Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grandfathers and oral history

Good Afternoon,

As a precursor to this post, I unfortunately come with bad news. My grandfather passed away today, to God we belong and to God we will return.

I am taking an oral history class, and every time I read any assignments or even think about the class, I think about my grandfather. So, I don't know, if him being on my mind for the last 2-3 weeks should have flashed signals in my head or it was just by coincidence.

Why oral history and why my grandfather? Well, he was one of the best storytellers ever, as well as the most influential man I have ever met. I think I've posted about him twice in this blog before, but to tell you about him, he was a man who went to work daily at the age of 92. He maintained his physical fitness to the best of his ability, and continued to exercise up until his 90's. Although he didn't formally study religion, he was a scholar, he knew so much on the differing opinions of different sects and so forth. He was an optimist, as well as down to earth when it came to the human condition. He love his human brethren and tried to do his best by them. This is not a bias as his granddaughter, but rather, the view almost EVERYONE who ever meets him has.

From what my grandmother told us, he died immediately after completing maghrib (sunset) prayer. He had just finished prayer and serenely passed away. Muslims always wish for that type of death, one where they are closest to God spiritually, and physically (through actions, such as prayer).

I committed a grave injustice by not recording his stories and experiences in life. He was a man who lived against the odds, driven by self-determination and faith. Nevertheless, he was never arrogant. He was a man, who upon reading a book, he would underline passages, just in case his grandchildren one day came across it from his collection of books, just so that it would trigger thought and intelligence. He encouraged us to fulfill our goals to the best of our ability, even if it seemed at odds with our parents (but to maintain that loving and respectful relationship). He argued that age is nothing but a number, you are never too young (when giving me advise), not ever too old (when talking about himself). His life was filled with incidents of trials, challenges, hopes, fears, odds, self-will, and figures who tried to force him away from his personal goals.

He lived during the French occupation, the coup de tats of syria, and onward. He'll tell you stories of World War I (even though it was just before his birth) and World War II, bringing in the perspective of the middle east. My grandfather blamed no one, but the self. Meaning, if people were true to themselves, the world would change to the better.

He studied by street lamp, due to the extreme poverty that he grew up in with a single widowed mother in the early 1920-30's. He worked full time to support his family from elementary age, as well as went to school at night to challenge his mind, when his uncles wanted him to just work for them. He was one of the top students in his class, only because of his personal will to succeed.

My grandfather, had his grandchildren truly taken the time to listen to him and document his life, lived the life of a true revolutionary. He inspired positive change, in every person who met him, both in the public and in the private life. He was a public speaker in his younger years (30-40's), and became more of a private man, in his elder (70's-80's), giving advice to his children and grandchildren. He was a humble man, who was content with whatever God had allotted him for his material life, but always wanted more out of spirituality and mental development. He was all about educating and challenging the mind (much like Dubois). He lived under colonialism as well as independence, and saw the various parallels of the worlds however intertwined.

I had a goal 2 years ago to write a book about his life and experiences. I know what he has told me, and will try to the best of my ability to recall all of those amazing details. I intend to write a book dedicated to a man who changed his society, without being a public image or face. I hope all those who were influenced by him, will be willing to share their experiences, thoughts, reactions, and beliefs about him. I know, that without a doubt, he impacted his grandchildren more than anyone else in the world. So many of us, especially those living in America, lived in a world of bias, that elders in the Middle East were backwards. But my grandfather was more modern in thought, more knowledgeable, and more charismatic than any modern theorist. We went overseas (the american/french grandchildren), and listened to his stories in SHOCK, realizing that our lives were a joke, in comparison to his. That real struggle comes from within, and manifests externally. That we inherited the experiences of a man of a legacy, that we should carry on within us, document for our future generations in the United States, and live by his amazing example. I do not advocate for the idolization of my grandfather, nor do I advocate that we blindly follow him. But I do think we need to respect and consider his main principles in life: self-education, empowerment, spirituality, activism, and social-change.

reem abou

Thursday, September 9, 2010

fathers and daughters

Good morning,

If you know me, then you know that I read Dubois... A LOT. Yes, I am addicted to his works, I haven't gotten many secondary documents, but I read as much as I can get. Often, when he is talked about, we see him as a socio-political figure, and often forget that he was a husband and a father as well.

I have been reading his correspondence and I came across a beautifully written letter to his daughter, who was studying away at school. It is amazing and inspiring, and you can see the respect he holds for his daughter as well as excitement towards her future. He has confidence in her, and encourages to adopt confidence in herself.

Now-a-day, our daughters are so confused, and have major identity and self-esteem problems because they do not have a very interactive role with their fathers. This is not their fault, but the fault of the fathers who were and are supposed to be more present in their upbringing. One reason why many girls have no true self-worth of themselves, is because their fathers don't often encourage them to find within themselves that self worth. They need a sense of acceptance from both their parents, and especially from their fathers. Because of that lack of encouragement, many girls just hop from one guy to the next to find validation, but don't realize that you need to find that validation from within yourself, and your parents should be the people helping you discover that. Fathers do play a critical role in helping develop the psyche of their daughters. If daughters don't gain true active acceptance and communication from their fathers, they will seek it out in other male figures, leaching onto the male figure and attributing their worth to that man, rather than their selves.

Anyway, the letter is from "The Correspondence of W.E.B. Dubois, Volume 1 Selections 1877-1934" Edited by Herbert Aptheker, page 207-208

New York, October 29, 1914

Dear Little Daughter:

I have waited for you to get well settled before writing. By this time I hope some of the strangeness has worn off and that my little girl is working hard and regularly.

Of course, everything is new and unusual. You miss the newness and smartness of America. Gradually, however, you are going to sense the beauty of the old world: its calm and eternity and you will grow to love it.

Above all remember, dear, that you have a great opportunity. You are in one of the world's best schools, in one of the world's greatest modern empires. Millions of boys and girls all over this world would give almost anything they possess to be where you are. You are there by no desert or merit of yours, but only by lucky chance.

Deserve it, then. Study, do your work. Be honest, frank and fearless and get some grasp of the real values of life. You will meet, of course, curious little annoyances. People will wonder at your dear brown and the sweet crinkley hair. But that simply is of no importance and will be soon forgotten. Remember that most folk laugh at anything unusual whether it is beautiful, fine or not.
You, however, must not laugh at yourself. You must know that brown is as pretty as white or prettier and crinkley hair as straight even though it is harder to comb. The main thing is the YOU beneath the clothes and skin—the ability to do, the will to conquer, the determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world. Don't shrink from new experiences and custom. Take the cold bath bravely. Enter into the spirit of your big bed-room. Enjoy what is and not pine for what is not. Read some good, heavy, serious books just for discipline: Take yourself in hand and master yourself. Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.

Above all remember: your father loves you and believes in you and expects you to be a wonderful woman.

I shall write each week and expect a weekly letter from you.

Lovingly yours,