If you know me or have read my blog, you know that there are things that I’ve never and will never get on board with as far as my Middle Eastern culture is concerned. But one of the things I’ve always appreciated about my culture and heritage is the importance of family. I have “aunts” and “uncles” who actually have no blood relation at all but that would absolutely walk into oncoming traffic for my family and me, and we would do the same for them. Some have been in our lives since before I was born, like my Tetha Soad (tetha is grandmother in Arabic). I lost all of my grandparents by the time I was 8 years old, and Tetha Soad has not been “like” my grandmother; she IS my grandmother. Others have entered into our lives more recently. But the thing every one of those people have in common is that they are family.
Of course, when I was a kid, I found the constant get-togethers and dinners and luncheons tedious when I was younger. When I was younger, we would all get together once a month at least for a dinner. There was a rotation in place, and each family would get to choose the restaurant when it was their turn…I called it the monthly meeting of Arabs-Americans Unite. I don’t know where that came from or why, except for I’m pretty certain I thought I was being awfully clever.
I understand that I have gifts and reminders and blessings all around me. And I get that I am fortunate to have the love and support that I do. But this whole thing is still not easy–not leaving the house because it hurts too much, not being able to wear anything that doesn’t resemble maternity clothes, not being able to work out, gaining weight, looking down in the shower and seeing that my leg muscles are almost completely atrophied, not being able to work full time, missing my cousin’s surprise 40th birthday party in Mexico, not having a functioning phone because I dropped it in the toilet because my knee gave out, not being able to walk or run my dogs or even cuddle with them…just some of the things that are difficult to deal with.
But last night, after having not left my parents’ house in days and not really feeling up to even leaving then, I received a reminder of just how amazing and special my extended family really is. This beautiful group and diverse group are from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and everywhere in between. No family has the same story or has walked the same path, yet there is such a deep and sincere understanding of each other and so much unconditional love.
Everyone was invited over to my aunt and uncle’s lake house for dinner. I wasn’t feeling well most of the day, but I knew that if I didn’t go, my mom wouldn’t to leave me home by myself. So mom helped me into the shower, I got dressed, and even put on makeup (begrudgingly of course, but when your mom says “Why don’t you put on a little makeup. You’ll feel better if you look alive,” somehow you suddenly feel compelled to do so). This was my first outing that didn’t include a doctor, wheelchair rental, or quick Christmas fix at the local holiday store since the big surgery, and I was feeling a little bit nervous. The nerves came partly because the pain had been so intense and partly because I knew that everyone would look so nice and put together, and I would look like a grade-A bum in my over-sized yoga pants and long-sleeved t-shirt. My parents helped load me into the car. My brother drove, dad sat in the front seat, and my mom sat in the back with me so that I could stretch my leg over her lap. And even as my brother was pulling the car out of the garage, I was thinking “I don’t feel good. I don’t want to go. I should just tell them to go and just let me stay home.” I didn’t say anything though. This meant so much to my parents, and I didn’t want to ruin their night because I didn’t feel well and was sad I couldn’t wear real clothes.
I should have known better. I should have remembered that they have seen me at my very worst and my very best. They’ve seen me decked out in formal dresses, and they’ve seen me as a sweaty, nasty mess right after a game. They could have cared less what I was wearing or what I looked like. They cared about how I was feeling and if I needed anything more than anything else.
Middle Eastern tradition says that whenever you walk into the house, you greet every single person with a hug and the double cheek kiss. But one of my uncles immediately pulled up a chair and said, “Sit down, sit down! Everyone can come say hi to you!!” Shortly after that one of my aunts suggested that I go to the back living room area where the sectional was, so that I could prop up my legs and be more comfortable. We laughed and talked and told stories for hours. They asked me how I was feeling and were actually interested when I explained how some days are better than others, and how the bad days just suck the life right out of me. When they asked me what I’ve been up to or how I was doing, they were genuinely interested in my answers and not just filling time or regurgitating pleasantries. Before dinner started I listened as our Syrian family openly shared their fear and grief over lost loved ones or the potential of losing loved ones because of all of the turmoil and bombings, and then observed as everyone rallied around them with prayers and words of comfort. There was such honesty and transparency, which is not a new phenomenon, but for some reason, last night, I saw it and absorbed it. And it meant the world to me.
After dinner, several aunts and cousins rotated sitting by me on the couch–some wanted to catch up, some wanted to hear about the surgery, and some wanted business/marketing advice. One of my cousins even made me a plate of dessert and brought me coffee. When I started telling her I couldn’t eat dessert because I can’t workout, and I’ve already gained enough weight as it is, she just said, “No, no. You have to eat at least some of it because if you have dessert and I have dessert, that cancels out our calorie intake!” Ohhhh if wishing made it so…but wishing or not, you better believe I enjoyed that dessert!
Eventually the pain in my leg got to be too much, and I needed to get home. Every aunt, every uncle, every cousin came to me to say goodbye and give me their final prayers and well-wishes for the night. And as much pain as I was in, I got that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. I couldn’t help but pause for a moment and be so grateful for the series of events that had to happen to bring us all to that very place during that very time.
There are so many stories, so many incredible turns and twists of fate that made these relationships possible. They are stories that need to be told, and I promise that I will tell them–but not just yet. For now, I just want to thank my mom for helping me get out of the house, and that quirky, hilarious, concerned, and considerate adopted family of mine for being so genuine and amazing.