Monday, May 25, 2009

In Flanders Field the poppies bloom...

It is Memorial Day and I thought it would be fitting to write something to honour the fallen heroes. In Canada and most other commonwealth and allied forces countries, Nov 11, Remembrance Day, is the day that the heroes of war are remembered. And every year, on November 11, I wear a poppy pin and I post the John McCrae Flanders Field poem.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

It's a beautiful poem that captures the sacrifice that men and women around the world made so that you and me could live in a free world, and to have the right to exercise that freedom. And when you look at the images of row after row of white crosses at the Arlington Cemetery, you can't help the shiver that goes down your spine knowing of all the lives lost for your life today. To serve ones country is not just an honour, but the highest form of duty and one that not many of us in this day and age will think to do. But there are still folks among us that will bear this duty and stand up when their country calls them forth. No matter what you think about the current state of affairs, and the wars we are fighting today in Iraq and Afghanistan or elsewhere, no matter what your ideology, your political belief, you cannot deny that what those men and women are doing, risking their lives everyday, is something to be proud of, something to honour. We wish them a safe return home, these brave men and women, we wish they will be led by leaders that will not places them in harms way unnecessarily, because they have placed their trust in those leaders. And they have placed their lives on the line, to serve and protect us.

I remember a Canada parade years ago in Ottawa. There was a military parade past Parliament Hill. I remember that the last remaining veterans from World War two, marched in that parade. There was a couple that were in wheel chairs, but they were dressed in their crisp military uniforms, backs straight, head held high and the solemn look of one that had seen so much in this lifetime. And they marched. Those few remaining heroes, and I remember not being able to stop the tears because at that moment I truly felt that I was there, because of them. I truly felt I owed these men my life. Because they fought for a future that became my present, my life today.

Two years ago I attended a funeral for CWO Cornell Chao. He was the brother of a coworker of mine. It was his third deployment to Iraq, when the Apache helicopter that he piloted was shot down as he provided support to ground troops. The funeral was with full military honour, 12 gun salute, white doves, folding of the flag and all that. Ceremony and rituals, but anything less would not have done. Because he was too young to die. He had hopes and dreams like everyone else. He was planning a life with his fiance. And he was on his third and last deployment. He was not from a poor family, that the military was his only option. He joined because he wanted to join. Because he saw it as an opportunity to give back to the country he loved. And he paid for that love with his life.

So today I think back to all those that followed their call to duty and lost their lives fighting for their country. I salute their families that have lost loved ones. And mostly I salute their bravery. Because to put oneself in harms way, so that others may live, that is a selfless act I don't think many can claim. That is the meaning of hero.....

Today is also a reminder to all of us why we need to stand up for what is right, because the road to freedom, the road to the rights we enjoy today, is awash in the blood of so many fallen men and woman. Let their sacrifices not be in vain....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tough girls do cry

I may be generalizing here, well because I am using myself as an example and other "tough" chicks that I am friends with. I know the tough girl thing may be a turn off to some folks. We are no girlie girls, we are not helpless damsels in distress, we do not need rescuing. We are independent women, can do anything women, nothing is too big of a challenge. And we don't cry

Except that we do.

Underneath every tough girl I have known lies a sensitive heart. And invariably there will be some tale that left them no choice but to be strong, because that was how they were going to survive in this world. Maybe they grew up in a dysfunctional family. Maybe they faced some tragedy. But at some point in their lives, they made a conscious decision to be tough. It's a survival mechanism you see. They know the extent that they can feel things and they know if they let themselves feel everything, they may in fact dissolve into a puddle of goo.

By all definitions my childhood was a blissfully happy one. I was always a tomboy and generally liked playing with boys because they were more fun. I do not recall playing with dolls, but Mom will firmly refute that, somehow I think she thinks not playing with dolls is akin to announcing to the world that I am gay. I was always climbing trees, getting cuts and scrapes, but no matter what I was up to, you can bet that I was having fun. I was a happy kid. Loved to laugh. And loved to make others laugh. At school I knew everyone. This is not an exaggeration, I mean from kindergarten all the way up to the high school seniors, I knew them and were friends with them. I was the funny little brown girl, with long long eyelashes and the mischievous streak of a monkey. I was surrounded by love , from loving neighbours that were like grandparents to me, to caring school teachers, to friends and of course at home all was well.

That is, until we moved from Japan back home. Up until that point, our family was just the four of us. Mom, dad, my brother and me. One happy family unit. Once we returned, I got to meet my extended family. And couple of years after our returned is when the trouble happened. My mother did not have family of her own. So I never knew what it was like to have my Mom's sisters as aunts, or her parents as my grandparents to dote on me. What I did have was my father's very unstable family. He had 3 sisters, one brother and his mother. My uncle was the only one that ever showed me love. I mean the real kind, not the fake I have to pretend to love you because you are my niece. As luck would have it, he was taken from me much too soon, passing away at 46. But my aunts, well they were a different a story and not very nice women. I won't even get into what my grandmother was like. Just that people like her should never be allowed to have children. Whatever was the issue with the women in my father's family, they felt a need to meddle and disturb our happy family equilibrium. And so that is when the fighting started. I was mortified by the thought that my parents would divorce. The house was completely silent, there was a veil of sadness over everything. I thought my heart would stop. I couldn't bear it, yet even at the ripe old age of 12 I knew I could not go to my parents and burden them with my fears. They had enough to deal with. So I internalized everything. I bottled it inside. But the pain was killing me. I used to dream about running away from home just to get away from the silence and sadness. Run to someplace where it would be okay to laugh out loud and be happy. Then I would think about how my parents would miss me and be sad and I would admonish those thoughts. I would pray to god and dead grandparents to come and save me. But no one came.

I remember one night crying so hard and for so long that I finally had no more tears from sheer exhaustion. I remember my brain just telling me, okay, we need a break Marjan. If you are going to cry like this, we need a break. I was always a voracious reader so I turned to one of my books. I suddenly realized that I was able to keep my mind off my troubles and worries. I had an epiphany. My mind was able to compartmentalize, it was my feelings that were killing. So what if I decided to stop feeling? What if I did not let anything move me? Then there would be no pain. And so it was that for the next 4 years I stopped feeling. And read a ton of books. This earned me the reputation of being an insensitive person. And uncaring person. The truth was, I was just doing what I knew best to protect myself. The truth was I was a super-empath, so if I had let myself feel I would have surely have done myself harm.

So it was that I learned to take care of myself. I could not count on my parents to be there to help me out, not when they were hurting themselves. I could not count on their love, their unconditional love because they were suffering. I learned to solve my problems by myself and to keep things to myself. It took years before I could open up to anyone about anything. I felt by telling anyone, I was somehow betraying my parents. 4 years later after that fateful night that I had my epiphany, upon the death of my great uncle, I let myself feel. After everyone had bade him goodbye, after the funeral, after everyone was back to normal, I finally let myself cry. I finally let myself miss him.

That happy, well-loved child, grew up to be a funny tough chick, who secretly craved to be surrounded by the kind of love she once had as a child. I am a Sagittarius after all, and we love nothing more than to love and be loved. That happy kid grew up to be someone that would laugh at the ups and downs of life, shrug them off, pick herself up by her bootstraps and keep marching forward. Always an optimist, I believe tomorrow will be a better day. I try not to let anything get me down. I'll cheer up anyone that is sad, I'll be the best friend you always wanted, be there for you, help solve your problems, and take care of you. But I will never let anyone do the same for me. I can't. Too many years of taking care of myself and handling it all on my own have made me practically allergic to burden anyone else with my troubles. I'll make you laugh instead and help you forget your woes.

And then I'll come home and for a second the realization will hit me, that it's just me. Just me and no one else. And that life sometimes sucks and there is nothing I can do about it. And that's when I cry. But the next day I will wake up, with smile on my face and ready to face the world.

I maybe tough on the outside, but I am way softer on the inside that anyone will ever know. But I think that is the duality of us tough chicks. We are one thing to the outside world and another to ourselves. And everyone of us has a story why we had to toughen up so we could survive. And to those few that get to see the real "me" they know there is nothing tough about this chick.... even if I have been known to make a few grown ass men cry at work hehehe....

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day Mom

President Obama's on the occasion of Mother's day proclaimed:

"Women often work long hours at demanding jobs and then return home to a household with myriad demands," proclaimed President Obama. "Balancing work and family is no easy task, but mothers across our Nation meet this challenge each day, often without recognition for their hard work and dedication. The strength and conviction of all mothers--including those who work inside and outside the home--are inspiring. They deserve our deepest respect, admiration, and appreciation."

Indeed hard working women inside and outside the house do deserve a hearty appreciation. It is no easy job that is for sure. But in the age of reality TV shows, where so much of everyone's lives is right out there for everyone to see, I wonder if the Desperate Housewives of OC, NY etc fall into the category of mother's to be admired. Or what about the ones you see on wife swap?

Yes it's Mother's Day but there are plenty of women that do not honour that title of mother. When I think of the word mother I think of someone that nurtures and cares. Someone that puts the needs of her family above her own needs. Someone that wants the best for you in life. Someone you can count on and depend on to carry you when you are too weak. When I think of mother, that what comes to my mind. There is a reason it is declared the hardest job in the world. Because so many times it is a thankless job. Because so many times, your dreams and aspirations are put on hold to nurture and feed the dreams of others. It's selfless. And it's hard. It is for this reason that so many women struggle with working and being Mom's. Feel guilty about not being there enough, not spending enough time.

Mu own mother lost her Mom when she was only 17. In fact she suffered great family tragedy. My eldest uncle died in a car crash. 25 days later my grandfather died of a broken heart they say and six months after that, my grandmother woke up in the morning, made the tea, said her morning prayer and then went back to bed only to die in her sleep.

So from age of 17 my Mom did not have someone to call and wish to a Happy Mother's Day. She was left to fend for herself and figure out life on her own. There was no one to guide her or to advice her. No one to tell her what she was in for when she had her own children and the struggles she would face.

My mom by all definitions is someone that belongs outside of the house. Not because she is not a good Mom. She is a freaking over achiever so she does everything to perfection including the Mom thing. But she is best and in her element when she is working. The woman was born to teach. Education is like a drug to her. She can't get enough of it. She loves to study and loves to teach. Yet this woman, put her dreams on hold for her family. She married my father when she was 19. She had gotten accepted to university, but this self proclaimed nerd, ended up giving up her seat, because of having to re-locate with my Dad. The next year she applied to a local school. This was a very private , very prestigious school with very scrict age requirements. She got accepted into an engineer program at a time when not many woman did or could. Unfortunately she also found herself pregnant. So once again, school was put on hold. She lost the baby in the end, but by then it was too late to get back in and she no longer qualified to write the exam again because she was now too old.

Flash forward to six years later, she now hasw two kids, when they relocated again. And again she tried out for university and again she got accepted. One year later, my father's job took us as a family to Japan. Again she put her studies on hold. The story goes on and on, I don't want to bore you, but basically my Mom finally got her bachelor degree, years later, taking night classes and studying into the wee hours of the night and running on only 2-3 hours of sleep. She had to be 43 when this happened. A couple of years after that, my family moved again, this time to jolly old England. I had moved to Canada the year before to persue my gradute studies. My Mom suddenly found herself in a new country, with new culture and lots of idle time. She started to suffer from depression. This was not a woman that just sat around. She had to keep busy. So I suggested that she apply for a Master's program. It took her some time to even consider that this was something she could do and the day she got her acceptance letter was probably one of the happiest days of her life. She worked her ass off. Because being who she was, she didn't just apply to some cushy MSc program, no, she applied to Computer Science. I remember the long distance phone calls, my Mom calling her engineer daughter in Canada, asking her about programing help. My mom sending me her presentations and having me proof read them for grammar mistakes. After all English was her second language. Ya she worked her ass off, tooth and nail for that degree and when it was done, she asked me so what now? I told her, now you do what you have always wanted to do. Now you go get that job and you get out there, where you belong. She had no hopes of anyone wanting to hire a nearly 50 year old woman with no work experience. But bless her, she wrote up that resume and started the job hunt. I told her Mom, make sure they know that you have been busy, always learning something. That shows you are adaptable. That you can do anything.

And rightfully so, the employers where impressed with her credentials, because not only had she managed against all odd to excel in such a hard subject, but she had shown that through out the years she had always tried to keep herself educated the best way she knew how. When we lived in Japan my Mom enrolled in Ikebana and then dressmaking college. It was a 3 year course and her graduation project was a hand sewn two piece that my sister still now wears these days. When we returned from Japan and when money was tight, she opened a little seamstress shop in our basement. She designed wedding outfits for family. Take that Vera Wang. And I got to wear the latest European fashions courtesy of mommy dearest, so that I wouldn't feel out of place among my richer friends. She had completed a MSc in Computer science having never used a computer before that. Her BSc was in finance and banking. Ya so what your point? This was no ordinary woman. She can do anything...

Anyways, she had nothing to worry about. She WAS going to get a job. I had no doubts about that. And so it was that she landed a temporary contract position with a college in London to teach IT classes. Over the years she parlayed that into a full time position, then teaching at two separate colleges. Since then any time there is a new program, anytime there is something challenging to sort through, she is the first person they come too. She works so, so hard. She's now almost 65, works 5 days a week, hardly ever sleeps because she is preparing lesson plans and such and still finds time to remember every birthday, visit friends, throw dinner parties, be a doting grand-ma to my brother's girls and loving mother to her children, She is always there to lend an ear to anyone that needs a shoulder to cry on. This is one strong lady I tell you. And with a willpower like no one I've seen. Life has tried so many times to break her and failed again and again. She is unstoppable. And she's done it all by herself. And to this I say, Mom, have a very happy Mother's day because you deserve it. You deserve like no one I know...