Love and Home

Doorway to English class

Love and Home
Is home the familiar place you land each night, or is home where your family gathers? I’d questioned this after being away from my home to attend the very successful and gratifying West Coast ISNA Education Forum recently in Anaheim, California, and also pursuant to shuffling several consecutive days between my home to cook the daily dinner, sleeping at my elderly father’s home to care for his needs, and working a temporary teaching assignment at my former school.
There are the comforting aspects of my home, like my own bed, my routines, seeing my husband and kids in our identified abode, known as home. Somehow, checking in over the telephone was not the same as face-to-face verification that they were healthy and happy.
Yet, while I evaluate, again, the prospect of getting the house ready for sale, I ponder if changing the familiar place in exchange for another is risking the setting that bonds us. If I move, will I disrupt that feeling of being home? Will I regret my decision? Or could it be that home is wherever the people I love are?
My extra few days to enjoy the companionship of friends in Redondo Beach and Glendale, California were enjoyable. Spending time with my dad in the home where I was raised was equally comfortable. Going back to teach in my former school, but in the new building addition, has also been touching a familiar chord. These clues may indicate that home is wherever the people I love are. The adage “home is where the heart is” comes to mind.
Could it be that with every place we go we may leave some favored aspects behind, but we can also create or design new niceties? I believe so; as life is full of change, the adaptable are those who thrive.
Fear may hold us back from opportunity if we are not open to new experiences, and that may mean that happiness may be unrealized. Yet, we never know. I recall many people who have left Chicago only to return because they tried some place new and did not find it to be better for them. Often times, they cited the fact that they missed their family and friends. Therefore, perhaps the strategy when relocating is to meet new people, contribute to the community, and grow new roots. Nice people can be found everywhere, and each new place needs leaders who can help.
Instructive to this point, my son mentioned that he likes community-based video games. He was chatting with three guys from Brazil yesterday, and he truly found satisfaction in connecting with them. He and his friends love this, and it is where he finds his community. Knowing this, I think that relocation will not be disruptive to him, as long as we still have the ability to physically be present to debrief each day. That will be the ultimate challenge though if we are distant from our other children. As a wife and mother, I realize that that is what defines home to me. It is not so much the place, because even meeting at a coffee shop to chat about the day can work; it is seeing those I love and knowing that they are doing well that brings me satisfaction. Home is wherever those I love are, and I want to enjoy my “home” everyday.

Sunday Morning Musings

2015-01-11_10-24-58_167 Sunday Morning Musings — As I peer out my living room window, a lady in a black maxi-length parka walks her little dog, the species unknown, encased in a pea soup green dog sweater. They gingerly cruise over the shoveled sidewalk and become yet another moment of this peaceful Sunday morning.

My Turkish coffee has no sugar, but I’ve grown used to it, while I ration my quota of sweets for the day. I’ve become more cognizant of what foods yield inflammation in my body, and I’ve limited gluten and foods that process into higher blood sugar. Not that I have diabetes, but in trying to avoid that becoming reality for my husband, we have modified our dietary choices. He reportedly feels better, and he starts each day with about 16 ounces of filtered water before breakfast.

The quiet morning is disrupted by the sizzle of the gluten-free steel cut oats boiling over onto the stove top and I hasten to switch burners because the first was doused out by the overflow. We’ll put walnuts, cinnamon, butter, and use monk fruit or stevia to sweeten it, in lieu of sugar.

The house remains still at 9:38, although we are now five in our family sharing this abode. One son has moved out and is working in the city as a nurse, and one has come home to visit before returning to his studies and job at college in Chicago. There is a lot to do before splitting my time this week between my home, my work at school, my father’s house, and a trip to LA scheduled for later this week.

For now though, I take in the white view and once again the lady with the dog appears, but this time she is on the opposite sidewalk allowing her dog to make his deposit by the red fire hydrant. She turns squarely to face me, but her focus is on her dog’s duty and her own trained hand to retrieve his waste in a doggie baggie.

The temperatures have risen to the mid 20’s Fahrenheit since last night when my youngest son and I trekked nearly 3 miles while listening to tunes on our phones and breathing the fresh air while most neighbors either were asleep or watching TV. I hope that today someone from my clan will join me for a hike in the woods nearby. We may even be lucky enough to see deer, as we did last time.

Next, I’ll need to write lesson plans for the temporary high school English teacher position I assumed at my former school. It’s great to see the kids!

Cookin’ & Scramblin’

2014-12-19_17-26-46_396 Since Dad fell Thanksgiving morn, life has been more race and juggle–with three different hospitals and encore stay at the rehab facility– instead of lithe and symphonic. The words don’t flow, although thoughts cascade from my mind and dissipate through the ether. Surely, there is a correlation between being outdoors reveling in nature and the fluidity of creating prose, but I’m blocked and choked inside by deadlines, dinner times, Dad’s physical therapy, and bed alarm chimes.

Yet, my favorite way to start the day is to have a cup of Turkish coffee in my pajamas while looking out my living room window in a quiet house. There I assemble my thoughts, check the weather, email, calendar, and task list from my phone. Then it’s time to dress, prepare breakfast for my clan, and start the day’s calculated plan.

Like a swarm of bees, the priorities shift within a menu of options…

  • Preparing to substitute for an English teacher who starts maternity leave in January, and I will get to teach Gatsby!
  • Working on a short-term accreditation project for a school in GA
  • Participating on two planning committees for Education Forums with a presentation in January
  • Completing design of a new iteration of a non-profit website with a Halal directory and discussion threads; plus the usual social media work I do for them
  • Posting and monitoring social media for a local college
  • Researching and writing another 1500 word magazine article
  • Promoting Zilzar.com. Zilzar should be a great platform to facilitate Halal trade globally
  • And several people have requested me to do presentations on entrepreneurial topics

Somehow a sense of balance is achieved by occasional relief activities like adding a few pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, catching a brief recovery nap, reading a magazine during a haircut, and taking time for a few YouTube clips.

It may seem a bit crazy, but I love the autonomy and variety in my life. Caring for people dear to me brings the best fulfillment. Here’s hoping 2015 provides the chance to keep what I like, learn and earn more, and keep health, happiness, and my loved ones on a solid track of success.

Space, Time, and Zilzar

Orion_Belt thumb

Pause at the vastness of space, and ponder our place in the universe. We all have a role to play, though we may seem insignificant compared to the magnitude of Creation.

The film, Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey, is a must-see because it allowed me to ponder Creation and the Creator. The movie will find favor from physicists, mathematicians, and astronomers because it validates these sciences relative to the impending threats to our collective existence.

The story takes place a bit into the future when fertile America has become a dust bowl and startlingly suffers from volatile weather all over our fragile planet. It presents deception perpetrated by governments and the fabrication of events to maintain social order.

The film has a poignant scene whereby a school teacher contends that federally sanctioned history books inform that the Apollo missions were all a hoax designed to bankrupt the Soviet Union into spending on space research; yet, she is unaware that NASA really does exist on a covert basis under an alias so as not to upset people who struggle to find food and staple crops not yet extinct.

It would be pivotal if this movie sparks more students to study physics, math, and computer science, as well as agriculture, botany, and environmental studies because the scenario graphically revealed in this film could be a catalyst to a generation of scientists motivated and inspired like we were in the 1960s.

There are also concepts of time relative in distance and the transcendence of love. As the protagonist, played by McConaughey, leaves his family for outer space, the phenomena of time travel and parallelism are well rendered. The story had deeper significance for me too because as he understands the gravity (pun) of his decision, I am also considering a potential solo travel to a school principalship in Malaysia for at least two years. The thoughts of separation from my family arose as I watched the film. We are awaiting bureaucratic progress (an oxymoron) before finalizing the decision to purchase tickets to explore the prospects firsthand, and there are many factors to weigh.

The school is striving to open for the January term, but that adds more conflict to my decision since I am slated to present on the topic of teacher and principal evaluations at the West Coast ISNA Education Forum in that month, and I am serving on another forum planning team for their spring conference.

Adding to the time/distance hyper awareness are the facts that my spouse has been in Jordan and the West Bank for three weeks (+8 hours), I tackled an extensive editing job for Thomson Reuters’ Dubai office (+9 hours), a friend in the UK (+7 hours) has been giving me counsel about Malaysia (+14 hours), and members of my education forums are in California (-2 hours); so that, combined with my kids’ late night schedules, has me mentally flexing a lot. It makes for a cerebral time warp, and I feel compelled to get up and work after 4 hours of sleep. I do force myself to stay under the covers though, even if I’d spent the past hour sending messages from bed on my smartphone.

The saying, “Like ships that pass in the night,” comes to mind as my husband will land just 45 minutes after my son and I fly to New Jersey for the American Muslim Consumer Conference where I will once again be the emcee. It is an event that I am greatly looking forward to because the folks there are dynamic, and they are doing great things for the world via commerce.

Also relating to commerce are two more things, DHL and Zilzar. DHL Express hosted a luncheon meeting this past week and featured a speaker who stated that 87 percent of global commerce and 90 percent of consumers are outside the U.S. He essentially made the point to the representatives of companies in the audience that they had better be doing business outside the U.S. With significant numbers of people unemployed or underemployed, and many of my generation considered obsolete and out of touch with the global economy, this brings me to appreciate Zilzar.

Zilzar could be the next eBay or Alibaba, in that it levels the playing field to benefit small to mid-size enterprises (SMEs) through an online platform intended to facilitate trade, communication, and provide access to an evolving global community who do not really perceive national borderlines. This is my world!

Subscribers can register with no charge and are welcome to just read content, access and participate in the information exchange, or they can have free virtual storefronts to do business with the world. MasterCard has signed on to securely handle transactions.

This portal recently launched on October 29, so don’t be put off by some sparsity. Get in on the ground floor. Leaders will be more visible on this site compared to eBay or Amazon where it is hard to get noticed and where sellers are paying increasingly higher fees for listing and transactions. I am going to be promoting Zilzar over the next year because I believe in it, but I would encourage everyone to sign on for at least an account to see where this company goes. The world is not flat and potential is enormous!

You can get a better sense of it from this YouTube video http://youtu.be/1fh3gTZykCo

Goodbye September!

Bursts of Color! Goodbye September!
Each year I indulge to buy The September Issue in late August, and I consistently find that I do not get to enjoy it until October! September is typically packed with commitments and a flurry of activities I succumb to the whim to pursue, since the indoor-bound winter approaches. This year was exceptionally eventful, as I successfully tackled some of my long held Bucket List items.

√ The “M” designation for my driving license. I can now legally operate a motorcycle since passing a week-long course at the community college.
√ The dream of biking along the shoreline of Lake Michigan to enjoy the views of downtown Chicago as well as the beaches, boats, and beautiful part district facilities going towards Irving Park Road.
√ Learning to sail too, thanks to one of my sons who initiated the search on GroupOn for the experience to do it also on Lake Michigan. He is in love with water and nature in general, and our outing helped galvanize his career direction; or so we think, knowing how college students often shuffle their majors.

Along with packing in these activities were some personal and professional milestones and meet-ups which I anticipate will culminate in strengthening my entrepreneurial growth and finances.

True to my promise, I am surprisingly doing quite well so far in my Coursera MOOC, Introduction to Financial Accounting with Professor Brian Bushee of the Wharton School of Business. Another course, Introduction to Business Finance (Stanford) starts next week, and I’d better speed read through the Foundation Trilogy in order to accommodate juggling two courses while also planning for 3 educational events and prepare to emcee for the AMCC in mid-November.

My schedule typically runs in spurts. At a recent luncheon meeting with some of my favorite female entrepreneurs, we talked about how crazy busy we often are, but one of them said, “Sue, you make time for LIVING.” True, but it’s only because sometimes I bury myself deep in focused work, to the exclusion of my exercise, and that is why I’ve decided to take a walk in the sun, swing on a swing in the park (good core toner), and write today. I have two appointments scheduled later, but I know that the work will always be there, nice weather will not.

Besides, without a bit of self-care, the body feels miserable and blood pressure issues rise, literally. Health must be respected, and with it comes empowerment and the ability to conceive marvelous things. Many folks out there have job commitments that seem to torpedo their hope for fitness and balance; but take my advice and do get out of the building for fresh air and exercise. Do not plop into sitting at a restaurant that exacerbates the sedentary lifestyle many settle for. Take a walk, bike, swing, and dream. It’s a beautiful world out there, so make your plan to greet it to do something beneficial.

In this time of shifting economies and globalization, make yourself more valuable. There is always something new to learn and do, and MOOCs are a great way to take advantage of this. It was revealing for me to learn that in my accounting course, 33 percent of the enrollees were from the U.S., but 11 percent were signed in from India and 10 percent from China. The demographics indicated 104,000 people enrolled. They were mostly between the ages of 20 and 40, and most were working full-time jobs. With that knowledge, there is no excuse for anyone to stagnate. Even in regard to many who feel they are underemployed, the call is to level up higher because it is becoming increasingly apparent that single major subjects for college degrees are not sufficient for the highest paying jobs. That is the message I will deliver to high school counselors next week at Northwest Suburban College. They secured their accreditation, and now we hope to expedite enrollment of students in the fast-track basic science courses that also transition students toward potential MD degrees within 5 years.

In regard to college enrollment and international students, it should also be noted that the highest percentage of foreign students in U.S. colleges are from Korea, followed by China, and then Saudi Arabia. It would be interesting to explore the perceptions of U.S. schools at this time from the perspective of people from these countries. Write to me if you have first-hand knowledge of this as a native from outside the U.S., as many colleges are ready to welcome foreign students.

Agh! I hear a motorcycle, as I pause to find the next topic and relish the green grass and sunshine around the picnic table at this park, but it is time to hike back to my office, post this blog, pray, and get ready for my next two appointments.
–Goodbye September! You’ve been great!

Summer's Finale

The Mad Scientist in Me

msc50cvr Before the regular football season games begin, I scurried to book activities into my schedule. For starters, after waiting about 30-some years for my parenting responsibilities to decrease, I’ve finally committed to a Motorcycling Basics and Licensure course along with my daughter and her fiancé. It has simply been one of those things, probably since watching James Bond films in my youth that hung on my bucketlist.

Another commitment has been to coordinate with my youngest son and his sister for an intermediate sign language course with our local park district. She has had two courses at university level and my son took the introductory course awhile back. I used to know at least the alphabet back in 7th grade when my girlfriend taught it to me so that we could have covert communications while our teacher’s back was turned! Wanting to keep the knowledge intact for my kids, I thought that I could bone up with some flashcards and join them in the advanced level class. You never know, as hearing is fading within some of our household bunch, it may come in handy one day!

We also have several MacBooks among us, and we have never taken any formal training. Fortunately, the Apple store offers free workshops in our area, so I’ve scheduled a suite of them over the next couple of weeks just to facilitate my use. I typically use a PC laptop and am entirely familiar with it, but there are certain features available to Mac users that I’d like to explore. Additionally, I have prospects of working with a colleague to coach teachers in the use of iPads, and I determined that I would benefit from picking up more tech skills that I can share.

Lastly, there are prospects to venture toward in open courseware. I am ready to make some decisions on what to schedule and in what order. While having some familiarity with several Learning Management Systems (LMS), I would certainly enjoy experiencing from a student’s perspective what notable professors are doing with online learning.

In the near term, I’m very excited about a photo shoot scheduled for tomorrow. My cronies have convinced me that I should consolidate my diverse businesses into a branded site. I envision a single portal which branches into each of my sectors that I am known for and for which I have already established some websites. We’ll see how that evolves. This is one for which I would appreciate any constructive feedback, www.geniusschoolonline.com. I’m aware that it still needs some edits.

My thoughts have been spanning space and time lately—while biking and weeding the garden—to my longtime friend Sheila, whom I met in 5th grade. To this day, we correspond twice a year, in the middle of winter and middle of summer. I was reminded of her today when a friend challenged me to cite 10 books that had somehow influenced my life. That list included the following:
The Holy Qur’an
The Mad Scientists Club
Siddhartha
The Road to Mecca
Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Fit For Life
The Jungle
Fahrenheit 451
See You At the Top
The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone

Sheila became my friend about the time I’d read The Mad Scientist Club, and that set my interest in science, skepticism of authority, and problem solving. I found a loyal friend in Sheila who was intelligent, industrious, and kind; while I was a bit of a tomboy, and found humor and novelty to be amenable to my personality–kind of like the boys of the book. Sheila was the voice of reason; I was the voice of “why not?” To this day, when we talk we find that we are still the same, and time and distance have not changed anything in our relationship and feelings are the same. In fact, we cry a bit at the conclusion of our calls. Writing is easier on the heart, and there is always so much to share.

Life has its struggles, and I suppose it is somewhat Freudian to be defensively impersonal while we course through each day mindful of how things are with each other. Work is cathartic and aspirations are running high for the means to be free and able to play like kids once more.

It’s About Love & Gifts

2014-08-08_21-12-02_827

Appreciation notes from my students were gratifying aspects of my career as a teacher. If only I’d kept more of them. I found this one as I was cleaning out a dresser, and I love it when former students—now adults—care to “friend” me on Facebook and when I see them succeed various milestones of life.

After all, I always felt that each of them was my kid, and even though the boys and girls are now fully adult men and women, some married and some with children, I remember just about all of them. I guess that I must have done something right.

As we approach the start of another school year, I’m missing the classroom a bit, and have genuine appreciation for the gifts given to me. I am a teacher.

For this reason, if the reader will permit, I want to share and highly recommend a book I received from my daughter, who was gifted with it by her cousin prior to her two month journey to teach, tour, and connect with family in Turkey and Jordan.

Reclaim Your HeartReclaim Your Heart by Yasmin Mogahed taught me that all we tend to put in our heart—our relationships, the value of our intellect, looks, health, wealth, position, and possessions—are actually gifts. Such gifts should be kept in the hand though, not the heart. For the heart is only for the Creator, and gifts bestowed to us are eventually taken away.

If such valuable gifts reside in the heart, they become objects of coveting and obsession; and when removed, they create such deep pain from their loss. We miscalculate that they were given by The One, and we may not realize that the Creator gives what is best for us. Sometimes the revocation of a gift is meant to remind and draw us back to The One.

My daughter, despondent over the genocide in Gaza, asked her aunt if such a horrific situation—one of the most densely populated, essentially trapped and defenseless populations being killed like ‘fish in a bucket’—if it depressed her? Her wise aunt stated, “Allah created mankind to be forgetful, and it is a gift.” Those of us who have lost mothers never forget the strength of our bond; yet, we are able to function because we are able to forget, accept, and continue.

In Islam, families mourn for three days; then they are expected to accept God’s Will and people move on. The loss of a spouse is certainly more disruptive, and two months is acceptable before re-engaging with the world. The point is to realize that we must accept; and we trust that The One gives what is best, no matter how seemingly tragic on the surface.

Given the circumstances in Gaza, I surmise that the haters and malevolent perpetrators will determine their eternal justice. Yet how humanity can generally ignore or misconstrue the situation, in spite of obvious media manipulation, I cannot fathom.

The Palestinians have transcended this world; their faith so solid as to recognize that this existence is fleeting, and so they greet their fate with resolve and capitulation to The One who can best serve justice. When people no longer fear death and accept it, they cannot be vanquished.

Our gifts, our blessings are to be cherished and preserved, but keep them in hand, not in the heart. Hope for their return, and better, as destiny proceeds.

We are members of the human family, and those who remember, care, serve, and educate others will find themselves in rank just under the prophets.

Be glad, patient, and share.

Change Perceptions: Make ‘The Strangers’ Yours

Anyone can be Muslim

The picture you see is my family celebrating an Eid camping trip after Ramadan in 1998. The red, curly haired, very Caucasian peanut just secured his driver’s license today, and he is a towering 6 foot, 2 inch (183 cm) tall Muslim.

When people see him with brown skinned kids at school, they are very surprised to learn that he is indeed Muslim because most people think of Muslims as ‘Other,’ meaning other than ‘Us.’

Typically, the image that comes to American’s minds is that a Muslim is Arab or perhaps Asian, although a large proportion of Muslims are in fact from African descent.

I believe this is significant to how we tend to value the lives of Others, and in particular to the political perspectives and policies toward the Middle East and Central Asia in general.
What should be known is that anyone can be Muslim. It is not an ethnic or nationalistic reference; rather it is simply a comprehensive religion on the continuum antecedent from Judaism and Christianity that guides the lives and identity of about 1.6 billion people (23% of the world’s population), according to a 2012 Global Religious Landscape report from the Pew Research Center.

Most disconcerting though is a more recent Pew Research Study referencing How Americans Feel About Religious Groups. The study was conducted May 30-June 30, 2014, and cites feelings towards religious groups on a scale of 0 as cold to 100 as warm. A 50 would reflect no particular positive or negative feeling about a religious group. In this report, prior to the Gaza spectacle, Muslims were dead last compared to all other groups, including Atheists. Forty-One percent of respondents placed scores of 33 or below for Muslims, which I find pretty sad and perhaps not representative of where I live.

Fortunately for my family, we live in a relatively affluent suburban Chicago setting with an abundance of educational institutions, houses of worship for many religions, and a fairly large non-segregated population of Muslims. Many of them hold advanced degrees and professional employment.

In retrospect, I noted that when the U.S. economy took a hard pullback a few years ago, it seemed that store clerks were friendlier than they’d been in the past. Looking around the malls, I found a greater percentage of Muslim patrons making purchases than other shoppers. Maybe the cashiers were the first ones to realize the value of Muslim purchasing power.

Even yesterday, I was acknowledged with a smile and friendly “Hi there!” initiated by non-Muslim women in two separate incidents while walking through parking lots at the local community college and at Whole Foods Market. I felt hopeful that the gloomy implications informed by the Pew reports were not representative of every part of the United States.Strangers

With this data though, I am asking everyone to help make ‘The Strangers’ documentary a reality. My friends, Abdalhamid Evans and Salama Evans, who are also on the founding team of the American Halal Association, have been working on a film project which is critical to changing erroneous perceptions about Muslims. Their story about a misfit group of hippies who stumbled upon Islam, converted, and created a community about 40 years ago in the town of Norwich, UK, is a story which needs to be told. salama-profiledownload group-copy-300x175 Please read about their amazing story and see them in the film trailer. Then give a bit of help to this project and share with your friends. It could make a positive move toward reigniting compassion, illuminate hearts, and dispel the ignorance out there. At least get a T-shirt and warm things up for the next Pew report. knees-300x174 http://halalfocus.net/the-strangers-documentary-essential-viewing/

The Trials

220px-Kent_State_massacre The Trials
Ramadan typically entails much reflection about one’s life and deeds, and this one has focus, sadness, and frustration over the increasingly dangerous situation in the Middle East.
From my memories of living under occupation in the West Bank of Palestine in segmented episodes over the 80s and 90s, recollections on the uprising in Tahrir Square and subsequent coup in Egypt, the massacres of civilians in Syria and Iraq, famine in Sudan, and smoldering discontent of citizens in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, there is a heaviness to this Ramadan like none other.

Fasting seventeen hours a day has not been as fearsome as anticipated, but neither has it been very productive. Mercifully, the cooler than normal temperatures are interpreted as a favor. I have many tasks to do, but I am not burdened with the worry of deadlines. My days typically start at 11 a.m. and end at 5 a.m., with an hour nap sometime between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The disruption in normal working schedule gives me the night to attend taraweeh prayers at the mosque where I hear the recitation of Qur’an, and I have the chance to read, put time into my social media assignments, and write.

Listening to Qur’an is like putting salve on the heart’s wounds, and making supplication for the ease of people’s suffering may seem shallow in power. Yet, I am reminded of the Qur’anic ayah, “…Allah is the best of planners…” (8:30).

Though the situation may at times seem hopeless, I am also reminded that God gives the hateful people ample opportunity to rectify their deeds. When they eschew choosing compassion and are blinded by base desires, they set judgment against their souls.

A range of criticisms and areas of misunderstanding about Islam are explained quite well by a blogger I reference here. I hope it is useful.

Meanwhile, I highly recommend an hour long panel session from the Aspen Ideas conference, titled “What Will The Map of the Middle East Look Like?” In it, one of the experts cited our collective angst when our own government sanctioned the murder of 4, only 4, Kent State demonstrators. Think how people in other countries feel when whole groups of innocents are murdered by armed authorities?

When will people realize that we are one human family? Compassion is the weapon against hatred, and it is slipping from society.

It strikes me that the only solution is to stop the financing of war machines and mediate grassroots parties into a semblance of democracy or shurah, which is recognized Islamically as dialogue and collective decision making between relevant parties. Even the historic Iroquois League set the example of this model’s value, and the forefathers of our Constitution saw its utility.

This is my humble contribution to suggest that violence and military intervention are ill advised, but a framework of society building could best resolve the mess.

In tandem with this understanding, I learned of the death of one of my elder cousins. Over the years, he’d been what could be described as down and out, and he became typically inebriated and had failing health. Not many of the relatives cared to maintain contact, and he quietly lived out his days downstate until he peacefully passed away in his sleep.

What I consider his greatest achievement was that he patiently endured his problems and maintained a heart of gold. In spite of the cynics around him, through our occasional conversations I could tell that he stayed compassionate; and he leaves an adult daughter with the same quality.

Success has many definitions, but I think the greatest success is when one leaves this life Pure. Ultimately, the rites of Islam aim to purify us, and a soft heart is a good reflection of the quality of purity in a person.

May our hearts stay soft, our supplications answered, and may we endure our trials with dignity and with steadfast faith. Amen.

Difficulties Seek Resolve

2014-07-05_17-48-29_579 A pervasive sadness overhangs my days, as I see many images of the injustice toward Palestinians on Facebook, and I know the fear, anger, and terror because I’ve lived through it. Vulnerable is the word that comes to mind also, as I was very cognizant that if I had to run, there was little choice except to chance walking through heavily militarized desert and no chance for cover if attacked. In fact, I’ve had nightmares whereby I see myself disguised as a Bedouin trying to head east toward Jordan, but in the dream my children and I, except for one, perish.
I’ve witnessed armed teenage soldiers with little sense and plenty of bravado stick their rifles in people’s bellies, arrayed in body protection and a variety of weapons like tear gas and clubs. They walk in a group using their walkie talkies for communication, and seek to assert their authority. One morning, as they made their rounds, they came to our door and hauled my husband out to the street. Someone had painted graffiti on the wall bordering our property, and the soldiers forced him to use a bucket of white paint to cover over it. That was vividly cast in my memory because my spouse was wearing his red tartan plaid pajamas, and my son was horrified at seeing his father humiliated at rifle point. That certainly made a lasting impression on the lad. He was only about 5 years old, but it sowed seeds of anger.
Especially disturbing is when they go after the young school children, and raid the universities to destroy property and harass college students in the middle of the night. One night, as I peered through the kitchen window, I’d seen soldiers bang on the neighbor’s door. The owner answered and I saw those soldiers rough up the teen boy within their view, seemingly without provocation. Another evening, the street was filled with soldiers in their jeeps, and my teenage relative had to get home nearly two blocks away. I recall tucking my own children into bed, asking my sister-in-law to watch over them, and then I escorted my visitor past those soldiers to home. I was very scared, and the thought occurred to me that I might not live to see my kids again if I were unlucky enough to be picked for torture or persecution. Lessons like these affect one forever, and I empathize with those who have no way to escape the strain of occupation.

I also feel remorse for senseless deaths that I’d learned of last night when two boys, in their early twenties, were drag racing on a busy street in a southern suburb. One was the nephew of a former colleague. They crossed into the oncoming lane and killed two innocent parents, leaving at least one child orphaned. Such stupidity; such a waste.

Have you seen ‘Inequality for All’? I highly recommend it. Robert Reich and the MoveOn.org movement have my email, and I get daily reminders about the 1 percent and inordinate power the wealthy have to corrupt our democracy. There was a terrific interview with Bill Moyers that recaps the salient points of the film. The necessity to flex the responsibility of citizenship is imminent.

Then there is my own father. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that over a year ago he had suffered a minor backyard tumble that ended up resulting in a severe infection on his foot. It was only recently that he has been able to walk without a walker or cane, but he is precariously unstable and his benefits for ongoing physical therapy have expired. He is not getting enough activity now to continue his progress, and I’m seeing regression that gravely concerns me.

I know, this is getting heavy, and there are a few more dear ones who have health battles that are on my mind, but it is Ramadan. I bear in mind that although things seem dark, there is a divine plan. Not to be preaching, but when I feel such weight from how much I care I turn to nature. For in it, I find timelessness, peace, the intelligent design, and it fortifies my patience.

2014-07-05_18-01-47_48

I believe that we all have a role to play; and that if we choose our responses to such trials with compassion we will prevail in some way. In nature, I connect to the water and rocks; the ground gives me comfort. It reminds me of my insignificance to the larger picture, and also humbles me. Gardening is satisfying, as long as the mosquitoes are kept at bay, but we are having the worst year due to all the rains we’ve had. Cruising on my bike and playing tennis with my youngest son helps put me back on track. We also like to visit Klein Creek Farm and commune with the sheep and walk the property.

For how can we remedy what may be in our power if we grieve too long? Granted, some things we endure are out of our capacity to affect, but some other things are able to be resolved. Lastly, my heart finds strength from the Holy Qur’an. I can read it, but it is easier to catch the recitation live on Mecca TV. With that, and asking for God’s help, I somehow recharge and find strength. Verily with every difficulty comes relief (94:6)