Life is always throwing challenges across our path. There are days – even long periods of time – when those challenges simply become too much to cope with, keeping in mind that the threshold for when things become too overwhelming vary with each individual. Occasionally, we might snap and become unbearable ourselves due to trials, and, often, we rebalance ourselves and somehow find the resources inside us, or from external elements, that will aid us in overcoming our situation.
I guess you wouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that I have had numerous challenges thrown my way during my seventy-three years of life. That’s not different from most people in our world, right? Often, I coped, and coping does not come without a price – sometimes a small one, more often a big one. During very stressful periods I often neglected my own health; made stupid decisions; sometimes became very forgetful and distracted such as neglecting the gas range on and leaving the house only to come driving back like a maniac to turn it off; went to the bank to get money and was walking out without it; forgot the grocery bags in the cart and drove off; forgot my handbag on the roof of the car after loading my groceries and sped off; wore my sweater inside out and realized this only when I was at the store! The list can go on, however, I hope I made my point here for all of you beating yourselves up for having similar experiences during those stressful periods in your own lives. The long and the short of it is that we should all try to cope as quickly as we possibly can with any stressful feelings before they have much of an impact on our own lives, as well as those of our families.
There are other challenges also, such as those of us who have children experience constantly. And, again, sometimes these situations are benign and even amusing in retrospect, at others their effects linger for long and, maybe even forever.
Rawiya (not her real name), a beautiful eighteen-year old, from an affluent and well-known Palestinian family I knew very well, eloped with a young Palestinian freedom fighter, a fedai, the romantic hero of those late-sixties years. Her father immediately disowned her, with instructions that no one in the family was to contact her. In his opinion, she had challenged his entire raison d’etre! Rawiya and her husband lived in a refugee camp, had three children and she visited her home only after her father had passed away when she saw her mother and siblings for the first time in twenty years.
Then there was Jack, who during his young teenage years loudly listened to Metallica and other heavy metal CDs in his room. His conservative and traditional father admonished him on numerous occasions, berated him, called him a degenerate and had nothing to do with him until: you become a human being!! Well, as teenagers are prone to do, the more his father shunned him the more rebellious Jack became. So Jack comes back home one afternoon with an earring. As soon as his father noticed that he kicked him out of the house! Jack spent the night at a friend’s house. When he went home the next day, his father was waiting, furious and fuming! He sat his son down and told him that he had to throw out his CDs and remove his earring, or else get out and never come back. Jack packed a few things and left! It was several years that were agonizing for the whole family before they finally made up.
You might ask yourself here, as I often did upon hearing similar stories: why the hell do we do these things to each other, especially within our own families? There were no crimes committed in either of these two illustrations to entail such violent reactions. And you might come to the conclusion, as I did, that we really have to learn how to pick our battles in life, and that not every time a child opposes us in rebellion, or goes against our wishes because they are convinced they know better, should we declare war! No wonder there are so many unnecessary strained relationships and needless belligerence and heartache within our own families, let alone communities, countries, the world! Most of them could be easily resolved by using reason, wisdom and good judgment rather than pure flexing of wills.
In the late eighties I was attending a Palestinian women’s conference in DC. I wasn’t making a presentation that day, however, the coordinator rushed up to me about a half hour before the panel on Assimilation was to begin and informed me that I was to give a talk since the scheduled speaker had not shown up. I was not prepared at all, and had no idea what I was going to say. Miraculously, it went very well, after which I was talking with a group of about six women who congratulated me on my informative speech. But, they said: that last part when you said that it was okay for our sons to pierce their ears and wear an earring was really not in our culture and traditions and you shouldn’t have mentioned that. Well! My own son had pierced his ear that year and I genuinely thought that it was cute! Here again: Do we battle with a teenager over an ear piercing, or keep our battling for a more vital and important issue to the rest of his/her life? Isn’t balance a sadly missing ingredient in our judgments sometimes?
Fast Forward: The year was 1995. I am having a nice conversation with my two sons in our sitting room. Son Number 1, shirtless, stands up to go to the kitchen. I see a tattoo on his back, not too big, colorful.
Me: “Is that a tattoo?” They had become a fashion statement for the young.
Son Number 2: “Yes. It’s one of those that washes off, though.”
Me: “Oh, good! I’m glad it’s not for real.”
Son Number 1: “No, Mum. It doesn’t wash off.”
Me: “It’s for real?”
More Laughter! More Snickering!
“Come here let me see.”
It is real. No, it is not going to wash off.
Me: “Well, at least it’s on your back. It will be covered.”
A bit of time passes and then there’s a second tattoo, bigger, bolder, more prominent this time, yet more of a fashion statement!
I did not blow a fuse, or have a snit. Frankly, I surprised even myself by not doing so! However, I realized that both my children were now an integral part of their peers and the culture of the times and that, while I had hopefully taught them right from wrong as they were growing up, it was now my time to step back into the shadows and to let them be part of their community of youngsters and to make their own decisions. That is not easy. That is especially difficult if we see that our children are erring and blundering along their way, which will most likely occur. However, disowning our children, or throwing them out of our homes, or out of our lives is an option that I would hope is one that parents do not resort to. It is too painful for all concerned, and very rarely a solution.
Unfortunately, in my own Arab-American community there are countless stories of this kind that sometimes end in tragedy. The same scenario is going on throughout the major capitals and cities of most conservative and traditional societies that have been modernizing and opening up to the rest of the world within the last fifty years or so. The biggest challenge for these societies is to hold on to the beautiful and useful traditional and cultural aspects of their civilizations while adapting to the twenty-first century. It is not as easy as it sounds!
Stress is part of life. Challenges will always be there. Earrings and Tattoos? Smoking a joint, or two? Not worth a war with our children! There is much more at stake for them as they meet the numerous challenges of our most recent century.
Actually, I have a mind to go and get me a tattoo. I really think it might be quite fun!