Tuesday, October 17, 2017

International Day of Girls

Outside a mosque in Cairo, Egypt some girls became my friends. We walked together for an hour, laughing and learning from one another. I liked how they were so open with me, a stranger to their land. I didn't want to leave their presence. They made me laugh and pulled my heart a little bigger that day.
Meet my good friend, Duaa. She is smart and beautiful. As I was writing this blog, I heard a doorbell ring. She was asking to borrow some matches to light some candles for her parent's anniversary. I gulped. I admit even a tear came as I told her my theory of growing up: that we have to learn to love those next to our elbows before we go save the world. Hopefully,  if we are lucky, like Dua and me, we  have wonderful parents to show and demonstrate how to love. I ran over to her house to see  the decorations. There were fifteen red balloons that represented 15 years of marriage for her parents. I hugged her, and told her someday she is going to do great things with all this love she has in her heart. And I gave her mom a hug too.
"Un femme que aime transforme la monde."  Translation: A woman with love can change the world.
                                                                              --Jacque de Baubon-Busset--1912-2001

I love being a girl, a woman, a sister, a mother. I also love meeting with young girls in my travels. I have five sisters, two daughters, about fifty nieces (yes, not exaggerating), and many young girls whom I consider my friends and mentors. Sometimes I look back when I was 15 and can still feel the pangs of wanting to grow up and do something out of the ordinary--even extraordinary. Oh, and of course, let us not forget the wish to be beautiful....  The way to quiet the stresses and stabs of adolescence? I propose it is to not think too much about ourselves.

 I remember reading a quote by a model when I was about 14 or 15. It was a staggering discovery for me--pushing away the chatter that I was merely a mannequin to parade my shopping sprees. It wasn't only about my appearance. Nor was my life all about me. The solution seemed too simple to believe. But here it is: we are more beautiful if we don't needlessly think about ourselves too much. This is the quote I cut out of a magazine long ago that was my adolescent mantra:

"When I don't think about myself too much, when I can look outside of myself, I look much prettier. The women that I find beautiful are those who are relaxed with themselves. People who are open are beautiful. People who show emotions on their faces are beautiful. A face that is quick to laugh or to cry, a vulnerable person is beautiful. You don't have to be born with a great bone structure."  Amen!

Somehow that simple observation from an unknown model was my adolescent mentor. I crossed a bridge the day I read it. I was free. I had permission to not worry too much what I looked like to others.  If she, the glamorous model, thought people were beautiful when they were open, relaxed, and didn't think about themselves too much, then this was my aim. I felt this goal was attainable. I decided to practice on the people under my roof first--to start thinking about them more--not just myself. And predictably, my love for them swelled.

Meet Chloe, my niece, who spearheaded a family art exhibit this summer at my mom's house. She knew everyone was sad after my dad died, so she gathered everyone together. We  brought paintings, drawings, art projects, sculptures. We stood in awe at everyone's efforts. We laughed and praised one another. But Chloe made it happen. A special memory was made because she knew her family was in need of some cheer.
As a young teenager, I longed to travel, do humanitarian work, teach, write, and have a family of my own. Yet, as I have become older, I have learned to appreciate the two people that shaped me most: my parents. They insisted through our daily family rhythms that I must first learn to love and serve at home. And then, and only then, would I be effective with my dreams of going out to the world. I inwardly agreed because had not the beautiful, anonymous model revealed her secret? Reaching out and looking outside of ourselves was the answer.

Sometimes, I fear, in our (at least my) accelerated pace to go out and save the world, we might forget our sibling or grandmother at our elbow. Maybe there is someone who needs to be listened to in the next room. Perhaps someone needs some validation and love. The relationships within the family prepare us to be perceptive, give attention and time when it is not convenient to our personal schedule--to forgive when our feelings are stung. As James E. Faust said, "Serving others can begin at almost any age. . . .  It need not be on a grand scale, and it is noblest within the family." Within those walls at home, all the teaching of loving, giving, sharing, helping distills on us drop by drop. We have learned to love. And then when we want to go out and open the sky, we are ready to tackle the world.

As Busset says, "a woman who loves can change the world." Home is where it starts.

Young girls and one young boy in Qatar giving gifts in their best clothes for Eid, a traditional Muslim holiday. I love the two mothers looking on. I am sure the children were well instructed.

Meet Sara, with my son. They have been friends since they were crawling babies. Sara's family has showed her that she can accomplish much, even though she has Down's Syndrome. Sara is the eighth of ten children, and has been raised with lots of love.