Memoirs of Boston: The Time A Muslim Woman Stood Me Up

I have been thinking for a while that I want to pen my experiences in the greater Boston area. There are far too many. But I think there are a few that I would love to look back on fondly and feel grateful that I can remember it the way it happened.

You know how sometimes you forget important details about significant events in your life? I just don’t want to do that.

This one was one of my favorites, in a kind of frustrating way.

The city that we lived in for this last year was Arlington. More specifically, though, we lived in East Arlington. We were fortunate, nay, BLESSED (if you believe in that kind of stuff) to live in East Arlington and not be shoveling cash out of our ears to live there. The Red Line train- which made Adrian’s commute ONLY an hour- was just a 15 minute walk from our apartment (we were one of the few tiny complexes in the area), and there are many restaurants (mostly Italian, go figure), a kid-friendly library, barber shops, boutiques, a grocery store, and a theater that was built in the 1920’s. It was a magical place and all of it was in walking distance. It’s one of those places that has small community festivals, a funky African drum shop, and a DIY pottery spot.IMG_1409.JPG

A beautiful church door down the street from our complex. It always made me smile.

But the setting you need to imagine at this point is the library. It was called the Fox library for it’s history of being saved by a woman called Edith M. Fox from it’s imminent destruction. It is not a typical, run of the mill library. It’s small, has a small adult section, and a HUGE children’s section with fun puppets, bean bag chairs, and other toys. They hold all kinds of exciting weekly events. We made it one day during the weekly, well-attended singing time, but Ollie wasn’t interested. There were so many kids and adults, I think he was intimidated. Anyway, we left early and went to the play section of the library where kids could check out toys. Ollie was interested in a play kitchen set that some young girls were playing with.

I generally let Oliver play with the other children if they were willing to let him. I usually instruct him to approach them and ask nicely if he can have a turn or play with them. This wasn’t an exceptional situation and the girls were kind enough to let him. As is the case with the parental interaction, if it’s more than one mom, I politely stand by and watch my son. But, if it’s just one mom, I will try to start a conversation. Accompanying these young girls were two moms talking, and in another language. I’m not a language guru, but I would guess that they were speaking Arabic. I sat next to Ollie and watched him play.

Then, one of the moms started talking to me, small talk. I was grateful that she was willing to pull away from her conversation to talk with me. The wonderful thing about being a mom is that you always have some common ground with the other mom- kids. All you need to do is say or ask a few uncontroversial things about kids and you can have a pleasant interaction. In this case, I didn’t want to talk about how kids are terrible at sharing, or how some kids are shy, while others will just get right in your face. No, I wanted to tell her that I had taken a course in college about Islam. I wanted her to know that I thought her hijab was beautiful and that I’d love to ask her about her experiences in America. I didn’t, though; I just didn’t know if it would be too forward, too anything.

Well, when she and her friend and the kids got up to leave, she hung back to talk to me. She asked me if I typically come to this library. I said, “Yes, I come all of the time.” She said she hasn’t been in the area long and that her daughter has a hard time wanting to go out and play in public places. She thought that if her daughter knew another child that comes consistently, she may want to come more often. I said that I would be there again on Thursday afternoon the following week and we’d love to play with her
again.

I went that next Thursday, and the next, and the next. She never came again. I never saw her. I saw and would smile and nod at other Muslim women, usually just on the street, but never the woman with the two beautiful girls. I waited around longer than I planned, hoping she may just come one day and I could show her that I remembered her.

You see, I do love getting to know other people. But what I really wanted was for her to know that she and I aren’t so different. Being Mormon can sometimes be very alienating in this world. Don’t get me wrong, I know I make that choice, but it’s nice to meet someone who is like you, just not exactly like you. Someone who can relate to your drug and alcohol abstinence or views on modesty, but not because they are Mormon. Someone who has had to flee her country just because others didn’t like her religion, culture, or politics. I really wanted to get to know that person.

Equally, I also just wanted her to know that I am happy she came to America. And I am sad I never got to say anything like that to her.

 

Advertisements

BIGOT

Bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;especially :  one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

I need to write this. Maybe not for you, or anyone else, maybe just for me. But I don’t care, I am going to write it. It has been cluttering my mind for days, weeks, maybe even years. I think if I write it, I will feel some of my stress alleviate.

I hate this word.

I hate how it sounds.

I hate how it is written.

I hate how it is shouted.

I hate how it is misunderstood.

I have yet to hear it from someone who is not exhibiting some form of bigotry themselves.

Since we have been married, Adrian and I have lived in Utah, South Carolina, Florida, Washington (state), Nevada, and Massachusetts.

We have interacted with and worked (often closely) with gay, lesbian, straight, black, white, hispanic, european, asian, jewish, republican, democrat, libertarian, socialist, atheist, muslim, mormon, and every single thing in between. We have even discussed politics with supporters of Trump, Clinton, Cruz, and Sanders.

In my opinion- bigotry has zero boundaries. In fact, bigotry is stabbing you in the back. It tells you to hate (or even be intolerant of) someone because they follow the status quo or because they are too extreme; but then will just turn around and be friends with very people you are spitting at. It goes around and around and just tells anyone who will listen to foster anger, disgust, and intolerance for someone, anyone. It tells you how much more important your cause is…it tells you that your vote will make history or that you are just protecting your family. It tells you that if you don’t play along, that you will be hurting someone close to you. Bigotry is the voice that is telling you that compromise is not possible or favorable in any way, and that if the other side won’t stop, then you must force them with laws, executive orders, revolutions, or simply just forced shame. I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, but, bigotry wants to make you its puppet.

I have heard a person in a homosexual relationship describe how polygamy makes his stomach churn, and someone who has mostly female family members affirm that all women should be tested before they can vote.

Like I said, no bounds.

So what do I suggest?

A first good step: listen. Talk to someone, ask them questions with the idea in mind that you really just want to know what it’s like before you make an opinion. Get to know someone’s experiences. Try to have a little faith that compromise can and will work. Validate their fears and then describe your fears and experiences, too. Find common ground.

You could also: do what we did and live in other places, get an idea of how policies, cultures, and experiences shape a person’s or a group of people’s ethics. Assume the good in people, even when they don’t assume the good in you.

Lastly: the golden rule. In a tense situation, be the first one to calm down and show them the same respect that you think you deserve. Whenever someone has done this with me, I always let me guard down and have a better and enlightened conversation in the end.

I know that a more peaceful society is possible. Why?

Because…

I have watched Trump supporters befriend Mexicans. I have experienced atheists try to truly, and kindly, understand my deep love for my religion. I have become extremely close friends with people who have polar opposite opinions that I do.

If you are sitting there, reading this, and thinking about how someone else you know should be doing these things- you’re probably the one who needs to do it. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Look inward and fix yourself, first. Then look outward and make a point of bettering the conversation.

 

IMG_1147

A Series of Places Lived: Surfside Beach, South Carolina

800px-south_carolina_in_united_states-svgDuring college, Adrian and I decided to do internships at a resort in Surfside, South Carolina. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s probably because it’s a very small town that is shadowed by the (mind-bogglingly) consistent summer revival of Myrtle Beach just 4 miles north. I say mind-bogglingly because I still cannot bring myself to appreciate what is Myrtle Beach. It’s a strip of bars, mini-golf courses, and beach spots that are home to bikers and tourists. There are a few other very expensive “family” environments (aquarium, Ripley’s, etc.) but unless you are going for the Carolina-style southern food, then it’s just another beach.

Driving down King’s Highway, you will see many blinding store fronts. The lights are eternally blazing and difficult to comprehend. The cheap apparel on the inside is even worse. But, you go inside. You don’t know why. You just do.

The next thing you will notice is the numerous mini-golf courses. They adorn a number of theme: pirates, under the sea, etc. But the real kicker is the fact that you will almost always see large families there, day or night. They are never empty, even though you know it may seem ridiculous that you are passing yet ANOTHER course.

The beach in Surfside is nice, I will give it that. And maybe that is because it is considered the “family” beach spot, but there is always a place to lay out and enjoy the waves or sun. Since we were working at a resort with odd hours, we often went to the beach at night after all of the tourists left. We particularly loved going when it was stormy out since it was guaranteed to be vacant and the waves would be enormous and crashing against the shore like it was the end of the world.

united-states-south-carolina-clip-art-87632
South Carolina Flag – The most aesthetically pleasing I’ve ever seen.

Another surprisingly pleasant thing about South Carolina is the history. We discovered a number of settings that had preserved canons and forts. It was beautiful and rich with discovery. Drive about 3 hours south and you will get to Charleston, SC where the Gullah women will make you something pretty with dried reeds and rubber bands; the restaurants serve Carolina bbq; and the street vendors sell unique specialty items. Take a walking tour if you must, but even just a walk around the town will satisfy your thirst for some deep religious history. I know I sound like I’m blogging for a tourism site, but that’s how much I enjoyed Charleston.

The people. The people of South Carolina (well, I can’t speak for all of it, but I can for our little niche) are about what you would expect from most southern states. They love sweet tea and will be highly offended if you choose not to dance to the country music with them. However, they are also forgiving. I met a lot of people of many races and nationalities, and enjoyed learning about all of them. They will treat you like family, good and bad, and I learned very much from those people. a0e2e2d081fa29e9cbfa8cf6c8d6354c

 

Are You Addicted to Romance?

Romance is the one unique thing associated with marriages. You may not think of romance when you think about other desirable things. Sure, we joke about it. I mean, when you were a kid didn’t your smart-aleck friends tell you, “If you love that candy bar so much, why don’t you marry it?” Well, unless you’re Erica Eiffel, I doubt you’ve ever experienced a romance that compares to the one in your marriage.

However, there are many of us who are addicted to what are something like “romances.” That rushing, happy feeling you get when you upgrade your phone, discover a new restaurant that you are excited to try everything on the menu, or when you move to a new city that you can’t wait to explore. That constant stimulation is even the reason why internet pornography is becoming so widespread. There is never an end to what you can see or experience. CMXweuOUcAAZ8YF

Now think of this in terms of marriage- what happens when these positive and exciting feelings fade?

The term for marital romance is called limerence. Limerence encompasses sexual attraction, adoration, and sometimes even obsessiveness. John Gottman, one of the foremost authorities on all things marriage, suggests that this feeling of limerence lasts only 2 years. 2 years. When most people get married, rarely do they think, “Well, in 2 years, when this feeling is over, I will just get divorced and find a new spouse.” Most people assume that this strong loving feeling is something they will experience the rest of their lives with their spouse. Gottman suggests otherwise. He says this strong attraction is a phase. While this phase is very important when choosing your mate, it is not something that should be viewed as a permanent stage of marriage.

So what happens when it goes away?

Hello, reality check.

You start to notice that your spouse’s cute grinding noise they make when they sleep actually bothers you- like, a lot.

You notice that your spouse is always late. You used to joke about it, but now it’s just starting to get annoying and inconsiderate.

You start to wonder if your spouse is really as good as you thought, like maybe you were just tricked into this marriage, or that you were naïve and young and now you know better.

So then, you start looking around.

I think you know where I am going with this.

Before you get down in the dumps about the inevitable decline of your constant and strong attraction to your spouse, consider this: if it’s just a phase, maybe that’s because the next phases will be even better, if you work hard to get there.

I mean, it took work to date your spouse before you got married, right? Maybe not hard work, and most likely really enjoyable work. But it was still an effort, sometimes even at the expense of other important friendships and commitments.

If you want to transition smoothly into future marital phases, then build a strong foundation that you can always go back to when times get difficult.

Here are some suggestions inspired by the John Gottman blog:

Share the Why

Share your fondness beyond the words “I love you” or “I admire you.” Actually tell them why you love them and why you admire them. Use specific situations like, “I love it when you hold my hand in public. It makes me feel like you are happy for other people to see how in love we are.”

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Appreciation

Tell your spouse that you appreciate them for specific things they have done. One instance might be, “I noticed yesterday that you did the dishes for me when I was stressed out, and that made me feel really good. Thank you.” But, additionally, thank them for things that they are. Saying something like, “I appreciate that you are relaxed about the traffic jam,” is something that could go a long way.

Some other suggestions that we have are:

Validate Your Partner’s Feelings

Okay, okay, you’ve heard this A LOT. But really, it does wonders on your partner’s and your mood. By acknowledging that they are upset or sad shows that you care about their feelings and combats contempt- which is a huge marriage killer. Contempt is not something you feel often in that honeymoon stage of marriage, but it gets its way when you start to notice all of the imperfections in your partner. Making a habit of validation will be a stronghold when things get tough.

Learn to Speak Your Partner’s Love Language

Part of nurturing your marriage involves concentrating on the things that benefit you and your spouse. You may love it when your spouse gives you a massage, but does your spouse love it, too? What speaks to him or her? Making a consistent routine out of giving your partner more of what they want will make it easier when the cloud of limerence starts to lift.

If you think that you might be starting to lose sight of the honeymoon, don’t forget that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you are willing to make positive choices that will perpetuate your deep love for one another. Apply these principles and strategies to your marriage starting today and you will not regret it.

Stay Calm and Be Vulnerable

Aside from the typical Webster definition* of vulnerability, it can be difficult to fully comprehend what vulnerability is and how it affects relationships. In some ways, it is painted as an abstract concept that carries negative connotations and consequences. Confidence is often the pinnacle of success by most American standards. However, vulnerability can play a very important part in many relationships, particularly marriages.

What is it, really? Vulnerability is the complete opening of oneself to another person or situation, thus being exposed to potential damage or harm. In the context of marriage, vulnerability particularly exposes feelings that are close to each individual’s heart. These are often feelings of sadness, fear, or pain.

How does it affect marriage? It is rare in marriage that a spouse doesn’t expose emotional, mental, or physical pain in front of or to the other spouse. However, the act of telling a spouse about unseen feelings can be difficult. When feelings are verbally and physically shared among a married couple, there are two potential outcomes. The first occurs when these feelings are validated, and the listening spouse shows respect and love toward the vulnerable spouse; in this situation, the consequences are positive and the couple experiences a strengthening bond. The second occurs when these feelings are degraded, invalidated, or “brushed off.” Alternative to the more positive situation, there tends to be a loss of trust, security, and predictability. This erodes the relationship to shallow interactions and covered emotions, rather than provide the depth that accompanies a stable relationship.relationship-issues-having-dead-emotional-intimacy

 

How do we become more vulnerable? Terry Gaspard wrote in her article “Vulnerability: The Secret to Divorce-Proofing Your Relationship” about ways to allow yourself to be more vulnerable. She is a licensed social worker and contributor to the Huffington Post who suggests practicing “self-disclosing thoughts, feelings, and desires without self-blame.” This is the all-too-famous “I feel…” statements when discussing things that matter to you. If you find yourself getting irritable at something with your spouse, pinpoint the problem to how the behavior makes you feel and discuss that. With this, you and your spouse can explore the situation deeply and come to a solution together; which will strengthen your marriage. Gaspard’s other suggestion is to avoid allowing past hurt to direct your actions now. It can be difficult to want to open up yourself when you are still feeling hurt from past circumstances, so starting a little at a time doesn’t hurt. Acknowledge the little efforts your spouse makes to understand you, even if they don’t completely. This may take time, but the ultimate goal is to create a sustainable, predictable bond with your spouse that will carry with you for the rest of your marriage.

*vulnerable: adjective,  vul·ner·a·ble  \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl, ˈvəl-nər-bəl\ : easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally : open to attack, harm, or damage

I am still a dreamer.

IMG_0892I am still a dreamer. I have fantasies about where my life will take me and it’s often to a place that is grand and difficult to get to. But I am still a dreamer.

I am still a dreamer. My dreams don’t always end up somewhere magical. But I am still a dreamer.

I am still a dreamer. My kids make me crazy. A lot. I love them. A lot. But I am still a dreamer.

I am still a dreamer. I ate half the bag of Easter M&M’s and I #cantstopwontstop. But I am still a dreamer.

I am still a dreamer. I stay up late everyday and hate myself for it, everyday. But I am still a dreamer.

I am still a dreamer. When I start something, I can’t let it go, I must keep doing it even when I don’t see the value anymore. Because I know that one day its value may return. But I am still a dreamer.

I am still a dreamer. It makes me happy to dream. So I am still a dreamer.

Nothing In Life Comes Free

This is a topic of conversation among all groups of people, regardless of political or religious tendencies. Eventually, we all realize that nothing comes without a price. Even the rugged panhandlers that hold up handmade, cardboard and black markered signs, who saunter past my car while I hastily search my console for something to give away, are giving up something to be there. You could say it’s their dignity, but that would imply that dignity was important to them at some point; and if it was, it was probably lost well before they were living by the littered creek on a busy East Arlington street corner.

FullSizeRender (3)

Somehow, the purpose of hard work gets thwarted by personal desires and comparisons. Which on the one hand is a great motivator to do something more, but on the other threatens our inner sense of self and confidence.

MCM