As I awaken, I look upward. My vision is out of focus. My sight gradually clears. I see a beautiful woman with bright, smiling blue eyes. She’s wearing a surgical cap. I am unable to speak. I hear her say to me: “We are sisters.” She is speaking Arabic, Egyptian dialect. I feel myself blink with confusion. She doesn’t look familiar. I hear her speak again. She doesn’t sound familiar. She repeats the same phrase, only this time, my brain translates her words differently. “We are family.” The beauty in the multiple meanings in Arabic. I feel the truth in her words. I breathe deeply. My eyes flutter and close.
Leading in a global mosaic is an unbelievable paradoxical joy and sorrow-filled journey of life and rebirth. As I look around me, I see, hear and savor a life lived in light, in darkness, and in renewal. I see light in the genius and generosity of my family, the sweet feeling of relationship across time and distance, the joy of living life to the fullest while living and working globally. In reality, global living is realized by making tough decisions. Unpopular decisions of moving away from family and friends, for leaving behind familiarity; memories unrealized.
I have come to know the truth in words written by Khalil Gibran: “A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?” Living far away, even in constant flux, has been a true gift in fostering relationships, more than the safety of proximity.
Yet, there are memories unrealized when we leave the home we know, to go to a home we don’t know. I have come to accept this fact in exchange for chancing the opportunities to live and visit places off the beaten path. I am a minority everywhere I go because of my divergent choices, through navigating a mosaic-lined path from place to place across the globe. This has come with sacrifices, the sacrifice of familiarity and comfort.
Life is fundamentally uncertain, there are no guarantees. For those of us who live globally, the experiences in our lives are heightened by opportunities and challenges of a life lived moment-by-moment, year-by-year. We accept that routine is elusive, that change is a true constant. Challenges are all around us. Just when we feel comfort, life sends us a new twist. We come through the darkness and the light. Leading in a global mosaic trains us to adapt, to make the best of the ripples that life brings us. Just two years after our decisive move to Egypt, we face a series of challenging and life-threatening ripples.
It is a surreal time; the feeling of knowing the life inside of me has left me, not knowing what will come next. Five months pregnant and I haven’t felt the flutter of movement. Something is terribly wrong. After a trip to the hospital, my husband and I feel the dread of the news to come. The doctor gently delivers the news we already know deep within to be true. I feel deep sadness. I partition my emotions.
As we return home to prepare for the next day, I walk into our apartment straight to the desk. I type up a handover note to my colleagues on the work in progress; client follow-ups, where to find files and reports. I had organized my files on my desk at work the day before, as though I knew I would not return. I am in automatic pilot. It’s the only way I know how to cope. I focus on handing over my accountabilities to trusted colleagues. I cannot bear to make the call; my husband delivers the news. I pack an overnight bag. The next day, we see our three year-old son off to daycare and we leave for the hospital, forever changed. A routine procedure leads to complications. I am ushered to emergency surgery, fully aware that I’m in critical condition and knowing deep within it’s not yet my time to go.
A minority everywhere I go, I have a rare blood type. There’s a shortage in the hospital and blood banks near and far. During this time, I am oblivious to the events that transpire. My husband, family and friends scour the city, sending emails to donate on my behalf.
Weeks later, I discovered my life was saved by an anesthesiologist, a woman with smiling, blue eyes. She happened to walk into the operating room to overhear the call for more pints of blood, the news of a critical shortage. She also happened to have the same rare blood type. On the spot, she donated two pints, in the operating room. Just in the nick of time.
We are sisters. We are family.
It’s the middle of the afternoon. I am sitting in our Cairo apartment, in my son’s room. It’s very quiet. Memories of the past months float through my senses. We were both in hospital at the same time; me in Egypt, my father in Canada. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That was months ago. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to be in Canada with my family through the final days, extending my leave there to stay until the end. I was scheduled to be back at work. I chose to stay. No matter how much time it took. It was the right choice. I returned to Cairo knowing I chose family first.
I can’t keep my eyes open; they flutter and close. I fall asleep. I’m in a dream. It’s a lucid dream. It’s real. It’s surreal. I hear his voice. It breaks my heart. I’ll hear his voice only in a dream; I’ll see his face only in a dream. It isn’t fair. I left Canada for only two years and now he’s gone. I cling to the dream. My father speaks to me. I feel his words.
“I am alright. And, so will you be alright.”
My father is in God’s hands. I know it. I take comfort in this. The dream shifts, I see a balloon. Actually, I sense there is a balloon filled with the air of life. The balloon floats in purposeful flight. I follow it with all my senses. Seeking meaning, seeking answers, seeking connection. I feel my father’s life in the balloon. I notice a child’s hand reach for the balloon. It’s a beginning. It’s renewal. The beginning of a life lost to me, born to accompany my father into the afterlife.
I awaken. I feel joy and sorrow all at once. For the first time in months, I feel my body and my spirit in deep healing. The dream, as painful as it was, brought me joy. For the first time in a long time, in those moments after the dream, I feel hope. I see the blessings of what’s to come. The miracle of birth; I imagine a healthy child with deep, soulful, beautiful light brown eyes. I emerge out of the vortex.
Today is the day. The day of hope emergent. It’s time to leave. We found her. The woman with bright, smiling, sparkling blue eyes. I meet my sister for the second time. I thank her, my gratitude to her, to my doctors, nurses and health-care workers, family and friends, immeasurable for the support and love freely given. And so, I live in appreciation for life, for dreams and for the fortunate crossing of paths that change our lives, living the only way I know how, one mosaic piece at a time.