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February 23 2018 UUMA Intern Reflection
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From UUMA Intern, Sana Saeed
Sana Saeed, UUMA Intern

During the Spirituality and Stewardship workshop at the UUMA Institute, one of the questions we were asked was "what was your first experience like in learning to give"? We learned it's important to think about our own money baggage and the experiences that have taught us about giving and managing money. Interrogating our money baggage is especially important for us before we ask congregants to give during capital campaigns and any other fundraisers.

I have been reflecting on this question since that workshop, and I wanted to share my first complicated experience of learning to give and about community service. I wanted to give a warning that this article contains some graphic imagery that maybe disturbing to some people.

When I was 7, I lived in Karachi, Pakistan for two years with my family. My parents wanted me to learn about my heritage and also learn the languages Urdu and Punjabi. I loved the two years I spent in Karachi. I remember living in a big house with several of my cousins who were all around my age. I remember it as a magical place spent with my grandfather's chickens, riding camels on the beaches and riding trains past orange groves.

One particular moment during my time in Pakistan was not so magical for me as child. We were celebrating Eid al-Adha which is also known as the festival of sacrifice. This holiday commemorates the story of Abraham's sacrifice of his son, which God intervened in and replaced with a lamb. This is what I remember calling big Eid as a child. There was also little Eid, which happened after the 30 days of Ramadan during which Muslims fast. I never knew why little Eid was referred to in such a way, because it was during little Eid that kids received money as gifts. That for me was a BIG deal as a kid - especially as I had a yearly need to replenish my stash of candy and coca cola or buy a cool pair of kicks.

But, back to Big Eid. Around that time in Pakistan, back then, my family was preparing for the holiday weeks in advance. I remember my dad and his two brothers had arrived back to our house with a truck that carried three goats. He unloaded the goats and came up to me. He handed one of the goats to me and told me I could look after it.

I was like YES! I have a pet goat, and I didn't even ask for a goat. None of my cousins had a pet goat. In the back of my mind, during my intense excitement of having a new pet goat, I remember my mom's stern looks at Dad, but I dismissed them then because I thought she was worried I wouldn't clean up after the goat (which was my mom's concern every time we thought of adopting a pet).

I named my goat Smoky, because he was gray.He was a bit grumpy, and didn't like being tugged around on a leash. Most of the time he only wanted to stand around eating grass. But, I loved him anyway.

Three weeks later I walked outside looking for Smoky and couldn't find him. I remember walking into the backyard where I heard someone reciting Arabic and found my pet goat, Smoky, hanging upside down with a slit through his torso and neck. He was bleeding dry, his soulless eyes gazing at the gutter and there was red all over the place. I started screaming and crying....and my dad turned around with this "Oh crap" look on his face. Of course, when he grabbed me and I struggled he handed me off to my mom, I realized then why she had been upset the whole time.

This was a moment in life where I was all of a sudden zapped, and became awakened to a layer in life that I didn't see before as a kid. I became awakened to not just thoughts of death, of losing a friend, but also the role that sacrifice and ritual play in our lives. I thought about cruelty, about how unfair life can be in some ways. I became aware of what it means to lose a loved one and at the same time began reflecting on the sources of our sustenance.

I thought of questions like what sustains and nourishes us on a daily basis? And where does our food come from?

This doesn't mean I was an enlightened seven-year-old all of a sudden. I wish I could say this was a moment in my life that moved me to vegetarianism, but it didn't. It's a childhood experience that helps me grow each year, each month, each week, each day...when I reflect back on it repeatedly. But, what I learned first from this story is how hard it is to change as a person, how hard it is to change things that seem unfair like death and what it means to give.

To go back to the story - after Smoky was sacrificed, I began smelling the aroma of curries floating through the air into my room. The thought of eating food in celebration of sacrifice, made me feel apprehensive about eating. This feeling made me question a religious holiday that before Smoky's death- I had celebrated wholeheartedly. Why do traditions and rituals of sacrifice, like Thanksgiving, play such an important role in our communities?

In order to begin mending the trauma that had been done, my mom asked my dad to take me on a field trip deeper into Karachi later that day. My uncles and dad packed up all the food my grandmothers, aunts and mom had made into a truck and we rode out to one of the poorest slums in Karachi. Then my dad opened the back of the truck and all of these strange people began approaching us.

It was sight I had never seen in my life before as a 7-year-old. I was terrified, I thought to myself "why do these people look the way they did." A man rolled up to the truck on a skateboard, and his legs were missing. There were many with missing limbs. There were people who were so poor they only wore underwear as clothes. My uncles and dad then began serving food to the people surrounding the truck. The same curries made with my pet goat, Smoky, were being given to people who may not have had anything to eat that week. I was so distraught, thinking about my pet and then also feeling terrible that these people had nothing to eat, and I kept asking why.

At one point my dad and uncles ran out of plates while handing out food. The people asked my dad nottoclose up the truck, and they began to use the rags they were wearing to load up on rice and curry - to take back to the nooks that they slept in. This was a truly heartbreaking example of how hunger makes people so desperate that they will use the clothes, in this case for some underwear, to be able to save some food and then keep the same curried stained clothes on for warmth. It was devastating, heartbreaking and infuriating to witness.

Speaking to this moment of distress, the poet Rashani writes:

There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,

a shatteredness
out of which blooms the unshatterable.

There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy

and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.

What I realize now is that the rituals in faith traditions are important to allow us to humanize each other, and be intentional and thankful for the sources of our sustenance. It means to witness each other fully, including witnessing the animals and nature around us.These rituals and traditions allow us to witness our brokenness. To confront a brokenness that we never knew was there. To name a brokenness that is truly horrific and oppressive.

Rituals in our community allow us to lift and witness the tensions that accompany our principles. The tensions that keep us on our toes, and make us realize that sometimes life teaches us messy lessons on what it means to witness the inherent worth and dignity in each other and in the creatures around us. For me it was a messy lesson on what it meant to give as a privileged Pakistani in Karachi.

Rituals in our community point to tensions based on race or wealth. The tension that some of us have access to health care and others don't. That some of us are the lucky few who have access to shelter and food when one in nine people in the world go hungry every day.

These rituals are passed onto us by our ancestors. They come from a place of struggle, witness and resilience. They are there to teach us how to lift the veils that obstruct us and to celebrate witnessing life's complexity in its fullness.

I ask you to consider as we go through this week, what daily rituals sustain you? What rituals in your life nourish you and connect you to your communities of support? What gives you strength in times of great struggle or in dealing with the messiness of life?

Hold on to those sacred sources of sustenance as fiercely as you hold on to love this week. Because out of those depths emerges strength.

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