I have been on an endless journey searching for wisdom through books, reading, formal education, and listening to speeches. While yes, some have moved me, often they left me with a feeling of being “too polished”, too refined, and perfected as a message to try to dictate to others in how they should lead their lives, but leaving me personally with a lack of substance. Wisdom came into my life by a messenger that most would discount because of her age, lack of financial resources, and lack of education. My messenger came to me at a time when It seemed my whole world was crashing down around me; my marriage was failing, my career no longer provided any satisfaction, I found myself living in a foreign country (Saudi Arabia) devoid of my longtime adult family and friends. I was sad, hurt, angry, caught in the depths of depression, and living in a world that confused me and also that I confused. I felt I was surrounded by vultures, and I was the lame animal trying to hide my own weakness to keep the scavengers at bay. Until the day, the most unlikely mentor walked into my house.
Fatima, a 24-year-old Philippine woman, walked into my home with the job description to keep my home in order, although she not only kept my house in order, but my children in order, as well as kept me from falling to pieces. A small framed, slender, young woman, with a practical approach in her appearance. She often wore her hair pulled back in a neat bun, and refrained from wearing make-up or jewelry. She preferred the comfort of her own jeans and t-shirts to the frilly girly clothes I bought her. I was shocked the day I happened to walk into her room and found her brushing her hair, which was shiny, black, and smooth, that cascaded down the entire length of her back like silk. By all accounts, she was a natural beauty, which I guess I should have felt threatened, but there was something about how she carried herself with humbleness and honesty that did not evoke jealousy, but comfort and peace.
When she interviewed with my husband and me for the position, she was very honest in her approach of her philosophy of working. She directly told us, “I only stay in a position when I feel comfortable, and typically I don’t stay with a job more than 6 months to a year. I am here to do my job and do it well, all I ask is that I be respected”. Honestly, I was shocked by her response because I was used to the typical responses of subservient obedience, or superficial ingratiation. I thought to myself “Let’s see how long she lasts!”. She “lasted” over three years working in our home, and during this time taught me more about wisdom than I ever experienced in all of my endeavors of grasping the golden apple.
Most of my lessons learned occurred on my roof garden, which Fatima daily watered, pruned, and cleaned for me. My garden was my sanctuary, a place to escape my oppressive environment, where women are required to wear black cloaks called abayas and cover their hair in public. Where wives are expected to be subservient to their husband, as well as their extended family. Where the interference of others is expected and accepted, while speaking out is considered disrespectful and can have disastrous consequences to the individual and those they most love. This was my space in which I escaped the eyes of my environment and could be just me.
Our time in the garden is where Fatima bequeathed me her philosophy and wisdom. Her wisdom included how our own energy affected the way we approached all living things. Fatima made my flowers and garden grow in a way that neither I nor any of the other people that had worked for me had been able to . The plants were loaded with brightly colored flowers, and the leaves turned vibrant shades of green, almost unnatural for the harsh desert climate we were surrounded by. She truly created an oasis, which gave me a momentary mirage to imagine that my life had some level of normalcy and predictability. She gently sprinkled water over each plant, explaining to me that she was letting the plants experience rain (an event that only typically happens once or twice a year in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia). She became my sounding board, exploring all of the complicated jagged puzzle pieces of my life I was trying desperately to make sense of from my family, my career, and what changes I needed to make to find peace.
During the end of her stay with my family, on a day where I was literally frozen in fear by criticism of those around me, I sat on the couch near tears, unable to move, unable to work, and unable to think. My dear mentor looked at me and softly said “Madame, how much longer can you keep doing this before you kill yourself? It unleashed a tidal wave of tears because of the truth of what she was saying. I had been fighting a battle with myself and all of those around me. In the midst of this battle, I had finally relinquished my control over my house, my children, and my life. I began to cry and said, “I am frozen.” Frozen by fear that if I move everything around me will break into a thousand pieces. Frozen by fear that the mirage in the dessert that I had created would melt into the sands taking my children along with it. Frozen in fear by the threat of exposing all my defensive rationalizations of my decisions of forsaking my career and family in the United States has been built on nothing more than a mirage in a desert.
Fatima left our home a couple of months after this incident, unable to handle the drama that crept inside our home, and that I had relinquished control over stopping. Although the changes in taking back control over my life and family did not take place on that day, the seeds had been planted by a most unlikely mentor. A mentor that bequeathed more understanding and wisdom than any of my professional education or training ever had. There are those days that I look across the garden to my mentor, my friend, to discuss which steps I should take next, but am met with the realization that she has gone back to the place she belongs, with her family in the provinces of the Philippines. There are those days when I see the signs of the vultures circling, and I feel the helplessness creeping up freezing me into place. Although the lessons my dear mentor taught me, resonate in my head, reminding me that I have to move again and provide the care to not only myself, but my children to grow like the vibrant flowers it the garden. Seeds of knowledge and wisdom are sometimes planted by the hands of those we least expect, but it involves opening our eyes and hearts to all those around us.