Friday, April 29, 2011

Moral Obligation

My attempt at becoming Elizabeth isn't wishful thinking.  I really, ultimately, want to be just like this woman.  But it's been an uphill battle with setbacks and relapses, like forgoing the waking up really early, praying, and stretching pledge throughout the entire Easter vacation.  I tried words of encouragement: "You can do this.  With real determination, this can be done!" When that didn't work, a little guilt trip:  "How could you sleep through the morning?  You've made a commitment, aren't you ashamed?" Then, slander: "You lazy louse! You've no right to look at yourself in the mirror!"  Nevertheless, I made the more desirable yet less plausible choice:  I slept in late during my vacation.

I kept telling myself to just make the right choice.  Choose to get up early.  Choose to pray early.  Choose to stretch. Late one morning during the break and stricken with guilt, I suddenly started stretching in the middle of the kitchen floor much to the bewilderment of my kids and my 3-year-old nephew.  I pulled, bent, arched like a cat and they watched in stunned silence, clutching on to their juice boxes.  I think they knew that I was trying to pacify a guilty conscience.

There hasn't been a day in weeks that I do not carry on a conversation with the woman in Proverbs 31.  How did Elizabeth do it?  Did she never, ever desire to sleep in?  Did she never, ever neglect her family for a day because she had to prepare for a Board Exam?  Was she never tempted to walk out of the house in sloppy sweats because it took too much effort to wrap her body in purple linen?  How was she, daily, able to make the better choice?  I think of the first day I studied with fervent commitment the first weekend of Spring break.  I had ten modules to do and one of the modules alone had over 600 questions but there I was at Starbucks, a Skinny Latte in hand, books on the table, a laptop with an expensive review software blinking in front of me.  I had tunnel vision, concentrating, focused.  Then the next day I found out Starbucks had free wifi and continuous access to facebook and attention deficit became my friend.

At the end of my Easter break I decided to take a breather from studying and assess a supervision case I was offered.  The hours were going to be painfully inconvenient, the paperwork unreasonable, the pay less than half of my usual hourly rate.  I pride myself in having a heart but also a bigger brain which carries within its cerebrum some common sense.  It was, to say the least, a perfunctory visit.

I sat across brandnew parents devastated by a recent diagnosis of autism.  The father held his non-verbal daughter in his arms, answering questions I'm sure he had been asked a million times before. I watched the therapist work with the child and then I listened to stories of frustration, the disorganized behavior programs, the team meetings with no direction, the lack of appropriate lessons because of the absence of a skilled supervisor. And then I watched the child look up at me, her baby blue eyes bright, her smile beautiful and contagious.  She made only incoherent sounds and she screamed to gain access to her wants.  I could feel the wheels in my head turning and I could see in this mental conveyer belt an array of behavior interventions that could quickly target areas of deficit which would provide skills for the child and hope for the parents.  I thought of the schedule again, the amount of paper work involved and the lack of compensation.  "Don't..." I told myself. "Don't do it."

I shook hands with the parents.  I shook hands with the therapist, then I stooped down to meet the child face to face.  I would do the best I could, I tell them, smiling at the child.  I could not make any promises but I would do my best and if all things go well, progress in the most basic needed skills should develop and develop quickly.

I stood in that livingroom and realized that not all decisions are made from choices. There are just some things that do not come from a heiarchy of selections and are not weighed on the balance of self-gain or convenience. Rather, some decisions are made out of moral obligation.

And maybe Elizabeth lived her life that way.  Her devotion to her God, to her family, to the less fortunate and even to herself was not founded on a mere choice. Perhaps both her position of leadership and servitude came from a sense of moral obligation. And perhaps it was this moral obligation that contributed to her life of virtue.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Quiet Desperation

Ever since I learned that the Virtuous Woman could have possibly been Bathsheba aside from Sarah, I've been wondering if she had been happy.  For some reason the word "happy" doesn't seem to apply to Sarah.  When I think of the Matriarch of Judaism, I imagine a strong-willed, determined woman who pretty much could plow a land single-handedly while milking a cow and delivering a baby.  And happiness was a feeling so unimportant that there was no need to experience such a sensation.  There was work to be done and being "happy" was not part of the equation.

But then I think of Bathsheba.  She was an ordinary woman.  Sure, sure she was so beautiful that King David was willing to forgo all his moral principles and respond only to his basic instincts but as a woman of class, she wasn't by any means above average.  But if she indeed carried within herself the qualities of a Virtuous Woman how must she have felt when she was torn from her home, subjected to adultery by her king, and then lose her husband to premeditated murder and become the wife of the man who planned her husband's death?  The only thing I could think of is that she was oblivious to the murder plot.  But even so, as a virtuous woman, when she layed with her king knowing that her husband was out in the battle field how did she, a woman of principle, feel about the whole thing?  And what did she think when she realized she was carrying the King's unborn child inside her?  I mean, we're not talking about a married groupie here who had a crush on a king and was giddy at the opportunity of a moment of passion with the most powerful man in the country, we are talking about Elizabeth, the Virtuous Woman, the woman of Valour, the one who surpassed all other honorable ones.  She had to have loved Uriah and even if she was only married through cultural arrangement, she must have atleast been loyal to him. I wonder if she told a close friend, if she prayed, if she cried herself to sleep.  And when she became the queen, I wonder if she thought about how she got to her own throne and I wonder if she ever looked toward her old home (after all, it had to have been within an eye shot away since King David saw her bathing) and I wonder and have been wondering if Bathsheba lived in quiet desperation?

I've read and re-read Proverbs 31 and while it lists in detail the qualities of this Virtuous Woman, there is no mention of down time for her, no mention of laughter, no mention of friends.  No mention of happiness.  Maybe a virtuous woman never has to stop to dwell on what may be lacking in her life---perhaps she has nothing lacking in her life, therefore she never experiences a moment of absolute void. Could virtue be synonimous to happiness?  Somehow I doubt it.

My bestfriend is the closest thing to Elizabeth that I know.  She is an operating doctor in one of the top hospitals in the world.  She barely has any time to sleep.  Her body is trembling with exhaustion when she gets home yet she religiously bathes her daughter, reads her a book and prays with her as she tucks her to sleep. On her days off she cooks enough for the week and catches up on laundry while simultaneously works on Abstract Presentations for the next medical workshop she has to conduct in some city filled with medical students.  And of course, she is beautiful.

But because she is my friend I know of her quiet desperations, and she knows of mine.  She's aware of questions like, "What am I doing?  Am I doing enough?  What does all of this even mean?"  And she's aware of my paranoia, my silent fears, my insatitable desire for success which deepens the well of a mother's guilt.

There are good mothers I think who stop and reflect on their lives and wonder what if they had gone to school and did more for themselves as much as they do for their children?  There are business women who lose friends as they gain success and perhaps wonder to themselves if everything gained would be worth the loss if it means gaining back things more meaningful?  And then there are carreer moms like me who live in constant guilt because our sense of fulfillment is met outside the comfort of our homes.

It would be comforting to know that Elizabeth had her moment of quiet desperation.  That it did not make her less amazing but that in the height of her virtue she felt some kind of void that some women experience.  I think to myself, the greater you become the less those around you can relate to your greatness.  And when you're in a league all on your own, there must be moments of isolation.  Isolation, for me, is often a relief but it also brings some level of loneliness.

I wonder if Bathsheba felt the same.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beyond Borders

So after two and a half weeks of diligently waking up in the morning, praying, and stretching, (taking breaks on the weekends, of course), I have broken my streak this morning.  The most alarming part about this setback is my lack of guilt.  I am somehow resigned to the fact that since I'm on my Easter break the next ten days are like an extended long, long weekend.  But then I know, deep down, I will wake up early tomorrow morning and get at it again because guiltless as I am, I am not a stupid woman and knowing me for 37 years, I know this extended long weekend can easily morph into another 37 years.  Maybe that's why I'm not laden with guilt--knowing full well that tomorrow I will pull myself out of bed and do what I begrudgingly been doing for the last 17 days.

I am also aware that saying to myself at 2 this morning, "I'm not getting up tomorrow, no way, Jose" sealed the setback deal.  I've been studying for a couple of days now for an upcoming board certification exam that has caused an actual migraine when, in my exhaustion, I decided to take a brain break and watch a movie from Netflix after midnight.  I was going to let the movie tuck me in bed but "Beyond Borders" was not the kind of lullabuy that puts anyone to sleep.  I was engrossed within the first two minutes and I, having been brought up in a guilt-laden home, quickly thought about my staggering lack of contribution to humanity and my anemic compassion for the rest of the suffering world.  I don't know if any of you have seen the movie.  Clive Owens is this brutish, handsome altruistic-no-borders-doctor who trots the world risking his life and giving of himself to vaccinate and save the lives of Ethiopian, Cambodian, etc., men, women, and children who would otherwise die if there were no Clive Owens around.  And then there's socialite Angelina Jolie who's moved with compassion and likewise intermittently gives of herself to helping the cause and becomes a UN rep for the least fortunate in these countries (quite a prophetic movie for her).  Of course they fall in love but Clive Owens says in his anguish, "I am crazy about you.  You're in my head, in my heart, in every part of me but you belong there with your family and I belong here with this people.  This can never work!" And Angelina breaks into sobs, "No, no!" and I can't breathe at 2 in the morning.  The good doctor has given up luxury, money, and even love to save those whose names he doesn't even know!  How does one fall asleep?

I quickly think about my new obsession: designer stuff.  I've been on a quest to buy a pair of Prada shoes since snatching my Cole Haan bag and I wanted to unravel the dust bag in the middle of the night, look at that shiny leather and say, "My God, how many vaccinations could this buy?" (If I had paid the full price, that is.)  I place no judgment on anyone who wants to spend on themselves since I'm only insterested in my own masochism and I think, "What have I really done for others?"  I thought of my different contributions but somehow only one thing could pacify my conviction: sponsor a child.  I discarded my usual thoughts of, "Will it really go to the child?  Will the head of the foundation pocket it and buy an android phone? Etc.,"

I think of Elizabeth.  The Bible said that she gave of herself to her servants.  She gave to the poor and the orphans.  And I think, what a wonderful woman she must have really been.  And because she was merely human, there must be a few Elizabeths out there.  I want so badly to be one but the journey up this Mount Everest is full of slippery muds and sharp rocks, not considering the exhausting climb and my chronic asthma.  But I know somewhere out there Elizabeth already exist.  She would have been a volunteer of Clive Owens.

I want to meet her in person.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Imperfect Elizabeth

I was once told that it takes 21 days to change a habit.  I have since stopped believing that saying after three years of doing a Daniel Fast that did nothing but push me to binge on meats and brownies and deep fried foods once the fast was over.  It would probably take 90 days of consistent commitment for anything to make a lasting, permanent change in my life (forget the no sugar 90-day diet; I have cheated atleast 3 times in the past 2 weeks).  And so, I'm really quite proud that even though I take breaks on the weekends from waking and rising early and stretching, once the weekday begins, I am back on track.  Yesterday morning was rather emotional for me.  I bent down and touched my toes.  I am not a crying woman, which is something I'm working on, but I was overwhelmed with emotion when the tip of my fingers reached farther than I could have expected this early on in the game.  I mean, there I was, bending, touching my toes, bending, touching my toes.  I thought, "My Lord, I should've been video-chronicling this journey to perfection!"

I was really proud of myself until I crossed the Verrazzano Bridge into the Belt Parkway.  I am an avid Star 99.1 listener and I am absolutely enamored with Pastor Rob Cruver who does the "Go For It" every morning right after "Name Five Things." He talks about simple rather rhetorical things but they are relatable and he ends his messages with "Let's go for it!" For example, he could talk about the cloudy weather and say something about how sometimes our lives can be cloudy and isn't it wonderful that our Heavenly Father is the constant, bright Sun that lights up our clouded day and so, if we're feeling down and depressed under a heavy, emotional cloud, just look up to the sky and know that the Lord is there to brighten our day. Let's go for it!

I often wonder what it would be like to sit in a Cafe with my decaf coffee with Rob Cruver while he infuses me with "Go For It" words of simple wisdom but then I think neither his wife nor my husband would approve.  A few people dabble with infidelity and the rest of us women can't throw caution to the wind and have an innocent breakfast with soft spoken men like Rob Cruver!  Anyway, Rob Cruver started his message by talking about how he grudgingly got out of bed early in the morning to join a few friends for prayer but once he was there, what a prayer it was! I didn't hear the rest because my mind quickly wandered to my own morning prayer.  A repeated, half asleep chant of, "Thank you, Lord. Hallelujah, hallelujah" is the gist of my meditation and I thought, "I wonder if God notice?" And of course, I know the answer to that.

I think to myself, where is this Elizabeth?  Why has she come to torment me and remind me daily of my shortcomings and my imperfections? I got out of the house proud of touching my toes and here I was feeling less than accomplished because Rob Cruver had inadvertently uncovered my pseudo morning prayers recited daily not to connect with God but to appease my convictions. When was I going to get this right?!  I had a sudden vision of gathering everyone in my house and proposing that we collectively rise at 6 in the morning and pray for half an hour until Easter.  I obviously need a community to help me with this thing.  But then I pictured my sister's quizzical face and my brother-in-law's flustered look and finally, my husband's exhausted eyes and I thought, "Forget it, I'm obviously on my own in this thing!"

Later that day at work I told our Jewish speech therapist about my quest for Elizabeth, the perfect one of Proverbs 31.  She said, "The woman of valour?  That's who a Jewish woman is supposed to aspire to become." I nodded.  It was encouraging to know that I was not alone.  Then I thought of the Jewish, career women I know who have more than five children and run a business on the side and I wanted to throw my hands up in the air in utter defeat.

"That was Abraham's eulogy for Sarah," she said.  For Sarah?  But it was written in the book of Proverbs.  "Yes, Solomon took Abraham's eulogy for Sarah and wrote that poem for his mother."

Elizabeth was Sarah?  The Sarah who laughed when it was told that she would get pregnant at an old age?  The Sarah who doubted God who was also less than merciful to her servant, Hagar? And Elizabeth was Bathsheba?  The Bathsheba who David committed adultery with and whose husband David murdered?  Bathsheba was a representation of sin and temptation, wasn't she?

I couldn't believe my ears.  Sarah and Bathsheba.  Bathsheba and Sarah. 


I felt God speak to my heart.  Pursue virtue.  Pursue greatness.  But don't be too hard on yourself.  The woman you seek to become was less than perfect.

"Thank you," I said to the speech therapist.  "I didn't know any of that."

But now I do, and this morning I got up to pray and although my prayer was short somehow God felt nearer, closer, ever present.  I didn't feel like I was on a quest to reach the top of a measuring stick.  I'm still on a quest for the Virtuous Woman but somehow she's so much more human and less fictional.  A woman more attainable and less judgmental.  An imperfect Elizabeth.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Just a bag

Today I bought a Cole Haan bag.  Very unElizabethan, yes, but to my defense I didn't know what a Cole Haan bag was until recently.  And really, I felt as though I owed it not only to myself but to the bag itself to purchase it.  There it was on the shelf.  From $550 to $360 to $150 and then, a desperate $75.  I felt an absolute obligation to buy the clearly unwanted thing even though really I could use the money for something I really need but hey, I now own something in a dust bag with a price tag that makes my heart skip a beat.  I've taken it out a few times today, turned it, inspected it and shook my head, "Five hundred fifty? But why?"

I'd like to say that the purchase was hinged on consumer genius, a frugality that in the end resulted in a quality buy worth nearly 90% less than its original price.  But the truth is, ever since my boss bought me an expensive bag beyond what I considered morally acceptable for my birthday, I've had an insatiable, ungodly desire to buy another one. Those that know me will gasp at this confession because I have never, ever been this type of woman. I have never been moved by material things and Ann Taylor Loft has been the closest designer tag I've ever owned.  And now, here I am, pursuing Elizabeth yet physically craving for a designer bag that I will stuff with old phone bills and gas receipts. Nevermind shaming Elizabeth, I'm ashamed of myself just writing about it!

I knew I would buy a bag today.  I knew it by ten o'clock last night when I hung my head down and told my husband in a restrained, soft voice that I have never done anything for myself.  That all my life everything I've done has been career related, nothing personal that's centered on fun.  I work two jobs, I'm cramming for my boards to get certified in behavior analysis and I'm flipping through the Princeton Review Book everyday at lunch to prepare for the July GRE in hopes to get into a PhD program by this fall. And because I need my own laptop so I can stop monopolizing on everybody else's, I took a third job to start supervising therapists  who provide behavior treatment for children with autism.  It's actually a job I really enjoy but I also enjoy coming home by the time the kids arrive from school but--I need a laptop and these therapists need supervision.  It's a win-win situation. I'm not sure how this whole rant on my busy schedule turned into a pity-party that can only be pacified by a designer bag but somewhere in my diseased mind I concluded that a good purchase would be my cure.  And really, what a good purchase it was and I'm quite giddy just writing about it!  I am aware however that I cannot continue this behavior.  The last thing I would want to become is a possible candidate for a reality TV intervention and I'm trying to be Elizabeth, the woman who would never have hung her head down while fiddling her own violin.

I felt more relaxed today.  I got up early enough for decent prayer, stretched far enough to hold onto my shin for ten seconds and straightened my hair on a rainy day (I skipped only once on doing my hair this week, the only day it did not rain). After work I ran to the the post office to send out some documents for my certification, got my coveted bag, studied at Starbucks, did some food shopping then ended my night with good company at a small, Pakistani restaurant.  While there my husband and brother-in-law examined the bag my boss had given me for a gift.  It had nicks and scratches already.  How could something worth a couple of hundreds of dollars not withstand being pulled, tossed and dropped?

 "You're supposed to treat it with care," my sister said.

I nodded in agreement.  I needed a bag that I can just carry, worry-free.  A bag fit for my busy lifestyle.  "A coach, maybe?" I said and then I laughed. I was tainted, my sister had said.  Once I experienced quality, I was done for.  My husband interjected that I will still not pay for it.  I may buy designer bags but there was no way I would ever pay the price.

And that's true.  I am far too sensible, far too practical, far too poor to do such a thing.

I wonder if Elizabeth would have ever bought a Cole Haan?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Thank you, Elizabeth

When I got up this morning it was no longer dark. I've come to realize that really, this isn't my problem.  I mean, I was up at 6:30, not my usual 6:45, and I was ripped from a deep sleep, in the middle of an intense dream.  Usually, I would stir and ignore the alarm until my phone, at 6:45, dutifully joins the clock and reluctantly, I surrender to the call of duty.  But not this morning.  I jumped up, my heart beating wildly against my chest, my breathing heavy, my hands trembling.  They say it's worse to startle a sleeping man than a drunk man.  I have never been drunk but I have full experience on the sleepy part and I can tell you that nothing is more obnoxious than "ee-ee-ee-ee-ee" early in the morning in the middle of an intense dream.

But here I am, attempting to be Elizabeth.

I sat at the edge of my bed and prayed.  I don't really remember what I said but what I do remember is thinking about the verse that says" you pray with your lips but your heart is far from me." So I rubbed my face with my hands, sighed and meditated a little deeper, trying my best not to focus on the fact that I am under a time constraint.  Then off I go to my daughter's bedroom to stretch.  I was proud that I reached below my knees without pulling anything.  I think of the other day when everyone at work, one by one, showed me how easily you can rest your palms on your feet and they laughed at me, convinced that the "ouch-ouch-ouch" was an exaggeration and the inability to touch past my knees was simply a comical exhibition.  I don't get discouraged, of course, since I'm surrounded by a bunch of twenty-year-old's.  I'm sure when I was twenty my foot could bend back wards and touch the back of my head but man, that was almost twenty years ago and I cannot have such high expectations now on a body that makes a painful rubbing sound whenever it rains.  I am starting to be convinced that Elizabeth was not even thirty, which explains why she could get up before dawn and have a skip in her step!

I straightened my hair again by merely flat ironing the bottom of my hair.  Granted my hair everywhere else looked unruly but I thought, I really don't need a Japanese look when I can already pass for Japanese--and whose idea was it for women to go on an iron craze, anyway?  I wish the wild, unkempt look would return.  I really liked it when Penelope Cruz walked around looking half electrocuted and I was hoping it would turn into a revolutionary sensation for women but apparently only I and a string of married men found it attractive.  And there lies my problem, I am emulating Penelope Cruz when I should be focused on my target:  Elizabeth, the virtuous, perfect woman of the Book of Proverbs.  The woman who surpasses all honorable ones.  The constant reminder of my failures, my imperfections and how far behind I am!

If I don't catch up to Elizabeth, I will atleast be forced to confront my deficiencies and work through them the way I worked through inferiority complex in high school.  The process should be nostalgic.  And if that doesn't work, I'm hoping that when everything is said and then I would be able to atleast bend and touch my toes.  I think I'm halfway there and it's been less than five days.

And if I'm able to do that, I would still owe Elizabeth some form of gratitude.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Virtuous, here I come...

Because unknown forces in the universe work against any attempt for perfection, here was how my first day to becoming Elizabeth turned out:

I awoke to daybreak, my alarm clock beeping furiously.  It was almost 7 in the morning and I cannot remember the last time I woke up this late.  The extent of my prayer went something like this, "Oh, my Lord, I'm late for work!"  And I ran to the window, peered into the streets which confirmed that indeed, it is no longer dark.  I said a couple of acceptable, Christian profanities and planted my feet slightly apart on the floor.  I bent forward to touch my knees, the extent of my flexibility.  One, two, three.  There.  I stretched.  Then, like a derailed train, I proceeded to get myself and daughter ready for work and school.

I walked into work ten minutes late.  Shoot, shoot, shoot!  Epic failure on the first day but no worries, there was always tomorrow.  I examined myself in the bathroom mirror and grimaced--this was not the picture of beauty.  Crumpled hair, crusts in the corner of my eyes.  I am shaming Elizabeth!

The following day was much better.  I got up before 6AM--5:59AM to be exact (I'm serious!).  I had time to say a prayer with several phrases and then I walked in my daughter's bedroom.  Stretch time, baby!  I placed an arm in an angle over my head and pulled.  I'm sure I didn't do it right based on the searing pain that shot up from the back of my neck to the crown of my head.  I went for the knee stretch, then the cat pose.  I liked the cat pose because it was the least painful, which probably means I did it correctly, I hope.

Because the morning before was short of humiliating, I heated up my flat iron while I showered.  And then, I made myself beautifully acceptable.  My husband said, "Be careful out there.  You look extra pretty today and you know how that can go."  I nodded, yea, yea, not knowing what that meant.  I felt good.  I was awake while it was yet dark, I had prayed (somewhat), and I had stretched (somewhat), and for good measure, I spent some time on myself.  It was going to be a good day.

I opened the door.  It was raining.  My hair slowly but surely, started sticking up.  I didn't know who to yell at.  At work, the girls said, "You straightened your hair on a rainy day?"

I could hear Elizabeth laughing.  But wait, she wouldn't do that.  She'd smile at me approvingly for trying.  But there was laughter somewhere, probably from my coworkers.

I went to my second job later that day after trying to call out--again.  People were happy to see me.  I was proud of myself for being accountable.  Then I went to the kitchen, and there it was.  Brownies.  I had bonded with my sister on her journey to a 90 day no-sugar diet and I had done real good, including drinking bitter coffee, for two days.  Anyone who knows me knows I would probably sell my left kidney for a brownie.  I heard Elizabeth speak:
               Elizabeth:  Don't do it, Chic.  It's not worth it.  You made a commitment.
                       Me:  It's the size of my pinky.
               Elizabeth:  It's a matter of principle, which reflects your character.  You made a commitment.
                       Me:  It's Kosher.
               Elizabeth:  You made a commitment.
                      Me:   (Grab the brownie, shove it in my mouth, chewed and swallowed without tasting.)
               Elizabeth: Nooooooooooooooo!!!!!

Needless to say, I returned to the dining room of this residential home where I treat a special needs child feeling like an absolute idiot.  A brownie, the size of a pinky.  And I was having such a good day.

I can only blame my poor start to these unseen forces in the universe.  Clearly, they don't want another Elizabeth to exist.