I am reading a book ("In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom" by Qanta Ahmed) that has had a profound effect on me. There are several parts of the book that have made a significant impression on me, but the one I want to talk about today greatly increased my gratitude for the freedom I have in my life.
I have seen movies, ads, and news that show how bad the world is for some people. These things almost always get to me. I feel sad for the people who suffer, I feel grateful for the good I have, or I try to do something to change things (a Facebook post to bring awareness, a petition to encourage change, or a donation to make a difference). There is something about reading a book, though, that allows me to engage more deeply than through any other medium. As the author told her story, I felt a very real fear. My heart beat faster, and although I knew I was safe, I felt truly afraid.
How it happened:
She was enjoying a lovely evening. She and several international peers were enjoying a relaxed dinner and conversational exchange with her international peers, when suddenly, the religious police came from seemingly nowhere and exploded violent threats toward each one of the participants, even those from other lands. She was afraid of imprisonment or deportation for her, and for even more serious consequences for some others in her group. She was terrified, and I was frightened along with her.
Of course, feeling a piece of this experience in my heart, it made me grateful for my religious freedom. I am not threatened with violence, years of imprisonment, or exile if I do not rigorously adhere to every religious rule the government insists upon (even those I disagree with or despise). I am not mandated to dress a certain way, interact with others according to some strict rules based on our differences (such as class or gender), or spend my life in the same station because of the family or location into which I was born. Comparatively, I have great freedom. It was not just religious freedom for which I became acutely grateful, however. No, it made me see how fortunate I am in many ways, and I became extremely grateful for all the freedoms I have always known.
As I read the chapter and felt relief when everyone was safely home, I recalled a short video, ReMoved, I had recently seen ( vimeo.com/73172036
). In it, a child and her baby brother are removed from their home when their father (who had been violently abusing their mother) was arrested. She was battered and bruised, frightened and angry, and missed terribly the baby brother who had been ripped away from her and taken to another home. She moved from foster home to foster home, always alone and always carrying her few meager possessions in a black garbage bag. It tore out my heart.
As I thought of that video and the experience the author described in Saudi Arabia, I realized that although I have a soft heart toward those who suffer in this world, I honestly have no idea what it is like. I have no reason for anything but gratitude when I consider my life and how fortunate I have been. A large percentage of the world has never known the safety and freedom I take for granted. I can do nothing but stand in humble gratitude for the great fortune I have been given.