During one of my summer visits to Egypt before I moved here, my aunt’s friend’s house was broken into. The thieves took everything. They took the blender, the fridge, the oven, the washing machine. Everything.
The woman’s husband walked in from work one day and found her crying as she juiced tomatoes with her bare hands.
Coming from a middle class American household, my immediate reaction was, “Wow, that totally sucks. Why don’t they buy new appliances?”
My aunt looked at me and spoke with the condescension of those who know to those who do not. “With what money?”
“With their savings,” I said.
She let out a sardonic laugh. “Here, there is no such thing as savings.”
No savings? Really?! What would these people do now?
It was a foreign concept for me that people could work and not have money in the bank. Not because I come from a wealthy family, because I do not. But because I do come from a family where savings was a given. There was always money in the bank for emergencies. My parents saved to send their children to college. When we needed something, we could always get it. Alhamdulillah.
But that middle class is not the middle class of developing countries. Here, most middle class get by paycheck to paycheck and there is no such thing as emergency funds. If you need money unexpectedly, you have two options: You either borrow from friends or family (often from many people at once), or you simply go without. How many cars don’t get fixed because there isn’t the money to do so? How many appliances don’t get replaced because there isn’t the money to do so? How many medical procedures aren’t performed because there isn’t the money to do so? Far too many. When my third son was born almost three months prematurely, I didn’t have the money needed to cover the hospital expenses. If it hadn’t been for my parents…well, you get the picture.
We are all naïve of the experiences we have not lived through. We think we can understand them from afar, but our empathy at seeing a difficulty is not nearly as potent as our insight once we experience it. This is why people tell you you won’t understand what it’s like to be a parent until you become one. This is why most activists have firsthand experience of their cause, and others move to the geographical heart of their issue so that they, too, may experience it.
I do not point out the differences of people living in America to those in Egypt to claim that one country is better than the other. In all of my work, I do not highlight difficulties to dwell on them nor to lay blame. I highlight them to inspire…
Last year when I held a book signing at Books on the Square in Providence, RI, one of the listeners told me she appreciated what I was doing. “What you’re doing is great,” she said, “because as artists, our job is to inspire.” She was just visiting the bookstore that day by chance, but I feel truly blessed at having met her, because what she said is exactly on point.
“Our job is to inspire.”
There is so much depth to that phrase. Our job is to inspire other artists: to inspire them to express themselves and bring out the best of their work. Our job is to inspire our children: to inspire them to reach their full potential and beyond. But more important than all of that, the reason I mention the differences I’ve discussed above, the reason I highlight difficulties in my writing, is to inspire for the hope of a better world.
I write about not having the money to cover hospital costs, or dealing with the concept of victim blaming (like in Normal Calm), or dealing with infertility (in Behind Picket Fences) to inspire my readers to think and feel. Through my writing, as in how I live my life, I aim to inspire gratitude. And kindness. And compassion. Because even if gratitude, kindness, and compassion do not lead to solutions to the problem, they still make the world a better place.
Don’t you think?