My mother is a most lovely woman. And straightforward. And honest. And gentle at the same time. And protective. And not subtle when someone hasn’t been kind. And she herself is very kind. She’s basically a cross between a super-motivated community worker and a seasoned nurse.
She’s gregarious, outspoken, funny and the life of the party. She is the perfect match for my father. She is an extremely impressive parent.
But…….. despite this very flattering prologue that I’ve written for her, I didn’t always see my mom’s extraordinary humanistic values as such. Her forthright personality combined with her insistence for truth from herself and others, intimated me. And that was okay. I could live with that. But with time, it began to embarrass me.
I guess most teenagers find their hormonal selves at war with their parents occasionally. Or usually. Teenage isn’t easy on the body. But it’s also not easy on the family. I’m sure my parents have horror stories of my puberty but I have none except for the times when my mother called out people for their unkindness, meanness and rudeness.
Those epic moments of my mom’s upright and staunchly honest personality were pure torture for a teenager. I saw her behavior as insulting to other people and embarrassing to me. I wondered why my dad supported her in getting into others’ business and making them see the error of their ways. Why does she care if our house help’s husband beats her up? She marches up to her house and pulls her out of her husband’s physical violence only for that woman to go back to him after a day or two. What did she gain? Except that now I’m worried that he is going to try and harm us. But Mama wasn’t even worried about that. When I mentioned this to her, she casually said “Nah! Cowards don’t confront. I’ve got nothing to fear from him. He doesn’t have the guts to look me in the eye after the tales of abuse his wife has told me”. I just shook my head and said a little prayer for all women involved.
Why does she care that a family member is marrying their underage daughter off? May be Mama doesn’t think it’s a marriageable age but does she think she knows better than the parents? Why is she promising to finance this girl’s education and find a match for her after her graduation? We don’t have the money to support other people. Does Mama think before acting on her impulse? How can she be in her forties and have this cavalier attitude towards her name in society? She is going to gain the reputation of a trouble maker.
I knew Mama was going to blow me off and make a huge scene about how I should be supporting her and not questioning her so I went to my dad after I saw my Mom calling my teacher out for physically hitting SOMEONE ELSE’S child. She was asking my teacher (while the said child’s mom was quiet) how he could touch a girl to hit her brutally and didn’t he know how unbecoming it is for a teacher to lose their temper like this?
Papa: (after listening to my concerns and my description of my mom’s nosy and intrusive behavior): I want to help you exactly where you need help. Do you want me to ask your mom to stay away from people who know you or not advocate for people in your presence or not argue with you when you tell her to change her ways? I want you to feel heard and acknowledged so I’ll personally convince her to not bring any embarrassment on you.
Me: Papa! I’m just trying to say that we should just occupy ourselves with our problems. Which we have many of. We shouldn’t get involved with others’. It looks extreme socially crass and inappropriate. It makes us look uneducated to always be confronting people about how they’re being oppressive to others. People discuss such “social worky” behavior in very vile and demeaning terms. It’s not like they are acknowledging Mama for it.
Papa: But I don’t think your mom cares about what people think.
Me: EXACTLY! (glad that Papa is catching on faster than I had thought he would). Exactly, Papa! She doesn’t care. By God, she doesn’t care. She doesn’t care that our image is so important. That she is a reflection on us. Now I don’t interfere into people’s businesses but I’m related to her so people think I have her habits too. Some people don’t share too much with me, thinking I’ll have a judgment or an opinion about it.
Papa: But I don’t think Mama has a judgement about all types of behaviors. She only cares about the behavior that’s potentially harmful.
Me: I won’t argue with you, Papa! It’s extremely unbecoming. I can’t allow her to have that personality around my friends and their parents. I’ll be left with no friends.
Papa: Why would you lose your friends? Your Mama hasn’t lost any friends and she, according to you, is the real problem. She has loads of friends.
Me: Yes! And they’re exactly like her. They are all intrusive, interfering, overwhelming, overbearing people. Why don’t they just start a charitable organization and at least do this properly? The way Mama and her friends do “social work” is not a good look.
Papa: But your mom doesn’t think she’s being charitable or doing social work when she’s sticking her neck out for people. She considers this her responsibility. She believes that she owes it to her community.
Me: But she doesn’t owe it to anyone.
Papa: Yes she does. And you and I do too. We all owe it to our community to support each other and demand fairness. That we give and demand justice. Your mom is advocating for people who can’t do it for themselves. She isn’t being intrusive. She’s being responsible. She’s not being a social worker. She’s being a community member. The idea of helping people and being their voice comes very naturally to her. So she doesn’t think twice before acting to protect someone. People like her reduce the number of assaults that could happen every year. They instill the fear of consequences in people. They remind offenders that they can’t intimidate everyone and that there will always be people to call their offenses out. Your mother is doing what other people are doing for her too everyday. She’s paying back and I hope you’ll pay back to the community also someday. What we sometimes forget in our hang-up with societal norms is our moral responsibility. And that is first. That responsibility is even bigger than any financial responsibility that you feel towards your community. Because we can live quite well without loads of monetary resources but if there isn’t a moral culture in the community, then none of us is safe. Your mom isn’t calling people out on what they eat, or wear or spend. She’s only calling people out when their poor judgment extends its implications to others. That’s very appropriate and doesn’t seem intrusive to me at all. I do the same. My reason is slightly selfish. I want to make this community safe for my kids.
Needless to say I didn’t agree then and didn’t agree until many years later when my husband and I were confronted with domestic violence in a neighborhood apartment. We couldn’t ignore the screams and the sobs. We couldn’t ignore the children crying. We couldn’t ignore that the wife retaliated with as much physical force as the husband and they had both been to the hospital a few times. We couldn’t ignore the toll it was taking on my pregnancy and most of all, we couldn’t ignore their children’s scared faces.
One evening as I was getting ready to go to a party and was ready and waiting for Adnan, the noise started again. This was their usual time. Evening, back from office time.
I was moving to New York City soon. I was so relieved that I was going to be away from here. I couldn’t take it. “This woman disgusts me”, I thought. “She deserves to be treated like shit. She has no voice. No personality. And her husband…… he’s the worst. He thinks he’s so strong just because he can beat her up”.
As I got busy with my make-up, my mind kept hitting on the fact that soon no one would know about what happened in that apartment many times a month. I was starting to get a little uneasy about this thought. What if they continue to fight and it escalates and someone really gets hurt? Or one of the kids? Oh my gosh! The noise! They argue so savagely.
I don’t know why but I think the thought of moving soon gave me some strength. Plus, blame it on the hormones but the more I thought about their dynamic, the more I started to piece together the thought that they just didn’t know any better and were too used to living a bad life. Sometimes people don’t know what’s wrong until someone tells them. As I was thinking these gutsy motivational theories, I was walking up to their apartment.
I knocked and soon the husband opened the door. He looked at me blankly. I’m sure he didn’t know what to do with a woman in an embellished outfit, advanced pregnancy, make up and jewelry to match, who carried the expression of someone who was there for retribution. I asked him politely if I could help.
“Regarding what?”. He asked, a little belligerently.
” I heard you arguing. Can I help?”
“Is your wife here?”
She came out.
“Please leave. I’ll deal with it with my husband. We don’t need your help”.
I turned to leave and walked to my apartment.
I told Adnan and he said ” You did your job. May be ask her when she’s alone and willing to share”.
No way! I wasn’t gonna do that. I’m not the police or my Mom to take people to charge over what might not be sitting well with me.
Surprisingly, the wife came to me the next morning. She thanked me for just one thing. Her words reminded me of what my Dad told me many years ago.
“I would always tell him that people can hear us and I meet strange glances when I go out. He always said that no one has the time to think about others. But when you came last night, you gave credence to my words. We talked.”
“So do you guys just fight because you’re very passionate or there are problems in your relationship?”
“There are problems. Huge ones and tiny ones. And we need to work on them. And when you entered, we realized that we need to work on them now. We realized that we are becoming known as the couple who fight. If you hadn’t come in, we wouldn’t have started talking. We talked about counseling and this is the first time we have agreed to do it. Last night was the first time we felt like someone cared about us and our marriage. You gave us that window where we can have some fresh air come in. You have no idea what you did”.
I really have no idea, to this day, what I did. But then I remember my Dad’s words, “Your mother is doing what others are doing for her too. She’s paying back and I hope you can pay back someday too”.
When I think that I paid back, I automatically thank some stranger on some day, somewhere, who helped me without me knowing it. I automatically start to believe in the circle of kindness.