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'Count your blessings!'
We count them to remain grateful, happy and appreciative of all that we have. These countless blessings put things in perspective. As a matter of fact, doing so everyday generates positive energy and a good attitude in life. Thanksgiving day is yet just another opportunity for me to reflect on my major blessings and how they relate to the world around me.
My fortunes are often forgotten about until I am reminded of their absence in other people's lives. Sometimes, people's misfortunates can be the gateway to appreciating my own treasures in life. While it may be sad, it is also true. It takes a conscious effort to remember the small things in life, otherwise taken for granted.
As an American-Egyptian Muslim female, I am thankful for the security, comfortable livelihood and especially for the freedom that allows me to be all that I am.
Freedom is simply not a guarantee for all. The freedom I am granted living in the 'land of the free', the 'land of liberty' is an unimagined foreign concept for most people in the world. The same is true for the additional comfort and security attached to my freedom. Billions of people strive day-in and day-out for the basics of their livelihood, such as food, water and shelter. While I, on the other hand, live luxuriously with multiple options for the same basics. Many people live in fear for their lives and loved ones even when they are settled in their very own homes. My home is my sanctuary and safety is rarely a concern of mine when I go out.
Think about it for just one moment: Neither you nor I completely choose to live the way we do-- it is in our destiny.
I believe in destiny. I also believe in free will. The two go hand-in-hand--sometimes we do not know why certain things happen and other times we make choices that allow things to happen. Regardless, I believe things happen because they are meant to happen. While this can provide comfort in accepting what is and what is not meant to be, it fails to answer the prominent question of 'why'. Consequently, I ponder, 'Why are others not granted the basic human rights I am provided? Why are people born in different circumstances than I am, some more fortunate than others?' Never do I come to a fulfilling answer. Yet, my immediate innate response is always the same—it is so humans are reminded of one another and it is this reminder that can drive them toward a state of gratitude followed by an act of kindness to all around them, especially the less fortunate.
Just this past year, the world witnessed long-standing world leaders topple in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt. The price tag was high, leaving thousands of people dead, arrested and all three countries in a state of instability, at least for some time. However, the courageous people in these countries were willing to pay the price. They underwent great challenges for the simple hope of gaining basic freedoms I am granted everyday. The price tag was higher had they not done this—no freedom was nearing their way any time soon under the previously ruling dictators.
Still in Syria, everyday hundreds of people are dying as the people continue struggling to create free space that guarantees their basics of living. Sadly, no real change to ending this violence and destruction appears in near sight.
More recently, in Gaza and Israel, on-going conflict has resulted in the deaths of over 130 Palestinians and 5 Israelis with no cease-fire in sight. The people on both sides of the story are living in fear, insecurity and instability. At any one instance, their life, or a loved one's, can end. Freedom to live peacefully is simply not a current option for them.
All the above events relate to me as someone with a Middle Eastern and Muslim background. Though I share part of my identity with people who live in the opposite side of the world, we do not share similar fortunes in life. Our life's destiny is very different. Put simply, the basic freedoms I have always been granted are the same freedoms stripped from them since birth.
Essentially, humans are equal in their nature; all want to be happy in some shape, way or form. So it really should not make a difference where atrocities take place and whom they harm in order for us to take heed. The fact is they are happening to people all over the world. Naturally, the human heart can feel the pain of others' deprivations, seeing through their outward physical appearance. And if it feels, it will surely act with kindness and compassion toward fellow human beings regardless of who they are.
The Dalai Lama says is best, 'Compassion can be put into practice if one recognizes the fact that every human being is a member of humanity and the human family regardless of differences in religion, culture, color and creed. Deep down there is no difference.'
As a woman of faith, I believe that God intentionally created us differently only to test our free will to choose between appreciation and rejection of our destiny and to choose how we will react to the destiny of others around us. Without our Godly created differences, we cannot comprehend the world and how it relates to us. Without understanding, we are incapable of fathoming a true appreciation of all that we are provided. And without appreciation, we cannot be of help to the less fortunate.
This year, as I prepare my first thanksgiving dinner for my family, I will remember others who are not in the position to eat or share a meal with their loved ones. My heart is heavy and my hands are tied. I cannot help all those who are in a less fortunate state of living than me. I cannot provide them with peace, comfort, and security or grant them the freedoms I have. But I can remember and pray for them. This Thanksgiving day, gratitude surfaces much more vividly for me as I reflect on my freedoms and security, and in turn, dedicate a prayer for others who live without it everyday.
Slma Shelbayah is a Journalist who focuses on Arab Americans, American Muslims, women and international news specifically related to the Middle East and Islam and Arabs in America. Mrs. Shelbayah freelances for CNN International as an Assignment Editor. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Communication for Brenau University where she teaches numerous courses in International Business Communication and Media. Her experience includes a background in broadcast media and university-level instruction for 6+ years. Mrs. Shelbayah spends much of her time public speaking and workshop training at various engagements connected to her communication and media interests. She has earned her Bachelor's in Journalism with a minor in Sociology, a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics with a focus on Arabic and Spanish and is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Communication.