Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Beautiful Struggle

The beautiful struggle: a lone fisherman
tries to catch a meal in Ali Bagh
One of my biggest challenges living/traveling abroad has always been the transition back to the US. 

Even after making this shift dozens of times, I still fail to maneuver between the realities of the two worlds I find myself in: for example, the fact that 22 out of every 25 children will drop out of school by the 5th grade in Pakistan while I’m at school with 800 classmates who are now apart of the 2 out of every 25 American citizens with a masters degree.

As I boarded my flight yesterday – physically and emotionally exhausted from three weeks of piloting an education venture in India and Pakistan – I prepared for the transition to be as difficult and confusing as usual.

During my stop over in Abu Dhabi, however, I was reminded of a powerful lesson. While waiting for my connecting flight, I met the nicest 40-something year old woman who was traveling from India. We talked for some time about what she was doing in India, the business she started and the work her husband does, her daughters studying in college, etc. It was only after the never-ending 15 hour flight, as I was helping her get her bags, that she told me the real reason she was traveling to India: her beloved mother had tragically passed away after falling down a large set of stairs, and her beloved father had then committed suicide because he couldn’t manage to live without her.

…I was speechless...

Over the past few hours, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this woman, the struggle she is going through, and a quote from a friend’s email signature: 
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

The beautiful struggle: Two of my friends,
Raj and Indu, from the Dharavi slum in Bombay

Over the past few hours, I’ve begun to realize how easy it is for me to get caught up in my own problems, or even the profound problems that I am apart of in India, Pakistan, Kenya, etc., and to forget that everyone around me – even in the US – is also fighting their own struggles. They might not be fighting HIV as a single mother in a Nairobi slum, but perhaps to them, their own struggle feels just as equally heavy. As my mom once said, we all have some kind of a battle, and it’s not our right to judge whose battle is bigger or smaller.

Instead, perhaps our responsibility should be to offer a smile, a hello, a thank you, or even a free-pass / benefit of the doubt the next time someone seems to not care about the same things by which we are burdened. Because the reality is, they are probably in the middle of fighting a battle of their own, and they might actually need our support (or at least our understanding).