In Sanaya’s Memory

Web1It was love at first sight for me when I saw her walking towards me.  It was a blind date.  I don’t usually go on blind dates, mind you, but for some inexplicable reason, I went on this one and man, was I glad I did.

She had to be the most beautiful girl on the entire planet.  Those eyes did things to my heart and those Angelina Jolie lips–my, my, my.  Up to that point, I’ve only dated African American women but this girl was Pakistani.  I could tell from the way she was looking at me that she liked what she saw.

Needless to say, we really hit it off and that first date turned into other dates and before I knew it, I was telling Raj, the friend who set us up, that I wanted to marry this girl.  Raj was blown away and quite pleased with himself.  “I told you that you were going to love her.  If I weren’t already married, and happily married, I would have dated her myself.  I’m thrilled for you, Man.  So, have you popped the question as yet?”

“No, but I’m going to tonight when we’re having dinner at my place.”  And I did.  She was so moved by tears that for several minutes she couldn’t say anything.  After I slipped the ring on her finger, we stood and hugged.  She ended up spending the night.

We got married in an elegant but intimate ceremony.  Raj, of course, was my best man.  My family were all there but none of hers was–only friends and co-workers.  I knew that they didn’t approve of me because I wasn’t Pakistani.  I later found out that they wanted her to marry a friend of the family who was rich but old enough to be her father and she refused.  She moved out of her parents’ house and moved in with a friend.  b2052d4a374f85a4821cc75859f32472--full-lips-beautiful-eyes

When her family found out about me, they were livid.  They tried to get her to end our relationship but she refused.  She told them that she loved me and planned to spend the rest of her life with me.  Her father was especially opposed to this and told her that she was a disgrace to her family. Even there in America, she had respect their family’s caste, religion and customs.  He warned her that if she didn’t stop dating me and agree to the marriage they had arranged for her, she would be very sorry.

I didn’t know that she was afraid that something dad would happen to her.  If I had, I would have packed up everything and taken her far away.  It never once occurred to me that my father-in-law, whom I never met, would take my wife’s life.  Even now, I still can’t believe that a father would kill his own daughter because she chose to marry a man she loved instead of the man they wanted her to marry.

It happened a couple of months after she gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Alaya.  She was on her way home from the supermarket when she was struck by a car driven by her father.  She was rushed to the hospital.  Her condition was very critical.  She suffered multiple vertebrae fractures, an ankle fracture, a severe closed head injury and multiple soft tissue injuries from head to toe.  To say that I was devastated would be a gross understatement.  I was beside myself.  I cried and prayed for her to pull through but she slipped into a coma and never woke up.  My family and friends rallied around me, supporting me.  I had lost the love of my life and the mother of our child.  How on earth was I going to get through that?

Her father was charged with murder.  He’s still serving time.  I don’t hate him anymore.  I have channeled the negative feelings into something positive.  I have created a foundation in my wife’s honor.  It’s called Sanaya after her.  The organization is geared towards preventing honor killings in America.  This is America.  It’s supposed to be the land of the free.  What about the message at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty which says, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Yet, honor killings are no longer happening in other parts of the world.  They are happening right here in our own backyard.  And it has to stop.  It is an issue that cannot be ignored.  Right now, I am working to expose the issue and help train front line responders, victim service providers, and counselors.  I have to do this for Sanaya, our daughter Ayala and other women.  There is no honor in killing and women are not objects or possessions.  They, like Sanaya, should have the right to marry the men of their choice and not be murdered for it.  It is my hope and prayer that honor killing will be a thing of the past.  Until that time, I will continue to honor Sanaya’s memory by fighting to “end the practice of Honor Killings and shift the mindset of Pakistani society to one of gender equality.” 

This story is fiction but it was written for National Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women which is today, November 25, 2019.  This story was inspired by the true tragic killing of Noor, a young Iraqi woman who was run over by her father in Arizona.  She was killed to preserve the family honor.  In her father’s eyes, she was engaging in behavior that could taint her family’s status.

Noor told a friend that her father disapproved of everything she did — from the way she dressed to her choice of friends. According to Noor’s friend, Pesta, “She had a foot in two worlds. She had one foot in suburban America and one foot in Middle Eastern tradition.  In public she tried to put on a brave face…and tried to live her life and enjoy the freedoms that American offered her. In private, she fought with her father all the time.”

Honor killing has been around for such a long time and was thought to happen only in certain countries but it is happening in North America.  According to Aruna Papp, an internationally recognized educator and a survivor, after being raised in an honour-based family structure in India, honor killings are happening here in Canada.  “It’s an epidemic. We have had 19 honour killings in Canada in the last decade. In all developed countries, the highest rate of suicide is among South Asians—why do they come to developed countries and kill themselves? Because we are trained from birth to be self sacrificing…it’s so much easier to kill yourself then to humiliate the family.” 

The issue of honour killing was thrust into the Canadian spotlight back in 2009, after four female members of the Shafia family were found dead in a canal in Ontario.

Honor killing and violence against women are real issues and we must continue to raise awareness and take action.  Girls and women deserve to live quality lives, free of violence, oppression and free.  It is believed that at least 5,000 honour killings are reported around the world each year, but most likely the actual number is far higher since many go unreported.

If you are interested in learning more about honor killing and/or how you can help in the fight to end it, here is a list of organizations you can check out:

 

Violence against women is not just a problem in countries like Afghanistan and Somalia. It’s happening in the U.S. too

Ayaan Hirsi Ali stated that most Americans refuse to accept that honor violence happens there and this is the biggest obstacle to providing effective assistance.  Her foundation receives requests for help from women and girls in crisis.  She mentioned in her editorial, “There is the young woman, an American citizen, who was taken to her family’s native country in the Middle East to marry a complete stranger against her will because her parents feared she was becoming too “Americanized.” There is the college student who fears for her life should her father discover that she is dating someone outside her family’s faith. There is the teenage girl who discovers she is pregnant and is threatened with murder by her family for bringing shame upon them.” 

Refusing to believe that this type of violence is in our country wouldn’t make it go away.  It exists and women and girls need our help.  We must do something.  No more burying our heads in the sand.  We MUST take action.

Honor killings are not honorable by God. They are driven by ignorance and ego and nothing more. The Creator favors the man who loves over the man who hates. If you think God will punish you or your child for allowing them to marry outside of your tribe or faith, then you do not know God. Love is his religion and the light of love sees no walls. Anybody who unconditionally loves another human being for the goodness of their heart and nothing more is already on the right side of God.
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Sources:  Amnesty International; CBS; The Guardian; Global News; Humanity Healing

Matt’s Story

large-1531167473-1c546e4b85f6c127d98bd3212423c485A couple of years ago, my world as I knew it was turned upside down.  I was 17 and at my cousin, Rose’s wedding.  At the reception, a relative who had way too much to drink, put his arm around me and said, “I don’t know about the rest of the family but I’m sure glad that your Mama didn’t abort you ’cause you turned out to be a fine lad.  Yes, a fine lad.  You’re not at all like your Daddy.”

I stared at him, shocked and shaken.  What was he talking about?  Why would my mother have considered aborting me and what about my father?  Did he know who my father was?  Was he for real or was it the liquor.

I politely removed his arm from around my shoulders and excused myself.  I went out on the terrace to get a breath of fresh air.  My mind was spinning and my heart was pounding.  A feeling of dread came over me.  My mother died a year ago from pneumonia.  She never told me who my father was and whenever I asked about him, she would say, “the only father you have is God Almighty.  He takes care of you better than any earthly father can.”  After a while, I stopped asking her.   On my birth certificate it said “unknown” where my father’s name should have been.  I hoped that one day I would find out who and where he was.

My mother never married.  She was a single, hardworking mother who raised me as best as she could.  I know she loved me and that she wanted me to have a good life.  At night after she read to me, she got down on her knees and prayed.  She was always praying for me.  I loved my mother very much and I was devastated when she died.  After she died, I moved in with my grandmother.

After what the relative told me I couldn’t enjoy the wedding.  I kept playing his words over and over in my mind.  I couldn’t wait for the morning to come when I would talk to my grandmother about it.  I know that if anyone could give me answers, it would be her.  So, when we were sitting around the table having breakfast, I asked her, “Grandma, did Mama want to abort me?”  I knew I should have broached this in a more delicate way but I was desperate for answers.

Her face went pale and she dropped her fork.  “Where did you hear that?” she asked.

“Some distant relative, I don’t remember his name, said that he was glad that Mama didn’t abort me.”

“Eat your breakfast.”

“Is it true, Grandma?  Was Mama going to abort me?”

“No!  Your Mama was a godly woman.  She would never have agreed to an abortion even though her father and other people were trying to talk her into it.”

“Grandpa wanted her to have an abortion?”  I couldn’t believe it.  I adored my grandfather.  He was like a father to me.  His death five years ago really hit me hard.

“Yes.  He thought it would have been thing for her.”

“But why?”

“Matt, what does it matter?  You’re here, aren’t you?  Why don’t we forget about the past and move on?”

“Grandma, I need to know.  Please!”

My grandmother buried her face in her hands which were trembling slightly.  “Oh, Matt, I wish you didn’t have to know the truth.”

I was getting scared now.  Part of me was afraid to hear the truth and the other part had to.  “Please tell me, Grandma.  Was it to do with my father?”

She dropped her hands and I saw the anger and rage on her face.  “Your father was a monster!” she cried.

“Who was he?  Is he still alive?”

“Yes, he’s still alive and still rotting in prison.”

“Prison!  Why is he in prison?”

“Matt…”

“Grandma, I need to know.”

“He’s serving 30 years in prison for…rape and incest.”

“I–I don’t understand

“Matt, your mother got pregnant when she was raped by her brother.”

The color drained from my face.  I felt sick.  I got up from the table and dashed into the washroom where I threw up.  When I was done, I flushed the toilet, rinsed my mouth and washed my face with cold water.  My hands were shaking.  My grandmother was standing behind me.  I turned to face her and she put her arms around me and hugged me tightly.  We were both crying.

“This is why I didn’t want to tell you,” she said after a while.  “It’s a shameful thing that this family has had to deal with and that is why some of us, excluding me, wanted your mother to have an abortion.  They were thinking about her well-being but once your mother insisted that she was going to have you, we all tried to protect you from the truth.  It was your grandfather’s idea that she put “unknown” for the father’s name.”

“Why did she keep me? Wasn’t I a painful reminder of what happened to her?”

“She kept you because she loved you and she didn’t see a painful reminder of what your father did to her.  She saw a beautiful and precious gift from God.”

The rest of that day was a blur.  I was so overcome with pain and guilt that I became withdrawn and depressed.  My grandmother was very concerned about me and she tried to get me counseling.  It helped–somewhat.  And after I graduated from high-school, she sent me away to South Africa to study and live at the university there.  She would take care of my tuition and anything else I needed.  “It would do you good to get far away from here,” she said.  “You’ll be in a new country and meet new people.  Forget about the ugly past.  Live your life the best you know how for your mother’s sake.  Write me.  Don’t come back here.  When I can, I will come and visit you.”

So, at her insistence, I left Virginia and moved to South Africa.  I asked my grandmother why she choice South Africa of all countries to send me and she told me it was where she met my grandfather.   When I arrived in Cape Town, I knew that I was going to love living there.  Life on campus was a great experience for me.  I met diverse students and forged several life-long friendships.  I enjoyed my studies and had a relatively active social life.  There were lots of pretty girls but I wasn’t interested in dating at that time.  I wanted to focus on my studies.

Then, in my third year at the university, I met Joycelin, a girl from Namibia and a 765full-sydney-nelsonfreshman.   I remember the first time she smiled at me, I felt as if my heart had stopped.  A mutual friend introduced us when a group of us went on a Saturday morning to visit the Penguins at Boulders Beach.  Joycelin and I immediately hit it off and we spent most of the time together, getting to know each other.  By the time we were on our way back to campus, I knew that I wanted to date this girl.  And I did.  Our friends, especially the one who introduced us, were thrilled.

I wrote my grandmother about Joycelin and sent her photos of us.  She was happy for me.  I was relieved that she didn’t have a problem with me dating an African girl.  I know that other members of my family would, however, including the relative who made that careless remark about my mother at my cousin’s wedding.

Things were going well for me and after I graduated from university, I moved into a waterfront apartment which wasn’t far from where I worked.  Joycelin was still living on campus but we phoned each other during the week and saw each other on the weekends.  I was getting pretty serious about her but always at the back of my mind I asked myself how she would feel about me if she were to find out about my father.  I found out one day.

Joycelin and I were in De Waal Park on a Saturday afternoon when the subject of abortion came up.  “How do you feel about abortion?” she asked me.

Her question startled me.  “I don’t know.”

“I’m against it,” she said.

“Even–even in cases of rape and incest?” I asked, my heart pounding.

She nodded.  “Yes.  The life of a child born of rape or incest is just as valuable as a child born under normal circumstances.  Ending the life of the child of a person who has committed rape or incest isn’t the solution. The law should punish the criminal, not kill his child.”

“You really believe that, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do.  And the Bible says that ‘a child won’t bear a parent’s guilt, and a parent won’t bear a child’s guilt.'”  She looked at me closely, frowning and there was concerned expression on her sweet face.  “Matt, are you okay?  You look pale.”

“Joycelin, I have something to tell you.”

She slipped her hand in mind.  “What is it?” she asked.  “You can tell me anything.”

I closed my eyes and told her the awful truth about my birth.  I didn’t realize that I was crying until I felt her fingers brush against my cheeks.  I opened my eyes and found myself staring into her tearful face.  “That’s why I said I didn’t know how I feel about abortion.  There were times when I felt it might have been better if my mother had aborted me because I was a reminder of what happened to her.”

“Matt, you’re not to blame for what happened.  Your mother chose to keep you because she loved you.  She saw you as a beautiful and precious gift not a horrible and painful reminder of what happened to her.  She chose to give you life and the best way to honor that choice, is to live your life to the fullest.”

I held her face between my hands and whispered brokenly, “I love you.”

She smiled.  “I love you too.”

“I wish my mother could have met you,”

“I wish I could have met her.  She sounds like a remarkable woman.  I believe you are the way you are because of her.  She was a godly woman.  God heard her prayers for you and He answered them.  She would be extremely proud of how you’ve turned out.”

“That’s what my grandmother said.  Her, you will get to meet when she visits me in December.  She’s coming for Christmas.”

“That’s great.  Speaking of Christmas, my family are flying over too.  I can’t wait for them to meet you.”

“Good.  It will give me a chance to ask your father permission to marry you.”

She stared at me, her eyes and mouth wide open.  “Are you serious?”

I nodded and replied,  “Yes, I’m very serious”  before I lowered my head and kissed her.

Ten years have passed since I learned the truth about my the circumstances of my birth.  The guilt and shame I felt all these years are gone now.  I have accepted that I have done nothing deserving of death and I will live the life I have been given to its fullest.    Joycelin and I are engaged.  The wedding is next year Spring.  She’s teaching me about God and like my mother, she prays for me regularly.   I’m thankful that God blessed me with three phenomenal women–my mother, Joycelin and my grandmother.  The life He has given me I will live worthily for Him and for them.

A child conceived in violence is himself innocent and created in the image of God. He has done nothing to deserve the death sentence, any more than a child conceived in a loving marriage – Human Life International

The solution to incest is not abortion, but prosecution of the criminal so he does not commit more crimes, and loving care for his victims so that they experience true physical and emotional healing – Human Life International

Matt is a fictional character, but there are real men and women out there who were conceived in rape.  Read their stories.

It takes courage for a woman who chooses to go through with an unplanned pregnancy but it takes far greater courage for the one whose child was conceived by rape or incest.

Sources:   University of Cape TownWikipediaStudent World Online;

Jesse/Imagination #writephoto

art
Photo by Sue Vincent

Every time I walk past the mural on the street where I used to live, I stop and stare at it.  Memories of my friend, Jesse flood my mind.  He was a phenomenal artist.  I honestly think he was born to be one.  It was his passion.  It was what made him a beacon of hope for us.  He rose above his circumstances.  He created beauty in a place where violence, drugs, alcohol and crime were prevalent.  He was a light in a very dark place.  He made other kids and me want to be somebody–to pursue our dreams.

Jesse is gone.  He was taken too soon.  It wasn’t a bullet that got him or some random act of violence or drugs–he never touched the stuff.  It was HIV.  He got it from his girlfriend who got it from a guy she cheated on Jesse with.  She’s still alive but it’s only a matter of time before she dies too.  The guy she got it from died a couple of years ago.  She said that if she had known that he had it, she wouldn’t have slept with him.  Her mistake killed her and my friend, Jesse.  I have long since forgiven her for what she had done.  Hating her wouldn’t bring Jesse back.

This time, I brought a rose with me which I now place on the ground in front of the mural.  It’s for Jesse.  It’s a token of my love of a friend whose light has gone out of the world but it still illuminates my heart.

Our minds are like canvases and our imaginations are the brushstrokes.

This is a response to the #writephoto Prompt – Imagination at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

The Flat Tire

Broken dreams.  Broken promises.

Disappointments.  Heartache.

Death.  Violence.  Lost friends.

Struggles.  Racism.  Broken

families.  Dead-end relationships.

Two different worlds.  Two different

people.  One day their worlds collided.

 

A flat tire in the middle of nowhere.

Frantic, she tried to figure out what

to do.  Had never changed a tire in

her life.  She called for her brother

but there was no answer.  Her father

was out of town.  Her uncle’s phone

was busy.  What was she going to do now?

 

Then, a sleek silver grey Cherokee jeep

slowed down and then stopped.  A

very attractive man dressed in a grey

pinstriped suit stepped out.  He walked

over to her and asked what the problem

was.  After she told him, He removed his

jacket, and placed it on the hood of her

car.

 

Grateful, she watched as he got

down beside the car and fixed the tire.

When he stood, up she thanked him

profusely.  He smiled an incredible

smile and assured her that it was no

problem.

 

“What’s your name?” she asked.

 

“Trevor.”

 

“I’m Kelly.  Thanks again Trevor.”

 

“You’re welcome, Kelly.  Have a good

evening.”

 

“Thanks, you too.”  She watched him

as he took up his jacket and stepped

back so that she could get into her

car.  He waited until she drove off

before he walked back to his jeep.

As she sped away, she hoped that she

would see him again.

 

An she did and it was quite unexpected.

She decided that it was time to join a

gym and signed up to go three times a

week.  After work, she drove there and

after she changed, she went to the area

where the exercise equipment.  And that’s

where she saw him.  At first, she just stood

there staring at him as he sat on the bench

lifting a weight.  He was wearing a black

vest and navy blue shorts.  It was him.

 

Heart racing, she went over to him.  It

had been three weeks since they last

saw each other.  She wasn’t sure that he

would remember her.  Well, there was

only one way to find out.  As she

approached him, he glanced up and

a smile tugged at his lips.  “Hello, Kelly,”

he said, getting up from the bench.

 

“Hello, Trevor,” she said, looking up at

him.  He had to be over six feet tall.

“I wasn’t sure that you would remember

me.”

 

“I never forget a beautiful woman,” he

remarked, making her blush.  “I’ve

never seen you here before.”

 

“I just joined.  Have you been a member

here long?”

 

“For about five years.”

 

“What a stroke of luck that I should find

you here.”

 

“Perhaps luck had nothing to do with

it.  I believe in Providence.  So, what

kind of workout are you going to do?

 

“I think I’ll start off with the leg press

over there, then the lat pull down and

finish with the chest press.”

 

“Well, I’ll be over here if you need any

help.”

 

She smiled, said, “Thanks” and walked

away.  As she worked out, she watched

him doing the weights, thinking how

nice and fit he looked.  A couple of times

he looked over at her and smiled.  After

he was done lifting weights, he got up

and went on the machine curl.

 

After they were finished working out, he

invited her to grab a bite to eat with him.

She readily accepted and hurried off to

shower and get changed.  He was waiting

in the reception area for her.  They walked

to a nearby bistro.  It was a pleasant evening.

Over delicious vegetarian dishes, they chatted.

 

Then, he raised his glass and said, “Here’s to

life sometimes taking us where we never

expected to be.”  She raised her glass, realizing

that he was speaking retrospectively and not

just about the present.

 

As she touched her glass to his, she silently thanked

God for the flat tire.  If it weren’t for that little in-

convenience, she wouldn’t have met Trevor.

 

That evening was the beginning of a relationship

which ended in marriage.  Two lives collided one

evening on the side of a rural road.  They were

two people destined to meet and the seemingly

chance meeting happened precisely at the right moment.

 

 

Sources: Greatest; Elite Men’s Guide; Quote Fancy

Press for Progress

Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is Press for Progress.  The event is celebrated every year on March 8 to commemorates the movement for women’s rights.

This morning I learned a very interesting fact which was that the earliest Women’s Day observance, called “National Woman’s Day,” was held on February 28, 1909 in New York.  It was organized by the Socialist Party of America at the suggestion of Theresa Malkiel.  An American labor activist, suffragist, and educator, Theresa was a woman of progress, as she made history as the first woman to rise from factory work to leadership in the Socialist party.  She was a Jewish woman and refugee who fled anti-Semitic violence in Russia.  Eighteen years later, she founded Women’s Day, the forerunner of International Women’s Day.  Read more about her story here.

Theresa_Malkiel
The woman behind International Women’s Day

Why is International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8?  After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the State Council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.  The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975.  Two years later, in 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.

What is the purpose for IWD?  According to an article in the Mirror, the aim was for women to have equal pay.  It’s still an issue so the day is still being held every year.

Women earn 14% less than men in the UK. Last year the #MeToo campaign also grew in momentum, after women started to speak out about sexual harassment.

The women who spoke out are known as The Silence Breakers and they were named Time’s Person of the Year.

International Women’s Day is an official holiday in many countries including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

Originally the colors used for International Women’s Day were purple for symbolizing women, green for hope and white for purity.  White is no longer used because of purity being a controversial concept.  Yellow was introduced symbolizing a “new dawn”.  So, now green is for traditional feminism and purple with yellow represent contemporary feminism.

Today, women were on center stage and the world watched as they protested and celebrated.  And in Canada, a family, Canadians and people of color celebrated as the ten dollar bill featuring Viola Desmond, the first black woman was unveiled today.

Viola Desmond was a Canadian black woman from the province of Nova Scotia who challenged racial segregation at a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 when she refused to leave a whites only area and was convicted of a minor tax violation for the one cent tax difference between the seat she paid for and the seat she used.  Her case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada.  She has been compared to Rosa Parks as both women, uncompromising in their stance against racism gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement.

Progress has been made in the fight for women’s rights but we still have a long way to go.  In the mean time, let’s women around the world continue to raise their voices in order to be heard and to “bring attention to the most critical issues facing our communities, and our world at large” (Rep. Jeannie McDaniel).

Photo:  https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/picks/0041

Sources:  Wikipedia; Broadly; International Women’s Day; Wikipedia

The Fashion Show

Martin glanced at his friend, Albert and was amused when he saw him staring at Brenda who was strutting down the runway, hands on hips and big smile on her face as she modeled the black and white 50’s looking dress.  The fashion show was actually a charitable event and sponsored by Martin’s company.  After much cajoling, he managed got his friend to come.  Until now, Albert had seemed unimpressed and rather bored with the fashion show.  None of the beautiful women who walked past him got his notice.  And then, Brenda walked out.  Albert glanced up with the same bored expression on his face which immediately changed when he saw her.  His eyes followed her up and down the runway.

Martin leaned over and said in a low voice.  “She’s a stunner, isn’t she?”

Albert didn’t answer.  He watched as she paused at the end of the runway before heading back in his direction.  As she drew nearer, he sat forward, anxious to see her.  She stopped right in front of him.  After acknowledging Martin, she shifted her attention to Albert.  Their eyes met and he felt his heart stop when she smiled at him.   Then, she was gone.

“Would you like to meet her?” Martin asked him.

Albert watched her retreating figure until she disappeared from view before he turned to his friend.  “Yes.”

Martin grinned.  “Good,” he said.  “You’ll meet her after the show.”

“Is she going to come out again?”

“I don’t believe so.”

Albert looked disappointed.  He sat back in his seat, anxious for the show to be over so that he could meet the model who had captivated him.

She was standing on the terrace, looking down at the gardens when they joined her half hour later.  She was wearing a simple orange pant suit which complimented her complexion and flattered her figure.  As she watched them approach, her gaze went to the tall and attractive man with the thick dark brown hair, dressed in the dark grey sweater over a white shirt and dark grey trousers.  The glasses he wore suited him.  She didn’t usually go for the preppy, nerdy type but something about his guy made her pulse race and heart do somersaults.  He looked shy.  She liked that. He would be a welcome change to the obnoxious and overbearing men who usually hit on her.

“Brenda, thank you for being a part of a very worthy cause,” Martin said when they joined her.  “You looked really great out there.  Have you ever considered modelling for a new career?”

She laughed.  “No, the thought never occurred to me.  Besides, I’m too short.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I had fun.” Unable to resist, her gaze shifted to his friend who was watching her.  Behind the eyeglasses, she could see that he had beautiful, expressive eyes.

Martin observed them, smiling.  “Brenda, this is my good friend, Albert.”

Albert was nervous.  He tried not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  His gaze was riveted to her face.  “Hello,” he said when what he really wanted to say was, I’m so very pleased to meet you.  He took the hand she offered and clasped it in a firm handshake.  Her fingers felt small and delicate in his, yet they had the power to stir feelings in him which he never experienced before.  His heart was pounding and he began to worry that he might make an utter fool of himself.  In all of his forty years, not once had he had ever been tongue-tied or nervous around a woman.

She smiled at him.  “I’m very pleased to meet you, Albert,” she told him.  “Did you enjoy the fashion show?”

He realized that he was still holding her hand and he released it.  He put his hands behind his back in an attempt to appear relaxed.  “The last bit of it,” he said.  He didn’t want to admit that until she walked out, he was bored out of his mind.

“I’m not into fashion shows but I don’t mind doing them if it’s for charity.”

Martin chimed in.  “If you two will excuse me, I have to go and find Margot.” He left them and headed off to find the fashion photographer whom he was currently dating.  Margot used to be a model until she decided that she liked being behind the lens better.

Alone together, Albert and Brenda became intensely aware of each other.  They couldn’t hide their attraction for each other even if they tried.  “You really are very beautiful,” Albert said to her, his expression tense.

She had been paid many compliments before but she was never affected by them as she was by his.  Albert made her feel beautiful just by the way he said it and the way he looked at her as he said it.  “Thank you,” she replied.

“I’m not usually this bold,” he sounded apologetic, “but I was wondering if perhaps, we can go for a walk in the gardens?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

“What do you do when you’re not modeling for charity?” he asked as they strolled across the well manicured lawn.

“I work at a law firm.  When I’m not working, I like to curl up with a good book.  What about you?”

“I’m a Financial Director at Shadoworks Company.  I like to write essays in my spare time.  Just recently, I wrote how the words of Christ, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, would be the panacea for the social ills plaguing our society such as abuse, bullying, racism, violence, oppression, sexual harassment.”

“And gender inequality, rape and human trafficking.  This world would be such a different place if we all were to follow the teachings of Christ.  I’d like to read your essay.”

He smiled, flattered that she wanted to read something he had written.  “It’s in the Opinion section of the April 4 issue of the Daily Observer.

“I like the Daily Observer.  It has great articles and it’s not afraid to address sensitive issues.  Yesterday I read a very frank and informative article on sexual harassment in the workplace.  At my firm, we deal with hundreds of cases of sexual discrimination and harassment and bullying in the workplace.”

“I would imagine that it becomes overwhelming sometimes, having to deal with such cases.”

“It does.  I still remember the case of a lawyer whose was being sexually harassed by one of the partners at the law firm where she used to work.  She sued him and the firm and won.  Now she has her own practice helping women who are victims of sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, including law firms.”

“It’s unfortunate but sometimes people have to go through terrible experiences so that they could turn around and help others.  But, you like what you do.”

“Yes.  I like being a part of the solution.  Although I have been working there for four years, compared to the others, I am still the neophyte of the firm but every day I am learning and growing.”

They found somewhere to sit and talked for a long while about different things, learning more about each other and finding that they have a lot in common.  Then, he glanced at his watch and an expression of deep regret came over his face as he looked at her.  “I’m afraid that I must go,” he said apologetically.  “I have a pressing engagement.  It’s my niece’s piano recital,” he added quickly when he saw the look on her face.

She smiled, relieved and stood up.  “How old is your niece?” she asked as they started back to the building where the crowd was starting to disperse.

“She’s fourteen.”

“What is she playing?”

“I believe it’s a piece by Mozart.”

“I wish I learned how to play the piano.  It’s my favorite musical instrument.  I am a big fan of Chopin.”

“I’m more partial to the violin and Bach.”  They were standing at the foot of the steps now.  “Do you need a lift to anywhere?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “Thank you, but my sister, June is meeting me here in about fifteen minutes.  I’m spending the rest of the day with her and her family.”

“I really enjoyed our time together,” he said quietly, his eyes serious on her face.

“Me too.”

There was a pause as he seemed to be contemplating something. “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?” he asked, his expression hopeful and apprehensive at the same time.

“Yes, I will,” she said.  She opened her handbag and after tearing out a sheet of paper from the back of her address book, she wrote her address and phone number.  She folded it and gave it to him.

“I’ll pick you up at seven” he said as he took the paper and tucked it in his wallet.  “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“See you tomorrow.”  She watched him ascend the steps and waved when he stopped to glance back at her.  When he disappeared from her sight, she stood there for a moment, thinking about him and how much she had enjoyed his company.  Then, she went to meet her sister at the front entrance of the building.  As soon as she got into the car, she said to her, “I met him today.”

June stared at her.  “Who’re you talking about?” she asked, pulling away from the curb.

“The man I’m going to marry.”

June laughed.  “Really?” she exclaimed, sounding very skeptical.  “And what made you come to that conclusion?”

“I used to think that love at first sight was a foolish romantic notion but today it happened to me.”

June glanced at her and realized, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.  We spent about an hour just talking and getting to know each other.  I loved being with him. He’s so different from the men I usually go for.  We had the most stimulating conversation and I could have sat there all day just talking to him but he had to go to his niece’s recital.  He asked me to have dinner with him tomorrow evening.”

“Wow.  I wish I’d come earlier to meet him.”

“Don’t worry.  You’ll meet him.”

“Does he know that he’s going to marry you?” June teased her.

“Maybe not as yet”

She thought about him for the rest of the day, wondering how his niece’s recital went and if he was thinking about the time they spent together.  She looked forward to seeing him the following evening and was thankful when it arrived.

He showed up at promptly seven wearing a black suit over a white shirt and no tie.  His hair was slightly damp, a few tresses falling across his forehead and he was not wearing his glasses.  He looked so handsome that she couldn’t stop staring.  “I’m wearing contacts,” he said unnecessarily.  Perhaps he was as nervous as she.

Her heart was pounded wildly, especially when she saw his eyes travel over her and the expression in them when they returned to her face.  She was wearing a Burgundy Long Sleeve Shift Dress with rounded neckline and long sleeves with lightly puffed shoulders.  Long, shapely legs clad in sheer hosiery, peeped out from under the hem and black dress pumps completed the outfit.  “I didn’t think it was possible for you to be even more beautiful than you already are.”

“Thank you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  He offered her his arm which she took and they walked to the lift.  Fortunately, for her it was a balmy evening but she had brought her shawl just in case.  On the way to the restaurant she asked him about his niece’s recital and as he talked about it, she could tell that he was very proud of her.

They went to a modern French restaurant in Covent Garden.  It was reputed to be the world’s most romantic restaurant.  They started with the Crispy Parmesan Polenta & Saint Marcellin Cheese and for the main course, she had the Oven Roasted Free Range Chicken Leg Stuffed with Duck Liver & Truffle while he had the Pan Roasted Organic Irish Sea Trout as they each enjoyed a glass of white wine.  They had a lively conversation and made plans to see each other again.  For dessert, they had both had the Greek Yogurt & Lemon Zest Mousse, Yuzu Curd & Honey Comb.

After dinner, they drove to Canary Wharf.  He parked the car and took her on a little tour of the office district, showing her the building where he worked.  The place looked beautiful at night and the tall office buildings reminded her a little of Manhattan.  “How long does it take you to drive to work?” she asked as they walked back to the car about half-hour later.

“Approximately 35 minutes, depending on the traffic.  Longer during the winter.”

“I like it here.  Very busy, upscale and lots to see.”

“I will bring you here again another time and we can spend a longer time, walking around and perhaps go to a concert, if you like that sort of thing.  We can grab dinner afterwards.”

“That sounds wonderful,” she said smiling as she got into the car.  “Thank you for dinner.”

“It was my pleasure.  Do you have any plans for tomorrow?”

“No.”

“I was thinking that we can go on the Little Venice to Camden Walk.  Someone at work mentioned it to me a while ago and I have been meaning to look into it.  Afterwards, we can visit the Waterside Café before the walk.

“I didn’t know that there was a Little Venice in London.  Sounds very interesting.  I would love to go.”

“I read online that it was named such by the poet Robert Browning who lived overlooking the canal in the 1800s. I’ve never been to Venice but hope to one of these days.”

On the drive to her flat, they talked more about their plans for the following day.  Outside of her door, he said goodnight and then leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  They held each other’s gaze for several minutes before he turned and walked away.  She watched him go, touching the side of her face where his lips had been before she went inside her flat.

They went for the Little Venice to Camden Walk and had a wonderful time.  After that, they started seeing each other on a regular basis and by the end of the year, they were dating each other exclusively.  Spring of the following year came and it was when they were in walking in St. James’ Park that he turned to her and said, “I have been meaning to say something to you all morning.”  They were standing at the western end of the park from where they had a clear view of Buckingham Palace.

She stared up at him, wondering what was on his mind.  He looked very serious, nervous.  He took her hands in his and clasped them.

“I love you, Brenda,” he confessed.  “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.  You came into my life and changed it completely.  The times you and I have spent together have been the happiest for me.  I can’t imagine my life without you in it.  So, if you have no objection and I hope and pray that you don’t, I am asking you to marry me.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She raised their entwined hands to her lips and kissed his.  Her heart was in her eyes when she raised them to his face.  “I love you too, Albert,” she admitted huskily.  “Until I met you, I didn’t believe in love at first sight.  Of course, I will marry you.  You’re the man for me.”

Albert released an unsteady breath and letting go of her hands, he hugged her around her waist and pulled her against him.  He bent his head and kissed her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  For several minutes they stood there, kissing while the ducks waddled about the grass before some of them headed for the pond.

At length, he drew back and said, “I have something for you.”  He reached into his pants pocket and took out the box with the ring.  He opened it and her eyes widened when she saw the exquisite diamond.  He took it out and taking her hand, he gently slid it down her finger.  It was a perfect fit.  When he raised his eyes to look at her, they were filled with emotions.  “I love you.”

She swallowed.  “I love you,” she managed to say and then he kissed her again.  They left that spot a few minutes later, his arm was around her shoulder and hers was around his waist.

They had a summer wedding.  June was her matron of honor.  When they had a chance to speak, Brenda said to her with a smile and a wink, “I told you that I was going to marry him.”

June laughed.  “Yes, you did.  And after meeting him and getting to know him, I can see why he’s the one you ended up with.” She hugged her younger sister tightly.  “I wish you both the very best and God’s many blessings.”

“Thank you.”

It was a lovely reception and afterwards, they left for their honeymoon in Venice.  They did return to Canary Wharf and it was when they were sitting on a bench, having sandwiches that she told him they were going to have their first child.  She laughed when he almost choked on his.  He quickly put it back in the paper and put it down on the seat beside him before turning to hug her tightly, burying his face in her neck.  She hugged him back as she felt his tears wet her neck.  They sat like that for a long time.

Sources:  Fantasy Names Generator; Findlaw; Lulu’s Fashion; YouTube; Trip Savvy

Women and Mental Health

May 1-7 has been Mental Health awareness week.

One in three Americans struggles with mental illness but the rate is much higher in women.  Research shows that women are 40% more likely to develop depression than men.  It is not clear why mental illness is more common among women but doctors have come up with a number of possibilities.

Discrimination, Trauma and stressful life experiences

Trauma is common among women with half of them experiencing some form of trauma in their lifetime.  One in four women have faced an attempted or a completed sexual assault.  Reportedly, one in three are abused by a domestic partner.  Gender discrimination, violence and mistreatment undermine a woman’s mental health.  Stress is a predictor of mental illness.  Women juggle housework, kids even while working fulltime.  They report that they have to work harder to get the same credit as men and worry about the gender wage gap.  They have to deal with sexual harassment and discrimination in workplaces where these are commonplace.  These challenges can significantly affect a woman’s ability to cope and her self-esteem.

Hormonal Issues

Women produce lower quantities of serotonin than men due to differences in hormone levels and this deficiency can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

41% or women suffer from some form of postpartum depression.  Some of them are overwhelmed by the demands of parenting, especially in the early days.  I remember that there were times when I felt that I was drowning–in over my head.  Once I even cried out while I was holding my toddler.  Thankfully I had God and a very supportive partner.  It helped when he came home and I had an adult to talk to. Not all women are as blessed.  Research shows that women who don’t have supportive partners, experience traumatic births, live in poverty or a highly stressed will most likely develop postpartum depression.  

Gender bias is another problem women face.  Some research suggests that doctors tend to label women’s symptoms as emotional while taking the men’s symptoms more seriously.  So, a woman who reports that she is experiencing chronic pain to her doctor might be labeled as depressed.  This happens because we live in a world where gender discrimination exists and women are seen as more emotional and less rational.  

In many countries, the way health workers spoke to the women made it difficult for them to disclose their psychological and emotional distress.  And when they worked up the courage to disclose their problems, they were either over-treated or under treated by many of the health workers.

I read in an article in The Globe And Mail that women are getting the prescription that is available more often than the treatment they need.  They are getting medication to solve their problems even when science finds that treatments such as psychotherapy is equally or in some cases more effective without the side effects.  Bias in mental health care is a hindrance to women, preventing them from getting the proper help they need.  Not much effort goes into researching how drugs affect female patients.  While drug companies like to bombard women with their pills, most of their clinical trials have been dominated by men.  And the ironic thing is that the disorders most commonly diagnosed in women such as depression, anxiety and insomnia are the ones most likely to respond to therapy.  Most women are likely to prefer therapy over drugs.  

According to Dr. Marina Morrow, a Simon Fraser University psychologist who studies gender and mental health, “Women aren’t getting access to the range of care they need.”  She believes that an effective approach to this would be to include medication when necessary but in also offer therapy, peer support and pinpoint what social circumstances lead to the illness.

It has been argued that therapy is the safer, more effective and cheaper choice.  The authors of a 2015 study by Canadian and U.S. researchers concluded that, “There remains no sound justification to prescribe drugs without first trying therapy.  Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health, believes that “the way we fund therapies in Canada does not make sense right now.”  She wrote a letter to Quebec’s health minister to make the point that even if 20 per cent of seniors with insomnia received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with is used to treat insomnia, the cost-savings to the system could be in the hundreds of millions, based on the potential falls that would be avoided.  Therapy saves on costly and debilitating falls and hip fractures.  

We live in a country where medication is favored over psychotherapy and women are more likely than men to be prescribed antidepressants and sedatives as seniors and as a result they are at a higher risk of suffering from adverse effects.  Hopefully more women and those in the medical profession will speak out against the bias that is prevalent in the mental health care.  Doctors and those in the health care system need to give women more choices when it comes to treatment.  It’s their health so they should have the right to determine how they want to proceed once they have been diagnosed.

depressed woman