By now, Thanksgiving isn’t just around the corner; it’s right across the street. So while this blog post may seem last-minute, I find it necessary nonetheless. This year, I’m thankful for a lot. I’m thankful for the fact that Trader Joe’s cookie butter is a real thing that exists. I’m thankful that the Earth, tilted on its axis, travels in a loop around the sun each year, causing the leaves to change color and the streets of my hometown to look effortlessly photogenic. But above all else, I’m thankful for community. Now, I’d like you to recognize that I failed to include an article before the last noun in the previous sentence, indicating that I could not limit my gratitude to a single group of people.
When I say community, I am not necessarily referring to a small one. Although my family of seven constitutes a community, all 2000+ students at my school are also a community; Muslims of the Triangle are a community, educated people are a community, bigots are a community (not one that I’m thankful for), etc. The first community I’d like to verbalize my thanks for is that of my peers. When I started wearing the hijab last summer, I was terrified of the kind of feedback I’d receive, whether it came in the form of a dirty look, an offensive question, or an obvious, though never verbalized judgment. However, I was not prepared for the support, encouragement, or respect that came along with my new look. I didn’t expect my friends to overwhelm me with compliments and potential outfit ideas, I could never have predicted my Spanish teacher would develop an evident appreciation (/semi-creepy crush) for the fact that I remained confident and easily approachable despite the transition, and I certainly didn’t anticipate the fashion industry’s defiance of its typically-short trend cycle and the subsequent popularization of vibrant maxi dresses summer after summer (thanks for that, Vogue).
The next community I’d like to recognize is made up of just two people: my parents. You probably saw this coming, and I assure you I’m not just including them because I know they’ll be the first to read this and I could use a little gas money. The respect I have for my parents is hard to articulate because it can’t be summarized by a single instance. Looking back at my childhood, I don’t remember a time when a directive was rationalized by “because I said so.” Whenever I asked why; why I needed to study for my test, why I couldn’t sleep over at my friend’s house, why I was expected to make my bed every morning when, come nighttime, I’d inevitably ruin the perfectly parallel folds in my comforter, there was always a legitimate reason. My parents lead by example. They want us to take pride in our identity, so when our four-hour car rides to the mountains are interrupted by a call to prayer, my dad wastes no time pulling up at a rest stop and leading us through a prayer equivalent to the one he’d lead were we in the comfort and privacy of our home. They don’t cut corners, and they expect the same from us. They encourage curiosity; we’re always welcome to ask why. I’m thankful for their wisdom, their dedication, their discipline, their patience, and their consistency. That’s not the most romantic term, consistency, but I appreciate that if I am to ask myself “what would mom and dad do?” I always know the answer.
The last community I believe deserves a shoutout is the aforementioned “Muslims of the Triangle.” I couldn’t be more proud to share a faith with people of such unwavering humility, grace, and resilience. It seems like every time I log on to Facebook (which is more often than I’d like to admit) I’ve been invited to yet another food drive supporting Syrian refugees, another fundraiser looking to raise money for the expansion of a local Mosque, another Saturday spent feeding the homeless of downtown Raleigh. Last February, when three integral community members were shot and killed in Chapel Hill, I saw a call to action that, over nine months later, has yet to die down. I’m blessed to live among the kind of people who respond to violence and brutality with kindness and compassion, role models who define the true meaning of Islam through everything they do.
I’m thankful for a lot more than the few things I’ve described, but I’m already well over my self-imposed 700 word limit. I believe it’s important to reflect on the things I value, and the cliché, “go around the table and say three things you’re thankful for” tradition just doesn’t seem like it’ll cut it this year.
It is much easier to identify and feel thankful for the blessings that appear prominently in our lives than it is to shuffle through pain and darkness in search of the gifts that are hidden within their folds. Late October of 2003 was the start of a difficult experience that has evoked in me a deep and lasting sense of gratitude.
I am thankful for a physician friend who went out of his way to get me an after-hours appointment, just to save me weeks of anxious waiting for consultation. I am also grateful for the renowned surgeon who approached me at 5:00 o’clock with an energy level and an attitude that her first patient would receive at the start of the day.
She patiently listened as I told her how scared I was, and even teared up when I said that I was not ready to leave my five children (ages 5-16 at the time). I remember how she held my hand while explaining the difference between cell grades and cancer stages, and how she referred to the recommended treatment plan as something that she would choose for herself.
My doctor was humble enough to tell me that medical treatments would only give me half of what I needed, and that the other half relied on my state of mind, resilience, and personal willpower. She always talked about how “we” will defeat this “thing” together.
My surgeon told me about the preliminary tissue analysis that would take place while I was still on the operating table, and she managed to put a smile on my face when she asked that I remain under anesthesia even while the surgical team cheered loudly for the good pathology results that she hoped for.
I was excited that my surgery date was moved from late in December to early in the month. That meant much less time for me to anxiously wait, and for the grade 3 in situ cells to mutate and/or spread. I was later amazed to know that my doctor had canceled a personal vacation to be able to perform three surgeries that she believed were urgent.
My surgeon took the time to stop by the holding room before surgery to check on me and lift my spirits. I will always remember the feel of her palm on my forehead, and the amazing relief that I felt as we each prayed silently.
Dr. Rosa Cuenca put my mind at ease, helped charge my energies, and filled my heart with hope.
I will always feel indebted to a radiology oncologist, Dr. Hyder Arastu, who modeled humility and care as he explained treatment and expectations. So many unnamed health professionals cross my memory and evoke a deep sense of appreciation for their encouraging remarks, cheerful attitudes, lovely smiles, and well wishes.
I will forever be grateful for my husband who attended every doctor’s visit, and told me that I looked prettier without hair. He held my hand, helped me eat, and even carried me when I was too weak to walk.
I am thankful for my friend who came to my house after her 12-hour shift so that she would answer my phone, greet my guests, file my mail, and make sure that the house ran to my liking.
I feel fortunate to have a friend who would leave her twin toddlers with a babysitter to spend the day with me, holding my hand or watching me as I slept. Another friend came over day after day so I would not be alone, filling my time with quality conversations, sweet memories, and positive thoughts.
Some of the most valuable advice came from a beloved wise friend who suggested that I think of sunrays as I watch the chemotherapy drip. Imagine that each drop represented a beam of cure that expelled the disease from my body and cleared the way for total remission.
I will always remember looking forward to Friday mornings when two best friends came over for a breakfast date that extended until lunch time. They did a great job keeping me good company and making the day so pleasant. They made sure that I later enjoyed a special treat of pumpkin soup that was prepared earlier with a lot of love.
How can I not feel blessed when my child’s teacher offers to cook for me or at least take the boys with him to the ball games occasionally. What a great gift to run out of space in the fridge because people cook so much, or to miss my children because they spend most of their free time in the company of loving and caring people.
As I went through treatment, I wondered if I would attend the high school graduation of my oldest child, which was expected a year later. I also wondered how many more times I would get to hold my baby’s hand as we walked together.
My heart is overjoyed and filled with gratitude for having attended four high school graduations so far, and looking forward to the one coming up next June. I am also grateful for holding hands with my baby (17-years-old now). She may sometimes think that it is awkward or strange, but she also knows how much it means to me.