A Chair for my Mother

“When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realize that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives.” A.P.J. Abdul Kalam


When I was a young girl, I read a book called, A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams. It was a story about a family recovering from the loss of their home to a fire. By working together, a young girl, a mother, and grandmother slowly save money and find ways to reconstruct their home. They buy a chair to replace the one they lost in the fire. I loved the book because of how it describes the reality of life after loss of things that make a home, and how through this loss a young girl learns the difference between wanting and needing something. Finally, the act of giving (in this case, the chair) to her mother and grandmother becomes central to what home really meant to her. It was about three generations of women, their close bond, family, community, and resilience.


Last week, Houston, Texas was hit with Tropical Storm named Harvey. According to CNN, Federal officials are already predicting the deadly storm will drive 30,000 people into shelters and spur 450,000 people to seek some sort of disaster assistance. With significant rainfall and flooding still in the forecast, Harvey could rival the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina, which pummeled the Louisiana coast in 2005 and was one of the deadliest storms to ever strike the U.S. It caused 1,833 deaths and cost about $108 billion in damages, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

It was so hard to read the articles and watch the videos on Social Media. I saw once beautiful homes under water and destroyed. I saw families floating around, aimless surrounded by destruction. I felt so helpless at being unable to do anything except to give money through fundraising charities set up and share these links with my friends and family.

But then there was something so very beautiful that came out of this tragedy. As water is receding, there are reports of people coming out to help those directly affected by the flooding. According to The Huffington Post, “there is a lot of work to be done. And Texans are volunteering for the task.

This reminded me of a scene from A Chair for My Mother, where neighbors helped Rosa make curtains and gave the family support as they gradually made their way back to a new reality. Neighbors helped by doing things like letting Rosa’s family stay with them for a while and even making them new curtains for their home.

“Pretty much everybody is helping out in their own way, all over the place,” said Rob Letona, one of the crewmen in Houston.

All the feels!


According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.

The number one way to build resilience is to make connections. Because “good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.”


This week, among the many other things I discussed with my children, I talked to them about the floods in Houston. I focused not only on the devastating loss but the community who came together to help their neighbors, the mosques/institutions that opened their doors to those affected, and the many charities that are working to collect funds. We prayed for them and then made solid plans about saving money and sending it to charities in Houston.

The two major lessons from this week’s events were to teach my children the importance of community and kinship and to teach them about resilience.

I wanted to read to them A Chair for My Mother, but I think at four and five they may be a tad too young for it (I plan on reading it to them in next couple of years) so instead I read to them (again) Dr. Seuss’s, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

“When you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done…

…You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.

Some windows are lighted. but mostly they’re darked…

…And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)


Sabina Khan-Ibarra is a writer and Muslim Feminist (she is still working on a definition of Feminist that fits her ideology) who advocates and demands equal rights and space for women in all scopes. She is a writer and editor with work published on BlogHer, Huffington Post, and other outlets. She is currently a MFA candidate for non-fiction creative writing at SFSU.

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