Monday, October 8


I told her to aim higher, because her later self will someday wish she had. What else would you say to a smart girl, still not seventeen, an honor roll student, juggling extra-curricular activities and a part-time job while walking the tightropes over the canyons of multi-cultural America—successfully? She’s already doing the improbable, and her actual capacity is unfathomable at this time. Yet she scoffs at the idea of applying to Ivy-League schools, schools that may not be pre-approved by her parents due to distance from home, schools she doesn’t imagine financially manageable for her family, schools she believes would not invest in her. I did my best to explain that she should bet more on herself, that she has already earned that much. Despite all my efforts and smiling, I left the two-family dinner that evening feeling quiet frustration. There were no words I could really find to convey the urgency, the compulsion, of change necessary in the perceptions of young women as they tend to short-change themselves too often. With so many challenges ahead indeed outside of your control, the least you can do is bet on yourself.

My heart sunk as I drove home, knowing my point was entirely lost on this young friend. And I recognized it was, of course, because I saw myself looking at her. I was practically given an opportunity to go back in time to advise myself to not make the same mistakes, only to confront the elusive Laws of the Universe; we can never become who we are without being who we were—choosing what we did. The best I could do was present my advice and hope her choices will improve, if even only slightly.


Vulnerability to feel regret is a dangerous thing, as it peels back your skin and seeps right into your veins the moment you let it. I reviewed my own choices, despite knowing how open this would leave me to regret and all the fallacies of retro-actively assuming I knew what I was doing to an extent more than I actually knew. I looked back anyway, because at the risk of holding myself more accountable for events than I actually should, we only grow if we learn, and I have to know that I’ve learned something…that this journey is not just a scatterplot with zero correlation but a path towards something more.

For the nth time, I wondered if I should have stayed on the pre-med academic track I had begun at the University of Minnesota nearly a decade ago. I was seventeen then. While I was distracted by just about everything new about college life and living in a metropolitan area, my compass was still my gut. Going into college, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I wanted to research Alzheimer’s, and I wanted improve lives through medicine. I didn’t know how yet, but I believed I could eventually, with the right education, and my teachers had believed in me most of my life as had my parents. I believed then that I knew what I was doing.


This winter, in 2012, my graduate school applications are to psychology programs. In less than 10 years of my life, I had changed direction. I asked myself again, Why? What was it? More a memory than a response, I remembered, because I love it more.  It was a gut thing.

But is it still? Do I really love it more, now?

The doubts seeped in and kept me awake, culminating most recently to what I imagine a panic attack. I stayed awake, staring at a ceiling with no answers. Was this a mistake? Should I try studying medicine again? Is it too late? Am I too old to try to fix this? Do I know what I am doing now?

With a cup of coffee, I spent this morning coming up with a semi-satisfactory list of reasons I imagine I would have not been successful in medicine. So many variables, a treasure trove for the pessimist—I let myself tear the alternate path to pieces. Not the healthiest way to cope with doubt, but doubt, as I’ve found, is more resilient than I’d like it to be, and statistically, it’ll show up again and I could try another coping technique in a future iteration. Today, though, I chose to tear the shoulda-coulda-woulda’s to shreds.

Mildly satisfied and mostly avoiding awareness that nothing’s resolved, I went about the rest of my day. The unanswered questions hovered about me, following room to room, at my heels like my shadow, as I ignored them the best I could.


An old friend called this afternoon. The conversation was not about me, but I might have benefited more from it. We talked about the mental health care provided by family doctors. We listed the real implications of the quality of care—relevant training—that is sorely needed. We discussed this time not about the taboo of seeking help within our subcultures but about the stigma most general practitioners assume each of us must already attach to seeking help because of “our backgrounds.” Prejudice is far from a one-way street. As I listened to my friend, I could see all the broken components that had compelled me to choose this path. So much is at stake for people, and the lack of efficacy in mental health care for young Muslims is inexcusable.

The call ended. My gut smiled back.


I believe the friends we keep close to our hearts remind us of who we really are, in the times we forget. If we choose our friends honestly, they become integral to the path we each must take, rediscovering it as many times as it takes. They are Blessings, and nothing less. They answer our souls when we seek to know why.



Two Steps From Home said...

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