By Phoebe Farag Mikhail
Read to the end to find out how to enter a giveaway for the beautiful new journal, Love Never Fails, the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for yourself or for anyone you love.
It was no ordinary “thank you.” Nor was it just any “you’re welcome.”
It was August of 1999, and I was 20 years old, visiting from New York with family friends who lived in Virginia. Uncle Sameh and Tant Mona had known my parents since they were all still single, in Egypt, before they all emigrated to the United States in the 1960s and 70s. I am not related to Uncle Sameh and Tant Mona, but Egyptians address any adult old enough to be their parents as “Uncle” and “Tant” – French for Aunt. Our families were so close, however, that we may as well have been related.
After spending the morning chatting with them, it was time for lunch. I headed to the dining room and sat down. Tant Mona wheeled Uncle Sameh to the table in his wheelchair, and then helped him get up off his wheel chair and onto the dining chair.
“Thank you, Mona,” he said.
“You’re welcome, Sameh,” she replied as she kissed him on the forehead.
The image and that exchange have remained with me to this day. Uncle Sameh had been suffering for many years from multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating disease of the nerves that has no cure till today. For the previous five years, he lost his ability to walk and had to get around in a wheelchair. Tant Mona had to do everything for him – get him out of bed, bathe him, get him into his wheelchair, get him off his wheelchair to sit at the dining table or at his computer … on a daily basis, while also raising two children and working as a full time teacher.
So it was especially significant to me that Uncle Sameh thanked Tant Mona so naturally for something she probably does several times a day for him, and had been doing for the last five years. He did not take her for granted, and she did not express any sense of burden for taking care of so many of his needs.
Sameh and Mona met in Egypt. Sameh had been living and working as an engineer and a professor in the United States for
seven years. On New Year’s Eve, 1976, he wrote the following New Year’s resolutions in his journal:
“I want to finish my Ph.D., learn to forgive people, pray for my parents, family and friends, find a good job for my good friend, find a good job for me, and now that I’m getting older, I want to find the perfect wife.”
So in 1977 he went back to Egypt to find a wife. He traveled 300 miles from his hometown Cairo to visit his cousin in Assiut, a city in southern Egypt, through whom he would meet Mona. Within three days of meeting each other, Sameh and Mona were engaged.
Forty-five days after Sameh’s arrival to Egypt, Mona was on her way back to the United States with him, married. Mona fondly remembers chatting with my mom before the wedding. My mom had been engaged to my dad for several months, and could not believe that Mona had agreed to marry Sameh so quickly. “Three days Mona? I’ve been engaged three months and my nerves are shot!”
Both my parents and Sameh and Mona come from a generation of Coptic Christian Egyptians who knew how to fall in love and stay in love. The key word was “stay.” Love for them meant unwavering commitment to each other and to their children, and divorce was not in their vocabulary. This had to do with their Coptic Orthodox Christian religion and heritage, which does not permit divorce with only a few exceptions, and which believes that marriage is an everlasting union, making two people one person through the power of the Holy Spirit. And it had to do with their faith in God that He would carry them through any changes and challenges they went through together. They instilled this same faith in their children (including me), both by their words and by their examples.
Soon after my visit that August, Uncle Sameh had a successful surgery to help him manage his MS.
He died a few weeks after of a massive heart attack at age 54.
In my dad’s words at Uncle Sameh’s funeral, “The church does not call his death, death. He departed because this is not his citizenship. His citizenship is in Heaven.”
The next time I would visit Tant Mona and Uncle Sameh’s home was a week after Uncle Sameh’s funeral. The moment she saw me, Tant Mona gave me a long hug and cried into my shoulder, “you had a wonderful time with Sameh last time you came.”
I did indeed. It was at that time that I learned something new about the meaning of love. Love is indeed about “staying,” but not just about literally staying together. It is about how to stay together. Uncle Sameh’s “thank you” demonstrated a gentle appreciation for even the most mundane, and perhaps even humiliating things that Tant Mona had to do for him. Tant Mona’s “you’re welcome” demonstrated the warm readiness to undertake that and any other task for the love of her life, as she has often described Uncle Sameh.
Many other couples demonstrate appreciation for each other in different ways. But this form of appreciation – regular, daily, heartfelt – is a strong expression of love for me. A “thank you” for the most regular and mundane activity transforms it into something else. It acknowledges that the small things we do on a daily basis for the ones we love are as much acts of love as the bigger things we do. A “you’re welcome” says “I’m glad you saw what I was doing was done out of my love for you. And it is.”
Thus, I knew my now husband was the right person for me when I noticed, during our courtship and engagement, how he thanked me for the smallest things I did for him, even things I didn’t think twice about doing. Nine years into our marriage, and he still says “thank you,” for things as common as handing him a cup of tea—even if we’re in a conflict. And true to Tant Mona’s example, I still respond with “you’re welcome,” sometimes adding “honey,” and sometimes, a kiss.
Do you have a special moment that taught you something about love? Subscribe to my email newsletter by clicking here, and then share that moment in the comments below, and you will be entered to win this beautiful new journal by Hilda St. Clair, Love Never Fails (US addresses only). It is a beautiful, full color journal with inspiring quotes and interactive exercises about love in all its shapes and colors. One exercise asks the reader to make a list of five “duties” in life, and then to imagine each one “fully motivated by love.” One of my favorite quotes in the book is this one, by St. Augustine of Hippo: “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others.” To see the inside of this journal for yourself, click here. Can’t wait? Purchase the book here. The giveaway ends TOMORROW, February 10, 2017 at 11:59 pm.
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