Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Old (Pakistani) Wive's Tale

Having been raised in a society where literally everything we need is at our fingertips, it is hard for us to realize how lucky we really are. If we are too cold, we can turn on the heater. When we want water, we can turn on a sink, or just head to a water fountain. When we want food, we can find something to eat everywhere we go. Yet here we are. We are a society of individuals, who come home from a grueling seven-hour day at school, or at work, and we claim we’re “starving,” yet we have never really known true hunger. We have no issue calling our parents “monsters” because they wouldn’t buy us that new car, but we’re driving around a mildly used 2001 Mercedes. We are so wrapped up in ourselves, and in our complaining, that we don’t even take time to realize how much we have to be thankful for.

By lucky circumstance, I recently had the chance to talk to a woman from my community. She was your stereotypical Pakistani “auntie;” wearing shalwar kamise, sipping on her cup of chai, and telling me all about growing up in Pakistan, and reminding me every few minutes: “Beta, you kids have got it easy.”

When we first started talking, I dismissed her stories as exaggerated “Pakistani- adult myths.” I had heard it all before from my own parents, from my relatives, from my friend’s parents. “Beta, when I was your age, I walked 5 miles, to and from school, through a forest— in the snow.” “Beta, when I was your age, we didn’t have this texting. If I wanted to see a friend, I had to walk 5 miles to his house, and then wait outside the door until his dad or mom saw me, because we didn’t have doorbells.” “But—couldn’t you have just knocked?” “No.”

So when Auntie started telling me about her life in Pakistan, I went into autopilot: smiling, nodding, and agreeing where it was necessary. I was in the middle of agreeing with her, when she leaned in close to me, and whispered to me, “Beta, the things I’ve seen in Pakistan, the people I’ve met—you wouldn’t believe it. I’ve lived life to such an extent, that I can’t even begin to complain about my own. I have seen so much, I’ve been humbled.”

She immediately started into a story that impacted her most as a child, and stayed with her to this day. She was a little girl, living in Pakistan, enjoying her life. Her family wasn’t “well-off,” but they had enough to live comfortably.

You could see the craving in her eyes when she started to tell me about the natural honey that her family would get in Pakistan. “There’s nothing like it in America.” Then, in a more serious tone, she told me how expensive the honey was and how her mom would splurge every once in a while. She went on to tell me how they had to be careful when they bought honey though. People would come to their door claiming to sell pure honey, but would have nothing more than tinted corn syrup. And it wasn’t as if you could sample the honey before buying it, so there were days when the family would splurge, and it would end in mere disappointment.

“Now, pay attention, beta. Because this is what I really want you to take in.” Auntie smiled at me, seeing that I had pulled my phone out and was literally typing her story, almost word for word. Looking pleased with herself for keeping me interested, she continued.

“Beta, I am about to give you a glimpse into what it is to really need something.”

It was a day like any other in Auntie’s childhood. She was busy playing with her siblings, when there was a knock on the door. She went with her brother to see who it was, and they were excited to see that it was a vendor selling honey. They asked about his honey, and while they spoke to him, their mother joined them. The man told Auntie’s mom that he was here selling the last of his honey. He needed the money, and this was his family’s only source of income. Auntie’s mom looked at him and then looked at the honey, and told him, “There’s no way this is pure honey. You must have mixed something in here.” The man explained to her that the honey was pure, and untouched, but she refused to believe him. She lowered his asking price considerably, and told him to take it or leave it. When he accepted her offer, she took this as his admission of guilt, and was incredibly pleased with herself for catching the “thief.”

The man left, and all of Auntie’s siblings had come down to the kitchen by now. Auntie’s mom opened the honey and gave her kids each a spoonful. The second she took a spoonful for herself, she realized the mistake she had made. Auntie recalled that it was some of the purest honey they had tasted, and she still remembers the look on her mom’s face when she realized how wrong she had been. In that situation, Auntie’s mom couldn’t just go out and find the vendor again. It wasn’t that simple.

Auntie sat back, exhaling, nodding her head, her hands crossed in her lap and a grin spread across her face. “You see, beta. That vendor was an honest man, and though he argued his case, he knew that whatever money he’d be getting was better than nothing. And that was true need. He needed to support his family, and he knew that was more important than anything else. That story stayed with my mother throughout her life, and I’m certain it’s stayed with my siblings. We robbed a man of his livelihood, because we were being selfish, and he accepted that because he was in need. Beta, it may not sound like much, but I was humbled that day. My mom was humbled that day. I learned what it was to really be in need.”

I am not sitting here, writing this, to belittle our personal struggles. I’m writing this to bring attention to the fact that we have so much to be thankful for. When something goes wrong, rather than blaming God, or feeling defeated, we should thank God, your parents, whatever, or whoever, you believe is responsible for your fortune, and for everything that we do have. When your clothes are “so last season,” be thankful you can afford to have a shirt on your back. When you are hungry, be thankful that you aren’t starving. When your teacher gives you a huge assignment, be thankful you are allowed to get an education. We have so much to be thankful for, yet we are constantly complaining. It’s something as simple as saying thank you to your mom for making dinner, or to your brother for help with homework.

Don’t go through life keeping track of how you’ve been wronged. Instead, start to hold onto the good things. I promise you, it’ll make you much happier in the long run.