You can be with people who speak your language but totally not heard.
You can be with people who look like you, share all your identity markers but totally feel invisible.
You can be with people who share your genes, but they seem further away than strangers.
You can be with people who dress differently, speak in idioms, and looks so different yet they immediately “get you.”
It’s the paradox of human relationships.
You can spend your entire childhood with someone and not know anything meaningful about them. And in one year, in one new relationship, you see that person so differently. You see their potential like you never had before, you see how good and kind and constant they had been your entire life and yet you never noticed.
Our Prophet treated his enemies with concern, love and compassion. How did he do that? He cared about them.
There are people who are smart in books, have phDs and doctorates and medical degrees but they never know how to treat their relative. They never offer a call or a text or anything at all. They will teach others about their areas of expertise but they feel sorta empty.
We all have those.
A kind word is better than your knowledge.
A kind gesture is more helpful than your expensive gift card or your check.
I have an aunt who is a housewife. She gives with love and reminds me of my mother.
I have an aunt who is very educated, and successful but she has declined every invitation I’ve offered over 16 years. She is estranged from her children, after a lifetime of choosing career over kids.
How can I treat them exactly the same?
Yesterday, my neighbor dropped off the most beautiful bouquets of flowers from her garden.
Peonies are my favorite.
It made me so happy to see these flowers. I grow mostly nothing in my house— unless you consider mold a thing that grows — but I know that I’d like to have her come over for tea and cookies. A few minutes with a kind neighbor feels more filling of your bucket than serving a banquet to your family. There is so much give and take in every relationship.
The truth is, that act of kindness must be repaid.
Even family that does not treat you well can still be a source of light and goodness because it is an opportunity to do something good.
I don’t know why the human project is so much about getting over ourselves, our own ego and expectations such that we can actually, truly be with people. That’s all we can hope to do. There’s so much sacrifice that’s required but the sacrifice can be reframed as exchange.
On my 16th anniversary, I’m grateful to have friends who feel like sisters even though we don’t share genes, and family that feels like long lost friends. I am grateful that I am part of two, now three dynamic amazing families.
The concept of family is looser now; it means less and less in this modern age. You can play that role of family to your neighbor. And be kind. Be like my neighbor, Ms. Stella.
Give what you love away. I gave gulab jamun cupcakes, baklava, and bengali sweets to my daughter’s teacher, neighbors, and whoever stopped by my house. I fed my mother cake, after a lifetime of caring for me. She finally has another girl in the family to spoil with her love and attention.