Surviving Vs. Living
In her early teens my mother survived a brutal liberation war by hiding with others in the deep recesses of remote villages when the opposition came looking to kill any and every one.
Just past her 16th birthday my mother was plucked from her small village in Bangladesh, whose name is yet to make it on to a map of any kind, and married my father. A year and 5 days later she had me and on the precipice of 19 she had my sister. Less than a month after turning 20 she packed what little belongings she had into one suitcase, and left her 6 siblings , parents and all that she knew and got on a plane for the first time in her life to come to America to join my father. Having never left a 5 kilometer radius of her village to traveling across the world with two kids to a foreign land with no English on her tongue must have been a kind of frightening that most of will never experience. But she survived.
My mother worked in a sewing sweatshop for less than minimum wage ($2/hour) in the mid to late 70’s while raising two kids and then having another. For the better part of the first two decades, she worked for minimum wage at TSS Seedmans, at Auto Barn, at a Supermarket, at Macy’s and several other places. She has worked as a personal care worker for the elderly, a bank teller and then a pharmacy tech in a hospital.
In between, she opened her small 1000 square foot home to my parents’ 16 siblings and their children as they too stepped off a plane and got on their feet. I won’t even mention the countless strangers who literally would show up on the word of someone they knew who knew my parents in some distant way that suggested no one would be turned away from my mom’s doorstep. In a way, my mother became the mother of all the people that walked though those doors and stayed with us be it for months or years. There are dozens and dozens of people that have given her that designation formally and informally. Despite that immense responsibility, somehow, she survived.
Till recently, I had not realized how much time my mother spent surviving and not really living. This only occurred to me last week when I felt a little disappointed as I learned that in her short trip to visit us, she was taking 5 days to go to Puerto Rico. As I thought about it, the disappointment turned to myself for having the thought. Of course I would like to have more time with her and certainly my daughter would too, but for a mother of so many who spent so much time surviving, I am so happy that she is actually living now.
As she always does, my mother came with many presents for Farah. Farah wrote her a TY note which said, ‘thank you so much for all my gifts, but most of all thank you for giving me the most precious gift of my Babba when I born.’ My mother has given this precious gift of being a mother to so many it is hard to explain in words what that means to all of us. On this mother’s day, of course we will give my mother some gifts but most of all what I’d like to give her is the assurance that she never has to feel like she is just surviving again, so she can go on truly living.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, my wife and to every other wonderful mother out there. Let us all try to ensure that their sacrifices never go unnoticed and get repaid tenfold.
From The Mixed Up Files Of An
American Born Confused Desi