When I met Malala’s parents – part 1

There are people in the world whose mere presence speaks volumes about them and their journey. When we need look no further than into the eyes exposing their pain but also their mission. Where an infectious smile draws in the stranger to them and to their purpose – and of course because we also know of their astonishing story.

Ziauddin and Tor Pekai Yousafzai, the parents of 2014 Nobel Peace Prize award winner Malala Yousafzai, accepted an honour on behalf of their daughter at a gala event I attended in Toronto earlier this week. Malala would have attended in person had it not been for her exams, but the world’s supreme campaigner for the education of girls could not skip out of an exam merely to be feted in Toronto. The evening after all was dedicated to the education of Muslim women yet I found this to be much more compassionately and spiritually about all of us. Named Daughters for Life, it is in memory of loss of life – the heartrending wartime loss of three daughters to Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. Not inconsequentially, the master of ceremonies for the event was Toronto media personality Erin Davis who acknowledged during the evening’s festivities that earlier this month was the first anniversary of the sudden passing of her own daughter.

Also receiving an award was Canadian politician and diplomat Stephen Lewis and his wife Michelle Landsberg, well known Canadian journalist, feminist and social activist. It took me over 37 years but thanks to an elevator ride at the event with the exemplary couple I was finally able to share with Stephen my very amusing but true story when I surprisingly received a swift return call from my then sitting MP, the late Robert Kaplan, whilst in my university dormitory. Mr. Kaplan’s secretary mistakenly scribbled down Stephen Lewis instead of Stuart Lewis on the message pad and hence the hastily returned call. Stephen was quite tickled by it. But I digress … Michelle, in her brief address made one comment that resonated deeply. She said, “Those who have lost the most give back the most.” Seated with me were women representing Bereaved Families of Ontario, an outstanding organization supporting individuals who have suffered loss. The BFO support group are those who themselves have similarly suffered.

Also seated at my table were several doctors, one a Canadian born Palestinian. We had a chance to share our mutual stories and without going into details, the following day the doctor ended an email to me by commenting on the palpable aura of love filling the room that previous night and how if imaginably replicated in other facets of society, “could change the face of humanity”.

There was no judgement at this event. Despite the genesis and reason for it – there was none. Neither were there political nuances. There was no blame. Just love and it was so beautiful. And it was a choice for us all to be there. To support the cause. To support one another. And definitely not to judge. I am so grateful to be learning that lesson myself. All of this is a choice. That is our power to control over ourselves.

Yet if there was one small iota of “politics” heard that wonderful evening it came from Ziauddin Yousafzai. He spoke so eloquently, passionately and I must say skilfully, clearly the apple of Malala doesn’t fall far from that tree of her parents. He concluded his remarks by declaring, “the greatest gift to peace in the world was through the education of women”. That kind of politics I can accept.


with Malala's parents

The liberation by sleeping naked

“Don’t be fooled by me.

Don’t be fooled by the face I wear.

For I wear a mask, a thousand masks,

Masks that I’m afraid to take off,

and none of them is me.”

Charles C. Finn, from the poem Please Hear What I’m Not Saying

A busy day comes to an end, the stress of earning a living, maintaining relationships, exercising and pursuing that fountain of youth, trying to eat well but feeling guilty for that scrumptious indulgence, and then it approaches, one final waking moment and then we are alone. We are in bed, our eyes are shut, dreams may soon materialize taking us to strange, unforeseen and illogical places, but it is only us. No more masks, no more “being on”, no one to pretend to – no act to play out. We are figuratively and quite possibly literally, blissfully, naked. We hide no more. The rolls, those extra pounds, the blemishes, all those imperfections are now completely exposed once all our masks are removed. Our nighttime slumber is our refuge from the masks. It is our opportunity for rejuvenation IF we have not yet learned how to unmask ourselves during our awakened state.

Think about it, when are we truly ourselves? When are we not trying to impress our co-workers, our boss, our friends, our significant other, our children, our parents, the driver stopped beside us at the traffic light, that gentlemen riding in the elevator with us, the stranger sitting on the plane beside us, or our doctor during that uncomfortable annual physical (well at my age it is uncomfortable)? What they see most often is our outward masked self, and we too, so at times we lose sight of who we truly are.

“My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,

ever-varying and ever-concealing.

Beneath lies confusion and fear and aloneness.

But I hide this. I don’t want anybody to know it.” Charles C. Finn

We live in a society that today values Kardashian-esque motifs and in our own way we have succumbed to the counterfeit façade that promotes our own flawed self-identity. It is a trap that seems only escapable by the Great Houdini himself.   It wears on us, fatigues us and drains our daily source of vital but limited energy. The voices in our head constantly debate the principle and meaning of life with our soul, our true self but the debate’s victor is still awaiting the seventh and deciding game.

“It’s [love] the only thing that can liberate me from myself,

from my own self-built prison walls,

from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.”   Charles C. Finn

The love that I interpret here (which may not be the intention of the author) is the love we have for our own self. I was having dinner with an old friend this week who described himself as love which got me thinking. We are love? Imagine how that changes our perception of who we think we are. I don’t suppose my old buddy realized it, but with that utterance, his masks tumbled down first for him, but also in front of me. I saw this friend like I had never seen him before. I saw his essence. It may have been the most profound utterance I have ever witnessed. It was a special moment in time and indeed a liberating one too – at least for me.

Sleeping naked has its merits, but being awake and naked for all to see is something else all together.

 “Who am I, you may wonder?

I am someone you know very well.

For I am every man you meet

and every woman you meet.”   Charles C. Finn

Feeling gratitude – dedicated to the residents of Fort McMurray

“Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.” Emily Fletcher

Emily Fletcher wrote an article entitled The Neuroscience of Gratitude.

“What are you most grateful for in this moment? Right here, right now. Seriously, stop and ask yourself. If you’re having a tough day and aren’t able to come up with anything off the top of your head, that’s all the more reason to ask the question.”

Believe it or not, our brain, our temperament and our well-being are positively fed by thoughts of gratitude. She even goes on to write that gratitude can be a natural antidepressant. So why don’t we make this a habit? The truth is, we have not trained ourselves to do it. It is something we have yet to learn. We all have our own sh*t that we are dealing with on a regular basis and in attempting to distract our pain we say to ourselves “well she has cancer and I don’t – that is far worse than what is troubling me”? And moments later we all recognize that is a fleeting interruption at best and we promptly return to our particular misery. That is natural. We all do it.


I am a failure.

I am fat.

It’s Mother’s Day and I am not a mother.

My car is old and it needs repairing.

I can’t pay my bills.

It’s miserable outside today.

My job sucks and my boss is an a*hole.

I am always lonely.

I need new clothes.

My sister is the favourite – why not me?

I have diabetes.

They always disrespect me.

My best friend just died.

HE can afford that great vacation.

My daughter hates me.

I have cancer.

I hate my life.

My house burned to the ground.


But we can always find blessings in our life. We can seek out reasons to smile. I gave up my seat last night in a restaurant waiting area to a young child with her mother. Both the child and the mother smiled at me. I held open the exit door at the gym and the fit young man expressed thanks to me. But we can also look around our life and be grateful for what exists.


My mother is alive.

I have loving memories of my departed husband.

I am able to walk outside today and enjoy the sunshine.

I woke up.

I can watch an uplifting movie right now.

My children are healthy.

I had breakfast today.

Someone texted me out of the blue to see how I was.

I have regular bowel movements.

I own a car.

I will be sleeping in fresh sheets tonight.

Spotting the first crocus of spring.

My pet brings me such peace and unbridled love.

I have one very special relationship.

Morning music.

Having a job.

My ability to think and to reason.

I am the recipient of good deeds from strangers.


We can all find gratitude for moments, people and things in our life. It is an active not a passive activity. I know – it is working for me.

If you are feeling gratitude today, perhaps you can demonstrate that by donating to an agency like the Red Cross and support the effort in assisting the residents of Fort McMurray Alberta.





What’s wrong with people?

I could easily title this “what’s wrong with me” but work with me for a minute.

Before the Passover holiday began a video snippet of a stand-up comedy routine was circulating on social media about an Italian-American joining his Jewish girlfriend at her mother’s house for his first Passover dinner (seder). Most would agree, especially Jews familiar with the multi millennia old practise that it was priceless in every manner conceivable. The comedian’s shtick is his observances of people; what they say, what they do and how illogical many of their respective actions and utterances are. He is a kind of modern day George Carlin. He is Sebastian Maniscalco. I sought out more of his work and now find him outrageously entertaining. I discovered a sketch called, What’s wrong with people? “I got a problem with people … I was at Starbucks the other day and this lady in front of me ordered a scone, a muffin, I don’t know what the hell it was but they gave it to her in a brown bag, and then she was eating it, she was like fingering the muffin out of the bag [imagine the exaggerated visual hand motions from the bag to his mouth] … TAKE IT OUT OF THE BAG.”

Sebastian is a brilliantly funny comedian; he openly acknowledges his problem with people via his comedic genius. And of course it is an act, but sometimes I think many of us carry out an act every day of our lives. And then again, I not am sure if it is an act, or about living in denial. So what are we eating out of the bag?

I saw something the other day on social media that I reacted to. Someone asked for comments only on the facts presented and not to offer an opinion on those facts. I rather strongly suggested that his “facts” presented in the context in which they were indeed represented his opinion. Well – he was rather offended as were a couple others. They mistook my opposition to his premise as support of the opposite opinion that I stated more than once was not the case. “TAKE YOUR OPINION OUT OF THE BAG.”

But people can’t change until they are ready. They are vulnerable to something. They are afraid of thoughts and ideas antithetical to their own. But they – we – don’t see it. And just maybe, we are afraid to admit when we are wrong as that too exposes our vulnerability.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” 

One of my favourite scholars and public speakers – Brene Brown.

It will be liberating to learn, as Dr. Brown’s research supports, to accept and acknowledge our own vulnerabilities before we can improve our condition and begin to feel stronger about who we are. Our vulnerabilities present as our walls to those all around us. They subconsciously keep people out and prevent us from enjoying life to it’s fullest potential. Dr. Isaac Newton famously established in his third law of physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. How often does one’s opposition to something we have done or said shock us – even repulse us? When someone reacts negatively to our words or emotions, it is most often directly related to that opening salvo. Yet in defiance we are self-justifying, protective and ultimately resist looking within which is where the answer will be found. Some call it having baggage. What is in your BAGgage?