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I am Worthy of This Blessing

I write this entry reclining on a swinging bar stool a few feet away from the Indian Ocean. This is perfection for me, my kids playing non-stop barefoot, dipping in and out of the two pools, my husband relaxed and all of us soothed by the warm salty air, good food and the most precious resource of all – abundant greenery.

This vacation is a defining moment in my life because it’s the first time I have allowed anything good to happen to me guilt-free. When my husband first suggested taking this break, I fretted privately, ‘Is it an appropriate time to take an international vacation?’ There is so much wrong at home and in the world, so many people are suffering. How can I be thinking of granting such a luxurious experience to my kids when I know there are children who live not too far away from us who go to school with empty lunch boxes? Isn’t it wrong to fly to another country purely for leisure while my fellow humans and fellow Ethiopians are risking life and limb in search of security?’

If these reflections sound silly to you, I wouldn’t hold it against you. I know such self-induced and unwarranted guilt for one’s blessings is self-indulgent at best, annoying and ridiculous really. Even to myself, I often sound unintelligent when I entertain these thoughts. To ease my mind, I rationalize that some people have always suffered somewhere, it can’t make life stop for everyone else. Truly terrible things happen in the world – they always have. If we waited for equality and justice to prevail before we could take a holiday – we would be waiting a long time. It’s all a matter of perspective – the amount of money I feel guilty spending would be loose change for the truly rich. Yes, I have close relatives who won’t afford international travel anytime soon but then again, I have cousins who jet-set from New York. I would tell myself over and over that I have nothing to apologize for but still. The faint sense of guilt was a monkey firmly attached to my back. When I moved countries and jobs and circumstances, it moved with me.

Guilt is one of my oldest companions. I remember it at the age of seven when my kind father drove off in tears to Wello, bags of Dabo in the trunk of his old Citroen because he couldn’t bear the TV images of starving children from his hometown. Before I had reached the age of ten, I had decided that I needed to pay for my visible privileges. It was guilt that put every single Birr of my pocket money (2 Birr per week!) into the charity box at the supermarket and the reason my brother often found his barely worn, imported T-shirts and jackets on the backs of neighborhood kids.

With time, guilt grew stronger feeding off my happiness and it grew reckless. Not content to feel guilty about the privileges I was born into, I began to feel guilty at landing jobs I had competed fairly at and the prestigious scholarship that enabled me to get the education of my dreams.

Then came along the life-changing gift that could finally stand up to Guilt. When I was blessed with my daughter Rekka almost five years ago, I looked at her with awe, amazed that God would choose me, among all the women in the world to bring such a perfect being into the world. I wondered if I were worthy of such a blessing, for sure, but there was suddenly no job for Guilt. This was a gift given to me. It was Grace. I could never have earned Rekka or her brother Leeben who joined us two years ago, so I couldn’t feel guilty for having them, the way I could feel guilty for having a car. Guilt remained towering over me, for sure, but its might was diminishing.

Guilt took an even bigger blow when I attended Nahusenay Girma’s Self Confidence  session a few months ago. One of the richest gifts that AWIB offers her members, I had initially dismissed the session, telling myself I’m plenty confident, but the rave reviews convinced me to try it out. Through an emotion-wringing, soul-baring series of exercises, I learnt that Guilt kept my ‘cup’ full so that more blessings, more love, more laughter could not come into my life. As importantly, the session helped me realize that Guilt had won over me for so long because I believed deep down that I was not worthy of my blessings. I try to be a good person but I didn’t think I was good enough, kind enough, patient enough, smart enough, strong enough to deserve all the goodness in my life.

Sometimes, you only need a day to start undoing thirty years’ worth of wrong turns. I have had a paradigm shift. It is not my job to know why I have been granted the life of relative ease while others struggle – only to be grateful for it. And to realize that one can’t take anything in life for granted as everything we hold dear could vanish in an instant. And so to cherish the good life instead of feeling useless guilt over it.

So I pushed Guilt deep into the soft sands of the Indian Ocean and thoroughly enjoyed a well-earned holiday with my wonderful family. And the woman who had to be convinced to go on vacation is already planning her next one.