thanks to all those providing such solid advice on PS's here. It's my first time here, and i'd like to share mine and hopefully help critique others in the future. I'd like any feedback you have, and i'm hella good at taking negative criticism so lay it on.
2 years WE
I tried out for my high school volleyball team in the ninth grade. Much to my surprise, I made that team and the team every year throughout high school, even winning a championship. I was told I had the potential to be good; I was tall and had long arms in comparison to my colleagues, and could jump with the best of them. But my body was never fully coordinated. Each element - legs, arms, and mind – worked independently, resulting in comical displays of lanky me attempting to swat a volleyball. I ended up on the bench most days, and although I worked hard at technique and memorized the playbook, the lack of synchronization between the different parts of me meant that I never quite lived up to the potential that my coach saw in me.
I went to college, diving head long into a soup of extracurricular activities and freedom, admittedly at times forgetting how to swim. With all of the new things I was able to try, one of the things I never let go of was playing volleyball. I played recreationally and competitively, on beaches and on hardcourt, and always kept in the back of mind my coach’s encouragement to become a better player. My college intramural team won a championship, and this time I was proud to say I played a major part in that victory.
I had not seen my coach since I left high school, but one year she brought a team to my college for a tournament and I ran into her in the gymnasium. We caught up on each other’s lives, and I offered to help her team warm up. I served, set passes to them, blocked their spikes, and even managed to get a couple of spikes in myself. My coach later commented to me that she was impressed at how good I had become. I was proud and a little flattered and managed to formulate a thank you and this (paraphrased) response:
“I guess my body finally matured and everything started working together.”
Looking back, I realized it was not just my body that became focused. All the elements of my life, one at a time, similarly fell into step. My heart, mind, body, and soul became more coordinated over time. Consequently, my attention, focus, drive, and spirit became more directed, able to direct their energies to a single vision.
How did this happen?
I was in the Himalayas, travelling from village to village assessing the implementation of Uttaranchal’s provincial health policies. I need not wax on the disparities I was witness to, particularly in regards to access to health services and the basic rights of these citizens compared to the rest of India. But what I will say is that I had never felt so blessed to have been given the opportunities in my life that I, until that point, had treated as mental furniture. I was striving for higher education, with the chance to succeed on my terms, and a comfortable existence – whereas I could have easily been a 19 year old with no choice but to build step farms into the side of a mountain. My spirit developed through this experience, and my academic focus soon followed suit. I could no longer disrespect those who did not get the opportunity that I did by putting only partial effort into my endeavours.
I heard somewhere that people experience a burst of intelligence after graduating from college. I always thought it was less an increase in intelligence than clarity in understanding where one’s intellectual strengths lay. When I began my Masters in Public Health I realized that it is in fact, both. I was soaking up information like a sponge, and could think critically in ways that I had never been able to do. I was exploring new ideas, forming intelligent thoughts rather than executing simple memorization, and honing in on what became, in my opinion, my intellectual strength. I chose to specialize in Health Policy because I understood how policy worked, where it came from, and how it translated into reality. I took in all that I could about the legal and political ramifications of policy, and became skilled at wording sentences and thoughts to be accurate, salient, and succinct.
Seeing a man stranded on his rooftop as hurricane flood waters washed away everything around him struck a chord in me. Working on issues of health and social service access among West African immigrants and refugees and seeing how they were limited by the system struck another chord. Organizing with classmates to help pass a ban on indoor smoking under the premise that it violated the right to health for employees of restaurants and bars strummed yet another chord. Learning more about the world and the constructive ambiguities in justice that exist in nearly every legal system began to beat a drum in my heart. And all the other experiences provided the chorus for what has become a full orchestra. My heart has taken years to develop, and I sincerely hope that it never stops maturing. For if that music ever stops, I will be left with no more passion for what I am doing in life, and my actions will be carried simply by the momentum of habit.
It feels good to understand who I am. And with that understanding comes the introspective thoughtfulness to recall the elements I have written above. But that understanding did not come naturally. I was forced to become acutely aware of who I am. I am a Muslim American. Between the fall of the World Trade Center towers in 2001 and the arrest and solitary confinement of one my closest friends on claims of plotting terrorist activities in 2006, I have been needled into examining my values, morals, and personal sense of responsibility. I have had my patience and resolve strengthened by the covert alienation I have felt, and by the continued struggle with the Canadian legal system in obtaining bail for my friend. But even this rock and a hard place were blessings. They catalyzed my growth, galvanized my reality, and provided me with the glue I needed to hold my mind, heart, and soul together - my sense of self.
For a long time I had trouble trying to decide between working with people on an individual, grassroots level to help them realize their rights, or advocating for changes at a macro level through policy. I’ve always felt capable and comfortable doing both, and certainly have the passion to practice both. And then it struck me: why not do both? By studying law and combining that education with my Masters I will have the necessary tools to advocate for policy change while assisting on a case by case basis those individuals, groups, or populations who may not be able to fight for themselves. I have set myself on this path, and hope that you see in me potential to accomplish these goals the same way my volleyball coach saw talent in my physique. All it took was maturation, and I have that now.