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To a Stranger on Valentine's Day

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

Every year, on Valentine’s day, I take the opportunity to tell people that I appreciate them. I buy small presents. One year, I gave my father a pair of socks. And not just to people I know well – I bring small presents, to show appreciation to whoever I will be meeting that day. Last year, I had a small box of chocolates for my physical therapist. This year, Valentine’s day came on a Sunday in Corona times, with no meetings or visitors. So instead, I am writing this blog, as a small present to all my lovely readers.

Love is a wonderful thing, but when you have a disability, it is certainly not simple and can also involve suffering. Even St Valentine met a tragic fate. When you meet someone you love and you have disability – or you are different in any other way – your choices are already limited and controlled. When you meet someone who appreciates you, you become extremely happy, but it will not take long before they return to the ways of society. Standing up for your choice to be with a person with disability is just too hard in the long run, and very few people have the strength to resist social norms and peer pressure. This is particularly the case where there is stigma attached to disability, but you see it also in societies that claim to have a more open view. Having a friend with disability is not such a big problem, but when it comes to love, marriage, and raising children, things become much more complicated.

My grandmother became disabled after having four children and being responsible for family and household. For many years, she took care of her mother-in-law who was a heavy woman. All the lifting became too much, and after her mother-in-law died, her back was permanently damaged. So my grandfather married another woman. It would be easy to say that this is just a reflection of Kurdish society, at this time, so many years ago. But in our societies today I see the same reactions: a person only has worth as long as they are productive and can be useful. When that is no longer the case, they become dispensable. Sadly, today with the pandemic, we are seeing supposedly modern Western nations making the same kind of prioritisations as my grandfather all those years ago.

Love Makes Miracles

There are times when love seems to overcome any kind of obstacle. I remember, as a child and until I was a teenager, my mother would carry me up and down the stairs in so many buildings that were not accessible. She did this out of love, to make sure that I would not miss out on experiences and opportunities because of my disability. When I was very small, I did not reflect on this, but as I grew I became heavier, until I was almost the same weight as she was. People were amazed that such a small slight woman could carry me seemingly without effort. In the end, I asked her to stop, not because I did not appreciate it, but because I was afraid she would hurt her back like my grandmother.

Another case when love seems to make the impossible possible is a woman who wanted to marry a man with a serious illness. Everyone was advising against it, and the doctors did not think he would live long. She insisted, and miraculously his condition improved. He was never cured, but could live a long and happy life because he had met someone who really cared for him. The doctors also recognised that he was only able to live because of the attention and love he got from his wife. Finding the right person may take time, but the mutual appreciation of love is one of the most beautiful experiences that life has to offer.

There is another face of love, however. Sometimes you love someone and you feel very connected to them, but your logic or your sense of self-preservation tells you that you shouldn’t be with them. In other cases, you may think that the other person deserves better than you, or you may think that this person has better opportunities without me. I am sure this is the case also for people without disability, but when disability is part of the picture, everything becomes so much more complicated. Disability is something you have to deal with for your entire life, and when you are thinking of sharing your life with someone else, disability will inevitably become an important factor in their lives as well.

With love there is no logic – either you do, or you don’t. Love is not a way to become richer or more successful, it is just about being with the right person. There are people love has cured, and others have died for the sake of love. Whatever your past experiences are, remember that even if you have met the wrong person so far, this is not a reason to give up on love. Importantly, love is so much more than a romance between two persons. Love is the devotion of my grandmother to her husband, of my mother to myself, my friend to her sick husband, and the countless acts of kindness and generosity of complete strangers.

The last story I want to share is about a rainy day in Hultsfred, when I had just arrived in Sweden. I was shivering from the damp and the cold. A stranger in the street approached me and gave me his umbrella. All he said was "you need this", and then ran away. He didn’t give me time even to say thank you. Dear stranger, if you are reading this, I want you to know how much I appreciated this act of love and kindness, coming at the right time. You gave me shelter and human warmth when I needed it the most. That is why I am dedicating my blog for Valentine’s Day to you, and to all people who exist in our lives at the right time, offering support or a smile when we need it.

Chavia Ali

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