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Remember Me With a Smile

| This is the 591st story of Our Life Logs® |

In these 42 years that I have lived, I have immensely concluded that life is nothing but an enigma. It gets more and more complicated as you try to understand it. Still, I find ways that the world makes me smile, even when I don’t completely understand it.

My name is Ashraf Hussain, and I am from Kasur, Pakistan. My father was a driver at a cargo company, and my mother was a housewife. When I was 12 years old, my mother gave birth to my premature sister and both died in the process. I say this because her void marked my childhood. She had once been our pillar of strength, and she was taken from us. My father lived and worked with a heavy heart and heavy eyes. I did as well.

The only thing I have seen until now is poverty. The money my father made was barely enough to feed my younger brother and me. We couldn’t have large meals. We couldn't go to school. As a child, I did not understand. I asked my father for toys, games, and everything I saw in the shops along the road. Things that I could only see but never have. My father would politely turn me down, saying that those things were not meant for us. I never saw my father complaining about our poverty, even when he couldn't provide. As I grew up, I realized the difference between rich and poor. I saw the difference in our hair, our teeth, the clothes we wore.

When I voiced my disdain, my father would reply, "We are not rich. We cannot afford such things." One day, however, I asked him, "What is that one thing that we have in common with the rich?” He looked at me with kind eyes and said, “You have a beautiful smile that could change anything.” He believed that a smile was the only thing that you would always own. A smile could change your look on life. It could help you feel less hopeless.

I found this thought very fascinating. I understood that the one thing I always had was my father’s love. His love had no boundaries. We were street kids with nothing to eat and nothing suitable to wear, but he treated us like kings.

I held this lesson of my father’s close to my heart.

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It’s so interesting how you have nothing but manage to give your children the best possible teachings. The only remorse my father lived through was the fact that he couldn't educate us. He wanted us to earn an excellent living, but unfortunately, that just couldn't happen. My brother was only 14 when he found his first job as a laborer. I was 18 when I started working at a barbershop.

When my father left this world in 2006 due to a heart attack, I was devastated. Still, I was all too aware that death is simply a part of life. I made myself smile when it got too difficult. I reminded myself that I had 27 years of my life with him. I remembered the good times. I remembered the days that he would come home, drenched in sweat. Then, he would rush to the kitchen to cook us a meal. Three pieces of bread and two eggs was our dinner most of the time and I loved it. I loved every second I spent with my father. I think the years that I spent with my father were perhaps the golden years of my life.

After my father passed away, I had no reason to stay in Kasur. I decided to shift to Lahore, a much larger city, to live with my uncle who owned a supermarket. I made good money both at the supermarket and in various barbershops in the area. While there, I met and got married to Ayesha, my uncle's eldest daughter. The marriage proved to be quite a harmonious one, and for once, I thought that the purpose of my life was finally fulfilled. Truly, she made my heart so very happy.

With my father-in-law’s help, I was able to open my barbershop just a year or two after moving to Lahore. That was the day when I missed my father so much. I had a little family of my own by then, and I now understood the difficulties of fatherhood, what's it like hurting for your children. Luckily, I made enough money to support my family and give my children the necessary education. I thought I’d made a better life for my kids than I’d had growing up. For years, things went well. Then tragedy struck in 2014.

It happened in December of 2014. The day was extremely cold and misty. I went out of the shop to get something while two workers remained inside to cater to customers. It was my fault to have left the heater on.

When I got back, my shop was burning in fumes. Luckily, the other two workers managed to escape and survived, but the fire’s tongue lapped every nook in that place. Nothing remained—not even a single chair. I was speechless. I saw my dreams burning down into ashes and there was nothing I could do about it. All my savings and hard work were tossed into embers.

At that moment, life seemed meaningless and brutal. As the fire was put out, I recalled my father's words. Again, I fought it at first. I did not want to remain positive or even think about smiling. But when I saw my workers alive and well, I made sure to smile. I tried to follow in my father's footsteps, for I knew his teachings were the best guidance.

Days passed by, and things got worse. Gradually, my financial condition dropped. Every rupee I owned was in that shop, stored away in a locker in the back. The community of poor people here does not have a bank account. I sure didn’t. A single rupee matters a lot to people like me, and in one instant, I had to my name. I had absolutely nothing.

My family did our best to get by despite losing everything. There was no way that I could have managed to build the shop again and invest a good fortune in it. Still, I did not lose hope, neither did I let my wife because I was sure that this rough patch would end one day. My wife worked a couple days a week as house help, and we found a way to keep going. I recalled my own childhood and remembered that life could still be good in any circumstance. We got through each day together.

My father used to say that God tests good people with what they love the most. God's tests could be difficult and painful. I soon learned that my test wasn't over yet.

In 2015, my health deteriorated. Soon, I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. It was a terrible time, sure, but I also was at a point where I refused to let anything push me lower. A mere disease wasn't enough to stop me from making a future for my three children. Yes, I had lost everything, but I wasn’t ready to give up. I refused to let history repeat itself. I wanted to give my children the education I couldn't get. I wanted to break the cycle once and for all.

I started working double the hours I had once worked in my shop. I was a driver, a barber in a local shop, a postman, and anything odd thing in between just so that my children could keep going to school. I never let them see a frown on my face. I dealt with their problems (as well as mine) with a wide smile. I knew that this would have made my father so very proud. Through my actions, I taught my children to remain positive and strong so that one day when they are met with hardship, they too will remember their father fondly and smile with hope.

On top of my work, my wife worked in houses and stitched clothes to support as much as possible. Half of the money she made was used for my medicines, but I put most of the money toward the kids. I didn’t care about myself. The only thing I was concerned about was the quality of life my children received.

As of now, I’m saving money for a new shop. If I live for that long, the shop could be inherited by my children. Even if I'm unable to make all this work, I’ll be okay. I will make sure that my sweat is not wasted. And fortunately, God has blessed me with intelligent children. All three of them have scholarships and I know for a fact that I will live to see the day when they all hold degrees in their hands and tears in their eyes remembering how their father struggled to make them experience that day.

This is the story of Ashraf Hussain

Ashraf is a man full of life who does not let his miseries and pains keep him from providing for his family and doing what he wanted. His father always told him that as long as one smiles, one can find light in any situation. After his barbershop burned down and he lost everything, he remembered this lesson and worked twice as hard to earn back a living to provide an education for his children. His thoughtful and upbeat attitude gives those around him a great deal of strength. He wants to get his barbershop back and wishes to see his children thrive by doing something tremendous and becoming independent. His life is an example for many.

Ashraf, 2021.

This story first touched our hearts on March 27, 2021

Writer: Noor Pasha | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker



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