Our early and adolescent years are rife with growth and development. Many people believe that we continue to develop throughout our lives. What’s more, they attach to this development a heavy price, claiming that if we do not do so, then we’ve wasted precious time. But I don’t agree. I believe that it is possible to mature in years without altering the core of who we are, and for that to be a benediction. I believe that, with many of us, time simply helps us become more of ourselves.
Consider two young men. The first is about twenty and obsessed with sports. He goes to his classes, studies just barely enough to pass, shuns his family to spend time with friends or catch a game, and often lies to escape penalties or to get his way. This man, ten years later, teaches his children the gravity of lying, makes sure he and his family remain spiritually aware, sits around a dining room table, the TV off despite his favorite team playing, laughing with his family, truly enjoying their company. He clearly underwent significant change. If he hadn’t, he would’ve spent so much of his life concerned with things which would have never given meaning or true happiness to his life.
The second man in our scenario appreciated spending time with his family even when he was only twenty. He enjoyed sports, too, but it was extracurricular to him; life came first and he wouldn’t change plans he had with family or friends to accommodate for watching a game. He never lied and always considered prayer an important part of his life. Ten years later, he still prefers the company of his family to anyone else, and he still has the same values.
The second man hasn’t changed, although for sure he is wiser, more mature at thirty than he was at twenty. His core was not altered; he became cemented in who he already was. And because he had a strong foundation, this constancy isn’t a bad thing.
Throughout our lives we continue to learn and grow, to search for who it is we want to be, who it is we were meant to be. But if we were fortunate enough to have a foundation rich in values, and life experiences which taught us strength and perseverance, then our essence will form early on and won’t change significantly over the years.
Today, I am more of who was I was twenty years ago. I was then and continue to be someone who believes in putting God first, family second, and everything else third. I believed in and continue to believe in honesty and sincerity, being kind and doing good. Yes, I have gained knowledge over the years, and wisdom, and some of my opinions on various topics have undoubtedly changed. I used to be more positive, believed the world held more kindness than indifference. Now I see that we are surrounded by more war, more hatred, more crimes against humanity than ever before. I see the ugliness we live in and wonder ‘Is There Any Hope?’ But I remain, at my core, very much the same. I often wonder at the circumstances which formed me—the true essence of who I am—all those years ago. And I believe that, after God’s Grace and my parents’ love and care, a large part of it was due to growing up as a minority.
When you’re a brown Muslim kid in a school system where all the minorities combined make up a single digit percentage, you have two options: embrace your individuality, or fight it. I know people who fought it. I know people who were ashamed of their ancestral cultures, who wanted nothing more than to diffuse into that melting-pot. I also know people who walked tall in their differences, and brushed off those pesky belittlers with a certainty that self is a priceless asset which is appraised by so much more than just today’s experiences. Self—true self—takes into account how you came to be where you are, all the languages you use to communicate, the beliefs you’ll continue to hold even after the demise of time. I praise God that He made me strong enough to accept and be proud of my differences. That experience is only one of the great blessings of my life.
My children don’t get this particular blessing. They are being raised in place where all their schoolmates speak the same mother tongue, where they are all different shades of the same soil, and where most of them prostrate in worship in the same direction. For sure, this is another type of blessing. But it is a challenge for me as a parent…
When I was young and the other kids would do something which is forbidden in my religion or culture, I could always say, “I’m different from them. I don’t do that because of this difference.” I’m sure my parents taught us that at a young age. But now, when my kids see their classmates doing something that is against their religion or culture, I cannot use this logic. These kids all stem from the same roots. How do you point out these forbidden acts and not sound like you’re judging? How do you make your kids understand that it’s okay to be different when they have never seen anyone be different? How do you filter from their psyches all the habits they’ve picked up which, although popular or common, go against your values?
My children are still young and developing. I’ll keep advising them, hoping my words will somehow be more visible than the actions surrounding them. I pray God guides them to embrace their true selves early on, ones they will hold onto and treasure.
It’s great going through life knowing who you are. May you be graced with this blessing.