Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lessons from the ball park - Part 1

My son wanted to play baseball again this year. The House league is divided into age groups and within age groups, divided into levels B, A and double A. Everyone is invited to play in the B levels. If you are a player with potential, you are free to try out for the A levels. The really great players get to try out for the double letters team.

My son and his best friend went to the A tryouts. My son did not survive the first cut for the A team but his best friend did and continued on with tryouts. When I asked the dear boy how he felt about that, he said, matter-of-factly, "That's okay, Mom. I am still gonna have fun." I was impressed by his attitude which was better than mine. After all, which parent did not want his/her kid making it to the big leagues, right? Society tells us that we must aim to be with the BEST teams, cliques, groups, or we are not worth as much, right?

Two weeks later, we found out his best friend ended up not making the final cut either for the A team and so, both boys landed on the same B team. Well, whaddayaknow.....turns out our head coach (always a parent volunteer) was somebody who's really been around the baseball league, coaching all the way up to the youth elite teams. He's played in all the major league baseball stadiums of America. 

Well, three months of summer baseball later, my son has had the best season of his life, learning something new at every practice and trying new positions at every game. What was first a minor embarrassment (for me, not him!) in not being "good enough" to be on the elite team, turned out to be a blessing I did not expect as my son grew in talent and confidence under a watchful and skilled coach.

I need to remember this nugget from the ball park.Society is not always the best of teachers when it comes to the lesson about one's sense of worth. Just because we do not always get what we think is "best", doesn't mean we are devoid of all worth. Sometimes, we don't get the glamour of being on the A teams of life. But oftimes, the B teams of life offer experiences that are just as precious, if we simply open our eyes and hearts....

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Case of the Controversial Cookies….

It was December 20th. My neighbour, TZ and I were freezing our posteriors off, waiting at the corner, one street away, for the school bus, to take our boys to school for their last day of classes before Christmas holidays begin for students. The bus arrived, we patted our boys’ backs and gave final reminders to “be good” as they went up the steps of the bus. As it drove away, we waved towards the dark, tinted windows of the bus, hoping it was our kids seeing us wave and not somebody else’s kids thinking, “Who’s the strange parent waving to me??”

On our quick walk back to our homes this wintery day, our chat was light as it sometimes is.  We talked about our plans to rest and relax during the Christmas holidays. When we got to her driveway, TZ said, “Oh wait! I have something for you,”….she ran into her house while I shivered some more and she came out with gift for me. A plate of cookies, all wrapped up in Christmas-themed cellophane. 
She smiled and said, “Merry Christmas!! I baked these myself!”

I must have looked shocked because she continued with a smile, “Don’t worry. The kids say they’re pretty good.”  

“You didn’t have to do this,” I said.

“I know,” she responded, “I was baking to make Christmas gifts for the teachers at school anyway and I thought I would make you a plate too!”

I explained why I seemed shock, “But TZ, in my birth country, Muslims are now taught not to even wish their non-Muslim friends,"Merry Christmas" or the like, for fear of weakening their own faith or giving credence to some other faith. "

TZ wrinkled her eyebrows and huffed impatiently, “I’m a hard-core (Egyptian) Muslim. I know that Allah can see the intentions of my heart.  How can wishing you well and giving you a plate of Christmas cookies damage my faith?  Aren’t we neighbours? Aren’t our children friends? You welcomed me to the neighbourhood with a plate of cookies,” and she continued to tsk tsk away, “People should go demonstrate at your country’s embassy. So many wrong teaching these days!”

I quickly calmed her down and assured her that no such rally was needed but gave her a great, big hug and the double-cheeked kiss typical of my city. As we retreated to the warmth of our homes, I gave thanks that neither I nor TZ were afraid to reach across the cultural and religious boundaries that set us apart. I gave thanks that we were determined to treat each other with respect and be the best representation of what we believe to be the Truth, despite all the ugliness being committed in the name of religions all over the world.

And so as I write this, seven months after Christmas, it is Eid al-Fitr (a.k.a. Hari Raya Aidil Fitri in my birth country) in a few days, the end of Ramadan for my neighbour. I know what I will be sending over to her place on that day of celebration. Some gorgeous cookies from our local halal supermarket together with my well wishes.

For anyone reading this who might disagree with my actions or TZ’s actions, I suggest we let God do the job of judging, eh? The last I heard, there was no new job posting for “God”. 

As for us humans, why don’t we do the best job possible to represent the “God” of our beliefs – more love, less hate; more compassion, less ill will; more understanding, less ignorance, and more respect with  less disdain for our fellow human beings and especially towards those we claim as neighbours and friends. Let’s try that. Not just for a day or week. Let’s commit to that for as long as we shall live. Maybe then, humanity has a chance….

PS – those homemade cookies from TZ were delicious, especially the pink-tinged ones with cream cheese and sprinkles on top.

PPS – TZ received my gift with the fiercest hug ever… I thought she would never let go. I returned the hug, thinking of the unspoken words between us and of all the sad things happening in our respective “home” countries…. Can cookies stop the senselessness?  Maybe not on a large scale but there’s this fine Chinese proverb that says that the journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step. I’m taking my steps. I wish more of you would join me because the journey feels lonely, very often….

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lessons learned from a funeral or two...

What a blogger I am! More months of silence and leave it to a funeral to return me to my blogsphere. Sigh.

In the last 3 months, I’ve attended two funerals. Where I am, they call these “celebrations of life” and indeed they are because people come up to microphones and talk about how amazing these lives where when they had breath. Both were men. I did not know either one well at all. Despite that confession, I felt compelled to come and pay my respects.

RP was his late 80s and RT in his late 40s. The former’s passing was somewhat understood and expected as he was in his twilight years but the latter’s passing came as a shock. RT had been paralyzed a couple of months ago after accidentally hurting himself jumping into his swimming pool at home. Both leave behind loved ones whose lives are forever changed.

As I sat and listened to eulogies and watched photo slideshows for both these men, I learned three things from them and their lives.

The first is that life is a gift and meant to be lived to the fullest, to the best of our abilities. Both men were active in their circles at work and at home. Neither chose to be an island. It is easy to be an island when the world seems like such a scary place where people do not have the same values as you, or seem not to have any values at all. That does not mean we should retreat to protect ourselves and pooh pooh at everything that is not like us. If anything, I learned that we need to arm ourselves with what we know is true and good and go out there and shed some light on this dark and often crazy world. 

The second lesson I learned or rather had reaffirmed for me is that I need to make memories with my family. Although both men were well appreciated at work, I saw many photos of family times. I saw RT’s girls hugging him tightly on family vacations. I wistfully wished my girl would do the same to me. I saw RP’s family surrounding him during birthday celebrations  and watched his fashion sense evolve with the years.:-)

I spend a lot of energy and time at work. Partly because I excel at my work. Partly because I get a lot of affirmation at my work.  I pour out 110% at work….if you do the math, that does not leave much at all for home.  And so, I acknowledge that, I err in placing work ahead of family, ahead of my own children far too often because honestly, at the end of the day, on my death bed, will my work circle be there? Who was it who said, “Nobody ever wished on his deathbed that he spent more time at work.”? But, then again, things are almost always easier said than done, aren’t they?

My third lesson from RP and RT is to live your best life now and to do it authentically. I don’t mean any new age-y reference, nor do I mean to spend all your money buying all the toys you want now.  From what I saw and heard, both men lived their lives consistently and humbly, putting the greatest value on human relationships among each other and one’s relationship with God, the Creator. Neither threw money around like it was water. Neither shied away from difficult situations. Neither hid their beliefs in a loving God. Both believed that eternity mattered and because of that belief, both were courageous in how they stood firm for universal values of kindness and truth and dignity and how they extended kindness, truth and dignity to all in their circles. I could tell that, from the group of grown men around me sobbing, at RT’s celebration of life.

We never know when our stories are meant to end or how they will end. While we have breath, perhaps we should evaluate how we would like our stories to be told when our journey is done. What will be told someday in the future, depends on what we do now in the present. Do you need to rethink some aspects of your life today? I do.