Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Expectations.

I blame all issues of the world on expectations. This seems like hardly a valid conviction, but as the days pass it tends to make more sense to me. We constantly burn with the desire for others to please us, agree with us, act and speak a certain way, and we pout and hate when this need is not met. On the receiving end, the expectations hold a clammy grip on a person’s soul, the constant awareness that we should, that our present actions are displeasing. What faster way to weaken a person but throw expectations on their mind to drive them to madness. Expectations weigh down heavy on all of us, consumed with our daily struggles, already burdened by the need to survive in an ever-changing world, only to take on more weight from others. Every step we take another ball of steel is chained to our ankles, dragging us back. Is this helping us? Is life trying to see our full potential, or rather see how far we will go before we break.


What I see around me is a world of kids struggling under expectations. We’re only fresh from the bliss of high school, feeble and more na├»ve than we accept on how adulthood works. America is a land where not much is there to support you but your own sense of motivation. This independence is a powerful weapon here in the land of opportunities, one that you can go far with, but without it there is the opposite extreme. There may be only this independent motivation to help you, but there are many things to bring you down. Bills, schedules, paychecks, social acceptance, social pressure, the “mode”, the indifference that the society seems to reek at newcomers, and our own insecurities that make us see America as far more intimidating than it actually is. You would think this is enough for what I like to call "us nomad kids", to juggle with in our lives. But no.

All these kids, for yes, we are all still kids, no matter how high we hold our quivering chins…all these kids are dealing with piles of expectations given by family, society, or whatever other kind of power governs their lives. I hear from my friends scattered around the globe how anxious they are of their grades, exam scores, bills, appointments, and now as fall approaches, their midterms. One after another, it’s always the same story, no one is getting the grades they expect with a highschool mindset. And it scares them shitless. One friend’s entire scholarship relies on passing the semester with flying colors. Another will be cut off from family’s financial support without A’s and B’s, and there it is, the first one to rear its ugly head: an expectation. Expectation or threat? One can hardly distinguish the difference anymore. And it both agitates and disappoints me, because I know what they are all going through.

To toss all of them into a strange land, expecting them to suddenly change 18 years of stability into adaptability, at the same time learning how college (which in itself is a world of difference from high school) functions , and then on top of that expecting no failure, this is asking for divinity from a mere mortal. What person in their right mind would put such a heavy thing as expectations on people struggling as it is to stand upright. Key term being “right mind”.

What is missing is understanding. The generation before us has seen a different kind of battle in their lifetimes, a physical battle in a country torn apart by expectations of tradition, religion, tribe, and pride. A kind of fight that weakens the body, batters the tangible skin, an onslaught seen by the eyes and heard by the ears. It is hardly acceptable for us to judge them for not sensing the invisible battles we see every day. It seems like it’s been ten years that “Afghanistan has undergone thirty years of war” from the way this sentence is tossed at me and others as if it suddenly destroys any argument we have, stating bluntly, “You have it good. We’ve seen worse. Rub some dirt on it and get back on your feet.”

After thirty-... oh to hell with it, fourty years of battling for life and who knows how many more, it’s not a wonder that some silly kids going to college doesn’t seem like a big deal. But what of the invisible battles?
What of the martyrs whose names will never go down in history, the one who fortify themselves behind the barricade of textbooks, ducking from the gunfire of deadlines, agendas, and standards that are impossible to reach. What of the kids armed with independence, but no motivation? Like a bow without an arrow, a blunt dagger, stumbling along and hoping the beating of their heart is enough to protect them from the relentless hopelessness that creeps in like mustard gas to suffocate them. What of the heroes that are shot down every failing exam, every C- on a quiz, every homework submitted too late to salvage, wound after wound bringing them to their knees because like young soldiers drafted too soon to understand the ways of the world, these students crumble trying to understand the system. Who hears the battle cry of 2 hours of sleep, innumerable cups of caffeine, disheveled minds marching into battle the next day and hoping that somehow, by some miracle, they will remember all the battle strategies? Who feels the desperation as the walls close in from all sides, as these students fall deeper and deeper into a prison they will never be rescued from? Hostages of a standard that sets them up for failure, with no one to bail them out but many to bar them in. And who will nurse the lacerations of each failure that we bear like battle scars. No one, for ours are hidden and can’t be seen on the skin, deep in a pit of despair where we try to cram our insecurities in hope that no one will see how far we are falling, how much we are failing, and how far gone we are to the point of no return. No bruises on the surface, but on our spirits that falter like a light bulb ready to fizzle out and surrender up the fight. Each nomad kid I hear from is humming a different war tune, but the same melody threaded through the notes. We’re failing. All of us are, and not from the difficulty of our battles or because we are on unfamiliar territory. It’s because we are all still a group of high-schoolers, but with even less resources to succeed in this education system. It’s as ludicrous as enlisting boot-camp kids into the military and wondering why, as they enter the warzone, they fall so easily. A combat that is not apparent to the eyes is not necessarily unimportant. For when something is not obvious on the surface, it is indication that it is far from shallow. It is ridiculous the kind of competition we are at, brandishing our sorrows off to prove we are in “more pain” than others. From the way so many people act, you would think there was some kind of tool to measure grievances, as if we could compare our soul wounds and see who hurts the most. It’s obvious from never ending arguments over 9/11 versus every day in Syria, or a school shooting versus a war, a child murdered versus a lifetime of children murdered. How is it that we have arrived at an arena where we are fighting to prove whose fight is more the fight?

I call a truce. I call a truce by admitting it's our fault too.

I admit that the other side of the battle is communication. Where our aforementioned “governing powers” do not see our battle for what it is, we do not take the time to share it either. And maybe we have reason to hold ourselves silent. Perhaps we’ve gone on too long being strong and persevering.
My father once said that I look too serious, that my face was older than my age. I didn’t know how to fix that. I talked to a friend recently about it, about the way we nomad kids look out into the world. She said looking naive is overrated anyway. We laughed it off, but I still held the gnawing feeling that something was wrong with our clockwork. I observed others. Indeed, “normal” people don’t look like we do. They carry with them the great ability of being able to look upon the world as if nothing bad existed in it. You see girls who seem to always be smiling, even in the moments when no one is watching. I see the people sitting on the lightrail, or listening to their music in the car, or walking down the snowy streets, all these moments when no one is paying attention and where they aren’t bound to a social rule to look happy. But they do anyway. And when I see them, they look almost as innocent as children, watching the world like it still was pure, lost in some daydream that puts a barely perceptible grin on their countenances.

But I can’t do that. When did we lose that innocence, I asked my friend. When did we look out onto the world with caution? The answer is simple, but ugly. Ugly because we each had a time where we did look out with expressions that were open and carefree, but vulnerable. Maybe we lost it the first time we smiled at someone from the cover of a headscarf and were rewarded with dirty, lusting glances in return. Maybe we lost it the first time a stranger “accidentally” touches you in the busy streets of the bazaar, or the time when you realize someone is laughing at you in another language and you can’t understand anything but you feel the shame, or the time a guy at school categorizes you as easy because you come from the land of easy women, or the time you watch a foreign lady giving hugs to street boys only with good intentions and see the way they snicker and press up against her enjoying their little joke and knowing she would never understand the simple way they were taking advantage of her. Who knows when we lost it, but we did. Any nomad kid has built a protective shield around themselves; we hold it up against the world for protection. Life the way we have lived gives no room for weakness or vulnerability, just as the childhood tears dried up long ago, the ability to look so vulnerable is impossible now. It’s as if we sleep with one eye open, and the "old face" we present keep us surviving.

And perhaps in this same way, we don’t want to admit our failures, and struggles, weaknesses, and vulnerable points. We don’t want to roll up our sleeves and lay bare our marks. How can my fellow soldier say, “I got a D on my exam”, or my other comrade admit, “I’m failing my class”, or my teammate state, “I can’t find a job”, or my other warrior friend say, “I’m falling under debt.” How can we, in the threat of expectations, show where we cannot meet them. Here, communication on our part fails and understanding on their part dies. All we are left with will be the aftermath, and when it comes… the casualties will be greater than if we could simply learn to work together.

Let us stop expecting from others, and start to allow others to expect for themselves. Let us ease the burdens off of their shoulders, to give room for wings to stretch out and expand. Let us learn that the path to success is not wide for naught, it is simply not meant to be walked alone. And let us see that every battle may not be the same, but every human bleeds red. Let’s sacrifice a little bit of our expectations for the happiness of others.

Happy Eid-e-Qurban. Festival of the Sacrifice.



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