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The Compelling Woman Whose Name I Do Not Know (QUO VADIS COLUMN CONTEST WINNER)

Sehrish Taqweem

       Large and watery gray eyes gazed upon me as I walked past a crowded bazaar in Pakistan. I remember her features so well that I don’t think they’ve ever left my mind. Her lips resembling a bruised grape and her face so easy to read. You could see the pain in her rough-looking hands, with a dark scar on the right side of her cheeks. The wind had blown and her shirt rushed to cling to her chest, the outline of her ribs forming against the thin white cloth. Her pride demanded she not beg to a child, but her circumstances pleaded so, with desperation leaking through with the tears in her eyes. On the side with her few belongings, my eyes noticed familiar Arabic writing in a small worn-out book. The book was the Quran. It confused my small 10-year-old mind and just as I opened my mouth to ask why, my hands felt a small tug, pulling me so I knew that it was time to leave. 

       For years following, I racked my mind as to why the woman did not sell the book. The money from it would’ve fed her for another day and might have given her the ability to afford a pair of shoes. What would the book do for her? What good was her faith to a God that abandoned her on a street, starving? I resented that woman for years, ridiculed her for her insanity. I felt no sympathy for her condition, only anger.

       Yet, one autumn day as the green of the leaves became beautiful crunchy colors of red, yellow and my favorite orange, my thoughts found themselves surrounding the old lady’s situation yet again, but this time from a more understanding perspective. Suddenly, I understood the woman’s resemblance to the trees in autumn. She had decided that feeding her hope to survive another day with Arabic literature was more important than feeding her ravished stomach. She, like an autumn tree, knew her cycle. She understood that leaves would come and go like the food in her stomach. She understood that this was her wintertime. She understood the harsh conditions, but her main priority remained keeping the flame of her hope alive, for when the fire died out, it meant the tree was cut.

      I remain inspired by that woman seven years later. No matter how bad her conditions became, she remained consistent in the most important thing, making sure she still believed in something better. I too have learned my cycle. My struggles will come and go like the leaves to my branches, but my tree is never done growing. I might not be better than somebody else, but I am better than who I was yesterday and that is all I can ask for. My future is unknown, but whatever I do and wherever I go, I want to make sure I am lifting somebody else with me. That is my goal. It’s the secret weapon behind my ambition. Like the lady who clung to her faith, I cling to the idea of a better tomorrow for the world. 

          In my life, I will face many winters, but I am a survivor for my springtime. I will have my difficulties, but my passion for an optimistic mindset will never alter. My hope to make others’ winters shorter will stay vibrant. We rise in this world by lifting others. One day, the world will truly be better for people like the woman I met on a hot sunny day in a bazaar in Pakistan.

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