Troublemaker

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, spent several years working in palliative care counseling and taking care of the dying during their last days. She revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. In her blog,  Inspiration and Chai, she writes down these regret in a list of five of the most important The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.  Here they are from least to most common:

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

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When I visited Pakistan one summer, an elder looked me up and down, and told my mother with conviction that I would be trouble. Her blunt words cut me deep.  I wore a simple cotton partoog kamees which was almost the same delicate blue that the old woman wore. When I looked at my mom, I saw that even she wore a vibrant purple partoog kamees, I realized I had always been too old for my young body.

My usually poised mother bared her teeth and told the elder that I was a good daughter. I reveled in the rare show of positive words. I adjusted my glasses, ran my tongue over my braces, and went back to reading “Little Women.” I was excited that I was like Jo- a rebel- even if I couldn’t figure out how I would ever be anything but the square I had always been.

Today, I think there was some truth to the old woman’s prophecy. Maybe she foresaw my marrying a non-Pashtun, my independence, my candid writing … my rebellion.

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When I was a young girl, I made a list of traits I wanted in my future husband. The list was puerile in many ways. I wanted a tall man, one who would shower me with diamonds. His hair would be thick and his voice would have the same deep timbre as my Baba’s. He would speak Pashto, singing songs of love when I was upset. Most of all, he would love me, do anything for me, show me love beyond my imagination.

Influenced by the countless chaste Bollywood movies my cousins and I watched in my Redwood City home, I mostly imagined running through fields of pink tulips with the man of my dreams. It was bliss.

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Christian’s first words to me were, “You are hot, MashaAllah.”

There was no poetry, no weaving of a story, no Pashto words, but the utterance were so earnest, I felt them sing to my heart and my heart started to yearn for something I had never felt before.

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Christian was obviously not Pashtun (he is a Californian of mixed heritage). So why did I agree to meet him if he did not fit this basic criteria for the perfect husband? Why did I go against the social norm and not do what was expected of me?

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Women in most cultures (if not all) feel compelled to conform and bend themselves to make others happy. And I have done this many times in my life.  When I married for the first time, I conformed to appease people, to save face, to feel a sense belonging and community but I found it all so exhausting. And when it came to a marriage (my second) of my choice, I wasn’t about to make that sacrifice. By then, I was probably too old and been through so much that the opinion of others no longer mattered.

The old lady who predicted that I would be trouble was probably right, if only because I am not the poster child for how a Pashtun woman should live her life. Instead, I chose to go with my heart.

And that is why I (a woman born and raised Muslim) married a man named Christian (who is Muslim); because I wanted to live a life true to myself, and not the life that others expected of me. I don’t mind being known as a troublemaker (what little it takes to be one!) if it means being with the one who makes my soul smile.


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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