Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Struggle for/of Humanity

September 20

When people ask me why I want to be a social worker I never know how to reply without sounding like a righteous Mother Teresa wanna-be. I want to make a difference, I think, I want to serve humanity, alleviate poverty, eradicate illiteracy, make a few people happier by making their living conditions better. “I just enjoy it, I guess I’ve always wanted to work in the nonprofit area,” I usually mumble and smile dumbly.

And then things happen that crush my faith and shove me off the cliff of self-confidence and determination. When I look at the pictures of burning flags and buildings, fists in the air, mindless fury erasing all boundaries, all virtues and values of tolerance and patience and peace and love, when I look at how cities shut down and people destroy in the name of justice, in the name of love… when I look at how a government fails to stand up for rationality and bows down to mob behavior by announcing a holiday to signify something that shouldn’t need a special day marked on the calendar but should be part of who we are as people…

…then my heart crumbles, and my spirits plummet, and my brain yells at me, why, why, why bother? Optimism seems like stupidity. Definitions change, and all rose-colored glasses in a hundred-mile radius disappear.

Who would have thought an idiot’s twisted sense of humor and unforgiving irreverence could spread like wildfire across countries?
Something makes me think the idiot might have seen this coming, something makes me feel like he is pretty happy with the results. A person outside of Islam making a film against our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) can never touch our reverence, love and respect for our messenger (SAW).
People who claim to be valiant defenders of Islam and devout followers of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) rampaging through their own cities, damaging their own property and hurting their fellow men, women, and children and setting fire not just to tires and American flags but all the beautiful values that Prophet Muhammd (SAW) taught us… I’m afraid, these people can, and do, damage the image of Islam.

I would go on about the rationality of such mob behavior targeting embassies and the idiocy of creating a public holiday (we do not need to sign a petition, or run mad through streets to demonstrate our love for Prophet Muhammad (SAW); we need to follow all that he taught us, honesty, love, peace, tolerance, modesty, respect, duty to our fellow mankind, and so on) when the US government condemned the film in clear terms. But I don’t think my few sentences would change anything.

Why bother anything at all?

Because there are underlying reasons for such behavior. It isn’t our religion that teaches us to act like this, neither is it the essence of Pakistanis. It is the environment of deprivation, disparity, illiteracy, and lack of good, strong religious leaders. And these are conditions that require a lot of effort… but, slowly, eventually, they may change.

So I’m going to walk the extra hundred miles and go find my rose-colored glasses, because I think I need them.   

P.S. To follow soon is a rant against Jamaat-e-Islami. The party maddens me so much I rave against it in my dreams. Religious party? HA! So much hatred, intolerance and lack of understanding about our own religion… what does that say about the “religious leaders” the party claims as its own?  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Almost OCD

September 11

‘Almost’ is one of the most disappointing words in the English language. Very few sentences that carry ‘almost’ can be uplifting. Almost all of them call for a sympathetic ‘oohhhhh’ (haha, I am so clever.). You’re almost beautiful. You almost made my day. We almost wanted to wait for you before we finished the chocolate cake, we almost did wait… I almost married you – though in that case it might be a positive.

I have almost OCD, which means that it isn’t so cool that I could write a book about the intricacies of my mental order. I’m not so meticulous that I would fascinate people or make their eyes go wide because I need my toothbrush to face a certain way in its blue plastic home. I don’t measure the distance between my spoon and fork with a measuring tape every time I sit down to dinner, nor do I really mind crooked photographs in scrapbooks – as long as they’re artfully and mostly purposefully crooked.

I’m more of the housewife OCD variety – I have to puff up cushions on the sofa in the exact manner my mind sees it fit, always the same way, and I will start a battle of wills as soon as I spot crumbs on the coffee table or dirty dishes in the sink. I will make my bed even if it means I’ll miss my bus and be late for class. In fact, I will make my bed every time I sit on it and then get up, just pulling at the edges to get the creases out. My friends used to love making a point of falling on my dorm bed with all their body weight and my younger sister still looks at me as if I had asked her to shave her head and dye it neon green when I ask her to sit on the sofa rather than my beautiful, sweet, neat bed…

People cutting their nails without putting something under their feet will give me an actual physical ache, and wet sponges lying in the skin make my skin crawl. I will organize the grocery in my cart, and your grocery in your cart. When I set the table I will always make sure the flowers on the plates are facing in the right direction, and the glasses are on the right hand side (as a social worker I realize that that might be discriminating against lefties but as a Pakistani social worker I realize that I don’t give a fuck about this particular detail) and the fork is to the left of the spoon. I don’t really know the actual art of laying a table and these are made-up rules but I abide by them dutifully. Shoes must always sit side by side, and never lie upside down.

I believe I creeped my first college roommate out because in a cleaning frenzy I hung up her PJs on a hanger and stuck it in on her closet handle. I love hotel rooms because they are so perfect and I secretly enjoy unpacking because it gives me a sense of accomplishment as I put everything neatly in its place.

I love sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea after mopping and dusting, turning on a candle or the fairy lights taped around the doorway to the living room. It is like meditation because it brings me peace and happiness, just breathing in the quiet cleanness.
When I pull up my laptop lid, the few seconds before the screen lights up, I can see all the dust on it and it makes me cringe, I want to jump off my bed and go get a duster or a Q-tip to slide it through the keys on the keyboard. But then the screen comes to life and the whitish blue glow makes the dust disappear. And so I keep sitting, and after a minute or two, I even forget. Which is why I know I don’t really have OCD, it is just almost OCD. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Holding My Own Strings

September 8

Sometimes the universe seems to be a giant puzzle in the making and you stand above an empty, gaping space for hours, quite positive that you will never find the missing piece because the vacuum cleaner ate it up and it is now slowly disintegrating at a large dumpsite with sad, discarded heaps of stuff. And then, one day, suddenly, it appears and falls in smoothly, like it was meant to.

The other day we were waiting for one of my roommates to come back from work so we could go to the Hispanic Festival, and when she finally came back, she told us she needed to cook… and just then we heard metal trays clanging in the heavens, a giant hand moved curtains of leaves aside, sweeping them across the sky, and soon the sound of rain surrounded us, gaining momentum, joined by the sharp, hard knocks of hail.
“I’m glad we had to wait for you,” I told my roommate as we all rushed to the backdoor in the kitchen and peeked out, venturing into the covered patio, feeling the cold rush of air lift our dresses and our spirits in tandem. “Otherwise at this precise moment we would be caught outside with little frozen rocks bouncing off our heads.”

I love looking back at the millions of little coincidences that set our pathways in life, like big cogs and little wheels turning, a strange, perchance way of inevitability that determines huge decisions in our life – the precise moment in life when your shoelaces come undone so you pause to retie them, miss your bus, walk an extra mile to a different grocery store and meet a random person who helps you with your bags and becomes your friend for life. The split second it takes for you to hesitate, wonder if you should sit next to that guy in class but then somebody else takes the seat and you turn away from a potential soul mate.  A tiny, good deed that reaps immense benefits in your own life, or a glance in the wrong direction that ends in a terrible accident.

What a contradiction life can be, in the way opposites come to sit next to each other, fitting in snugly like different pieces of the same giant puzzle.

So I turned 25. It was a beautiful day to turn 25, the sky was brighter than any blue crayon you could find in any stationery shop, and there was a slight, cool breeze that required a full-sleeved shirt and pants but you didn’t need socks. The sun shone gold so you could wear your sunglasses and instantly look fashionable (or like a blind person or Mighty Mouse or a combination of the three).  Friends, deep dish pizza, a pecan brownie cake, a water yoyo battle and a cozy little bowling place – yellow flowers to put in a vase and a persistent chorus of happy birthdays.
I overcame my mild OCD tremors to force myself to sleep in late, eat in bed, and do nothing constructive other than Skype and watch The Wire. And then ended the evening with ginger ale, pieces of cheese drizzled with honey and grapes with my roommates in our living room.

The joys of having my birthday earlier in the semester!

I think I’ve lost some of the baby fat on my face – just a few years shy of wrinkle town. Am I slightly different? I’m slightly more troubled. Instead of the teenage angst and loneliness I go through bouts of useless anxiety and ingratitude that I used to chide fictional heroines about. Stop whining and just do something about it! The crippling blues that I know I can get out of, just like trying to unzip something when there’s a piece of cloth stuck between the zipper, it is a little difficult to achieve but definitely not impossible. Or one of those tightly-shut jars that you bruise your fingers trying to twist open… sometimes you just don’t have the strength.

I sometimes wonder if I’m as vulnerable to my mood swings as I was when I was chubby and 13… maybe slightly less. I suppose that’s definitely a resolution to tackle this year. Despite the coincidences that nudge us into the directions we end up walking for miles, we have so much control over how we see things. And I want to see things positively, because the silver linings always exist. There might be a crack in the window from one angle, but if you squint your eyes so on a sunny day, you can always see tiny golden rainbows dance on your eyelashes. A constant resolve to try and be more positive, make the most of what I have here and not constantly look to the future in hopes of getting something different. Not to the extent that I stop living for the present.