I wrote about my dad and the lessons of love I learned from him when growing up in a post titled “My Dad’s Chair.” During the Women’s History Month, I would like to honor my mom and the strong woman she has always been. She was born into a family of five children with an very progressive father who believed in the value of education. This was shocking for the time (1950’s) in Pakistan -a small, third-world Muslim country that had only recently gained its independence from India.
Yet, my mom defied tradition by asking her parents not to have an arranged marriage because she wanted to go to college to become a Medical Doctor. To the sheer amazement of the community, my grandparents agreed that she should proceed with her goals. She was one a small handful of women in Medical School, with hundreds of men who did not share my grandparents’ opinions. Being a quiet, petite woman (barely 5’3″, weighing less than 100 lbs), she wasn’t exactly able to physically challenge anyone. Being a brilliant young woman with a sharp mind, she was a daunting force to be reckoned with. She and her tiny group of vigilante women banded together to study and achieve top marks in the class – exam after exam. This did not improve their popularity. Instead, it caused even more rancor within the male population of the town.
Growing up, I didn’t hear my grandfather talk too often, so when he spoke – we all listened! He had a favorite story he liked to tell of the village elders coming to see him one evening about taking his daughter out of medical college. He didn’t hold much sway with the townspeople, but as the only pharmacist in town, he did have some control. He told them that if they wanted their medications, they needed to leave him and his daughter alone. To add the proverbial insult to injury, he decided to teach his daughter to drive a car. This did not make either one of them popular but somehow they all left them alone.
Against all odds, my mother and her friends graduated from Medical School and went on to practice medicine successfully for decades. This lesson from my mom has taught me several things:
Don’t let the world tell you what you can and cannot do!
Teach your daughters and the next generation that God created them as equals, along with a beautiful mind that should be used.
Don’t be a victim… she would have had hundreds of reasons to be a victim of the circumstances around her: other students, the Dean of the College, the community and even the culture and nation. She chose instead to focus on what she COULD do and that was to rise above the voices that told her “no!”
Finish what you started. She still shares bits and pieces of her story of one obstacle after another. She also told me “Let your accomplishments speak for themselves.” She persisted. She took exam after exam and didn’t falter. At the end, she gained the respect of all her classmates, her professors, the Dean, and yes, the entire community that watched and learned.
What a legacy to leave for her daughters and what a legacy to leave the young girls in her town who watched this reserved young woman walk across the stage at graduation, while all stood for applause!
Mom… if you ever read this, I pray that you know how much I love you and how much you have taught me about perseverance.