I am sad, but I am happy —Year-Long Musings

I am sad, but I’m happy IMG_2412
I am lost, but I’m found
I am soft, but I’m a hard shell
I stumble, but I don’t fall
This is my Year-Long Musings!

Another year, another 365 days going down. Plenty of soul-searching, reviews, pondering, and hope. What else would I have, if I did not have home?

I am feeling a little funky lately.
I have not been driving for a while. But I am back to driving.
I have also not drove the Mercedes August. But now it is back, and all mine. Well, hopefully!
The first day I got back to driving it last week, it brought me a little sadness. To the pile of sadness I have.

The Mercedes represents grandpa. It reminds me of grandpa. It replays the entire memory of the life I knew of him, especially this year.
It reminds me of witnessing the pain and agony of his life, straight up, in the same house.
I had never been in the same space, up-close, with a person so sick.
Yet feeling inadequate to help. Often feeling, it is not your place to show great care and concern.
Not sure whether I would be construed as “overstepping the boundaries” or “crossing the line.”

But I wonder, how could somebody ail so much! Yet not get well to enjoy life after that gruesome pain?
How could one go down too fast? It seemed it all came and went down too fast!
How could one hurt so much, yet remain strong for others, for those he loved?
He surely kept on taking care of those he loved — his wife, his children, his in-laws and his grandchildren.

I particularly recall him seated in the living room, groaning with so much pain in the abdomen. Especially, whenever he tried to get up.
He loved driving, to the mosque, to the store, to take school kids to school, to take his wife to work in the morning or to take his family on long trips.
But getting up to go drive, was the climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Throughout the ailment, he drove on other family trips: to Detroit and back to PA, down to Atlanta and back, to Toronto and back.
I recall so vividly his last long drive, a 500 miles roundtrip PA-MD-PA, while trying to contain excruciating pain.
He avoided eating, and barely drank, the entire trip. He did not want to have to get up and go to bathroom; it was too much hardship.
Yet, he stayed steady on the wheel, without a single incident. He did not knock off the steering wheel, and only took very brief rest stops

So, with such display of stamina and resilience, how could he not live through his ailment to full recovery? I still wonder!
Because, his strength did not burn out.
He often woke up in the wee hours of the morning, drove wifey to the NYC bus terminal in our PA-hood.
He drove two girls from their Muslim community to and from their school bus.
Because their mother, worked early and long hours, and left and returned home before and after school bus hours.
I watched how he splashed his grandkids and children in-law, with love and adoration.
But he is gone. It is three months later!

But that is not the central feature of my sadness. Though, it struck me as well.
I am sad, as the year draws to a close. Reflecting on what has transpired.
How much gained, how much lost. Of course, plenty gained —especially in the weight department!
I see me in my “new mother suit” again. And that makes me sad, and induce me to create more sadness.
It has to go, I cannot keep it around in 2016.
Can’t support it no more! Big is not always desirable.
But I will take big pockets, and big bank accounts!

Big, I will embrace, to rise again. Big dreams, to become big reality.
Big smile, big achievements. Big social networks. Big alliances
Yeah, I will even take a bigger contribution to the carbon footprint, then settle back into my “tree-hugger-ness”
I want to fly by, be big, celebrate big and sleep big.

I’ll take all that will keep me happy, I need big happiness of mind, body and soul.
I need the positive energies that come along with big feelings and big achievements.
I need my big confidence to rise and shine through again.

I miss my big old-self!
Santa baby, I want my big happy self back
I want a sing a new song
That, I am happy more than sad
I am not sad, but I am happy!

Fear is Our Biggest Impediment

For many of us, fear is our biggest impediment!

Fear grips us, cripples us, and enslaves us!being different

 

We are afraid of the dark
We are afraid of heights
We are afraid of adventure
We are afraid of the unknown

We are afraid of criticism
We are afraid of failure
We are afraid of trying
We are afraid of dreaming

We are afraid of loneliness
We are afraid of attention
We are afraid of loving
We are afraid of affection

We are afraid of being talked about
We are afraid of not being talked to
We are afraid of being ignored
We are afraid of not being priority

We are afraid of dependence
We are afraid of begging
We are afraid of giving
We are afraid sharing

We are afraid of disappointment
We are afraid of embarrassment
We are afraid of getting hurt
We are afraid of pain

We are afraid of helpers
We are afraid of solicitation
We are afraid of donations
We are afraid of alms

But, let us not be afraid of reaching out
Asking for worthy help
Love regardless

Let us embrace loneliness
Live endlessly
Life with all its uncertainties

Let us give unconditionally
Against all odds,

Let us break the encumbrance of fear!

2014 in a Wrap

The Trials and Tribulations of a “Strong Personality”

A strong personality is often admired in business, professional, personal and family relations. One is applauded for ‘keeping their head, when all others around are losing theirs”. There is no pride in being a wimpy child, a loose canon, or loose lips. Even as a parent, it is admirable to be strong for one’s child(ten) at all times to reassure them that “everything is gonna be alright”. Moreover, a mother is often expect to hold it down stronger than the father, as the key nurturer and builder of her children’s characters. So, we do not really have an ok to cry in front of our children (some psychologists might say otherwise), or go on a rant about our challenges and frustrations in marriage, parenting and relationships between co-parents. For the sake of our egos, even amidst torment and torture from life’s miseries or challenges, plenty of us often tend to keep a strong face to appear sane and happy. Thus the most common cliche, “I am fine, thank you” or “I am doing great, thanks”, even when one is dying inside. A strong personality is also a measure of good mental, psychological, emotional and personal health. What happens, then, when that “strong personality” is eating away at one’s heart, comfort, confidence and emotional stability?

strong personality

I am one of those [self-] identifying as having a strong personality, which I attribute to circumstances from my childhood that were not always beautiful and simplified. No! I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, even though I have tested food on ‘silver platters” many a times. I do not know if my strong personality has anything to do with the fact that I was the only child of my parents born outside my family home? Perhaps, maybe? But I know that as the second last child of my mother, I grew up observing the lifestyles and life choices of my older siblings, some of which I committed myself never to repeat. My family household was not all too beautiful, either, as do plenty of families I know with children from multiple maternal sources. Though I should add that, I grew up around family friends who got along so much easier than our family, without a glaring indication that they were from multiple mothers. I attribute this to their father, the source of the multiple mother, successfully ensuring that all children felt ‘equally’ loved and represented in the family.

Anyway, the other attribute that shaped my “strong personality” has to be growing up around children from very well-to-do or upper class families, while my family was pretty much “lower middle class”. The beauty about Uganda back then was that, one could afford to “rub shoulders with the rich and famous”, without coming from an upper class lifestyle. Children from peasant background made it to elite schools with children of the rich because of their good grades. Not exactly the same anymore, as money now dictates the kind of school one goes to, which are a strong determinant of one’s future life trajectories. Elite lifestyle is pretty much pre-determined for the rich, who can afford an ‘elite’ education from childhood, ultimately preparing their children for an elite higher education, and most certainly elite post-school employment.

Once again, the need for a “strong personality” seems more than necessary if anyone is to breakthrough the gutters to active belonging and participation in society. This implies that one has to withstand all sorts of humiliation, bullying, dirty talk and discrimination to become “a person”. To breakdown or cocoon under pressure and feeling of “a nobody” is not an option. In fact, it is a demand of “Survival for the fittest” in a cosmopolitizing global culture, as well as ‘successful’ parenting in mother-only households. A breakdown in front of one’s children is not a desirable option. In fact, sharing one’s frustration about an ‘absentee’ and disrespectful father with the children is scorned upon, lest they grow up damaged and not able to live normal lives in future. Even at job interviews and in personality tests, a strong personality is expected to reign supreme over any discomforts, trials and tribulations, which are considered ‘insignificant externalities’ in the pursuit of professional success. Moreover, it takes a strong personality to depart from ‘the established norm’, like women who revolutionized women’s dress code to include pants, and black people mainstreaming afro and natural hairstyles in white social and corporate culture. The introduction of non-white European cultural celebrations, foods, dresses, language, education, and languages in school systems of cosmopolitan settings  like New York, all demand a strong personality.

The question is who helps the helpers? Who helps the strong personalities when they need a little tender love, reassurance that everything is gonna be alright? When they have to put up with plenty of other beings who depend on their effort to remain strong? I was talking to a Muslim American woman the other day, who shared her discomfort that her husband was in the process of taking on another wife. Of course, she accepts that as part of her religious practices, and was well aware at marriage that time will tell. Though, acceptance of a norm is not agreeing to nor comfort with the practice. I could tell, she wished she did not have to welcome a “sister-wife” aka “Co-wife” into her marriage, but it is too late. She was born into this religion, and practices all its tenets sacrilegiously, including staying in a polygamous relationship. She has to put on her strong personality for the sake of her sanity, her family and her children. Yet, it is her strong personality that eats up her heart. Plus, she is a product of a double culture (may be more than a double); she is muslim and she is America. The latter preaches individual consent to a monogamous marriage, while the former involves family and religion in blessing the potentially polygamous marriage. I guess that same is true with African women who subscribe to polygamous family relations, not because they are happy ever after, but perhaps for the greater good. I have one such friend, and I have always thought I would be comfortable under such circumstances. Now I wonder! Perhaps it is not so easy and simple in practice. Perhaps my strong personality would fail me. For now, I believe that is pretty much all we got to hang onto and cherish for the sake of survival, acceptance and interaction within our social living. Over and above, a strong personality is what we need to get our next shelter, next meal and next paycheck; it is what is required of “belonging to society”.

Back to Boston with Big Dreams and a Heavy Heart

This past weekend I returned to Boston, after four years away. The last time I was in Boston, December 2009 was to visit my BFF Phina (R.I.P), and bid her farewell. My then 17 months-old son and I were moving to Cape Town, South Africa. Little did we know that would be the last time we would see Phina in person.

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My dearest Phina left this world last year in February 2012, for no justifiable reason other than a fibroid operation gone wrong! I had never imagined that she would be gone, while I am still here. In fact, she was my estate trustee, on behalf of my son. That’s how sure I was, she will still be here longer that myself. That is not true anymore.
The entire journey to Boston was a reminder of Phina’s soul, spirit and presence. I had dreaded going to Boston without her. See, we recently returned to the United States after four years abroad – Norway, South Africa and Uganda. We were not in the country when Phina passed on. This past Saturday and Sunday, I went into Boston to run 10 miles with the Tufts [Boston] Marathon Team (TMT). My son’s grandparents and uncle drove me to Boston. I had planned to take them to Phina’s former apartment but we did not have plenty of time left before they had to head back home. So, I let them leave me at my hosts’ residence in Roxbury, south of where Phina lived in Malden, MA.
It did not help that my hosts -Emma and Hope-were Uganda. Emma knew Phina, whom he had met through shared friends Dawn and Matt Wolfe also residents of Boston. Matt, Phina and I went to the same grad school. Emma told me that he went to Phina’s memorial service; the euphoria was emotional! Her brother gave a very moving eulogy of Phina. It was great to hear somebody who knew Phina…but equally painful. It made me so nostalgic for her! I wished she were still in Boston, it would have made life so much more fun. But then again, I would have missed a chance to meet Hope, Emma’s girlfriend. Or enjoy the comfort of their crib in Roxbury with hardwood kitchen cabinets, wooden refrigerator, center stove and built-in microwave, walk-in bedroom closet, rusty bathtub and shower, platinum looking taps and all things metal. It was magnificent. I caught myself saying, “Phina would have liked this.” she had a weakness for aesthetic. She was the “dandy girl”, my Ms. Pretty, as I often teased her:).
I woke up on Sunday morning and headed to my run at Tufts, about an hour to get to Tufts from Roxbury, with train and bus transport factored in. Unfortunately, I got to Davis after the bus had left, so I took a cab. That too reminded me of Phina, who loved taking cabs (with Jane) from our school dorm to Davis Square, a quick 30 minutes walk. I always made fun of them, “Princesses”!
While purchasing a Charlie Card to get me onto the “T” [Boston Train system], memories of Phina rushed back. She would have had a T-card ready for me to use. She always insisted on giving me her T-Charlie Card whenever I visited, even when I insisted that I would not be going out of the house and she would need it to go to work. She always insist that she had an extra Charlie Card, and would get me to keep it!
I thought about Phina on my run, and after my run. Tears came down so hard on me, after the run. I imagined how excited she would have been for me: packing me breakfast or a snack to eat on my way out to run. Coming with me to Tufts, before heading off to Church. Then planning to meet up and hang-out after the run. I thought of her cheering me on. She was always my biggest cheerleader. She understood me. For people like me with a strong personality, it is not very often that you meet a person who understands you all damn good! Someone who supports you and loves you no matter what. I thought of her, after running a good run – 10-50 miles at 7:37 minutes per mile! I thought of her as I stretched my muscles.
After the run, i decided to take a tour of Tufts campus and Fletcher. I re-traced the paths I remember walking with Phina: the Hall of Flags, Mugar Library, Institute for Human Security, Blakeley and the Green House. Some offices had changed location, but I found them. Blakeley, our hall of residence looked pretty much the same, as did our second home, The Green House. I sat quietly with tears flowing down my eyes in the Hall of Flags, as I remembered Phina walking through several times, with her backpack on her back, her brown winter jacket with the South African HIV/AIDS lapel pinned on. I remembered her black lips with shinny gloss on them. I remembered her curly hair weave. I remembered her giggle and her smile. I remembered her sitting in the Institute for Human Security, sometimes working too late into the night to put in as much income as she could. It was hard experiencing all that by myself. But I did.
I went to Harvard square, thereafter. To “OUT-OF-TOWN NEWS”, toured Harvard University, went bak to Harvard Law School, and The Coop. Fortunately, I got connected to the internet, so got a message about dinner plans with my hosts in time. I had to run through it. Finish up with Harvard Square and head to Malden – to take some flowers and Tiramisu to Phina’s to 30 Malden Place.  She loved Tiramisu, from her fav place in Harvard Sq! I got onto the “T”, and braved it to Phina’s apartment. Fortunately, there was a bus heading her way when I got off the T, and a cab had just pulled up to her apartment, as I was winding down. I delivered all that I had to. I missed her!
For the first time in a long time, I felt I was on my own, in the city of my best friend, without my best friend. She was really gone. Phina does not live in Boston OR Malden, no more. She lives somewhere in Uganda. Between bushes and trees. I had never imagined being in the US without her here. Moreover, never thought of her ‘resident’ in Uganda! Her absence and silence is deafening. The surreality of this is so bulky….We do not find so many people who love us for love!