Financial stability has never been a reality for my family. My parents had to immigrate to the United States from Somalia during a period of civil war, which had large-scale ramifications for what life would be like for us in the States. They had to leave everything behind…abandoning their careers, forfeiting all of their possessions, and losing many family members along the way. When they arrived in the United States, they were confronted with the fact that they would need to support a family while navigating a language barrier and without a formal American education. This was exacerbated by the fact that our household consisted of twelve individuals, which accounted for my nine brothers and sisters along with my parents. My mother ultimately decided to forego gaining an education in order to provide childcare for my siblings and I. My father, without a formal education and with a desperate need to financially support us, became a Taxi driver that worked long hours to make ends meet. Obviously this occupation was not enough to support such a large family and we often tiptoed the line between poverty and barely scraping by, even with government assistance.
I remember very vividly a moment I perceive to be one of my bigger and more memorable failures. I was in the ninth grade, and I was waiting with the rest of my teammates for my father to pick me up after basketball practice. At the very edge of the parking lot, I saw a Taxi creep into view and my heart dropped. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed by my father’s occupation, since I understood it was his way of supporting our family. But at that age I often simply vaguely told people my dad worked in an office job, because I didn’t want people to feel sorry for my financial circumstances. The Taxi turned around, however, so it seemed my fear was irrational and misguided. About twenty minutes later, I noticed my father’s car approaching us. On the car ride home, he mentioned to me how he came to pick me up but realized that I would prefer he didn’t do so in the Taxi in order to avoid embarrassment.
Silence. On that day, I didn’t have the words to tell him that didn’t matter to me. That I was proud of him regardless of his occupation; for the type of person that he was as well as for the type of father that he was. When the day comes when my parents are no longer here with me in this world, they will depart with little to no wealth attached to their names. But I’ve learned over the course of my life experiences that that means nothing; their compassion and love for the people around them is truly what matters. At the end of the day, your wealth and your personal accolades won’t mean anything, but the relationships you fostered with others always will. I’ve come to realize that my interactions with others and the impact I can make on their lives is what gives my life value…what gives it meaning. It’s hard to imagine the enormous obstacles that my parents overcame, and it was always mind boggling to me how they could still be such positive and optimistic people after all of that. But I think I understand now…life isn’t perfect, but life is good. It’s easy to lose sight of that when we focus so much on the things that have gone wrong, instead of the ways in which we are blessed. And life is even better when you can improve the lives of the people around you as well. People often ask me why I’m always smiling. I guess it’s partially because I’m just happy to be here, and I’m happy to be able to participate in the lives of those around me and those who are dear to me. And if I’m smiling, maybe I can even have a positive impact on people through just sharing that joy. So I guess my question is, what reason is there not to smile?