My Toronto Flood Story

The subway only took me as far as Jane, where shuttle buses had been called to stand in for the flooded underground. There were hundreds of us spilling onto the street, trying to see over each other’s umbrellas to glimpse any coming buses. The rain was not cold, so it didn’t bother me that I seemed to be the only one without an umbrella. It was a very Canadian moment, because we all seemed to be in reasonably good moods, considering. I smiled when I looked up at the dark sky. A woman made a joke as an empty bus drove by. Laughter rippled across the crowd.



Our shuttle arrived and we pushed our way on it with surprising gentleness. We weren’t a mob trying to get that last seat. We were a crowd banding together to weather a storm. And there’s something wonderfully fun about banding together with strangers.

The bus sped down dark streets that were usually alive with noisy lights. We pressed tightly against each other, forgetting how awkward it is to be around strangers. It was one of those rare moments where Toronto and rural Pakistan meet. The crowded bus. The dark city. The tightly-packed strangers. The absence of anxiety. When we had to detour because of flooded underpasses, we joked about it. When the bus began to stall and the lights flickered, we trusted our driver who told us that she would get us to Kipling, come hell or high water.

She got us through the high water. But we didn’t come up against hell until we arrived at Kipling Station.

Many of us needed to transfer to the 45. It pulled into the station just as we arrived. The crowd clustered around it had little of the positive energy the shuttle had. Even as the doors were opening to empty to bus for us, people were yelling and swearing at each other. There were threats of violence as people shoved each other out of the way to cram onto the bus. Being swift of foot and small of frame, I was one of the lucky ones who made it.

The ride was angry and long. The people were angry because the bus driver was late in returning to his seat. The bus driver was angry because people would not keep behind the white line.

“I’ve been waiting four hours!”

“I’ve been working six!”

Emotions escalated until the driver threatened to pull over and kick us off. That shut the noise off, but did nothing for the atmosphere. It was a different feeling as we crawled up the dark streets that time. We weren’t a community struggling against a storm. We were strangers fighting for limited space.

The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
– John Milton

Love on the TTC

I sat under the brightly-lit overhang at Kipling Station, waiting for the 45 to take me to work.  The night was bright and living, a perfect urban evening.  A girl sat on the bench next to me, hugging her knees and hiding her face.  A boy sat on the bench next to her, trying very hard to look the other way.  When the 45 came, he mumbled something to her and walked off.  She dried her eyes and followed him.  I followed them both onto the bus.  They sat together and I sat across from them and pretended to read.

They were angry at each other.  Or sad at each other.  Or just tired.  They were probably going to spend the whole trip sad at each other.


But then one of them spoke to the other.  And the other said something back.  And they were talking.  I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I could feel it.  I could feel the sadness in the girl’s voice and its mirror in the boy’s.  The girl fidgeted with the boy’s backpack while she talked.  The boy started to look at her face instead of the floor.  They sounded defensive.  They sounded accusatory.  But they kept talking anyway, even though it looked like the words were making them feel worse.

Then there was a sudden and startling change.

The girl threw her arms around him with a sudden sob.  The boy squeezed her tight and said something loud and affectionate.  Something that spoke of promise.  The girl laughed.  The boy kissed her on the mouth and she melted into it.  Others on the bus grew embarrassed.  I grinned at them.

Thank you, you delicious people who refuse to settle for sadness and broken relationships.  Thank you for sharing peace with each other in a public place so I could watch and remember that peace is out there for anyone who wants it.

And thanks for wanting it.

Into the Thar

I took a drive into the Thar.  The sun was hot and dry and beautiful.  Sand stretched around as far as our eyesight would carry us.  We stopped the car and got out in a place without any memorable landmark.  We walked around and looked at the nearly nothing that surrounded us.

Tree in the Thar

My son was two or three.  He was enthralled by the endlessness of it.  A place without walls or horns or people.  A place where you could run without watching and fear no accident.  No ditch to fall into.  No traffic to be wary of.  Endless surface just begging to be played with.

We crouched own on the ground together and looked at the sand.  It seemed like any other sand at any beach or children’s play pit.  We picked it up in our hands and let it slip through our fingers.  Eliot was able to see fear in a handful of dust.  We saw beauty in a handful of sand.

TharDespite its playful novelty, the desert was an obviously hard place.  Everything alive had to fight to keep living.  Every dry and thorny bush.  Every skittering lizard and scorpion.  And every tree. You wouldn’t think there would be trees in the desert–and deeper into the Thar there wouldn’t even be these grasses, let alone trees.  But here there were a few daredevil khejri and neems that had managed to beat the odds to stand alone in vast fields of sand and sparse grasses.

Night fell and we were still out in the open desert.  We wandered as the stars burned against the night sky.  There were no clouds or city lights to hide them.  I had seen stars before–I had been raised on constant trips into the Canadian wilderness.  But even the vibrant stars over Temagami could not compare to the lights above the stark emptiness of Thar.

We looked up at a menagerie of flame and void.  The Milky Way scattered itself across the scene.  One Pakistani folk tale says that the Milky Way is made by the spirits of dead youth who spend eternity scattering grains of salt across the sky.  I believed it that night.

We stayed for a long time, walking, praying.  The void of desert and sky brought out something within us we all had forgotten.  A certain mysticism that all religions try to stumble toward and none really manage to grasp.  A sense of the immensity, beauty, and absurdity of existence.  An understanding of the cosmic power of love.  A yearning to fly into the waiting arms of the universe herself.