Portable

Beth Byrnes

When Geoffrey and I were “running” a division of his Dad’s companies we were involved in legal proceedings of various types. During one lawsuit that we had to bring against two individuals, I had to sit in on an assets review.  What struck me most, other than how humiliating that process was for the individual being sued, was the answer one of the two, an attorney, gave when he was asked what were his most important assets.  He mentioned his grandfather’s watch and then said, other than that — he was a successful attorney and businessman, mind you — he considered his college and law school degrees to be his greatest and most treasured assets.

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That comment has stayed with me for many, many years.  No matter what I have accumulated in my life whether it is closets full of clothing, drawers loaded with jewelry, expensive cars and costly homes in…

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Love this Body

Writer’s Note: This blog has encouraged me to experiment with various forms of writing, from poems and research articles, to creative short stories. I have often told my friends, “I don’t write poetry,” as they often refer to me as “the short-storyist.” But I’m getting a bit more comfortable with this form of writing, so I wrote this poem. My goal is to encourage myself, and all females, to appreciate all that their body does for them- not just what it looks like. I also wanted to speak out against our society’s exclusive perspective on what “beautiful” and “healthy” entails. With this poem, I shatter those barriers. Hope you enjoy!- Naima 🙂

Love this Body

As my eyes wander along the curves of my body, I appreciate all that it has helped me accomplish.

For the powerful legs and relentless muscles that carried me through four strong miles today, I love this body.

For the feet that carry me to the stepping stones of future successes, I love this body.

For the heart inside my chest that delivers healthy blood to every hard-working vein, I love this body.

For my feminine and athletic qualities, I am thankful. Soft, tan skin. Beautiful curves. Triceps strong enough to carry my 127-pounds on a single arm.

And let’s acknowledge the close relationship between the mind, heart, and body.

The mind overcomes doubt, which makes it feasible for the heart to attain a greater VO2 Max.

The mind and heart support the body to find new breakthroughs and reach our personal successes.

So I continue

To open new doors.

Whether it’s the entrance to an interview, or the starting-line of a race that stimulates euphoria,

This body will overcome future challenges, stomp on doubt, and carry an aura of confidence, beauty, and strength.

There is nothing more uplifting for me

Than to demonstrate the coexistence between femininity and athleticism.

I am

Curvy and strong,

Soft skin and tough heart,

Tumbling down one day but immediately getting up the next.

I am

Resilient

And woman.

The billboards and magazines of stick-skinny women define such a limited view of beauty.

But I define myself.

I am not defined by a weight-scale nor measuring tape that begs for me to grow just a few inches taller.

I may be a proud 127-pounds and 5’4” tall, but I am more than numbers.

I am more than just the photo-edited image you saw in a Victoria’s Secret advertisement.

I am unedited, unlimited, and unapologetically defining my own inclusive view of beauty.

So as my eyes wander through my waist and down to my quadriceps and calf muscles,

I am reminded

to take care of this body.

For its strength,

For its femininity,

I love this body.

Why Do You Run?

The boy who sits behind me in Advanced Information Systems class asks me how I feel about the sport of running. “I absolutely love it,” I tell him, but this simple statement just isn’t enough to express how much running means to me. I have written about it countless times and continue to tell my friends why I am so passionate about the sport. Simply put, I have always defined myself as a runner not only because it helps me maintain my current level of health and wellbeing. The sport has also helped me overcome personal adversities that I have undergone throughout my years as an adolescent. But my relationship with running doesn’t always convey idealism and progress. This morning, I woke up thinking, I don’t want to run today. Why do I even do it in the first place, completely regretting the fact that I have ever labeled myself as a runner. Later in the day, I came to the resolve that I simply won’t feel as energetic without it, as I was experiencing endorphin withdrawal[1].

After the halfway point of my run, I kept thinking, Running hasn’t felt this good in a long time, as the healthy blood traveling through my veins relieved the headache I had earlier. I turned left onto Richmond Highway where I stared, wide-eyed, at a monstrous hill. The ferocious incline stretched for about 300meters, and I only had two options: either reroute and let fear decide the outcome of my run, or tackle the hill with every drop of courage running through my veins. As the cool April wind kissed my skin and UV-rays greeted me on my way up the hill, I took several moments to acknowledge how I felt. The fear was just one illusion. I could hardly remember the last time I had felt this alive, and powerful, and strong, and beautiful all at the same time. Goosebumps arose on the back of my neck as the breeze helped perpetuate this feeling of euphoria. I crested the hill with knights in my heart that overcame a beast.

So while the boy who sits behind me in Advanced Information Systems class genuinely asked how I feel about running, little did he know that one sport could make such a powerful impact on thousands of individuals; people who become runners to lose weight, meet new people, or to simply find a way to enjoy life in its purest and richest form. I want to tell him all the things that I love about the sport. In fact, I wish everyone understood why I am so passionate about such a simple activity. But you will never truly understand unless you experience it for yourself. Experience the feeling of goosebumps arising on the back of your neck as a smile comes across your face because of how powerful you feel. Experience your heart beating slowly, rapidly, hard, or soft, as it reminds you that you have a purpose and that nothing can make you feel more alive. This sport makes oxygen and health feel like a luxury… because they truly are facets of life that should not be taken for granted. With my 30-minute run today, I know that I appreciated the world around me and my body to a great extent. I am thankful for the powerful quadriceps that help propel my bodyweight off the ground, for my arms that continue to pump even after fatigue has spread through my triceps. I am thankful for the heart inside my chest that was so deeply overwhelmed with happiness and confidence that the only way I could respond was to smile as I attacked the hill on Richmond Highway. And as the drivers who whizzed past me wondered, Why is that runner smiling, I know that they truly won’t understand what’s so great about running until they experience it for themselves. But for now, just let them wonder.


[1] Endorphin withdrawal can entail headaches, grogginess, and an inability to focus, which signal the body’s craving for the release of “feel good” hormones called endorphins.

Unlimited

Writer’s Note: Even though I’ve had trouble determining the theme of my blog, I’ve decided that I will feature various posts relating to the art of creative writing. That way, I’m not limited to any topic or genre. I rarely write poems, but I decided to take a shot at it. Below is a poem I wrote that captures a glimpse of who I am with the theme ‘Self-expression shouldn’t be limited.’ Hope you enjoy!- Naima

Unlimited

Do not limit the way I express myself,

Whether they are college word limits or your impatience to listen to everything I have to say.

When I tell you about my day, let me tell you all about all those little details that play a part in the bigger picture.

Let me tell you all the silly jokes that brought a smile to my face,

Whether it takes 30 seconds to tell the punch line or five minutes.

Self-expression cannot be hindered by a meager time frame or a simple summary of who I am.

I am a conservative style of dress during the weekdays and a t-shirt and shorts on the weekend.

I am formal language when uncomfortable and colloquial talk when I’m with my friends.

I am a tanned-skin Pakistani girl who could easily pass for Syrian, Indian, or any ethnicity from the middle-East.

I am the girl who claims to know herself so well but entirely forgets when you ask, “Tell me about yourself.”

I am business professional at interviews and a passionate track athlete at practice.

I am athletic and feminine,

Powerful and graceful.

Limited yet infinite,

My thoughts cannot be confined to a word count,

Nor time frame.

 

 

Ask Me About My Hijab

Writer’s Note: The “hijab” is a headscarf worn by some Muslim women throughout the world as a symbol of modesty. In this piece, I offer a perspective on the hijab that is void of a religious point of view. Hope you enjoy!- Naima

Ask Me About My Hijab

People ask me questions about my hijab all the time. “Why don’t you wear your hair out?” “Does it get hot in the summertime?” “Why do you wear it, but your sister doesn’t?” I appreciate when others ask me about my religious practices and beliefs, and I would like to encourage you to do the same. I live in a very diverse environment and attend one of the most culturally inclusive schools in the county. Meeting members of the community whose cultural and religious practices differ from my own is something I have always appreciated. With this post, I want to talk about what the hijab means to me in a way that is as void of a religious perspective as possible.

Think of anything you are deeply committed to, whether it’s a sport, academic club, or hobby. For instance, I am passionate about the sport of running; to stop running would be to stop enjoying life in one of the best ways I know possible. Even though I would rather go home and take a nap on some days than go to practice, the satisfaction of completing a workout is greater than the feeling of getting some rest. In other words, overcoming obstacles is far more powerful than the obstacle itself, from fatigue and muscle soreness to mental exhaustion. Similarly, wearing the hijab represents something greater to me than just wearing a scarf on my head. It is a symbol of my devotion to all my values, religious and moral. It represents my ability to be resilient even in the face of adversities. It is the way that I have defined myself for four years during which I’ve undergone a great deal of personal growth. It has taught me that being patient throughout low points in life is more rewarding than giving in to social or political pressure.

As a woman who proudly wears the hijab, I understand that not everyone will agree with my perspective. That’s fine. I’m not asking you to agree. All I’m asking is for you to expose yourself to a new point of view. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, so inevitably, you are going to encounter Muslims, but more importantly, you are going to meet people who are different from you.

Wearing the hijab expresses my desire to be judged not on my external appearance, but on my character and intellect. As mentioned earlier, I’m often asked, “Why don’t you wear your hair out?” I’ll be completely open and honest with you. I love the way my hair looks, every strand of it. But my commitment to my religious and moral values is more important to me than my appearance. My teachers, peers, and other members of my community used to describe me based on how I look. Now, they describe me based on the quality of my character. “Naima is intelligent,” they’ll say, or, “Naima is mature.” I want to be remembered and valued for who I am, not what I look like.

It’s clear that the media and clothing manufacturers don’t entirely agree with my opinion. Before I delve any deeper into this subject, I want to remind you that I strive to honor diverse perspectives. Let me ask you this: when viewing advertisements that depict women in revealing clothing, do you wonder what those women are like? Their career aspirations, their values, who they are? It seems that we reduce these figures to no more than beautiful bodies behind a T.V. screen. I know that it may sound shallow to judge others based on what they are wearing or what they look like, but it is an innate and subconscious tendency. It simply makes us human. You wouldn’t get hired if you went to an interview in your pajamas.  I want to make it clear that I do not look down on those who dress less conservatively than I do. I just want to inform you that although the hijab may distinguish me from my peers, I am still able to connect with those who dress in various fashions, follow different belief systems, and come from unique cultural backgrounds.

The hijab has instilled the value of coexistence within me. I work with students of various nationalities and faiths in my school’s writing center, run alongside a diverse group of students on my cross-country and track teams, and befriend people of various cultural backgrounds. My headscarf is a reminder to me that no matter how “different,” I may seem, I am able to coexist with those whose religious beliefs don’t align with my own. We put our differences aside so that we can find a way to connect with each other on a personal level. And that has to be one of the most valuable aspects of being part of such a diverse community. We close cultural, religious, and social divides by choosing to coexist, to accept one another regardless of our differences.

Recently, I was filled with nostalgia while looking at a picture of me and my teammates. As my eyes peered from left to right, I took the time to acknowledge what a diverse group I partake of. In the photo, five members of the team are giving someone a piggy-back ride, including myself. The girl that I’m carrying on my back is part Caucasian and part Japanese. The others are either Italian, French, German, or Mexican. Spending several moments viewing the image, I noticed that my teammates and I are physically supporting each other, despite our differences. Once again, we coexist, just as we have during countless cross-country meets, long bus rides on the way home from races, and even today.

So go on. Ask me about my hijab. Ask me why I would never remove it from a part of myself. But keep in mind that there is so much more to someone than their external appearance or clothing. Learn to value and honor other points of view and understand that exposing yourself to different perspectives doesn’t necessarily mean you have to adopt them.

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A Shift in Perspective

Writer’s Note: This is a creative short story that I wrote last year in October. At that time of year, I was excited for Thanksgiving to come around, so I wanted to offer a fresh perspective on the meaning of this holiday and how it is celebrated in America. Hope you enjoy!- Naima

A Shift in Perspective

My family members fill the open seats at the dinner table as their eyes glint under the chandelier’s lights. The crisp fall air and the sickly sweet smell of pumpkin awaken the memories I have of past Thanksgiving dinners. The table held so much food that there was no more room for another dish. Laughter was sandwiched in between instructions for how to prepare the next entrée, either a boat of gravy or steaming mashed potatoes.

This year as we gather around the heaps of food, we exchange statement expressing all the things we’re grateful for. I pause. There are too many. How do I say I’m thankful that the cashier at Food Lion smiled at me without sounding weird? How do I express that I’m overjoyed that my heart is still beating without sounding obsessive about my health?

With the meal in front of me, I have to remember that today is not all about stuffing myself until I can hardly breathe. And don’t lose me now because I’m not going to give you a history lesson about pilgrims and America. Thanksgiving is a reminder to be grateful, to give rather than to take, to find a sense of unity with those whom I share this holiday. But at the same time, Thanksgiving was the day my friend took her own life, a day when families fight because they found a reason to ignore their shattered ties. Thanksgiving is pretending you’re comfortable in the presence of siblings you stopped getting along with years ago. I have defined this day in several ways now, and I should have warned you that my perspective wouldn’t convey that fairy-tale tone that everyone loves. Thanksgiving is a teeter-totter of balancing our hopes and desires with reality. But I, too, am guilty. I should very well understand that Thanksgiving was not meant to embody perfection, as I stuff my face with turkey all the while.

With this holiday, I find comfort in discomfort, peace and tolerance in disunity, and an appetite that suddenly becomes insatiable as dinner-time comes around. I find laughter, light, and joy in my imperfect household. I find- no; I create happiness from dust and ashes, joy from the days I’ve struggled to just stop worrying, stop thinking so much. I pick up everything that I am grateful for, lock them in the brightest place in my heart, kiss them goodnight before I go to bed. I cherish them; let them transform the corners of my mouth into laugh lines, dimples of sheer joy and gratitude. They are mine, and they are here to stay; for without them, I wouldn’t know how to be happy- how to create this intangible thing that everyone is looking for. Little do they know that happiness cannot be found in materialism in gluttony. Tell me this is cliché, but go out and buy all the clothing, shoes, and jewelry you want. Let me know if you would be any happier if you chose to abandon gratitude, leave it in the dust just as you would forget all your pricy shoes just weeks after you bought them. Nothing. Nothing can fill the void in your heart that has been specifically left open for thankfulness. May gratitude forever reside there, and should it be asked to give up its seat, let it adopt the same attitude as Rosa Parks.

I do not condemn material things, but I do stand against the abandonment of gratitude. Be thankful for the little things, like the fact that today, you are able to read, see, and think clearly. Let gratitude fill you up until you are a parachute that transcends this world’s obstacles, burdens, and injustice. We do not live in a perfect world, but by being thankful, we promote an environment that fosters unity, love, and peace. I wish you a beautiful Thanksgiving Day.