Love Overcomes Life’s Obstacles

My sister Rowaida, second from right, with her family.
My sister Rowaida, second from right, with her family.

A sophomore in high school, I discovered my sister, Rowaida fell in love with her tutor, Imad.

Her, a freshman in the college of Architecture at Damascus University. Him, a senior at the same college. On that night, and late to my Boy Scout meeting, I realized I left the house without my wallet. My sister had a tutoring session with Imad in the library.

I noticed the library was empty. On my way to my room in the back, I spotted Rowaida and Imad engulfed in a passionate kiss in her bedroom. They heard me and immediately separated. In shock, I went to my room, got my wallet, and ran out.

Oh my gosh, my sister was kissing her teacher! In our empty house!

Provided only a few years older, we loved Imad, but still. Should I tell anyone? I came back from the meeting when Imad took me aside asking me if I would keep it on the down-low. I agreed. Besides, they didn’t do anything wrong.

We were all raised by a poet of a father who read us love poetry instead of nursery rhymes, so it was only appropriate for the oldest to follow suit. She would never know the impact that discovery had on my young brain . . . and heart.

Rowaida, my older sister, now lives in New York City and works as an elementary school teacher. She has been married to Imad for decades, and they have four wonderful children. Their oldest, Moe, is a computer scientist in Malaysia; Hamdi is a physical therapist; Nor is on her way to becoming a doctor; and little Dana is studying biology. Imad still dabbles in architecture, in which he’s truly brilliant.

So what's the big deal? Just a kiss, right?

Allow me to explain, and further elucidate the meaning of that kiss in my life.

Damascus in the early '80s was a progressive Arabic city with a thriving economy. With classes divided, who you knew was more important than who you were. We grew up in the city. Imad came from the country side. For my sister to be kissing him . . . well . . . was a solid punch against discrimination, against social oppressive norms, and against the status quo.

I asked her about the kiss the next day. She admitted liking him enough to think about marrying him. A couple of years later, they wed.

Since then, their life has been anything but easy. They spent a few years in New York when the kids were little, then went back to Syria before the current war began. They left for a second time after losing their home. Now they're in New York for the second time.

So why was that kiss huge in my life? After all, boys and girls kiss every day all over this planet.

That kiss forever changed me for one reason: The guts it took for my sister to kiss her teacher in our empty house, and in a culture that doesn't condone such action. Well, have I said she has guts?

If you fall in love, and that love does not change you from shy and innocent to a person with the guts of Mad Max, then in love you haven't fallen.

That kiss taught me a few things about life:

1. Take chances: Nothing is guaranteed and nothing is wrapped in a box for you to untie. If you want it, you've got to claim it, regardless of the price.

2. Be courageous: Courage is more than important. I try to talk myself into a new direction with a new adventure, but I hesitate. Yoda said: "Do, or do not, there is no try."

3. Go against the grain: This is possibly the biggest lesson from that kiss. The grain of Syria at that time said no such action is allowed. Rowaida and Imad went against the grain . . . big time.

4. Carpe diem: Seize the moment. My sister did. Four decades, and four kids later, they are still squeezing the delicious nectar out of this life every single moment.

5. Fall in love: Without love, nothing is worth seizing. Without love, you have no reason to be courageous. Without love, you will lean the way everything else is leaning.

Love is the biggest reason my sister remains my teacher.

If I catch one of my kids making out in our empty house, I will look the other way and smile.

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