Monday, June 29, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
With Michael Jackson's death predominating the news, Governor Mark Sanford's recent scandal is already yesterday's news. Like so many politician's before him, earlier this week, Governor Mark Sanford apologized for his infidelity and his brief disappearance recently.
When hearing about this story, I can't help but think about forgiveness. In his press conference, Governor Sanford commented, "I've let down a lot of people. That's the bottom line. And I let them down, and in every instance I would ask their forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an immediate process. It is in fact a process that takes time, and I'll be in that process for quite some weeks and months and I suspect years ahead."
First of all, what does it mean to forgive? Webster Dictionary says to forgive is "to cease to feel resentment against." It indicates that forgiveness is not so much about the other person but about yourself. Forgiving doesn't mean saying what happened was ok, it isn't even understanding why someone acted a certain way. It is merely a letting go.
But at what point should we stop forgiving people lest we should be made fools of or taken advantage of? At what point is forgiving self-depreciating? Maybe it never is.
John F. Kennedy said, "Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names."
Part of forgiving is learning from betrayal and not allowing someone the same place in your life before their transgression. Indeed, forgiving your enemies seems easy in the face of forgiving the ones you love. You know what to expect from your enemies. But when the people you love betray you, you are jilted in an entirely different way. This action betrays your very notion of stability and trust. It can make you very, very fragile. I can’t imagine Jenny Sanford’s feelings when she found a letter from her husband to his mistress. And later how she must have felt when e-mails between Sanford and his mistress were printed. In the public eye she has handled herself gracefully and there is even some indication that she might forgive her husband and even reconcile with him.
I have always thought that one of my greatest weaknesses has been a seemingly never-ending capacity to forgive. I don’t say this with any moral superiority. I genuinely spent most my life wishing I could hate certain people, that I could learn to see them only for the way they hurt me and not beyond that.
Perhaps my ideology is summed up by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find, in each person’s life, suffering and sorrow enough to disarm all our hostility.”
It is difficult to look at people and only see them as they are. Instead there are long, long roads full of stories behind them and highways of pain, regret and hurt within them. It is difficult to hate and be unforgiving in the face of a person’s humanity.
It is particularly difficult in the face of knowing that we will stand before God one day. Who is more forgiving than our God? And if He can forgive us, then who can’t we forgive? It is reported in a hadith that God says, “O Son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O Son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O Son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me ascribing no partners to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.”
Likewise, the Prophet Muhummad was the most forgiving person. He was always ready to forgive even his enemies. When he went to Ta’if to preach the message of Allah, its people mistreated him, abused him and hit him with stones. He left the city humiliated and wounded. When he took shelter under a tree, the angel of Allah visited him and told him that Allah sent him to destroy the people of Ta’if because of their sin of maltreating their Prophet. Muhammad (may peace be upon him) prayed to Allah to save the people of Ta’if, because what they did was out of their ignorance.
Despite realizing all this; for the first time in my life I am struggling to forgive someone and I fully understand that what I thought was my curse was the greatest blessing. Hate is a disease that sneaks up on us and which can destroy us. It eats away at the heart and poisons our thoughts. Not forgiving someone does not hurt them in any way, it makes them stronger, it allows them to continue to dominate us, it is self-defeating in the worst way.
Whenever I have difficulty letting go of a negative feeling towards a person I always thing of an old Zen story. In the story there are two Japanese monks on a journey. In their Order, they are forbidden from touching a woman. When they reach a swollen creek, there is a young woman there. She is distressed because she cannot cross with the water so high. The younger of the two monks just looks away and prepares to cross the creek. As he steps in the water, he looks back and sees the older monk pick the woman up and proceed to carry her across. On the other side, the older monk puts the woman down and bows to her as he leaves her there. The two monks walk in silence for quite some time. However, the younger monk could not keep it in. He finally says, "How could you do that? You know that we are directly forbidden to touch a woman!" The older monk stops walking, looks at him and says, "I put her down way back there. Why are you still carrying her?"
It is difficult to let go and until we do that, we cannot forgive. It is difficult to realize that forgiveness does not mean letting someone or something back into you life. Jenny Sanford can forgive her husband, indeed it looks like she will, but that does not mean he has any right back into her heart or her life.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Today, people will be laughing and smiling more than they have in a long time. You can't talk about Michael Jackson without remembering one of his songs and telling a story about how it carried you through a rough time, made you jump up and dance at a club, or made you blast your car stereo. You can't help but say how even your mom who doesn't know how to turn on a computer, knows who Michael Jackson is. And there is no way you can talk about Michael Jackson without starting to sing and suddenly your heart lifts up, your face breaks into a smile and you know that this man did something good.
Beat me, hate me, You can never break me. Will me, thrill me, You can never kill me. Do me, sue me, Everybody do me. Kick me, strike me, Don't you black or white me. All I wanna say is that they don't really care about us.
It was strange to see all the news coverage this morning. The past decade, his blunders and ours, are forgotten. People are praising him, talking about his influences on music and the world. But even recently the media and most people ridiculed him, often referring to him as a freak show. The latter half of his career was plagued with allegations of misconduct. And now in his death, they see his humanity. Like all of us, he returns ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
People say I'm not okay 'cause I love such elementary things...It's been my fate to compensate, for the Childhood I've never known... Have you seen my Childhood? I'm searching for that wonder in my youth…
He entered our lives when he was just six years old. For more than four decades he gave us his music and his self. We saw him struggle with his identity and his past and were here to welcome him back as he prepared for a new future with his comeback tour. e.e. cummings said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting." This was Michael Jackson’s struggle. One of the reasons that he will be so greatly remembered is because he gave from his essence- there will never be another like him.
They told him don't you ever come around here, don't wanna see your face, you better disappear. The fire's in their eyes and their words are really clear. So beat it, just beat it.
The years of abuse in the media only drove him away though. In 1983 he gave his first interview since 1979 where he dispelled many rumors and myths on Oprah. But the public was unforgiving and eventually Jackson faded from the public eye. Even though he was not making music or working on major projects, Michael Jackson continued to make his impact on the world.
A willow deeply scarred, somebody's broken heart and a washed-out dream , they follow the pattern of the wind, ya' see cause they got no place to be, that's why I'm starting with me...
He donated over 300 million USD to various foundations in his lifetime. "We Are the World" which he co-wrote with Lionel Richie became the anthem for African relief work and helped raise millions of dollars for the continent. All the profits for "Man in the Mirror" went to charity and he founded the Heal the World Foundation which helped children threatened by war and disease. The list goes on and on so much that he is in the Guinness Book of World Records for supporting more charities than any other entertainer or personality.
Every day create your history, every path you take you're leaving your legacy.
Throughout his life, Michael Jackson struggled with the man in the mirror. His changing face got as much coverage as his music. People couldn't understand his need to morph but like all of us, he was struggling to reconcile the person he saw with someone he could love. All I can think of is how incredibly tired he must have been. But still, even to the end he was willing to give himself, to us who rejected him and to us who loved him. For years his music has carried me through my hardest times, he was an imaginary friend I talked to and his struggles reminded me of how delicate we are. His life, his music and his legacy will carry on eternally and I pray that he finds eternal peace. Ameen.
Like a comet
On a cloudy afternoon
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
“The years that are gone seem like dreams-if one might go on sleeping and dreaming—but to wake up and find—oh! Well! Perhaps it is better to wake up after all. Even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.” From the first time I read The Awakening this quote took hold of me. It used to be a life philosophy but as I get older, I wonder how much wisdom there is in it. Is it really better to live in a world that is real? Why do we strip ourselves of our illusions? Why is there such a desperate hunger for truth?
I have often thought about these questions and I think part of the reason that we search so painstakingly for truth is because we long for something we can count on. If we are ever to find this truth, then maybe we can turn to it, even if it is ugly, we can know what to expect of it. It won't strike at us like a snake the first time we turn our backs. If we know it to be ugly, then we won't rely on it. If we know it to be beautiful, it can comfort us like a dear friend.
And there is the possibility that there is no absolute truth. That it is fluid, ever changing like the waves in the ocean. That as soon as we have seen it, it has already something else. So, for the time being I am only searching for the truth of myself.
And as I delve into myself, I want to go deeper and deeper. To the parts that life has taught to be silent. I want to see the most ugly and vile parts of myself so I can learn to conquer them. I want to know the parts that exist when I strip away status, ambition and a desire to belong. I want to be only myself. I crave only myself now. How can I want or crave someone else? How can I want something that I don't know? That I can't trust?
I will discover the parts that have been buried, that have been molded by someone else's hands. I can appreciate the influences in my life but I am the artist now. By knowing myself, I will mold myself into some version of truth. Some days I will want to paint my face with stripes, some days I will want to be moody and unapologetic, and some days I will give myself freely to life. But, how am I supposed to discover myself if I am going to pick a date and say that on that day I have arrived? I don't know who I will be next year or next week. I have no desire to be consistent.
Does that make me fickle? No, being fickle is arbitrarily picking a moment and letting it direct who you are. I want to always be changing, coming out anew. I want to live life through many, many lenses. I want to experiment with my mind, my ideologies. I don't want to be a slave to someone else's need for consistency and stability. It is not selfish to live our lives the way we want to, It is selfish to expect other's to live how you want them to. If you want a me that you can label, that you can compartmentalize and put away, then you are going to be left dissatisfied. What do I owe to the universe? Before I can give anything to the world, I must firstly be loyal to my self. I owe it to the universe to know who I am.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
What took us to Bulgaria? Were we searching for amazing adventures? Exotic cuisines? Celebrity sightings? (Just kidding! I am over that now, remember?) Nope, we went with humble ambitions. We had to renew Feraz's Visa.
You might say, Sumeera, I am an avid reader of your blog and even read the captions in the pictures so i know that you recently went to Greece. Couldn't you have just renewed the Visa then?
Why yes, dear reader. We were indeed recently there! But as we were standing in line to get back into Turkey we looked over at the Visa line and were horrified to see there were two whole people waiting. Being the busy and important people we are, we knew there was no way we could waste precious minutes of our lives waiting to renew the Visa.
(Feraz is never one to miss an opportunity to pose like Morrisey. This is on the train)
The train was much better than we expected. We found an empty cabin where we each had plenty of room to lay down. Feraz said he felt like he was in Harry Potter about to go to Hogwarts. Outside the city lights of Istanbul whizzed by. Slowly the last lights faded and we passed the dark countryside. I kind of felt like Feraz and I were at camp. We had packed our backpacks full of snacks. We laid on our respective beds and passed our Tuktus and Milka Gofree bars back and forth while giggling away. Pretty soon I dozed off and didn't stir until we hit the border of Bulgaria. After going through passport control we had another few hours on the train. When I woke up again, the sun was coming up and we were passing the Bulgarian countryside. Dotted along the coast were farm workers and run down houses and farms. It was beautiful.
And then, the moment we had long waited for. Stara Zagora.
When we first got out of the train station we were hit with an amazing scent. If walking in Istanbul feels like a fat man just farted in your face, walking in Bulgaria feels like you are standing next to a woman who is wearing perfume that costs $652 an oz.
We walked through a park to get to the main part of town and that is when we first saw the boy in the orange shirt. He was standing sleeping up. Jealousy crept through me as I wished that I too could sleep standing up. Imagine the possibilities. Actually as I wrote this, I did try to imagine the possibilities and there really aren’t that many advantages. It seemed really cool at the time though.
Breakfast called and we started looking for somewhere to eat. The best thing to do in a situation where you are in a foreign country, where you don’t know the language or where anything is, is to go where everyone else is going. We soon saw a long line on an otherwise dead street. We walked up to find that it led to what was literally a hole in the wall. I have no idea how they made this hole but there it was and inside it stood a whimsical little lady, a la Audrey Tautou. There was a huge array of pastries and desserts. (As huge as there can be in a hole in a wall) Feraz picked out a cheese pastry which cost .60 lira. He would later rank this the best thing he ate in Bulgaria. Feel free to contact me if you would like a full ranking of favorite eats in Bulgaria.
But a cheese pastry alone would not do. It was time to hunt for coffee. We found something much much better. Iced coffee. Namely, Nescafe Frappe. It is so hard to find iced coffee in Istanbul and when you do it is either at Starbucks or 453534 lira. We devoured our drinks in less than 30 seconds. Then we looked around awkwardly because we had allocated a good half hour for this activity. Only 11.5 more hours to go in Bulgaria.
We walked around Stara Zagora to see what else we could find. We went through lots of shaded and winding residential streets. Much like Turkey, there were little shops dotted along the houses that were stocked with odds and ends. It put a warm feeling in my stomach. We found an outdoor market where we bought a KILO of cherries for 1.5 lira. Doesn’t everything just taste so much better when it is cheap? We continued walking and exploring and eating cherries and perfecting our cherry pit spitting abilities. I am definitely the more talented one in this arena.
We soon had tired ourselves out and decided to take a nap in the park. It was now 10:30 am. We didn’t know it yet, but we had already walked most of the town. In the next ten hours we would make about six more rounds of the town. I wonder what people thought as we passed their shops again and again and again… Luckily no one called the cops on us.
As we stopped to rest in a different park later we saw the boy in the orange shirt again. This time he was sitting on a bench just watching us. We ignored him for the most part, not even fully realizing that we had seen him earlier. A few hours later we would see him in the same park again. This time he had a massive bottle of beer. Like 3 litres massive. This was a teenage boy who was pretty scrawny. It made the bottle look even bigger. We laughed a bit at this but a few minutes later we saw the boy take the bottle and hide it in the tree behind him. Then he got up and walked to a bench two feet away where he sat down, took off one shoe and just sat there with his back to us. Stuff like this happened all day. Particularly in the parks. This alone might be a reason to check out Stara Gazora.
The best thing about Bulgaria was how cheap everything was. As I have already mentioned, the prices were ridiculously low. I had been eyeing this one purse at the mall since I got here but couldn’t justify dropping about 120 lira on something I am sure I would only carry once or twice. We found the exact same (my compulsive looking at this purse for the last few months paid off for something) in Bulgaria for 25 lira!!! I also bought shoes, honey and even hair dye. (Those greys are starting to sneak in! Blimey 26!!)
With such cheap clothes, the range of fashion or lack of fashion in Bulgaria is shocking. We walked into one “mall” and I literally stopped on my tracks. I have never, ever seen so much ugly in my life, not even at the state fairs in Michigan. I looked around to see if people were rolling over laughing but they all took this mall very seriously. Finally I figured out that there had been a competition to come up with the ugliest, tackiest, most ridiculous clothes you could think of and this building was merely a display for the winners. After I figured this out I was able to leave the mall in peace. Also, it cost .50 lira to pee there. No good.
There also seems to be no settled on dress code for Bulgarian weddings. We witnessed two weddings in the park and the guest were wearing everything from cut off jeans, to Halloween costumes, to traditional dresses, to about 3 centimeters of clothing to disco wear. I have pictures to prove this.
There were also lots and lots of old people. They all seem pretty healthy and like to play chess in the park. Well done Bulgarians.
(Happy old people in Bulgaria)
Bulgarians (or Bulgarian shop owners) have amazing taste in music. On multiple occasions I heard songs by Depeche Mode, Cher, and the Macerana, and Another Night, Another Dream. Feraz was not a happy camper because now I will not stop singing these songs.
It is soo hard to find food in Bulgaria. There were no restaurants anywhere! However they have tons of places to drink things. So all over the place there were what looked like restaurants but once you walked in they would tell you there was no food. At one place, we asked for food and the women eagerly nodded their heads. Once we sat down and asked if there was any chicken they looked at us like we were ordering cooked babies. We were soo hungry by lunch time and we spent a good hour trying to find anywhere that would serve us food and we could sit down. (We gave up hoping for an air conditioned place at this point.)
Since we began to think of things in terms of what songs we had heard playing there we remembered that at the very beginning we had seen the Depeche Mode restaurant and trekked back there. It was a glory land. They had sooo much stuff on their menu and the prices were too good to be true. I had half a roasted chicken with potatoes and garlic bread. 5 lira!! Up until we got our bill we didn’t believe the meal could be so cheap but there was no catch!
On our way out of the restaurant, we saw the boy in the orange shirt again. By now I had figured out he was homeless. I wanted to hug him, talk to him, something. Instead I nodded my head at him like a tough guy which made him laugh. But being the tough guy he was he tried to look like he was not laughing. It was a good goodbye.
Oh, Stara Gazora- we developed a major love-hate relationship with it and although we aren’t going to rush back to Bulgaria anytime soon, it was an adventure I am so happy we took.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
I used to be obsessed with celebrity gossip.
It feels so strange to say that now. The idea of it seems so naturally repulsive that I can't believe that I spent my years in law school basically addicted to it. Since I've left the US I've stopped checking celebrity gossip web sites, I don't watch reality TV and until just now I didn't even realize these changes had been happening. It is amazing the stuff that so quickly drops out of your life once you start living.
What I have seen of the celebrity culture in Turkey is so different. Often times when we are having lunch at work or going for a little shopping after, one of my colleagues will note that someone walking by is a model, a pop star or an actress. Every now and then we see some of the footballers around. In the beginning I thought they were just pulling my leg. But then I began to realize they were serious. The amazing thing is, no one cares. No one stops to gape. People don't pull out their camera phones and start snapping away and they most certainly don't approach or bother these people who happen to entertain for a living.
It is incredibly refreshing. And it is nothing like the US.
What's wrong with reality tv? I used to watch shows like The Hills and I would almost always feel bad or disappointed with the type of people that live in the world. Most of the time, I would make fun of the people I had just watched. It may not seem socially significant, but each time that happens, it becomes easier for us to be mean in general, it makes us think that some people "deserve" to be made fun of, that they "deserve" to be ridiculed. And it is not long until this mentality seeps into our interactions with people we actually know. Many times we watch these shows and feel embarrassed for the people on the screen or think of them as pathetic. These shows often highlight the lives of rich, self-obsessed, catty girls. The men in these shows are often enablers and the girl's conflicts almost always center on some male 'loser.' These shows highlight extravagant lifestyles or attempts to become rich, famous, or beautiful.
And we forget in all this, that we are pathetic too. For helping to fuel this machine. For being a part of a cultural defect that is incredibly destructive to our society. For legitimizing it so much that it is now the mainstream. Even when I am reading the NY Times or the Washington Post I see what can only be classified as celebrity gossip in the news. Tweens like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas brothers are being invited to the White House. Pop culture is the language that we speak. Celebrity worship is our religion.
I shouldn't be so judgmental. I know I was wrapped up in this culture myself until quite recently. But living outside of it, I can see how destructive and barbaric it is. A lot of people might say that i should lighten up- it's just for fun. But it's more than that.
There are an estimated 8 million anorexics in America. Every year, this disease claims more and more lives. Study after study has shown direct correlations between media images and the development of anorexia. When it is quickly becoming the culture that we breathe, how much worse will these numbers get for the next generation? Each year over 1.5 million women are physically assaulted by male partners. Every day 3 women die at the hands of their partner. Where do messages of inferiority and dependency come from? Each day, we are exposed to the degradation of women on celebrity websites and on these reality TV shows.
Little girls are now 'fans' of the likes of Paris Hilton and fathers who are notoriously known for being absent in America will humiliate themselves to allow their little girls a chance to go see Hannah Montana, who is one of the worst role models for girls. Fourteen year old tween stars now regularly show up to awards shows with partners and most of their bodies exposed. A few years ago this would be associated with pedophilia, now it is suitable content for magazine covers. Hey, it's 'art.'
Sunday, June 7, 2009
I now own Twilight and an Edward Cullen poster. My life is complete.
[I am watching the movie and he just said, "Better hold on tight spider monkey." It is the scene where they are up in the tree... swoooon!]
[If this post makes you think less of me there is something seriously wrong with you. :)]
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Yesterday, I had the best birthday of my life.
It wasn't a birthday with many presents, or an elaborate surprise. It didn't have lots and lots of people. It was simply perfect.
As twelve o'clock came, Feraz and Fahad sang Happy Birthday to me with a little bit of for she's a jolly good fellow and hip hip hooray thrown in. Before we went to sleep Feraz told me a story of a small village where my mom gave birth to me and an angel came to him in Britain when he was three and a half and told him I was born. He talked about how happy my mom was and my dad picked me up and kissed me on my forehead. Then he said that one day we will be together in heaven with our little babies. I was crying by this point and already I felt like I had the best birthday. He said that in heaven he will buy me Gucci bags and Prada shoes and we can meet all the people we loved in this life. :)
After work, Feraz, Fahad and I took the ferry across the Bosporus. It was just before sunset and the sky had that magical quality it does at that time of day. In the horizon we saw the pinks and oranges and all along the coast lights were slowly appearing to welcome the night. When we arrived at the dock we found a beautiful and eerie musjid. I climbed up a narrow staircase with some broken steps to reach an empty balcony. After my prayer, I laid down and looked up at the beautiful designs in the dome of the musjid. Somehow I dozed off into such a peaceful rest and when I woke up I was afraid that Feraz and Fahad would be freaking out because they couldn't find me. I hurried down the staircase scaring the women that were praying on the lower level and found that Feraz and Fahad were still praying! I felt like I must have gone into some time warp!
As we left the musjid, there was a warm breeze that wrapped us up and we walked to the restaurant Feraz had picked out. The food was so good and the waiter and staff made the meal even better. Afterwards we walked along the coast and marveled at the power and mystery of the water. The warm breeze was still with us and I felt like I was in some kind of dream. Along the water there was a tea garden filled with people unwinding from their long days and all along the water, young couples in love were paired up. We saw three men exerting all their energy as they pulled up huge nets filled with mussels that they would sell the next day.
On the walk back to the ferry I found a small stall where dresses were hanging. Even at this late hour, it was still open and I excitedly picked out two dresses to remember this day by. By this time the night had fully descended and all around us the lights of our majestic city sparkled. Although Feraz had still planned to go up by Galata tower, I wanted the night to end just like this and perhaps for the first time in my life, I said no to dessert . But the universe was insistent that I end my day with something sweet and when we passed an ice cream stall on the way home, I couldn't resist.
I have lived twenty-six years now but yesterday I felt I belonged in this world. Thank you to all of you who have helped me make it here, who have made life so magical, the days so beautiful, my heart light and who fill me with the promise that we are working towards a better world.