Never forget that your education is a privilege that you were fortunate enough to have.
Whether it was the right parents, the right environment, the right financial capabilities, or even the right level of responsibility focus and work ethic, you were placed in a position to focus on education where as a lot of other people were not allotted that same blessing.
A college degree doesn’t make you smarter. It makes you fortunate. And it places the responsibility on yourself for the type of professional, person, and scholar you want to be to the world.
Don’t ever do anything in this life to feel appreciated. Whatever good you do, do it because you take pride in it. Appreciation is fleeting. It’s great to feel appreciated but don’t let it dictate what you offer to the world.
There are few things I enjoy more than driving alone at night. There’s a vastness, mystery, and endlessness to it. Music sounds better at night. The night time captures your imagination and curiosity in a way the day can’t. I always felt like the day time was much more rigid and schedule oriented. The night is more organic and free flowing. In a way I find myself often daydreaming during the night as I drive. Something about the darkness of night allows me to take it in more vividly.
People say life is simpler when we’re young.
I think my life is more simple today than ever before.
For starters, I’m no longer jumping into new phases and chasing after who I perceived myself to be.
I’ve finally settled into who I am. I know how I want to spend my time and who I want to be around. I know what I like and don’t. Most importantly, I invest my energy into the things I enjoy and the things I find meaningful.
And that’s not to say I’ve figured it all out for myself. But there’s a lot more honesty within myself and self awareness that I don’t think I had in the past.
My responsibilities have increased ten fold since college. But the difference is that these responsibilities have been something I’ve taken on with a clearer head than ever before.
In a lot of ways, I look back at my college days and high school days and the bullshit level is hilarious. Like we would literally welcome bullshit into our lives. Things that were not important. Time that was wasted. Acquaintances that kind of vanished. I look back at it as a huge blur. Of bullshit.
And life is much simpler without bullshit. But you have to live with it for a bit to realize you could do much better without it.
People grow apart.
I like to think of this as an indictment of life more so than a reflection of a person or their intentions.
Life has a way of taking people to different destinations. Different thrills, emotions, values, pains, highs, and lows. A lot of the times, we don’t really have a say in what that destination is or the means by which we arrive there.
All I know is life brings about change. Whether it’s within yourself or the environment around you. That’s the one guarantee in this life. All I hope is that the changes are for the better.
The popular saying is “When you’re down, you really see who your true friends are.”
Alhamdulillah and knock on wood, I’ve never been down enough to test this theory.
But I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. I’ve found that the biggest / happiest moments of my life were true litmus tests to distinguish between people who cared about me and people who just knew me. And during the happiest moments of my life, I could always feel that difference. There’s just something about genuine happiness that shines brighter than any other human emotion. It inspires and humbles me. So when people show it, it’s such a beautiful thing for me to witness. Those people differentiate themselves immediately, because in a moment of personal happiness you feel even more joy from their presence.
But I think having that true connection with someone is rare yet special. Maybe that’s the way God wills it to be, so I can truly appreciate their presence in my life.
I’ve found that people have an easier time sympathizing with another person’s hardship than they do truly relishing in and embracing another person’s joy.
As kids we could halt time.
Saturday felt like an eternity. It took me an hour to finish my bowl of cereal and there was no rush. I had a whole day in front of me. I would stumble outside with no real plan for the day and just get lost in whatever was in front of me. The sun felt like it stayed out forever looking after me and when the night time came it felt like perfect timing. Sleep felt like the perfect amount.
Holidays and birthdays were always accounted for and anticipated.
Everything was right on time and on schedule.
I could track time. I could measure it but never did I cherish it. Time was forever. Time seemed constant.
But as I’ve grown up, time has escaped me. Days become less distinguishable now. Months blur together. Holidays and birthdays catch me by surprise. Weekends pass me by as if they were a lunch break.
I once molded time without even knowing it. Now I am aware as it slips through my hands.
Show me your imperfections.
Show me your temper. Show me your frustration. Show me your impatience. Show me your insecurities. Show me your vulnerability. Show me your hurt. Show me your struggle. Show me your nervousness. Show me your vanity. Show me your fragility. Show me your lack of confidence. Show me your fears. Show me your lust. Show me your anger. Show me your harshness.
Show me what they will never see. See in me what they can never be.
Show me that you trust me.
I used to live my life as if I were putting a puzzle together. Each day was a piece. And each piece contributed a new feeling. I pieced that puzzle together long ago. I was concerned with documenting every moment.
Now, I’ve decided to paint all over that puzzle.
A colorful stroke from a brush. A stroke that’s a blur or a blob, but I’d prefer to call it a blend. It’s not necessarily neat. And not everything within it is distinct, but the stroke is from my hand, and my hand alone and this in itself makes it as distinct and meaningful as it could ever be.
When you live your life through records, the records are a record of your life.
I think a lot of Americans struggle to understand that in the Middle East, people are only thinking in the present. They are going to be emotional and they are going to be reactive. When you live in a place that is stuck you fail to dream about a future. So when there is a change of some sort, I think the people of the Middle East just wants to be a part of it. A part of something. It’s an opportunity and it the very least it’s a way for people to act out on the repression they’ve faced.
There is a lot of frustration in the Middle East. And this frustration mixed with emotion is not going to lead to patience. It’s not going to lead to logic. It’s probably not going to lead to peace. It leads to chaos. But how can we Muslims/Arabs in America sit here and think it would be different if we were there when we have removed ourselves from that environment. When the status quo is stabilized oppression, who are we from the outside to say why are they so crazy over there?
It’s just a very sad and tragic process. It’s a shame. It’s difficult to witness and know that your brothers and sisters overseas are struggling as they try to etch out a freedom they’ve never been granted and therefore struggle to implement.
BUT don’t call them stupid because you have the privilege of having a wider perspective because your parents luckily removed you from that environment where people cannot see 3 years down the road. There are people who have never left Cairo, Gaza, Tripoli, Damascus, Kabul, Baghdad, etc. etc. So you put yourself in that frame of mind and ask yourself, “Why do they behave this way?”
Pray for them and pray that there is the least amount of bloodshed possible. They have a lot of growing pains to overcome. Growing pains that we who have left had the convenience of avoiding.
I think everyone on this earth deserves to be observed/evaluated/appreciated as an individual first and foremost, detached from their ethnicity, money, religion, gender, or sexuality.
Sure those things have an impact on an individual’s make up and identity, but they should never become the label to place them under. Human beings are much more complicated, for better or worse.
I remember about a year ago standing in line at the Tel Aviv Intl. Airport.
My driver, a family friend in Palestine who has proper licensing to travel to and from Israel, had just dropped me and his sister in law off at the terminal. He scolded me in embarrassment because I handed him the money for driving me in front of his sister in law.
Prior to that when he picked me up at my house in Al Bireh, Palestine, my dad forgot to give me the money with which I would pay him and he faux called me when we were a block away from the house and told me to make an excuse to come back home so I could get the money to pay our driver. I told him I forgot a luggage and we made the U-turn.
Anyways, I digress.
So, surprisingly enough I make it inside the actual door of the airport with no questioning.
Off to a good start.
I’m 5 hours early. That’s a safe cushion.
I stand in a long line with everyone else. There’s a girl, I would say about my age, checking our passports and wishing us safe travels before we check into our flights.
The line moves at a nice speed.
Next up: me!
But there’s a bit of a backlog up ahead with the check ins…so the girl decides to engage me in small talk.
Now, at this point, I always find myself wearing the same facial expression. I am friendly yet detached and short with my responses. I just want to make this process as simple for me as can be. So I let her guide the conversation.
Me: (let’s play along) Shalom! Hey.
Her: Did you enjoy your trip to Israel?
Me: I had a lot of fun.
Her: Where are you traveling from?
Me: Los Angeles, California
Her: Oh nice, I have always wanted to visit. You seem like a Californian. We can tell.
Me: It’s a really nice place. Lived there my whole life. You should visit.
Her: I can tell because you don’t speak Hebrew.
Me: (My Arabic sucks too) I know. Haha. I just know “shalom.”
Her: Haha. Well you should visit more often.
Me: Yeah, maybe after college.
Her: Where do you take college?
Her: Oh wow, I’ve heard of that school. Good school. What do you study there?
Me: Civil Engineering…I just graduated last month but I have to take one last summer class.
Her: Oh good, congratulations. You will make a good engineer.
Me: Thank you very much, I really appreciate it.
There’s a stall in the conversation. She looks towards the clerks to see if there’s an opening for me to check in at and smiles.
Her: Do you have your passport?
Me: Yes I do.
I pull it out of my back pocket and hand it to her
Omar Osama Sarsour
She giggles to herself and murmurs a bit. She blushes. She remains polite, but is thrown off her game. I am clearly not who she thought I was.
Her: Can you give me one second?
Me: Yes, that’s fine.
She walks towards some of her co-workers. They all gather around me. All four are women.
Her: So…you are not Jewish? Haha.
Me: Haha, no.
Her: You can pass for a Jew.
Her co-workers look at me and nod their head in agreement.
It’s a weird moment. I felt objectified in a way. I cannot say it was hate based as they observed me. More curious and astonished. Their facial expressions told me that they wanted to know more about me. The Palestinian.
Her: Can you follow me please?
I sit in a gray room. There are no windows. There’s no equipment. Just a gray desk and a chair across it opposite to my seat.
I wonder where my passport is.
I sit there for 20 minutes. I scroll through my iPhone music.
Enter the Israeli Bruce Willis, who wears a big gun on his hip.
Him: Mr. Omar. How are you?
Me: I’m fine.
Him: What was the purpose of your visit?
Me: Visiting my family and attending my sister’s wedding. Site seeing.
Him: (nodding head) How long have you stayed in Israel?
Me: My trip was a total of three weeks. I also spent a week in Jordan for my sister’s wedding. It should be stamped on my passport.
Him: I see. Where did you stay during your time here?
Me: Al Bireh.
Him: Al Bireh yes, yes. Come.
I stand in a fitting room of sorts. There’s a light blue curtain in front of us.
Him: Now please can you remove all items of metal, your wallet, shoes, phone, belt and place it in this tray.
I hand him my wallet.
Him: Do you want to count the money first? Hahaha.
Me: (You probably say that joke a dozen times a day) haha, I trust you.
Him: Ok I will be back just wait here Mr. Omar.
My iPhone is gone so no theme music for this stage. Just silence. Where is my passport?
The Israeli Bruce Willis returns with a metal detector.
Him: Please stand.
Him: lift your arms and hold them there.
Him: Please turn. Lift arms.
Him: Please turn.
This is the part I always hate. Inspection of the area of the crotch.
He lifts my t-shirt, and notices I have basketball shorts on under my trousers.
Him: You wearing basketball shorts and pants?
Me: yeah, it’s a habit (I’ve since shed it) because I used to always play basketball at any moment growing up.
Him: (puzzled) Haha.
The metal detector does its course. Just meat, bones, and cloths on my persona.
I know it’s easier from this point forward.
After waiting a few minutes we head to the front of the check in line. All the faces that I had saw in that line prior to becoming Omar Osama Sarsour had long past and had been replaced by faces just as generic in my memory.
With Bruce Willis by my side, I check into my flight. I hand over my luggage. They open it up in front of us. Great, I packed my boxers at the very top.
After a thorough inspection. They close the luggage back up.
They hand me my flight information. And Israeli Bruce Willis finally hands me my passport back. It’s stamped. He then leads me past the passport gate through a special lane where only him and I walk. It feels as if I’m a VIP as I wiz by all the people standing in the passport line, but then I remember I probably had a two hour head start on all of them.
Him: California, huh?
Him: Very good.
We reach the end of the tunnel where a turnstile stands. The ride has come to an end.
Him: Ok Mr. Omar you are free to go.
I walk through it. And just like that it’s over. And that world seems far far away.
Until next time.
Some blessings can take years to blossom, and even more importantly, years to realize and appreciate. We go through so many progressions and so much maturing as we grow up, that it’s humbling to look back at where it all stemmed from. A lot of times, it originates from a place we resented in that moment and time. For me, this moment was when my family relocated to Palestine as I began college.
I didn’t grow up around many Muslims or Palestinians. The only connection I had with my culture and my faith was my parents and their values. Our household was the only semblance or reminder of my background. During my youth, I struggled to define myself as a Muslim or a Palestinian. Those two things were only part of who I was and my feet weren’t really planted in either.
You don’t really learn much about your character until you’re truly dependent on your own judgement; left to make your own decisions and carve out your own path that you want to follow.
After my family left, I soon found out my feet weren’t planted into anything. And it’s hard to march forward when you don’t have any real confidence in what you’re currently standing on. And I really struggled with that. It’s hard to feel good living your life with no real conviction.
So I needed to find my foundation. Something to stand on. And the strongest foundation I ever had was and always is my family. And even though they were far away, I rediscovered those simple values they taught me. But now I needed to dig a little deeper to understand where those values came from. I needed to give them more meaning. And only then did I begin to gradually embrace and discover my identity first and foremost as a Muslim, as an Arab, as a Palestinian. I’m still learning a lot. But learning is beautiful when there’s pride and love embedded in it. And learning is progress and growth.
It’s strange to think…I see family once a year these days but my love for them is infinitely more than what it was when I had them here with me. So I’ve discovered that being away from them, even with its difficulties, was a necessary adversity for me to finally wake up.
Alhamdulillah for the circumstances that are hardest to swallow but end up being the most nourishing.