Liberation Beyond Circumstance
My most vivid recollection is of her dancing on a table in the party room of a friend’s condo. It was her birthday, and the drinks were flowing. I didn’t know her well then, but I’d seen her around a few times, and always something about her gripped me. I knew immediately she wasn’t the typical city girl from Toronto, and not far into our interactions she revealed that she was born in Iran and had only moved to Canada a few years prior.
Just before I moved back to Saint Lucia we reconnected on social media. It was there I discovered more of the person that she was, an ESL teacher who wanted to do more than just familiarize her students with a language different from their own. Almost every day she made a point of reaching out to her students on Facebook, most of whom were immigrants themselves, to share inspiration and hope. Depression and suicide rates ran high in the city, particularly among young people, and quite a few times I saw her reminding them that she was available to meet if ever they felt alone, or if they just needed someone to talk to. All the time students replied to her posts thanking her for being true to her word, and for being an absolute rarity in a city that moved much too fast to stop and think about the more vulnerable.
Over time, she shared more and more of her story. How life had been as an immigrant from a Third World country, and the kind of battles immigrants face every day. In particular, she talked about how tough was life for women in Iran.
Societal expectations were that she would live with her parents until she got married. She was expected to get an education of some sort, but still keep a low profile, not dating many (or any at all!) guys until, in her words, “somehow magically the right man who had a good job, family, and could afford to buy a house would come.”
“He’d expect me to cook for him every day,” she added. “And keep the house clean, listen to him vent without judging him, get along with his hypocritical mother and sister, not pursue any career goals, and have his babies.”
That, in her words, was the woman she had refused to be. “I’m glad I didn’t,” she said. “I was brave enough to fight against the odds and smart enough not to be poisoned by that mindset.” Instead she wore ripped jeans, turned up the volume in her car, started working at the age of 19, which was her way of rebelling against the norm. She lived out loud, and purposely so. She had a boyfriend without needing to lie to her parents, followed her dreams, and left the world as she had known it behind.
Point of the story? She resisted, grew and changed in revolutionary fashion. She became a teacher. She allowed her dreams the possibility to exist even if they felt, at times, remote and unrealistic. Her life began to embody a sort of freedom that had previously been denied her. She went out with friends, she partied, she danced poolside in a bikini. Most of all, she impacted lives. She proved in the way that others before her had, that circumstances don’t have to dictate the direction of your life; only what you choose to do about it can.
Freedom means something different for everyone.