A missing child; a lesson in gratitude

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At 7.20am today, my 5 year old daughter went missing.

I was still in bed waiting for 7.30 to make its mark on the clock: the exact time every weekday morning when I wake the kids up to get ready for school. Anwar, my husband, who had woken up earlier to get ready for work, went into their room at 7.20am to see them before he left.

“Good morning, Muhammad! Asalaam aleikum.”

Our 3 year old gave him a mumbled response of acknowledgement.

“Good morning, Sakina! Asalaam aleikum,” Anwar chirped enthusiastically to our daughter.

Silence.

“Sakina, Sakina, where are you?”

Another echo of silence.

I heard the shake of duvet covers and a rustle of slight movements across the bedroom floor. The bathroom door opened and closed. I sat up in bed, concerned.

Anwar came into our room. His face looked all of a sudden tired, a sharp contrast to his upbeat mood from just a few minutes ago. I looked into his eyes and heard the question that I had just asked myself: “Where is Sakina?”

Worried, I shot out of bed and ran into the children’s bedroom. I lifted the rumpled duvet cover off Sakina’s bed. Nothing was underneath. I did the same for Muhammad’s bed. Still nothing. Anwar and I looked at each other again, confused by the alteration of events in our otherwise normal and ordinary daily schedule. We both ran downstairs, checking the nooks and crannies of our sitting room, then our dining room, then our kitchen, then our store room. I opened the front door. It was cold and dark; not the kind of environment that my princesss-y daughter would venture out into, but I  called out her name anyway.  There was still no Sakina.

By now, my entire body was trembling and my heart was beating so hard, I had to let out a loud breath of air just to calm myself down. I looked over to Anwar as we stood at the foot of the stairs and I could tell that he was about to be sick. We ran back upstairs to check again.

A thunderbolt of instinct suddenly hit me. I walked to the shower room and peeked behind the door.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAAHA” we heard the familiar peals of laughter coming from behind the door. “I tricked you!”

At 7.30 am, we found our daughter.

Anwar and I collapsed into a relieved heap beside the laundry. We hugged and scolded Sakina simultaneously, making her cry from confusion. She was not expecting this kind of end to her game. We were not expecting this kind of morning.

As we picked ourselves up and resumed with our normal schedule, I realised what a blessing ‘ordinary’ is. In an instance, everything can change and what once once ‘boring’ will seem priceless. I was reminded of this couple who lost their son to meningitis recently. In less than 24 hours, their 5 year old son went from being a vibrant boy to a corpse.  He was taken ill one evening and by morning, he was dead. I cannot even begin to imagine the magnitude of grief that family is going through and what they would give to have ‘ordinary’ back into their life again.

We may be creatures of exploration and new discoveries, always going after the glitter of new experiences, but our ordinary, un-glamorous, every day lives are what give life meaning. Look around at the mundane and give gratitude for them; those things that you see everyday that sometimes becomes invisible are the very things that you will one day miss.

 

 

 

 

 

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Loving thyself and why this matters to your work

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I read an interesting blog post that argued that in order to be an artist- whether it be through visual arts, or writing, or music, etc- you need a healthy dose of narcissism.

This concept struck as curious because we often associate narcissism with ugliness: quite the opposite from the more socially acceptable character of self-doubt (which many confuse for humility). But as I thought deeper about this, the more I realized that we all have the ability to create, but we don’t, because we are often the victims of our own ideals of perfection. I can’t tell you how many times I have shamed myself into not writing because I think that I am not good enough, or that the sentences that I write are pathetic compared to others. I create excuses of not having enough time, or not being inspired, or being too tired to think when in reality, it’s nothing but my self doubt taking over the show.

When I first started living with my husband, Anwar, I was taken aback by how self-assured he was. A keen hobbyist in taarab music, he loves nothing better than to sing for an online audience through Facebook live and Youtube and then to re-watch his videos and smile with himself.  I often joke that he is his biggest fan-boy.   Anwar’s father-Juma Bhalo- a well known musician in Kenya,  was the epitome of musical excellence in the taarab genre. My husband was profoundly influenced by his father and although he emulates his music, he will be the first one to tell you that he will never be as good as his father.

Anwar makes beautiful music but sometimes he sings off key and sometimes he doesn’t get the notes right on the keyboard. Sometimes people tell him that “your father, Juma Bhalo is better”. And rarely does his daily work schedule allow for enough time to practice and perfect his technique.  Does this realization temper his enthusiasm for singing? No. If anything, it releases him from the angst of perfection that afflicts so many artists, thus allowing him to express himself with the joyful authenticity often associated with children at play.

There is a particular video on his Youtube channel that I used to find highly amusing in the beginning of our relationship. In it, he is smartly suited up, fingers resting lightly on the keyboard, hair gelled up, and his mega-watt smile ready to dazzle his audience. Before he starts singing, he says (in Kiswahili), with an cheeky expression on his face:

“Asalaam Aleikum. My name is Anwar Bhalo. I know that I am not really a singer but I sing to make myself happy. As long as singing makes me happy, why shouldn’t I sing? Maybe someone out there will feel as happy as I do listening to my singing. For me, this is enough.”

We will never be smart enough, skinny enough, good enough, …etc as long as we compare ourselves with others. In the race to out-do each other, especially in this Instagram world of perfection, we have lost our authentic voices.

In a frank article about originality vs. authenticity, Elizabeth Gilbert asserts that “whatever it is that you dream of doing (creating, traveling, loving, inventing, transforming) just do it. Don’t worry if you’re the 100th person to do it. Just do it, anyhow, and be sure that you bring the highest purity of intention to your pursuit. Act from a place of your deepest authenticity, and the rest of it will take care of itself.”

What are your fears when it comes to creating art? What’s holding you back back from authentic self-expression? What would you do if you believed that you are enough as you are?

Meditations on joy

“In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.”
—Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tuscon

*I took this picture during one of my daily walks recently. I give gratitude to  nature for reminding me time and time again of the privilege of being alive.* 

A winter Saturday in Windsor

It’s been cold, and damp, and grey for the last few months in London I have been in full hibernation mode. Besides the necessary trips to my work, school, and the supermarket, I have rarely been on outings. Winter days are short so there isn’t much time to fully indulge in hours of outdoorsy activities, which is a shame really because there is so much to see and do around this city.

Yesterday though, we decided to spend our Saturday differently.  I bundled up the kids and we drove off to Windsor, an area a few miles outside of London known famously for the Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the royal family.

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We walked along the River Thames and admired the beautiful swans (property of the Queen and protected by the Crown), wild geese, and ducks waddling along the water. It was so calming to observe nature going with the flow: unhurried, un-distracted, and ever so graceful.

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The Windsor Castle is a short walk from the River and it was flocked by people trying to take pictures.

Founded by William the Conquerer in the 11th Century, Windsor is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world and serves as a weekend home for Queen Elizabeth. It is beautiful, but I often wonder at how much it costs to heat the entire building in the winter time.

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The sun was setting by the time we arrived at the Diamond Jubilee Fountain and although it was getting dark, the lit up fountain looked magical against the backdrop of the inky orange sky. The kids loved it so much, they didn’t want to leave.

Sometimes it’s hard to leave the cosiness of home when it is so cold outside, but our Windsor outing reminded me that winter is truly a magical season if we are curious enough to explore it.

We are on the second half of winter now of course, after the Winter Solstice in December marked the lengthening of days and shortening of nights.  And while I rejoice the return of sunnier days, I have found a new appreciation of winter from a New York Times article that now belongs in my box of treasures in my bedroom.

“However we may celebrate the return of light to our skies and lives…..we might also wish to pause to honor the darkness that will give way to it. If you don’t experience the darkness fully then you are not going to appreciate the light.”

 

Don’t be distracted by the dream

“Since “The Dream” was not the topic of the speech, it is incumbent upon us to stop, each January, being distracted by “The Dream” and return to the real topic of the speech that more accurately reflects the life and legacy of Dr. King. Dr. King was not a dreamer. He was a confronter. He did not live his life dreaming of a utopian world free from oppression. He lived his life – and lost it – confronting a cruel world inherently oppressive. And if we are to take up his mantle and move forward we must stop dreaming about the cessation of social injustice and start confronting and conquering the root causes of it.”

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God willing, tomorrow, January 15, 2018, we will celebrate the date of birth, life, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of those celebrations will focus on or mention his August 28, 1963, famous “I Have A Dream” speech in which he stated:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom…

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3 things I loved this week

1. A podcast interview with Daniel Kahneman, Nobel winner and writer of the best-selling book ‘Think fast and slow’. I found out that I have an optimism bias.

2. This quote featured on my favorite blog, Cup of Jo: “When choosing a long-term partner… you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.” Dan Wile

3. This greenhouse: My sister’s workplace set up a greenhouse where employees can enjoy some greenery, do yoga, and meditate. It’s even got a cute little turtle!

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What things did you enjoy this week?

 

 

Habits: It’s all or nothing

I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book ‘Happier at Home’ in little snippets whenever I can find pockets of time enough to accommodate a paragraph or two. The book is generally a very easy read and I glossed over some parts but something that caught my eye was this:

““I’m not tempted by things I’ve decided are off-limits, but once I’ve started something, I have trouble stopping. If I never do something, it requires no self-control for me; if I do something sometimes, it requires enormous self-control.”

She either does something consistently, or doesn’t do it at all. She offers an example of junk food: she just chooses not to eat it. Deciding cut-off points and limits is just too burdensome a decision for her. Another example that she gives is exercise: carving out a schedule of working out a few days a week is a sure recipe for inconsistency, and therefore, failure. What is almost foolproof is simply committing to exercising every single day, preferably setting a routine to do an activity (such as walking) daily, preferably at the same time and in the same way.

I get it.

How many times have I whipped out my calendar and set up timetables for exercising, meditating, drinking water, writing, etc etc, all for them to fail within a week of two? I always feel terrible about not sticking to my timetables.  On the other hand, I have been walking my kids to school (and back) everyday for the past few months without penciling in ‘exercise’ into my calendar. This is just something that I do routinely everyday.  I don’t have to think about it as exercise (even though it is) and I don’t have this cloud of guilt hanging over my head for a task not accomplished. Walking is not a chore anymore, it’s a habit. I feel better now than I have felt in a long time, all from a simple act of consistency.

What about you…..What do you want to do consistently to develop it into a habit?