It’s 4 a.m., and I’m in Florence, South Carolina, on my way north to perform the second of Mom’s two funerals. I spent a surprisingly pleasant day with my brother Darryl, and found that we’re good traveling companions. We like similar music. We like the same car temperature. And we like the same balance of talking and quiet. We’ll have spent more time together in these five days than we had accumulated in the previous fifty-three years of my life.
I’ve been sleeping quite well since Mom died. No sleeping pills to convince my body to rest. No listening with one ear cocked toward the baby monitor to catch any moans in the night, or (God forbid) yet another fall out of bed. Just a few days before she died, I heard Mom make a series of strange noises. I rushed in to find her dead asleep but 180 degrees out of kilter: her feet touching her headboard, her head on the quilt at her feet, and her pillows placed carefully on top of her legs and torso to keep warm. I woke her, and she was completely lucid, but without any recollection whatsoever of having made this strenuous revolution.
I have a king bed at Red Roof Inn, which comes with free high-speed Internet access. Important, since this week I have several pressing work deadlines—a book to get off to the printer, a writing assignment for a marketing catalog, a newsletter to edit—but I have to say, the high-speed Internet access is decidedly mediocre-speed, and it feels as if the connection is being held together with rubber bands and chewing gum.
The room is clean and attractive, and a bargain at $49, but the bed is hard as a rock. I have some friends who would find that heavenly. Personally, I do not. I am up after four fitful hours, achy and cranky and wondering why I was dreaming of Hoda Kotb—though not so much dreaming of the NBC news anchor herself, but dreaming of her name. She’s of Egyptian descent, but she’s from Norman, Oklahoma. Her name means “guidance” in Arabic. Apparently the name “Hoda” is a very popular name among Arab women. The last name, which she pronounces KOT-bee, is also popular in Egypt, but there it is pronounced KU-tub. And although her name was originally spelled Choda Kotb on the Today show in 2000, producers decided to spell it Hoda. (Ah, the perils of show business. Start out in life as Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig El Abderahman El Mohammed Ahmed El Abdel Karim El Mahdi, become Siddig El Fadil when you get a job on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and three years later you become Alexander Siddig and go by “Sid.”)
It is forty-two degrees outside, decidedly chillier than the sixty-five degrees we were enjoying when we left Florida. The heat in the room was welcome, but it’s too warm for sleeping comfortably, at least for me. So now I’m hot and achy. And hearing Hoda Kotb’s name in my head. Or maybe just seeing it spelled in my head. In a dream. The only connection I can make was the catalog blurb I wrote just before bedtime for a book called The Wisdom of the Sufis. It’s by the Rt. Rev. Kenneth Cragg, an eminent Anglican priest and scholar who has commented widely on religious topics for over fifty years, most notably Muslim-Christian relations. Born in 1913 and educated at Oxford, he served parishes in England and in Beirut, Lebanon, before becoming Assistant Bishop of Jerusalem in 1970. Bishop Cragg is a careful translator, expositor, and analyst of the Qur’an and modern Islam. I love Sufi writings, but I wasn’t reading any of the book, just writing that blurb. Is that enough to justify hearing an American woman’s Arabic name in my head while I sleep?
Frankly, I blame the Bloomin’ Onion we had at dinner last night.
This is going to be an interesting trip.