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No Broken Wings

October 2003
No Broken Wings

Her dreams helped to soar through life, despite the obvious difficulties she faced, making my encounter with her an experience I will never forget.



During my first visit to India after almost twelve years, I met multitudes of relatives whose names I generally forgot within a week. However, amid swarms of cousins, aunts, uncles, and countless others, one particular face stands out in my memory. It was that of the petite young maid with excited eyes and a permanent radiant grin on her innocent face, whom I met in my aunt's house. She taught me the importance of determination and hope.

Every morning during my stay she would arrive five minutes late after walking through congested streets to work. She was so accustomed to cold greetings from other homeowners that another small scolding hardly seemed worrisome. Her black hair was always neatly brushed back into a braid adorned with fragrant jasmines. Her traditional Indian outfit, though not elaborate or costly, was immaculate and meticulously ironed. She would race through the door exhibiting a gleeful grin. Her apologies faded away as she paused to wave to everyone in the household, offer embraces, and even tickle the baby momentarily. Her ecstatic attitude confused peeved employers, who finally shook their heads in bewilderment and walked away.

During those two months encompassing various enthralling experiences, I particularly remember the events of one morning that served to change my perspective on life forever. The day was particularly humid, with the monsoon season drawing near. I had been in India for three weeks, and the initial awe of the exotic land had faded to be replaced by a sense of irritability. After silently watching the maid dust the furniture, my boredom finally boiled over into an attempted conversation with her.

I inquired if she had children. She responded that she had two school-age daughters, and proudly described each in great detail. The first was an outstanding student and was determined to become a doctor. The second loved to draw pictures. (I immediately recalled the set of drawing pencils I had carelessly stashed into my backpack before boarding the plane to India.) The woman hoped to send both daughters to college. As she folded laundry, my interest in this exceptional person increased. Through our conversation, I learned that she, only twenty-five years old, cleaned six houses daily in order to send her daughters to school. After waking at five o'clock AM, her only breaks during the day were for lunch and occasional snacks.

When I offered her the drawing pencils and a doll for her children, the woman's exquisite face broke into a luminous grin. She proudly told me that once she had bought a doll for her daughters. Her grin faded as she murmured that her husband was furious over the wasted salary. But soon her obvious sorrow was erased, and she smiled again as she began querying me about life in America, a place that she otherwise had no knowledge about. She asked how American maids go to jobs. When I responded that they travel by car, she asked in surprise why people wealthy enough to own cars needed to work at all. When I later described traveling on the airplane, my new friend's face filled with amazement and wonder. Her na�ve questions, such as whether I saw birds through the airplane window, did not seem so ridiculous. Instead they impressed me, revealing her at times overzealous curiosity. She energetically outlined her lifelong desire ? to soar between clouds in the sky in an airplane. I am certain that this woman, an angel in a world of deception, greed, and pessimism, has already found her abode in the clouds, with dreams and aspirations that make her a truly beautiful and admirable person.

This remarkable woman had a profound effect on my life. She was always contented and amiable, despite the severe reality of her life that involved financial strain, an emotionally abusive husband, and the enormous burden of supporting her family. Nevertheless, she lived each day with determination and hope. Her simple joy was occasionally perplexing, since others who lead wealthy, luxurious lives are never sincerely happy. As Langston Hughes eloquently declared, "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly."

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