30 Years, 30 Lessons


It was perhaps apt that the big 30 was ushered in on three continents. Celebrated simply but beautifully surrounded by loved ones.

Here are some lessons that I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to be goofy and have fun. If it’s pretending to be the tickle monster with a set of 4 year old twins or 8 year old munchkins, do it. Chase them, tickle them and savor their uncontained laughter that emenates deep from their bellies. You’ll find that soon you will also be echoing their laughter. Watch cartoons. Play. Unapologetically. These are the moments that make you younger and bring out the kid in you. Don’t be afraid to experience them.

2. Have a bucket list. Write down the things you think are even far fetched and impossible. You’ll be surprised how the universe conspires to make your intentions come to pass. Especially when you speak (and write) them loudly to the universe.

3. The best time is often now. Don’t leave things for later or tomorrow. There’s a Hareri saying which I’m sure is echoed elsewhere that says, ‘later is the brother of never’ or something along those lines…later or tomorrow either don’t happen or are consumed by 101 other things

4. Breathe Beauty. By this I mean that one must seek and appreciate beauty in ordinary spaces and moments. Beauty is not perfection. It simply is. We must be awake to it. It’s all around us. It’s the rays of the sun streaming into a room and resting on someone’s face…it’s the petals of a bright flower…it’s a full or partial moon that seems to light up the sky…it’s a pattern on a dress…or a colorful street…or laughter

5. I’ve realized how happy it makes me to see (teenage) kids who respect, love, appreciate and honor their parents. As parents, we must treat our kids as though they are responsible members of the family whose viewpoints are sought, heard and acknowledged. As children, we must never dismiss the difficulty of being a parent, making decisions that are unpopular and living every day for the betterment of family. Keep family ties – there’s nothing like family.

6. There are friendships that are so deep and pure and real that they turn into family. Don’t take them for granted. They don’t come along often. Treasure them and feed and care for them. They are often what keep you sane.

7. Learn to spend time alone. No matter what kind of person you are, whether ambivalent, introverted or extroverted – this is important. Learn to be ok with silence when there’s no loud company or loud music or chatter to distract you from listening to and getting to know and be at peace with yourself. If we’re uncomfortable with ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to be?

8. Go with your first instinct. Don’t second guess yourself. This is true even when the contradicting voice is external and not internal. You’ll be happy you weren’t easily swayed later on.

9. Similar to the previous one, don’t be afraid to counter the dominant or mainstream. Don’t necessarily rebel for the sake of being different but understand that being different, holding an opinion that doesn’t feature very prominently is ok. Don’t change who you are or what you think based on the crowd you happen to be or find yourself with.

10. Someone’s always watching. Your words, your actions are being recorded and observed. Even when you least expect it and by those you least anticipate to be watching. Sometimes by young kids whose thinking and values are being shaped. Act and speak in a way that you would stand by at any time. This goes for your digital footprint as well.

11. Be conscious. Whether you believe it or not, your existence on this earth has an effect. Whether that effect is on the environment, or on a community or a family. You matter. Make your existence count. Make sure that at the very least, you have left the world a bit better than you found it. That could be as simple as not throwing trash on the streets. Or trampling on plants. Or harassing animals. Make sure that if those streets, or plants or animals could tell tales about you, it’s that you walked and existed on this earth with respect. Karma is real.

12. Make time to spend time with the elderly. They were born in a very different generation and have rich stories for days. There’s so much his and her stories captured in their brains and etched in their memories that one can’t get from books. Or anywhere else for that matter.

13. Perhaps back to #1 and #12, spend time with kids. They come with a different energy and bubbly enthusiasm that’s not dampened by life and jadedness. In the same vein, don’t be the one to dampen kids imaginations. It will serve them in the future and reduce limitations they put on themselves.

14. Love yourself. All of you. Flaws and all. Understand that you’re a work in progress, and you must work on those things that are in your power to change. But in the meantime, love, respect and appreciate who you are.

15. Enjoy the present. And the journey. Celebrate the small steps and the milestones.

16. Don’t get stuck on plan a. Life often throws you surprises … and what you think is certain is not. Learn to be flexible like bamboo, which means that you’ll bend rather than break.

17. Don’t ever forget your infallibility. And your mortality. And who is really in control. It will keep you grounded and humble. Although this shouldn’t be an excuse for a laissez-faire attitude on life.

18. There’s a time for patience and a time for impatience. Learn to know the difference.

19. Impossible is nothing. Don’t be afraid to dream. And dream big. But don’t stop there. You must be ready to execute and wake up in order to realize those dreams. As a friend once reminded me, impossible itself is telling us, ‘I’m possible’.

20. God is the ultimate judge. We mustn’t condemn or critique others’ actions for we know not what is in store for us. Let us focus on improving ourselves first and foremost and that in itself is a big contribution to society.

21. Don’t underestimate the power of faith. At times it is the one thing that gets us through the night or a difficult situation.

22. Love. Deeply. Don’t be afraid of pouring your love into another. It has the power to transform and doesn’t drain your reserves.

23. Don’t underestimate the power and medicinal properties of laughter. It’s good for the soul and keeps one radiant and young. It reduces stress and adds spice to life.

24. Don’t give power to ludicrousity. If such a word exists. Don’t feed, react to or dignify nonsense.

25. Put the Almighty first, always. Stand by your faith, unapologetically.

26. Be curious. Yes they tell us that curiosity killed the cat. We don’t often hear the second part of that, ‘satisfaction brought it back’. Curiosity leads to exploring, learning and discovering.

27. Take on challenges. It leads to tremendous growth but also makes one realize just what one is capable of.

28. Feed and cater to your creative juices. Read, write, draw, imagine. Beautiful things can be created through this process.

29. The monster is often bigger in our minds than it is in real life, if it even exists. The sooner we face it, the sooner we realize it’s not spooky or insurmountable.

30. And one last one for good measure. Your best benchmark is previous versions of yourself. May we always strive today to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow to be better than today.

Disclaimer: you may have read these lessons elsewhere, or at least something similar and so am not claiming they’re original…perhaps some are lessons I’ve been told or read about and implemented along the way…but all are lessons I find to have worked in my life…hope you benefit from being reminded of them.

Excerpts from Kite Runner

the kite runnerby Khaled Hosseini

p10
Even in birth, Hassan was true to his nature: He was incapable of hurting anyone. A few grunts, a couple of pushes, and out Hassan came. Out he came smiling.

p15
..though he never translated the words for us, he did stress, sometimes with the help of a stripped willow branch, that we had to pronounce the Arabic words correctly so God would hear us better.

P17-18
“…there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft…when you kill a man, you steal a life…you steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness…there is no act more wretched than stealing…a man who takes what’s not his to take, be it a life or a loaf of naan…I spit on such a man. And if I ever cross paths with him, God help him…”

P19
“Real men didn’t read poetry—and God forbid they should ever write it! Real men—real boys—played soccer just as Baba had done when he had been young…”

P21
“Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them in with your favorite colors…”

P22
“A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up for anything.”

p34
The shootings and explosions had lasted less than an hour, but they had frightened us badly, because none of us had ever heard gunshots in the streets. They were foreign sounds to us then. The generation of Afghan children whose ears would know nothing but the sounds of bombs and gunfire was not yet born.

P48
The Hindi kid would soon learn what the British learned earlier in the century, and what the Russians would eventually learn by the late 1980’s: that Afghans are an independent people. Afghans cherish custom but abhor rules.

P51
To this day, I find it hard to gaze directly at people like Hassan, people who mean every word they say….And that’s the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too.

p54
“It hurts to say that..but better to get hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie.”

p58
Hassan couldn’t read a first-grade textbook but he’d read me plenty.

p104
You couldn’t trust anyone in Kabul anymore–for a fee or under threat, people told on each other, neighbor on neighbor, child on parent, brother on brother, servant on master, friend on friend…The rafiqs, the comrades…split Kabul into two groups: those who eavesdropped and those who didn’t. The tricky part was that no one knew who belonged to which.

p107
“He says this is war. There is no shame in war.”
“Tell him he’s wrong. War doesn’t negate decency. It demands it, even more than in times of peace.”

p113
Not a word passes between us, not because we have nothing to say, but because we don’t have to say anything–that’s how it is between people who are each other’s first memories..

P116
Baba loved the idea of America. It was living in America that gave him an ulcer.

p117
“He’s not fit to run this country. It’s like putting a boy who can’t ride a bike behind the wheel of a brand new Cadillac.”

p119
..in Kabul, we snapped a tree branch and used it as a credit card. He’d carve notches..one notch for each loaf of naan..At the end of the month, my father paid him for the number of notches on the stick. That was it. No questions. No ID.

p126
America was different. America was a river, roaring along, unmindful of the past…If for nothing else, for that, I embraced America.

p128
The only thing that flowed more than tea in those aisles was Afghan gossip.

p143
Sometimes I think the only thing he loved as much as his late wife was Afghanistan, his late country.

p163
Khala Jamila made no secret of how much she adored me. For one thing, I listened to her impressive list of maladies..ever since her mother’s stroke, every flutter in her chest was a heart attack, every aching joint of the eye another stroke…
“Your khala’s medical charts are like works of Rumi: They come in volumes.”

P164
I had relieved her of the greatest fear of every Afghan mother: that no honorable khastegar would ask for her daughter’s hand. That her daughter would age alone, husbandless, childless. Every woman needed a husband. Even if he did silence the song in her.

P198
“..time can be a greedy thing—sometimes it steals all the details for itself.”

P200
“The streets are full enough already of hungry orphans and every day I thank Allah that I am alive, not because I fear death, but because my wife has a husband and my son is not an orphan.”

p204
“Children are fragile, Amir jan. Kabul is already full of broken children and I don’t want Sohrab to become another.”

P206
“All that a man had back then, all that he was, was his honor, his name, and if people talked…”

P217
“Khar khara mishnassah..takes a donkey to know a donkey”

P219
“Forgive us, Amir agha…since childhood, my brother’s mouth has been two steps ahead of his head.”

P222
After all these years, I was home again, standing on the soil of my ancestors. This was the soil on which my great-grandfather had married his third wife a year before dying in the cholera epidemic that hit Kabul in 1915…it was on this soil that my grandfather had gone on a hunting trip with King Nadir Shah and shot a deer. My mother had died on this soil. And on this soil, I had fought for my father’s love…The kinship I felt suddenly for the old land…it surprised me. I’d been gone long enough to forget and be forgotten. I had a home in a land that might as well be in another galaxy to the people sleeping on the other side of the wall I leaned against. I thought I had forgotten about this land. But I hadn’t. And, under the bony glow of a half-moon, I sensed Afghanistan humming under my feet. Maybe Afghanistan hadn’t forgotten me either.

P226
And something else I hadn’t noticed right away: Hardly any of them sat with an adult male—the wars had made fathers a rare commodity in Afghanistan.

P227
A sadness came over me. Returning to Kabul was like running into an old, forgotten friend and seeing that life hadn’t been too good for him, that he’s become homeless and destitute.

P228
This was the first time I saw the Taliban. I’d seen them on TV, on the Internet, on the cover of magazines, and in newspapers. But here I was now, less than fifty feet from them, telling myself that the sudden taste in my mouth wasn’t unadulterated, naked fear. Telling myself my flesh hadn’t suddenly shrunk against my bones and my heart wasn’t battering. Here they came. In all their glory.

P228
“Don’t ever stare at them! Do you understand me? Never!….you might as well poke a rabid dog with a stick…..they drive around looking. Looking and hoping that someone will provoke them. Sooner or later, someone always obliges. Then the dogs feast and the day’s boredom is broken at last and everyone says “Allah-u-akbar!” And on those days when no-one offends, well, there is always random violence, isn’t there?…Keep your eyes on your feet when the Taliban are near….”

P229
“The children were moved from here to Karteh-seh after the rockets hit the old orphanage. Which is like saving someone from the lion’s cage and throwing them in the tiger’s.”

But like the poet says: ‘How seamless seemed love and then came trouble!’

P230
‘The desert weed lives on, but the flower of spring blooms and wilts.’ Such grace, such dignity, such a tragedy.”

P230
“I’m so afraid…Because I’m profoundly happy…Happiness like this is frightening…They only let you be this happy if they’re preparing to take something from you…”

Walking back from the truck, neither of us commented about what most non-Afghans would have seen as an improbable coincidence, that a beggar on the street would happen to know my mother. Because we both knew that in Afghanistan, and particularly in Kabul, such absurdity was commonplace. Baba used to say, “Take two Afghans who’ve never met, put them in a room for ten minutes, and they’ll figure out how they’re related.”

P234
“There is very little shelter here, almost no food, no clothes, no clean water. What I have in ample supply here is children who’ve lost their childhood. But the tragedy is that these are the lucky ones…”

p244
He charged me $75, an unthinkable price given the run-down appearance of the place, but I didn’t mind. Exploitation to finance a beach house in Hawaii was one thing. Doing it to feed your kids was another.

P245
“Agha, did you hear what Mullah Nasruddin did when his daughter came home and complained that her husband had beaten her?…He beat her too, then sent her back to tell the husband that the Mullah was no fool: if the bastard was going to beat his daughter, then Mullah would beat his wife in return.”

“Did you hear about the time Mullah had placed a heavy bag on his shoulders and was riding his donkey?…Someone on the street said why don’t you put the bag on the donkey? And he said, ‘That would be cruel, I’m heavy enough for the poor thing.’”

P248
“Piss on the beards of all those self-righteous monkeys. They do nothing but thumb their rosaries and recite a book written in a language they don’t even understand. God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls in their hands.”

P254
“Public justice is the greatest kind of show, my brother. Drama. Suspense. And, best of all, education en masse.”

P255
“You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘liberating’ until you’ve done that, stood in a roomful of targets, let the bullets fly, free of guilt and remorse, knowing you are virtuous, good, and decent. Knowing you’re doing God’s work. It’s breathtaking.” He kissed his prayer beads…

P257
One of the guards pressed a button and Pashtu music filled the room. Tabla, harmonium, the whine of a dil-roba. I guessed music wasn’t sinful as long as it played to Taliban ears. The three men began to clap.

P291
There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.

p293
A kinship exists between people who’ve fed from the same breast.

P310
“I grew up in the US, Amir. If America taught me anything, it’s that quitting is right up there with pissing in the Girl Scout’s lemonade jar.”

P329
Then I realized something: That last thought had brought no sting with it…I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.

P331
It would be erroneous to say Sohrab was quiet. Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the VOLUME knob on life. Silence is pushing the OFF button. Shutting it down. All of it. Sohrab’s silence wasn’t self-imposed silence of those with convictions, of protesters who seek to speak their cause by not speaking at all. It was the silence of one who has taken cover in a dark place, curled up all the edges and tucked them under. He didn’t so much live with us as occupy space. And precious little of it…he walked like he was afraid to leave behind footprints. He moved as if not to stir the air around him…

P335
…soon after we arrived in the US, Baba started grumbling about American flies. He’d sit at the kitchen table with his fly-swatter, watch the flies darting from wall to wall, buzzing here, buzzing there, harried and rushed. “In this country, even flies are pressed for time,” he’d groan.

p340
It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.

%d bloggers like this: