The First Time I Got a Brother

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I’ve never wanted a brother. I haven’t blown out candles for a football-tossing, video gaming big guy, or gotten down on my knees for a bookish, intellectual little boy to join the ranks of the four powerful women and one resilient man who make up my family. Rather, I have basked in a childhood of shared emotions, shopping trips, movie nights, and aerosol hair spray. My father, bless his heart, has been enough “guy” to suffice for my family. I saw what my friends had with their brothers, and I didn’t envy it.

Here’s the thing about having beautiful, intelligent, charismatic, caring sisters: you aren’t the only one who finds them to be incredible.  I am not referring to their friends, or even their boyfriends, who may discover some of their magic and, if they’re smart, embrace it. I am talking about the one man who discovers them and is utterly enchanted. This happened to me. Twice. My sisters’ charm wasn’t lost on two lucky men, and so they got married. They are living happily ever after. As for me, I got exactly what I had never wanted: not one, but two brothers.

They’re not really your brothers, I can practically hear you smirking as you read my ironic disappointment through your computer screen. You’re wrong, though. They are as much a part of my family as my own kin, because, like it or not, when they married my sisters, they became a part of my sanctum. My family is my safe place, my place of fervent trust and vulnerability, of relaxation and utter reality. They are my toughest critics, and my biggest supporters. On my best day and my worst day, they treat me with love. My sisters invited two new people into that.

The day that Peter proposed to my sister Amy was like a turning point in a novel, the top of a roller coaster, the chase scene in a good spy film: I knew something big was happening. I was hyper aware of the change this presented in my family, and I felt an invasion on my sanctum taking place. My family reality had shifted, and I found, under anger and frustration at the present of a brother that I didn’t want, and at the prospect of a separation from my sister that I didn’t desire, fear. Fear that having a boy in my family would change how I acted, how my sister acted, how my parents acted, how my family acted. I was scared that I would lose my confidant and my friend to a man who had a warm smile and my sister’s affections.

The wedding planning ensued and I, with bitter acceptance, threw myself into being a supporter sister, helpful maid of honor, cooperative daughter and kind soon-to-be sister-in-law. I hate that title. It’s as if it’s mocking those of us who never asked for a brother, and emphasizing that whether or not you like it, BY LAW he is your brother. Thanks for that. A supportive, kind, funny, and genuine man who loves my sister and respects her deeply, I couldn’t dislike Peter, because I saw how happy he made Amy. I saw how much my parents cared for him (though I knew they felt the same way I did- wary of bringing someone new into the equation) and I saw how my middle sister, Allison, seemed to yearn for what Amy had found with Peter. The marriage went off without a hitch, and I could say without growing a nose that I liked Peter. He didn’t push me too hard, he didn’t interfere with my business, and he treated my sister well. Okay. Maybe I could handle the brother thing, if this was what it entailed.

In the weeks, months, and now years that followed my sister becoming Mrs. Peter Williams, I have ever so slowly opened the door to my family sanctum. Don’t misunderstand me – I still feel uncomfortable letting loose in front of my brothers in the same way that I do with my parents and sisters, and my sister’s name is still Amy Morris is my phone, but I have warmed up to the idea of having a brother. I don’t mind the addition of another body on the couch, or the difference in opinion that a male perspective brings. I think it’s endearing that Peter feels the need to protect me, and I desire a relationship with him that isn’t founded because we are bound “in law,” but that stems from a mutual respect and love for one another and for my family, and forming a relationship that looks more like that of two siblings from birth and less like one of two strangers brought together just mere years ago.

I’ve never wanted a brother. I was happy to remain steadfast in my family structure, to protect my sanctum, to push away new people. I think that’s exactly why it’s great that I got two. I am learning, often with much humility, pushback, and grace, that family is about more than what it gives to YOU, because it’s about what you give to IT. It’s about evolving and adjusting so that the things- the people- that bring your family joy and who show them love are welcomed with open arms. It’s about accepting the people who they present to you and giving them your best, but also giving them your real: your honest and raw portrayal of who you are, what you’re about, and what your family means to you. For me, that meant accepting that I got Peter and Mike as brothers. It means loving them and getting to know them and working with them to form a relationship that strengthens and compliments my relationship with my sisters and with my family. It means learning to love having brothers, and accepting that this change is one that will further strengthen my sanctum, not destroy it.

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My new family- BROTHERS and all!

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Why Malala Matters: This sixteen-year old is changing the world

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Photo couresy of vitalvoices.org

Malala Yousafzai is a target. A native Pakistani who was shot by the Pakistani Taliban after advocating for girls’ education in her home country, she was nominated this year for a Nobel Peace Prize for her continued work in empowering young women through education. Last week, she met with President Obama and his family and was recognized by the United Nations Security Council. She has appeared on numerous talk shows and has met with the Queen of England. She has achieved international notoriety for her resilience and bravery, as well as for her peaceful response to the Taliban, who continue to try to kill her. Yousafzai is just sixteen.

Yousafzai has become an icon of resilience against injustice for girls in Pakistan and has used her notoriety to continue to promote her platform: that girls need education and that it is the lack of education available for girls keeping young girls in oppressive situations

Recently appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Yousafzai blew Stewart away with her answer when he questioned how she would respond if attacked by the Taliban again (she was formerly shot in the head and neck and made a miraculous recovery in England).

Yousafzai responded by saying, “I would tell him how important education is and that I would even want education for your children as well,” the Pakistani girl said. “That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”

Yousafzai is talking about peace and change when other girls her age are talking about Miley Cyrus and The Kardashians. Although she is disliked by many people in her country for her stance on education and disowned by others who don’t want to be targeted for agreeing with her ideals, she remains loving towards her country and hopes to one day serve as Prime Minister.

“Even if its people hate me,” she said in one interview, “I will still love it [Pakistan].”Speaking towards becoming Prime Minister, she told CNN,“I can spend much of the budget on education,”

Yousafzai continues to bravely press forward with her promotion of her new book, I am Malala, which not only describes her harrowing ordeal of being shot and her recovery after the fact, but also reiterates her hope for a brighter future for girls in Pakistan. She continues to be a target for the Taliban in Pakistan, and after she was not chosen as the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, the Taliban expressed their sentiments.

“We are delighted that she did not get it. She did nothing big so it’s good that she didn’t get it,” spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told the Agence France-Presse. “She is not a brave girl and has no courage. We will target her again and we will strike whenever we have a chance,” Shahid previously told AFP.

In a culture obsessed with pop culture and tragedy, Yousafzai’s story is not the norm in the typical news line- up. Yousafzai’s story of courage and resilience has taken the nation by storm, and many people have spread Yousafzai’s story over social media. President Obama, Mrs. Obama, and their daughter Malia met with Yousafzai to commend her for her “inspiring” work for girls’ education in terrorism. In characteristic honesty, Yousafzai also had a few words for the president.

“I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,” Yousafzai said in a statement published by the Associated Press. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”

Yousafzai told Stewart that she could not believe that the Taliban would want to kill her for her beliefs. She became a target for the Taliban after posting her thoughts on girls’ education on her blog. She also elaborated on how she would respond to an attack by the Taliban if it were to happen again, because as it stands, Yousafzai lives in England because of the danger that returning to Pakistan would pose to her.

“If you hit a Talib, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib,” she said. “You must not treat others with cruelty. … You must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.”

Yousafzai continues to inspire through her peaceful response to violence and her steadfast dedication to her belief that girls have the power, when educated, to use their knowledge for good and to enact change.

“If a terrorist can change someone’s mind and convince them to become a suicide bomber, we can also change their minds and tell them education is the only way to bring humanity and peace,” she said at the World Bank Fund annual meeting, after insisting, “I am proud to be a girl, and I know that girls can change the world.”

On a personal note, I will add that I think girls like Malala give hope and promise to an often dark world. The realities of oppression and sexism are real, and although we are blessed to live in a country where, as women, we have made great strides towards equality, many of our sisters continue to struggle. I read in the NY Times that, recently, pastors in Pakistan have started preaching a message called “My daughter is a blessing, not a curse” following Malala’s work for female empowerment. How awful is it that a pastor would need to remind their congregation that their daughter is not a CURSE. What kind of effect does that kind of dialogue have on a young woman’s confidence, ability to thrive, vitality, or even will to live? My heart breaks for these women, but this also motivates me to continue to push for education and empowerment for women. I applaud Malala’s bravery and fierce loyalty to peace and to her cause, and I pray that I will have the ability and the drive to follow in her efforts to give women a fair chance to live well, to be loved, to be empowered, and to thrive. Oh, and all you women reading this? You are SUCH a blessing to this world.

Gap Inc’s secret weapon in fighting factory controversy: P.A.C.E.

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I wrote a new post last Friday for Millenial Influx and  #WCJ (Wheaton College Journalism) on Gap Foundation’s P.A.C.E. program, which seeks to empower female factory workers through education and career guidance. This was timely in light of yet another factory tragedy in Bangladesh last week :http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57606628/bangladesh-garment-factory-fire-kills-10/

I will be transparent and say this: I have worked for Gap, Inc. for over a year (Banana Republic) and am currently trying to look into the possibility of Gap, Inc. creating an internship for me this summer, where I would work for the P.A.C.E. program.

I understand Gap’s stance post- factory collapse last April (Rana Plaza), but also think that MORE needs to be done if they refuse to be held legally responsible. (Being an employee of the company, I got to hear more reasoning behind Gap’s decision to not sign the treaty/agreement made by British retailers and instead to make their own with several other big American retailers. 

That being said, I think programs like P.A.C.E. really matter. Having a presence on the ground, in the situation, and bettering the lives of their employees by empowering them to help themselves is something I believe in at my core. For that reason, I was really excited to write this article.

Read about Gap’s secret weapon in fighting factory controversy HERE

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

Gap, Inc., the $6 billion retailer with millions of Millennials for customers, has some ground to make up. Coming under fire last year for their controversial response to the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in which 1,132 garment workers died and another 2,500 were seriously injured, Gap Inc. is looking for a progressive solution to bettering conditions for factory workers in production countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Cambodia. This iconic American company may have found its solution in P.A.C.E., the Gap Foundation’s program to empower female factory workers (who make up 80% of factory workers) and to give them education and training to advance their careers – and their lives.