Monday, May 2, 2016

Saving Humanity

Saving Humanity

By

Lena Winfrey Hayat


"Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are ultimately to be at peace with themselves. What humans can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature. This need we may call self-actualization." -- Abraham Maslow

Don't laugh when I tell you we can save humanity. Sure, we have grown cynical. As a race, humans appear to be spiraling into a dark, unending abyss without any light of hope. With a bad economy, falling quality of education, some without health insurance or healthcare and individuals greedily infected with the “me-syndrome,” we almost begin to believe those Doomsday predictions. It‟s easy to believe we are becoming extinct when we look at all the recent natural disasters and all of the apparently unsolvable problems. We need a miracle. We need a hero. I'm sorry to say we don't have any. However, humans as a united group need to stand up and become heroes so we can save humanity for ourselves and for our children.

The human spirit of change is alive when we see sparks of revolution across the world; they are shouting that they've had enough! We've seen it in America as people demonstrate for rights and humanity. When we speak our minds and demonstrate for our rights we are exercising a great freedom granted in the First Amendment, though some want to quell us.

However, there needs to be something more than just passionately shouting our opinions and will. All great ideas need vision and need action to back them up. We need a plan-- a comprehensive plan that will not only keep us afloat, but also rescue us from drowning in the disastrous mess we and our predecessors have created.

Three areas that might get us onto the road of salvation are:


  • Vision and a return to ethics/values
  • Interfaith cooperation
  • Raising the importance and quality of education

These ideas might seem simple; however, they are complex. If these issues are addressed, we could raise the nation and possibly save the whole world. Granted that economic problems may distract us from these higher goals, we still must forge forward. Sure, if someone is hungry or homeless he is not ready to consider vision, faith or education. What we must do is to help those in need to get into a better condition; however, we cannot ignore that we must exercise wisdom and plan to bring about happiness for all of us. If we return to vision and values, then we might help out our fellow human beings and learn to be self-less. If we raise education, we might get better jobs for our children tomorrow. If we learn to be more tolerant and cooperate, we might save the world.

Vision and Return to Ethics/Values



Vision is what gives us light in the dark tunnel of despair. It allows us to see our goals and helps us to focus on priorities. With this roadmap of vision, we can build steps and journey towards our goals.
As a nation, we lack vision. We are wandering lost in the wilderness of politics and bureaucracy. Congress seems unable to agree upon anything. There are tons of issues facing the nation. The president, even with noble ideas, is one man who needs government and others to assist him rather than fight and resist him. When looking at government, it is discouraging as we watch the “children” playing and fighting on the congressional playground.

We have to look at the big picture. We need leadership not only at the top, but even in local neighborhoods. We need to support our neighborhoods, towns, states and the whole country. And as one of the most powerful nations in the world, we should be guiding the world and cooperating with it rather than arrogantly bossing it around. As the old saying goes: “Honey attracts flies better than vinegar.” We need to learn the art of true communication.

Since we all belong to one race, the human race, we need to concentrate on all that we have in common and what are the common needs of human beings. If an asteroid is headed towards the earth, does it affect one country or the whole earth? If a life-threatening disease gets loose on the planet, does it choose its victims by gender, race or religion? Of course not! Disease is color/theology blind. Natural disasters and troubles don't go around taking down statistics and race information before striking. This should teach us something. Unfortunately, most of us miss nature's lessons.

Some human beings have led the world with amazing insight and marvelous inventions. There have been great, strategic leaders. There have been those who have inspired movements and people. Humans have the ability to reach amazing heights. We can transform ourselves into heroes. However, we need to do it as a team-- as a global effort. Cooperation is the key, but how do we get to that level?
First, we have to communicate and learn through real negotiation how to set down real goals and targets. We must prioritize as we learn how to give and take for the greater good of all.

Government, both national and local, need to learn true management skills. We can look at it like a company culture creation that we have heard about in all the top organizations. This culture is led by real vision with targets (or end results) in mind. There must be accountability. These principles of management and organization actually can be applied in not only official agencies but also in families and individual lives.

One big problem among humans today is the fact that we generally don't like to take responsibility for our actions, especially when we fail or have negative results. We don't like to admit our mistakes. We either make a million excuses or blame someone else. Rather than playing the blame game, we need to do what the Japanese culture teaches, „just solve the problem. ‟They don't spend precious time and money blaming others; they look quickly for solutions and how to implement them. No one is perfect; humans tend to fall prone to mistakes, and this is why we find many religions with a repentance clause. We may fall, but we can admit, ask forgiveness and climb back up again.

Years ago, America was seen as Rome was: it was a beacon of civilization and justice when the Republic was at its height. However, it disintegrated and fell due to self-destruction. Can't we learn from history?

What makes a nation truly civilized and advanced? Is it just technology? True civilization is shown in the behavior and characters of a country‟s citizens. It is reflected in the leadership's actions. America was once considered a beacon of justice and a land of freedom. Americans were seen as brave, courageous, determined, intelligent, friendly, and fair. Yet, over the years we have allowed this image to become tarnished abroad through some unfortunate decisions, actions and behaviors of a few who were in charge. This can be remedied if we go back to the basics and really envision what we as a nation truly want to be. This goes back to vision and goal setting just like the Founding Fathers did when they first wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We don't have to only stick to these documents. We can envision a new tomorrow and decide as a nation what direction we want to do by building on these foundations and making them stronger. We can advance, if we allow ourselves to truly advance in the best possible manner. Leadership must inspire the citizens to raise their moral/ethical standards and to guide them in a direction that is both good for the country and the individual citizen. This starts by leadership in every facet of the nation becoming good role models of these principles.

Great leaders of some of the biggest companies can teach us lessons in vision, coaching and creating inspiration/passion within the employees. This is applicable to real life outside the business world. When we know where we are going and have a purpose, then we will more readily work harder to reach our anticipated destination.

We find globally a decline in morals and a rise in crime. Abuses and atrocities abound throughout the world. It can happen to any neighborhood. No one is 100% safe. That makes it a priority to protect not just one community or one nation but indeed the whole world. However, we need to work from both angles. The best approach is from the grassroots population who work with local organizations who in turn work with international and global organizations. Global networking is as vital as oxygen, and it needs to be organized in an accessible manner.

This trend towards lawlessness is not just because law agencies can't enforce laws. It is because indeed there is a rise in crime and a loss of morality. How can we infuse society with ethics? How can we give people a conscience? How can we learn to take responsibility and influence people to once again, as many of our ancestors did, carry ourselves with honor, good manners, honesty, loyalty, dependability and neighborliness?

Our children always emulate what they see. Regardless of race or religion (even social status), some people unfortunately do not practice what they preach or truly live what they profess. Most religions have an aspect of peace, love and humanity along with honesty and good behavior. So, where is this good behavior? Even those who do not profess a faith were at least as children introduced to moral ethics in the classroom (at least we hope so). However, our classrooms have been losing ground in this area, too. 

Today, we have larger numbers of divorced families with split homes, more cases of poverty that drive some to crime who otherwise would not do so, and a spoiled youth (yes we did spoil our kids) who lack an understanding of true responsibility as money and objects become more easily given than time and attention. The role models have become either the streets where bullies, gangs and other less desirable elements exist, or TV and video games that are increasingly giving early exposure to children in violence and sex. Children don't need to see half of what they see, and this loss of innocence can never be regained; it will distort their view of the real world and affect their behavior. For example, research has shown that horror films can cause some children to behave more aggressively towards others or even to bed wet at night. Media and parents both need to share the blame.

Firstly, many will say that parents can forbid bad films/games. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done because many households have both parents working. Also, children learn from older siblings (who should be taught to be more cautious with younger siblings) or from classmates and friends. All a kid has to do sometimes is to step out their door and they might be assaulted by some negative image or colorful language. Kids pick up everything quickly like a sponge, which is why good education and influences should be introduced early.

Media and those in charge should concentrate on making more wholesome programs for children. And really, is it necessary to extensively show everything in a film? Can't they just leave some things to the imagination and just insinuate (like they used to do in the old black and white films that were excellent films with a great stories)? Media needs to tone things down just a bit; even some adults get tired of seeing all of these bad images all the time. People in media need to remember that their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews may see this film/program. Do they really want to expose these innocent children to such graphic material with such language all the time?

Sure, we say let the parents monitor their kids. However, when we say a thing is "forbidden" sometimes it makes the child more curious, and they will find ways to sneak to see it. Kids have ways of getting around rules. On the web, some kids sign-up and maybe lie about their age. Instead of 18 they might be 10. It happens. Maybe more secure systems need to be on sites, or maybe more ratings and better control should be on media products. However, media does have a responsibility since it is part of society. It has a great power to influence, and if it really wanted to it could find a way to positively influence youth. Media has a great responsibility since its voice is so loud and influential. This in turn trickles down to all the writers, directors, producers, actors and other celebrities. These persons in media must carry themselves as role models and as people who can inspire not only a nation but the world. You do have gifts and talents that can be used to create positive change in society. You can inspire, influence and change people and the world. That is power!

Leadership of the country should inspire morality in both the behavior and speeches. Those at the top can encourage others to scramble to implement positive behavior. Congress needs to think of this. Be good role models and encourage citizens to be good role models. Support parents in all ways. We need more programs (or maybe we need existing programs to work correctly) to support families financially so they can have enough food and proper healthcare. Young parents should have more training and to be taught something about parenting. It would help them greatly to understand how children develop and what is good for their growth as well understanding the reason behind all of this advice. Creating motivation to stick to these ideas is key. Head Start programs require extra support. Good teachers can be good role models for youth who may not have any other role model. Teachers must have proper training, support and encouragement. Bad teachers should be removed; no debate on this one. Teachers who are not appropriate for children, can actually cause more harm.

As a nation, we need to decide what we want our children to grow into and how we want our nation to develop. Do we want them to fall into chaos, crime, drugs and irresponsibility? Or, do we want our children to become successful, kind, honest pillars of society who empathize and help others?

There is hope. Daily we hear stories about amazing people who do good deeds and help others, but this group is shrinking and being assaulted by so many negative obstacles. We must support them. Humans must realize they are part of a community and should be encouraged to do something of value to help humanity in their neighborhoods. Then a chain reaction will occur that would spread nationally and globally. “Help starts at home.”

Interfaith Cooperation 


When we begin to care about others, we can actually gain a sense of brotherhood/sisterhood. This is vital. We have to learn to tolerate differences and look at these differences as strengths that we each have that can complement each other.

There exists too much hatred, prejudice, racism and arrogance in the world. Humans have to decide that as a race on planet earth, we are facing some real big problems such as weak economies, contagious diseases, natural disasters, global warming, threat of nuclear weapons/accidents (like in Japan), rising crime globally and so much more! Bullying is at a high level in school, work, and every other place. Terrorism is spreading and wars are raging. The human race is riding an elevator that has a cable ready to snap and crash us into a dark abyss.

Let us dream an “impossible dream” Just imagine we could build a Utopia. Imagine how calm, tranquil, safe and relaxing it would be? Of course, we live in the real world, but can't we strive to build a more peaceful and safer world?

In order to have peace and development, we first need communication so we can reach the level of cooperation. Most people do not know the true way to communicate. How many divorced couples divorced due to lack of communication? How many arguments occur daily at work or elsewhere due to lack of communication (and even lack of respect)? Communication is a much-needed skill that many people actually try to acquire by reading books or attending lectures. This is truly learned by practice and the desire to apply it. We cannot have true cooperation without understanding, or at least the acceptance of others who are different from us or hold different beliefs than we do.

Today, we have so many problems in the world over people vying for who has the best religion, the true religion, the correct religion or even the acceptable religion! Everyone, wake up! Most religions do believe there is a Divine Power or a Creator – One God. Many of the world religions have similar moral codes that forbid lying, stealing, killing, etc. So, why can't we all sit down calmly and have peaceful dialogue? We need to concentrate on the common themes that bind us rather than small details that divide us. Each person is free to believe as he/she wishes, and each person is responsible for him or herself. So, why do we always have to argue and hate over differing beliefs? Why do we have to fear those who are different? We are really not so different. We are all humans! Most of us have the same problems, same dreams and same desires in life. We need to pull together and cooperate to save the world!

Educated, specialized, prominent scholars of all faiths could meet together and analyze what we have in common and decide what we all mutually consider good as well as what we mutually consider harmful. Then they can write down common goals and ideas for saving the earth and humanity. This certainly may not be easy, but it is not impossible. We need to gather people who are not only knowledgeable but also rational, flexible, tolerant, and preferably bi-lingual or with translators. We should include people globally and bring representatives from all over the world. Plans should be made with priorities set forth that could even be brought up at the UN. These efforts should be pushed forward by countries that have the clout to do so.

War is such a destructive act. Sometimes it may be necessary, but it should be the last resort. Unfortunately, some people are looking for quick-fixes, and they turn to violence rather than exhausting all avenues of peace. Peace needs to be a priority! Every life is precious and no one has a right to decide whose is more precious than another, unless someone is harming another and we have laws to deal with this. We must help our neighbors and build bridges, even when we feel afraid to so do. Sometimes we have to take a chance. We should expand our friends and learn about those different from ourselves; then we'll discover we aren't really that different after all. We will surprise each other with our common interests and common goals. 

Raising the Importance and Quality of Education


Sometimes lack of education can create mistrust and prejudice. We fear what we don't know. Most of us don't realize that some of our actions, behaviors and thinking come from our parents and our environment. We tend to live in a way that we were raised without realizing we may be wrong or may not be “perfect.” We tend to carry an attitude that our way is the best way. We sometimes get arrogant and want to force others to be just like us, as if there is only one mold.

Have you ever cooked a dish and your mother-in-law, sister or aunt comes in and tells you that you are doing it wrong? They try to re-adjust you and make you cook the meal their way rather than just accepting that your way could also be correct? Isn't that annoying? For men, I'm sure this has happened while they were fixing a car or the house and their father-in-law or father comes and tries to correct them according to what they think is correct. Sometimes the other person may really be correct, but there is more than one way to do some things. In life, we have to remember there are various ways to do the same activity and that maybe all the ways are correct.

When we lack education or don't use the education we have, we tend to see the world in a narrow way. We only know the small world of our street or town. When the vision is limited, we are partially blind. We need to keep in mind no one has a monopoly on the truth.

There are different types of education, and people are on various tracks. We have academic and religious education. Even self-awareness is a type of education that unfortunately some people lack. These basic types of education are needed world-wide. Some people lack the academic skills to get a decent job or even a job at all. We still have people in the US who are illiterate! How mind boggling! Basic skills must exist among every corner of the population. And in general, the whole world would do much better and get along better if people everywhere had a decent level of education that not only allows him/her to hold a decent job, but also to have some knowledge about the world and other people in it that are different from themselves. Once there is a basic understanding, fear of the unknown lessens and people can find some way to communicate or at least to tolerate.

Basic ethics and morality, regardless of religion, must exist in all education world-wide where people mutually respect each other and can accept that other people hold different views. Tolerance is an ingredient for peace. Development cannot occur successfully when there is no peace.

The reason I include religious education as a priority is because there exist some people throughout the world who profess a faith, and yet they do not know their own religion properly! Some people will do acts contrary to their religion, even unknowingly. If people had the right teachers or right schools teaching their correct faith, then it would be harder for those with political or fanatical agendas to play with them. Anyway, it is pure ignorance to claim a faith and to know nothing about what it says. Faith/religion should not be inherited. Even when born into a faith, one should examine that faith and be sure he/she knows what he/she is professing to believe in. There must be conscious knowledge to separate culture from religion. Sure, the culture may have remnants of religion in it or vice-versa, but most religions in their pure forms regardless of location or place of origin, share universal truths and basic elements because most of them come from one Divine Source, the Creator. Even those who don't claim a faith should hold to basic ethics. We are all human beings on this earth who must learn to work together with decency and a spirit of sincere cooperation.

In order to save humanity, trust has to be built between all groups of people, and this bridge can be fortified with an improvement in communication with the setting forth of a prioritized vision that is increased with interfaith cooperation and the re-development of education. 




About the Author

Lena Winfrey Hayat was born in Virginia and graduated with a MA degree from VA Tech University. Lena lived overseas for years in various countries. She is the mother of 3 sons and 1 daughter. She has worked various jobs that include teaching, newspaper reporting, editing/translating, management and office admin. She published her first book "The Metamorphosis of a Muslim" in 2011. She has published a short story "Evolution or Revolution" as well as a collection of short stories "From Phoenix Flames". She enjoys writing in a variety of genres, both fiction and nonfiction. Lena writes poetry, novels and screenplays. She has some theatrical experience, and she has taken some courses to give her a grasp of filmmaking. Lena was fortunate to have worked on three short independent films as a script supervisor in the Orlando area. One of Lena's dreams is to eventually get into  major filmmaking. Still, her main passion will always be writing.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Characters Living in Poetry


Today, I want to share with you two characters that have reoccurred in my poems throughout several years. They are like ‘friends’ to me, and as you notice the poems might have the same characters but are each in different styles and progress in ideas. It is interesting to see the progression of my writing, as I started writing poetry years ago while in high school. Looking back, it is interesting to see how far I have traveled both in my life and in my writing.


These two characters, Phoenix and Dragon, are bonded as friends and almost like family. They have grown together in the poems and have evolved. They have in some ways a mentor/student relationship. We will begin with the oldest to the newest poems, and though I cannot remember the exact dates for them, the first one was written over a decade ago while the last one was written only a couple of years ago. Enjoy! 



PHOENIX


Oh, Phoenix, so high in the sky,
Tell me the secrets that you know.
I hear your whispers and your sighs. 
I know life has caused you much woe.
However, you are free and strong.
You bare many scars and much pain.
Yet, you rebuild life from the wrong.
You never let trouble leave stains.
You rise from the flames of the fire,
With new goals and many desires.

Phoenix, show the world its mistakes.
If the world would listen to you,
It would be saved many heartaches,
And learn how to care again, too.
Phoenix, open your truth to me,
And help me to find my pathway.
Please, show me what I need to see.
Destiny will bring better days.
My bright future beckons me,
While you sit there holding the key.

                                              --LWS







My Wise Friend

In this chaotic life,
Full of pain and strife,
Remembering the days,
When we lived simpler ways,
Talking at our special shrine
Among the forest pines,
Dreaming to see you,
And to hear you, too—
Calmly I sit at your feet
In the humblest seat.
Hearing your homilies—
Such rare anomalies,
Wisdom drips like honey,
Sincere advice--  the key.
Always my true friend,
Until the very end.
Accepting all of me
Until I am set free.

                        --LWS






The Bird and the Dragon

A wise Golden Dragon long ago did live.
His guidance to his Bird friend he did give.
The Bird was a special and very rare type
Whose fate writ to suffer ‘til time was ripe.
The Dragon with patience did advise.
He knew one day her real soul would rise.
This shy Bird’s soul had been shattered.
By Life’s harshness she had been battered.
The Dragon always held onto great hope
And supported her stronger than any rope.
Yet, the Bird found it difficult to trust
Despair and doubt were her outer crust.
The Dragon knew her strong, brave inner core
Was mystical like ancient folk-lore.
Even when she didn’t see it, her magic he knew.
He’d always been there and watched as she grew.
After her relentless search, to ash she did turn.
The Bird in blazing, bright flames did burn.
Finally, the Dragon called to her to awaken.
She must rise, for he couldn’t be mistaken.
Suddenly, the majestic Phoenix rose from ash.
With a mighty, purposeful passion she did dash.
Her pure heart had to discover its own way.
Dragon believed in her and always did pray.
Phoenix now created herself and her rules.
The Dragon only gave her keys and some tools.
Knowing what real trust was and love,
Liberated, she chose to return like a dove.
She was now free to soar high in the sky.
No more flowing tears and no need to cry.
Never again would she and the Dragon say ‘bye.’
In their dreams, together they’ll  forever  fly.
                                                            
                                                          --LWS






Response from the Golden Dragon

This dragon and this bird, looking back I claim to know,
Tho' in that other life, time took a different flow.
In a clearing in the forest, witnessed only by the trees,
This bird and beast you speak of drank ambrosia 'neath the leaves.
That they then were yet but hatchlings neither bird nor dragon knew,
They were too new to the earth to do otherwise; so flew.
With the ambrosia long since finished, and the clearing far away
Twas the sun's red flame which turned that bird to phoenix on that day!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           --Golden Dragon






Immersed in Love

True, honest, pure love is hard to find,
Yet this ancient couple holds it tight.
Dragon and Phoenix are a rare kind.
Their love lifts them into flight.

Their origin began so very long ago,
As they were friends in the forest pine.
Phoenix loves Dragon as Juliet did Romeo.
Dragon with dignity tries to keep the line.

They had lost each other for many years.
Wandering alone in a world of pain,
Both lamented and shed so many tears.
Fate pushed them together safely out of the rain.

They had their separate lives, yet the hunger was there.
Love lingered in their voices and eyes.
There’s no denying the electrified air. 
Their unending love will grow until they die.

Time is so precious and flying by so fast.
Release your worries and flow in your relationship further.
Don’t worry and ponder on all you have lost in the past.
Grasp your future and immerse yourselves in each other.

So beautiful they are as they completely give.
Unselfish sharing and sacrifice beyond and above.
All their expended energy makes them live.
They’re intoxicated happily by their love.

True, honest, pure love is so hard to find.
Dragon and Phoenix are a rare kind.

                                                      --Lena Winfrey Seder



And the story of Dragon and Phoenix continues… 


Monday, June 8, 2015

Highlighting Social Problems Through Writing


Domestic Violence is actually on the increase worldwide, and it is a major problem that is destroying families and deteriorating society. It occurs among all races, nationalities, religions, social strata and educational levels.



I have spotlighted this issue in my collection of realistic fictional short stories From Phoenix Flames in order to create more awareness in the hope that we can collectively find a solution to deal with this problem. Abuse can affect women, men or children. There are various forms of abuse such as physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological. We pray to help both victims and abusers by getting them the correct help and counseling that is needed; however, in some cases victims need to know when to get out and not to wait too late. Sometimes the abuse can lead to death.




I am posting below one of my short stories that is in From Phoenix Flames. This one is about a neighborhood that actually has some hope when they come together to help their poor neighbor. If only it could always be this simple. Enjoy it and ponder the message inside.


Standing Up for Change

Daniel heard the alarm first and got up to prepare for work. He noticed his wife Laura was still sleeping, which was unusual. She was exhausted from work the day before due to staying for a late meeting. Daniel sat beside her on the bed, watched her sleeping like an angel and caressed her cheek. He decided to let her sleep a little longer, so he got the kids up, dressed and fed them before waking her up. Laura rushed in as he was sending their three children out to the bus.

“Oh, my God! I’m sorry I slept late.”

“No problem, Honey. Everything is under control.”

Laura glanced around to see that breakfast had been eaten and the table cleared away. Her children were already on their way to the bus. She sighed relief as she came over and hugged Daniel.

“You’re truly the best husband in the world! Thank you, Sweetheart.”

“And you’re the best wife in the world. I left you to sleep so you would be rested. How do you feel?”

“I feel better. Did you eat yet?”

“Yes, Baby. And I made you some waffles, too.”

“Awww… what would I do without you? You’re too amazing!”

Daniel kissed his wife and held her. “You’re my Queen. I’d do anything to make you happy.”

“And you’re my King. I love you so much!”

“And I love you more.”

They rubbed noses and almost forgot about the time. Daniel pulled away, “If we don’t stop now, I think we won’t make it to work.”

Laura laughed as they looked into each other’s eyes. Daniel sat her down with her waffles and coffee as he finished packing his briefcase. Both of them were so happy, even after having two teenagers and an eight year old; they felt like newlyweds. Both of them learned long ago how to communicate their needs and the importance of respecting each other. They had mercy and love between them, and they always helped one another.

Next door, Muhammad had awakened early for Fajr (the dawn prayer). He tried to wake up his wife Layla, but she was really exhausted. She was pregnant with their first child. He had left her to sleep longer, but woke her before the sun rose. He was always worried about her and tried to let her take extra rest. He started helping around the house more and went to all of her doctor’s appointments with her. He was excited for their child, whom the doctor said appeared to be a boy. However, he worried a lot about her health and couldn’t imagine life without his wife. She was the most important one to him. So, he watched her diet with her, made sure she took all of her vitamins and made sure she was walking daily. He walked with her at night. Sure, his friends would call, but his wife took priority. And they would pray together, play games together and watch TV together. They were happy just being with each other. He felt like the most blessed man in the world.

Muhammad made coffee and put some chocolate chip cookies on a plate. He carried them on a tray to his wife. They sat at a small table with chairs that was in their bedroom. She smiled and was so thankful to have such a loving, caring, kind husband. She knew she had the best treasure in the whole world.

“Assalam alaikum,” said Muhammad.

“And peace be upon you, too,” replied Layla. 

“Here, drink your coffee before it gets cold.”

“Thanks! You’re the sweetest husband in the entire world. I’m so lucky to have you.”

“And you’re the best wife in the entire world. I’m lucky to have you, too, my Angel.”

Muhammad fed Layla a cookie and wiped her mouth off with a tissue. Then, he kissed her sweetly on the lips. She smiled into his eyes. Life was beautiful! She gave him a sip of his coffee and blotted his lips with a tissue. Then, she kissed him sweetly as she sat in his lap. He held her closely and just enjoyed being with her. 

“Sweetheart, you need to hurry before you’re late for work.”

“Work? Now, who is more important to me, you or work? If you need me, I’ll stay home with you today?”

“I wish. No, I know you have to go, but it would be nice.”

“Yeah, it would. I guess I have to do what I have to do. But if you need anything, just call me, OK? And take some rest today.”

“Thanks, Sweetheart. You’re the best!”

She hugged him tightly. They were soulmates who always respected each other. There was always mercy and kindness between them. They were always floating on clouds, even during stressful times because they had each other to cling to.

*****

As Muhammad and Daniel were both exiting their houses to go to work, they heard a piercing scream from the pale yellow house from across the street. They glanced at each other with concern. They heard some breaking of glass, shouts and crying. They knew it was Stan and Rita. They had always given the neighborhood dramatic shows that most of the neighborhood would rather have lived without.

“Good morning, Muhammad,” said Daniel.

“Good morning, Daniel.”

“When do you think they’ll ever stop fighting? Really, I feel so sorry for Rita.”

“Me, too.”

“I’m always tempted to go over there and have a talk with them and stop him.”

“I know what you mean. It just isn’t right.”

Stan stormed out of his house and got in his black pick-up. He gunned the engine and backed out recklessly. 

He barely glanced at Muhammad and Daniel. They just stood gaping at his dramatic exit.

Laura came out to get in her own car to rush to work. She kissed Daniel on the cheek.

“Good morning, Muhammad. How’s Layla?”

“She’s fine, but still a bit nauseous.”

“That’s normal though a bit late in the fifth month. However, every woman is different. Send her my greetings and tell her I’ll visit soon.”

“I will. You’re welcome any time.”

“Thanks, and have a good day.”

“You, too.”

Laura drove off. Daniel shook hands with Muhammad and wished him a happy day as well. Everyone rushed to work and the neighborhood calmed until the evening.

*****

Rita’s tears rolled down her cheeks as she was feeding her two year old son Nathan. She hated Stan. How could she stay any longer? Yet, if she left, she knew he would follow her and bring her back. She cleaned up the broken vase from the floor and turned on the TV to escape her reality. She called her friend Joann who also tried to convince her to leave, but she knew it was futile. And what about her son? He needed his father, right?

Rita hurried with lunch because if Stan returned home and it wasn’t hot and on the table the second he came in the door, she knew there would be trouble.

*****

Layla decided to do some work around the house. She had heard the commotion in the morning when Stan left his driveway like a maniac. She really worried about her neighbor, Rita, who seemed to be a nice young woman. She decided to bake some cookies and take some to her.

After cooking a light lunch, she packed up a few of the cookies to take to Rita.  She dressed in her long black skirt, medium length dark pink shirt and matching pink and crème swirled scarf. She headed over to Rita’s house and rang the bell. It took a minute, but Rita opened the door.

“Hi!” said Layla. “Do you remember me? I’m your neighbor from across the street?”

“Oh, hi! Yes, I do remember. Uh… would you like to come in?”

“Sure.”

Layla was led to a light brown leather sofa. She saw the smiling toddler playing on the ground and could smell steak and potatoes cooking.

“Oh, these cookies are for you,” said Layla. “I hope you’ll enjoy them.”

“You really shouldn’t have, but thank you very much.”

Layla and Rita couldn‘t really find much to discuss, as they were new to each other. Rita wanted to talk but couldn’t open up about her problems. She wished that she could, as she found Layla to be very nice. Layla asked about her son, and they talked about Layla’s pregnancy. Then, she excused herself to go finish lunch at her home.

Rita tried one of the cinnamon cookies after Layla had gone. “Mmmm… this is great! Wow, she’s an amazing cook!” She placed the cookies in the kitchen and finished cleaning her house. Her husband hated to see one thing out of place.

*****

Muhammad and Daniel arrived home at the same time. Daniel decided to come over to visit since his oldest daughter was taking care of warming up the food, and his other kids were doing their homework before their mother’s arrival home. Daniel missed chatting with Muhammad. Though they had different religions and came from different backgrounds, they had a lot in common. They even used to play tennis together, but they had both gotten really busy at work lately to keep up with it.

Layla fixed some lemonade and placed cookies on a plate. She let Muhammad carry it outside on the porch where the men would sit to enjoy the afternoon sun and cool breeze that had started to fill the air. An early dinner would come later.

Daniel came back over and greeted Muhammad with a handshake.

“Salam,” said Daniel.

“Shalom,” replied Muhammad.

“How’s work?”

“Busy as usual. And you?”

They conversed on various topics. They enjoyed each other’s company. And despite the differences that some people put between Muslims and Jews, Daniel and Muhammad got along very well. They respected each other and embraced their differences. They were both decent men who realized that before anyone can be labeled by a religion, they should be decent human beings.

The conversation eventually turned to their neighbor. They wondered what would be the best way to handle this situation. They were really concerned about the safety of Rita and wanted to help in some way.

Laura pulled up and got out of her car. She joined the men on the porch. Layla came out with more lemonade and cookies. She greeted and hugged Laura. 

“How are you and how’s the baby doing?” asked Laura.

“I’m fine. The baby is now starting to kick,” said Layla.

“That’s great! I remember those days…”

“Me, too,” interjected Daniel. “Those were great days! I’m sure, Muhammad, that you are excited about the new baby.”

“Daniel, you can’t imagine,” said Layla. “He always comes to the doctor with me to see the ultrasound and to hear the baby’s heartbeat.”

“If you need any help or advice, I’m ready,” offered Laura.

“Thanks,” said Layla.

They laughed at some jokes and had good conversation. Laura and Daniel excused themselves to go eat dinner with their family. Suddenly, the squeak of tires pulling in across the street caused them all to notice Stan parking swiftly. He got out of his car with a grimace as dark as a storm cloud. He slammed his door hard enough to break it off the hinges. They all looked at each other and shook their heads as each couple went into their homes.

*****

Stan stormed through the door without even a ‘hello’ to his wife. He washed his hands and dressed in a pair of pajama pants and an old t-shirt. He came into the kitchen to eat, as he was starving. He examined the food, which seemed to be properly cooked. He finally greeted his wife who sat down to join him while feeding Nathan at the high chair.

Rita placed the food on his plate, and Stan ate heartily without saying a word. She placed him some soda in a glass beside his hand. She gave him seconds of everything. He hungrily gobbled it all down. Then, Stan got up to go into the living room and watch some TV to relax. Rita finished eating quickly because she knew he would be waiting for her to bring him his coffee.

Rita brought his strong, black coffee with some of the cookies from Layla. She thought he would like them.
“Where’s these cookies from?” asked Stan. “I didn’t know you could bake any this good.”

“They’re from our neighbor, Layla, from across the street.”

He stopped eating and looked at her. “Why would she bring them to you? Did she come in and stay?”

Rita felt uneasy and backed up. She knew a storm was coming. “Stan, she only stayed for a few minutes, and she brought them over just as a good neighbor.”

“What did you talk about?” he asked standing up.

“Nothing much. Just about her pregnancy and our son Nathan. She was really nice.”

“And that’s all? Why would she bring you cookies? Maybe she’s feeling sorry for you or something?”

“I told you. She was only being nice.”

He angrily threw the plate of cookies against the wall. “And don’t take any charity from anyone, you stupid fool!” He hastily grabbed her by the hair and dragged her across the room. He was going to punish her so she’d remember. “And don’t take anything from either those Jews or Muslims. They’re different from us, and you know you can’t trust them.”

Rita felt like all of her long, brown hair was going to come out from the roots. She struggled to get free, but he kept pulling her. He was searching for his thick, black leather belt. He would make her remember to keep her mouth closed and to stay in her house. He didn’t need people in his business. Stan eased his grip to reach for the belt that was hanging on a peg on the back of the bedroom door. Rita managed to escape and started running out the front door.

“If you run, you’ll get twice as much!” he shouted.

Rita was so scared and just wanted to run anywhere. Last time he beat her, it was so bad that her body had welts all over it, and she could barely move for more than a week. She got out onto the porch and was heading down the stairs screaming. Stan followed her like a predator about to pounce on its prey.

Daniel, Muhammad, Laura and Layla looked out of their windows see the source of the commotion. They stared in horror as they saw Stan lunge down the stairs swinging the belt after Rita. They were shocked. Without a word, both Daniel and Muhammad dashed out of their houses and ran across the street to prevent any harm. They weren’t sure what to do, but they knew that they had to stop this injustice.

Stan managed to get one lick from the belt on Rita’s back as she yelped in pain. Muhammad grabbed Stan’s hand to stop him from beating her while Daniel came from behind to subdue him. Rita ran across the street to Layla and Laura, who took her into Layla’s house.  She was crying and they comforted her.

“Oh, my God! My son is still in the house!” yelled Rita.

“Shhh… don’t worry,” said Laura. “I don’t think he’ll hurt the baby. When things calm, we’ll go and get him, OK?”

“Just sit and relax,” said Layla as she brought her some lemonade to drink. The two women sat beside her to calm her.

Meanwhile outside, Stan was struggling to free himself from Daniel and Muhammad’s grip, but to no avail.

“Settle down,” said Daniel. “We won’t hurt you, but you need to calm down and let us talk about this.”

“You damn foreigners! Just mind your own business.”

“Hey, listen, we’re both Americans,” stated Muhammad. “And we’re trying to be good neighbors. This isn’t right. If you’re upset with your wife, you should not beat her or yell at her.”

“There are more constructive ways to deal with arguing,” stated Daniel. “And if you need help, you can get some counseling. And we can try to help you as much as we can, so just ask us. That is what neighbors are for. We should support and help each other.”

“Yeah, right! What is in it for you? Why would you help me?” questioned Stan.

“Firstly, because we can’t just stand by and see something wrong happening in our neighborhood,” said Muhammad. “And we don’t like to see you in pain because you’re or neighbor.”

“Why should I trust you?”

“I can’t think of a reason to, except that we haven’t called the police yet,” said Daniel. “But if it happens again, we will call the police. You have to promise to calm down and get some professional help as soon as possible.”

 “OK… just release me. I promise I won’t do anything.”

Daniel and Muhammad looked at each other. Should they trust him? Their guts said ‘no’ but they released their grip on him and helped him to get up to his front porch to sit down. They seated themselves beside him.
Suddenly, Stan flipped out a pocket knife and tried to bring it on Daniel. Muhammad rose up and grabbed his hand as Daniel moved out of the way just in time. He knocked it out of Stan’s hand as Daniel helped to grab Stan again. They had him in a vice-grip.

“Ok, that’s enough!” shouted Daniel. “Settle down! We don’t want to fight you. What’s wrong with you?”
Stan just stared at them.

“Why are you so angry?” asked Muhammad. “Why do you get so angry at your wife? Just because you might be upset from work doesn’t mean you come home and take it out on her. Your wife is supposed to be your friend, you lover and your comfort. How can you hurt the mother of your son?”

Stan was thinking and really had no answer. Tears welled up in his eyes, as he realized he didn’t like being the way he was. Yet, how could he change?

The men got Stan to go sit back down. He agreed to sit still and to listen.

“Stan, you can seek professional help. It’s alright to do so. Many people get help,” said Daniel.

“Whenever you get angry, it’s better to take a breath and not say or do anything. Count to ten. Just try to calm yourself or walk out of the room. This might help. And when you are angry, try to analyze why you’re really feeling anger. Usually, what we appear to be angry about is not the real cause of our anger,” said Muhammad.

“Why do you care?” asked Stan.

“Because we do,” said Daniel. “We care about are neighbors as we do our family and friends. I know not everyone does, but that’s how it should be.”

Stan was surprised. Yet, he calmed and found he could trust these guys. He didn’t understand why he trusted them, but he did. Yet, how could he be friends with a Jew and a Muslim? His KKK father would turn over in his grave! Yet, deep down, he knew his father was wrong. These were men just like him. Maybe even better than himself. He had always noticed from far across the street that they seemed to have happy families. He envied them. He wished he could find that kind of peace and happiness. But how?

Rita looked out of Layla’s window and was surprised to see Stan calmly sitting with the men. She was puzzled but glad. She felt peace with Layla and Laura. She knew she was safe here. And she really appreciated their help.

“It seems they got him to calm down,” said Layla.

“I think they are talking to him about getting help. Daniel mentioned to me before how he wished he could encourage him to seek counseling,” said Laura.

“Will it do any good?” asked Rita.

“Only God knows,” said Layla. “But sometimes when these angry men get counseling, they can learn to control their tempers and even understand themselves better.”

“Yes, this is true,” said Laura. “However, some men have a hard time to change, so you need to watch during this process to see if he is really changing or reverting back to his old ways. Sometimes men can convince their partners to stay just by telling them that they will change. And these men do change for a month or even a few months, but then one event will set them off, and they will go back to the way they were. It works for some men and for others it doesn’t.”

“You have to choose if you want to stay with him and to patiently help him to change,” said Layla. “But if you don’t feel safe and don’t want to continue, then that is a choice, too. You have to decide what is best for you and your son.”

“I’ll give him a chance, especially for Nathan’s sake,” said Rita.

“And if you need anything at all, then let us know,” offered Layla.

“I will. Really, you have both been very kind to me. Thanks!”

“That’s what neighbors are for,” said Layla.

*****

After some time, there was a knock at the door. Then, Muhammad entered and stated that Stan was waiting outside to tell Rita something, if she was willing to listen. Rita timidly went to the door. She poked her head out and stared at Stan.

“Rita, I’m really sorry. I know I’ve done wrong by you, and if you’ll give me another chance I promise to try my best to change. I’ll get help. Just please forgive me and give me another chance.” 

Rita couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Stan was apologizing? It was rare for him to ever admit he was wrong about anything. Her heart was moved to give him one more chance. She stepped out and came to stand beside him.

“Do you really mean it? Are you truly sorry?” asked Rita.

“Yes, I am,” stated Stan. “It’ll be hard, but I’ll try.”

“OK, but just one more time. I’ll give you a chance, at least for Nathan’s sake.’’

Stan smiled. He took her hand in his and kissed it. “I promise I’ll do my best to make everything up to you.”
Stan and Rita thanked the men and women as they walked back towards their house. He put his arm around her, and he felt an unusual calm and saw a glimmer of hope. He wasn’t sure if he could change, but he would try. He knew that it would be worth it. It was the first time in his life anyone had even bothered to be nice to him and to be concerned about him. These neighbors seemed to care. And he felt now that he had hope for his family and his future.



There are 11 short stories in From Phoenix Flames that follow the lives of some amazing characters who have struggled through various situations with the hope to gain freedom and a new life. Check them out at Amazon: