S. Amjad Hussain
Last week, I crossed the 80th year of my life. I wanted it to be a quiet and normal day. But my family and friends made a big deal out of it. Then my son, Qarie, local host of the NPR program Morning Edition on FM 91.3, congratulated me on the radio and, after that, I received greetings and best wishes from friends and strangers almost all day. It is heart warming to know that Morning Edition and Qarie reach a large swath in Ohio and Michigan.
I beg your indulgence as I write this personal column on the journeys I have undertaken, roads I have travelled, and occasional dead ends I have encountered.
By a strange quirk of fate, I ended up in Toledo in 1963. I was planning to go to Great Britain for surgery education and training. But a friend handed me an application for an internship at St. Charles Hospital in Toledo and, much to my suprise, I was selected. Life would have been a lot different had I gone to England.
I was born during the British rule of India. Over the course of 300 years, our colonial masters went about undermining or destroying the native culture, education system, and our values. We imitated the ways of our rulers and came to think that they were indeed superior. We lived, or were obliged to live, with a perpetual inferiority complex. As Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” They ruled over a huge country full of underlings.
In America, as opposed to Great Britain, I found a prevailing sense of decency and fairness. Skin color did not matter, at least for those who came from my background. I thrived in that milieu.
Immigrants to America pursue three separate paths to make themselves at home. Some jump head first into the avant garde culture and emerge cleansed of their past, but find that their skin color and foreign accent don’t wash away. Others live in mental ghettos where they surround themselves with mementoes of their past and end up living in a cocoon. Still others try to forge a link between their past and the present and integrate into American society. I was fortunate to follow the third option.
America gave me much more than my professional identity and, in some small ways, I feel I have also contributed to my adopted land. Soon after arriving to these shores, I realized that my old country values were not inconsistent with the American values. As a result, integration was relatively easy.
I have had more lives than the proverbial nine lives of a cat. Malaria, typhoid fever, a near-downing, being run down by a rash driver, chest pains at 20,000 feet in Tibet, a brush with tuberculosis, and an accidental fall into a frozen pond at Side Cut Metropark very early one sub-zero morning. There were other incidents as well.
For 38 years, I was married to Dottie, my soulmate and life partner. We had envisioned growing old together but it was not to be. She passed away 12 years ago. The void she left behind was slow to heal, but with the help of my children and a few close friends, I have been able to move on with my life.
Writing for The Blade has had its rewards and also its frustrations. Some of my readers, particularly the ones on the right, don’t like when I criticize our government. They expect me to act as an obedient and subservient immigrant. Occasionally someone, in a fit of pseudo-patriotism, would ask that I go back to the country of my origin.
While I am most grateful for the professional opportunities I have had in America, I am also grateful for the freedom to speak my mind and stand up as a conscientious citizen. I could have done well financially had I stayed in Pakistan, but I did not come here for economic opportunities.
One should not equate personal freedom and intellectual growth with the ability to make money. The American Dream, in my foreign-born brain, should not be equated with wealth, consumption, consumerism, bulging grocery store shelves, and 20 varieties of toilet paper.
As I walk towards the sunset in the late afternoon of my life, I look back at the road I have traveled and the distance I have covered with satisfaction. It has been a great journey and it still is.
I also take solace in writer Carolyn Hart’s humorous saying that one of the fruits of longevity is establishing a reputation (that) one may not deserve.
S. Amjad Hussain is an emeritus professor of surgery and humanities at the University of Toledo. His column appears every other week in The Blade. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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