Friday, December 28, 2007

"I long ago realized that my personal life was to be subjugated to my political responsibilities. When my democratically elected father, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was arrested in 1977 and subsequently murdered, the mantle of leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party, our nation's largest, nationwide grassroots political structure, was suddenly thrust upon me. It was not the life I planned, but it is the life I have. My husband and children accept and understand that my political responsibilities to the people of Pakistan come first, as painful as that personally is to all of us. I would like to be planning my son's move to his first year at college later this month, but instead I am planning my return to Pakistan and my party's parliamentary election campaign."

"I didn't choose this life. It chose me." (as written by Benazir Bhutto this past fall in a Blog for the Huffington Post).

Upon reading about the death of Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, I came upon the above passage she wrote for the Huffington Post. It was requested by her long time friend Arianna Huffington when they last visited with each other. Her death is a great loss, not only to her followers in Pakistan, but to the world itself. Her long struggle for democracy and the rights of her people has been a lifelong mission, alas the one that would end her life. I am propelled to feel such sadness for the loss of such a remarkable woman. Her life, so reflective of generosity, strength, courage and self-sacrifice makes me wonder if one is born with such ordained character strength.

"I didn't choose this life. It chose me" - may be a lesson to all of us when we are so ready to complain and not easily accept certain situations in our life. It is a true statement, because in fact, life just is. As much as we'd like to think that we have control over it and the events that surround it, it is just going to happen. Life is a gift and we should live it with purpose as best as we can. Embrace it all, for all things are a gift, even those that are painful come with some meaning and lesson. It is God's way of teaching us to make whatever necessary changes need to be made to make way for a purer, happier and more purposeful way of living.

Her death and her words are a reminder to me to become more conscious about my own life.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tis the season to be.........harried?
My quest to not be a Scrooge, and I am determined!!

Yesterday, I decided to bite the bullet and head to the mall, yes the mall, just a week or so away from Christmas, I decide this. Why? Don't know! I could sense the crowds before I even get there. Traffic is heavy but nothing intolerable. So I proceed. Its interesting that since I really had no other purpose than to return something to Walmart (never made it within 20 feet of the register) and I wanted to put to use some coupons, to get Jon Jeans, that I should pick a Saturday afternoon (height of feverish shopping for some) to do this.

Parking wa
s not bad, and I managed a coveted spot in front of Macy's (Christmas Capital of the world) though I had no purpose to go to Macy's. Walk through I dare, just to get to the inside of the mall. As I ascend through the crowds, I can't tell you the craziness before my eyes. People with huge piles in their arms of stuff, while trying to drink their $5.00 Starbucks coffee. I could not help but smile (yes, slightly smugly) since I just had a small purpose and absolutely NO Christmas shopping to do.

Once in the Mall, aha, the line for the much desired and at times, feared picture with S
anta is
in full rage. Parents holding their infants and maybe an older sibling, all dressed up t
o meet with the most powerful man in December. Reminding me of my favorite Christmas movie "A Christmas Story" when Santa turns over little Ralphie to the elves, who shove him down the slide before he gets to tell him what he'd like for Christmas. Once again I smile(not in a mean spirit), as I watch parents frazzled because their little one is not wanting to stay still, their hair is a mess and one little girl has a rip on her tights and her pigtails are no longer even.

Now, I am realizing that I am way over dressed and I am starting to get hot. Being overly layered was not a good idea. Yet I am enjoying my foray into the mall. It is crowded, loud, decorated and it seems like every single store is having a sale. I finally hustle myself to the second floor where I find the store I am looking for and hooray for me the jeans are on sale. I easily find the size I need and get on line (which to my delight, was not long). I take out my wallet and take out my coupons, and would you believe there is a catch, darn. In order to use my $25.00 gift cards, I have to spend $50, and to boot the reason I got the 3 gift cards was because I already spent $150.00. So, what I thought was a sale was just a way to get me to buy more. Oh, well. The young man at the register kindly gave me the option of picking up a few more items so that I could use all 3 cards....uhhh no thanks. So I get the jeans and I happily turn to the people behind me and give them the last two cards. They were very grateful since it would mean $25.00 off their purchases. I smile again.......and wish them all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS.

[Ralphie is visiting Santa at the department store, only he can't remember what he wanted]
Santa Claus: How about a nice football?
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Football? Football? What's a football? With unconscious will my voice squeaked out 'football'.
Santa Claus: Okay, get him out of here.
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] A football? Oh no, what was I doing? Wake up, Stupid! Wake up!
Ralphie: [Ralphie is shoved down the slide, but he stops himself and climbs back up] No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!
Santa Claus: You'll shoot your eye out, kid.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

On being Homeless.....

I have lived on Long Island for 21 years. Sitting in my rented apartment and reading the current trends on the housing market, I am astonished but not surprised to see how steeply things have declined. Yesterday I heard a report on our minimum wage and how though the cost of living has increased, the minimum wage has steadily remained stoic and solid in its ability to not grow. For the past several years I have watched my neighbors, expand, rebuild and explode their homes into enormous dwellings. I, on the other hand, sold my very small home 5 years ago, and though I had money to buy a home, there was nothing feasibly affordable for me on Long Island. Back then I was devastated to lose my home, but now I am almost believing it was a gift that I would later learn to appreciate.

Many homes have been knocked down to make room for bigger, yet less interesting new homes. These homes sit empty, like big card board boxes waiting for someone to come and fill them. I see many friends struggling to keep up with the cost of keeping up their homes. Fighting everyday to deal with the increase of taxes, and the skyrocketing price of oil. Those who took out line of credits on their home equity when their homes value was optimal, are now seeing their value decrease and are left with a loan payment on something that no longer exists. How did we not see this coming? Did we really believe that things could stay up forever and ever? Sadly, this is not just happening to a few people, it is happening nationwide. I watch the elderly with their fixed income, barely able to afford to keep the homes they've lived in their whole lives, going to vote locally to see if by some miracle, their voice will be heard.

Then you have the young professionals, laden with their student loans, credit card debt trying to find affordable housing. I spoke to a young teacher and her husband who is in finance, and they shared that they've been trying to save because they both grew up here and this is where they too want to raise their own children. Unfortunately even with two incomes, when they crunch the numbers, they would be living pay check to pay check. Another young woman with two children shared that she and her husband bought their house at the very top of the market. Only being able to afford a small home. They are now in a situation where they have two kids, cannot afford to expand because they are afraid of taking out another loan and if they sold their home they would lose money because it is no longer worth what they paid for it.

It has become a sad truth, that my son will probably never be able to afford to buy a home on Long Island. People have be squeezed into tiny corners with few options left. It makes me wonder, will we really be able to provide a better life for our children, like our parents did so very long ago?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

To bring meaning to my previous post, I need to share a story with you about a family that I met many years ago when I was a full time Social Worker at a local hospital. To do this I must start with yesterday. I was on-call and got a call from the hospital that a patient had just come in who needed to be sent to a psych hospital. The young boy was 14 and was experiencing some serious sadness and was incredibly overwhelmed with school.

When I met with him and his family, his mother looked very familiar, but I did not say anything because in my field you meet so many people with so many stories and its so easy to mix them up. His mother, a very sweet and tearful woman, shared their story with me and told me that I was the Social Worker who helped them 7 years ago when her son, then about 6 was diagnosed with a brain tumor which was cancerous. Being that it was a grade one, the prognosis was good. Five months later he would return for another surgery to remove another tumor, this time a grade 4. Since that time in 2001, he has been in remission. Yet, according to him and his family this life changing event would change everything forever and though he is healthy, he is suffering in another way. His mother also pointed out to me that she could n
ever forget my kindness and she felt it was no coincidence that I was on call this night. I spent much time with this family last night, even giving them my number so they can call me any time. I don't typically do this, and its not really acceptable with my bosses but the fact is that this is just another human being reaching out for another one. It is not just about me doing my job, its about being a human being.

As we get closer to the holidays and I hear these stories, and I can assure you that there are so many that I hear, I realize what is important and valuable. This young man who has experienced such tribulations, pain, fear, and anxiety is far braver and more giving than most people I know, including myself. It brings me to think of our fellow blogger Matty, who gives so much to her family as well as others and who's you
ng grandson is another brave soul.

Just a few minutes ago a friend told me that someone who lost his young wife at 39 about 3 years ago, leaving four young children has been diagnosed with cancer in two different areas. I ask myself how can this happen to one family. These poor children.

I ask you all to take this year to simplify, reflect, give thanks and to pray for all those who are in need of our prayers. The power of prayer is powerful and can move mountains if you just believe. You don't have to go to church to have conversations with God. A favorite time is on my way to work in the car when I am given a new day to see, breathe, smell, touch, and be surrounded by those I love. How lucky am I, that I got to see this family again, and to enrich my own life by sharing theirs.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

With the holidays approaching us with a force that can be compared to that of the Bull Races in Spain, I am holding on tight. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday and also the one to that brings me the most stress. This year I am simplifying it even more than last year.

I work with very needy families, both emotionally and financially. I also work at a hospital where I have happened to be on call for the Christmas holiday. In reflection of these things, I have to wonder, what is Christmas all about? The truth is that over time I have seen it evolve from a simple tradition of eating, gathering and yes gifts but not like the gifts of today. Today, it is not unheard of foe someone to get a car for Christmas. The gifts our children ask for are super high tech ( that h
ave nothing to do with interacting with another human being) and well my goodness, these high tech gifts have the price tag to make me choke for a moment ....or two.

I think back to the Christmases I had as a child, of course, because that is all I have to compare it to, and I a
m saddened. I remember my family gathering at mom's because back then we all lived in the same apartment building and the purchasing of gifts for the kids was a really BIG deal because these were just regular folks, making very little money. If we each got 2 gifts that was huge. I remember it as fun, with all the children running around and the adults laughing and dancing. I remember our silver Christmas tress, which I thought came from a forest filled with them. Living in the city, this tree and all of its family was a phenomenom to me. My mother never asked what I wanted for Christmas, because basically it did not matter. I got what she could afford and I always loved every single thing, well, except for clothes.

Now here I am all grown up and I am facing Christmas, wishing I could revisit the past and show my son just one of those holidays with my family. This year for Christmas day I am seeking to do volunteer work with my family in Pennsylvania. Perhaps, a soup kitchen, a shelter or a nursing home. There is a wonderful feeling that washes over me in giving something to a stranger and watching them smile. Christmas is still a time of rejoicing and giving but this year I'd like to rejoice in giving to others.

When I look around I see how very much we have and that there is nothing that any of us really need. That is the biggest gift, the ability to see how very fortunate we are.