My Backbone

Shaped in the Mold of My Family

Family. It’s a subject, out of many, that I can never seem to put into words. It’s as hard as trying to put themes like “love” and “fear” into words that express their real magnitude. If I searched through both the English and Arabic languages for a way to explain the importance of family to me, I’d still be left speechless. Because when I think about family, I think about everything that I am today. Without my family, I wouldn’t be the person I have grown to become.

Through his larger-than-life voice, my father taught me that the only person you should impress is yourself. When I was in fourth grade and I had been shunned by the cool elite group of other nine-year-olds, he put me on his lap and taught me a lesson. He said, “Sara, you will never be what other people want you to be. The greatest disservice you can do to yourself is try to mold yourself to other people’s standards.” The little nine-year-old version of me still reminds me of this fact today.

My eldest brother, Ahmed, is the definition of the phrase “fighting for your dreams.” In him, I find the goals I have dreamed about since I was a child. In him, I am invincible, and I am worth feeling invincible. I aspire every moment to be a little more fearless, the way he always is.

Rasha, my older sister, was my idol growing up. Everyone who knew me knew I wanted to be just like Rasha. From the day she cut her hair and I came running to my parents demanding I get a haircut just like hers, I have aspired to reach her level. Because as she glides through life always seeming like she knows exactly what she’s doing, she helps me find my strength.

But then we have my brother Ibrahim, whom I have always seen a lot of myself in. The stark difference between us, however, is his unbelievable kindness. Anyone who knows my brother knows he is too kind for his own good. He teaches me what it means to genuinely want only the best for someone.

My little sister Nouf is my best friend. She teaches me what it means to live life to the absolute fullest because she takes after my dad: She is who she is, and anyone who has a problem with that is irrelevant. The way she thinks of me is the way I aspire to be because in her, I am the best and brightest version of myself.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned from my aunt Salma is what it means to persevere. When she lost her husband in 2011, I saw what strength looked like. There was a moment one day when I looked at her, carrying heartbreak for herself and her family, and I saw what it looked like to carry on with a smile because it is the only way to live. I realized that if she can persevere in full force despite odds, then I can hope to be as ready she is to meet life’s challenges.

Even her children teach me a little about what it means to be a human. Ahmed, five years old, reminds me of what it means to be a sibling in the way he tucks his sister in at night. Reem, his vivacious two-year-old sister, reminds me with her glitter-polished nails that if you don’t want to eat broccoli, then you don’t have to succumb to the healthy food normative ways of the world.

I leave my mother for last because I cannot talk about my mother without feeling emotional. If I were to take all the times and ways everyone has expressed their love to their moms and wrap it with my own love—I still would not be able to explain my love.

Because my mother is everything I aspire to be. My mother is the collective of all of us combined into one person. She is kindness, she is honesty, she is integrity, she is strength—she is every word there is to explain all the good of humanity. She is the Simon, Piggy, and Ralph in a “Lord of the Flies” universe. Those who know my mother know she puts others’ needs and wants before she will ever put herself, even if it’s to a fault. My mother is the kind of person who would cure human hunger without telling anyone, and she is the kind of person who wouldn’t even think about why she would want that fame. She would only see that people needed help, and help them.

My mother is my backbone, my heart, my very self—she is the clearest definition of love I know, and I feel like every day I live is a day I live to be the kind of daughter she deserves. If there were only person I could alleviate all pain and sorrow from, I would choose to alleviate my mother’s. I would happily take all her hurt onto me because I know that every day, she takes everyone else’s. I love my mother more than my mind and heart know how to, and it is because of the love she has always given me.

As I wrote this piece on my family, it was easier than I thought. It is easy for me to write about the greatness of each of these individuals. The difficulty comes in trying to express how their magnificence has dug itself into my vertebrae and formed the way I act and breathe. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully comprehend and practice the values and lessons they have given me, but I know that when I think about family, I think about how hard I try every day to be more like them.