What a complex year it has been. A year of division; a year where the right re-emerged with strength; a year where the position of presidency lost its prestige; where natural disasters ruined and ended lives, where war continued to plague many. A year where unity was stronger than ever, where voices of peace were louder, where compassion grew.

Personally, it has been a year of deep self- reflection, of growth and of greater awareness. In my pursuit to write more and because of my sincere gratitude, I share with you a glimpse of my year, from the bad to mainly the good. My 2017 journey obviously and thankfully does not cover all of the world’s problems. However, my year’s overarching theme of Travel fortuned me to discover novel parts of the world and discover greater diversity, and adversity.

My year started in a country very foreign to me, Guinea. There I spent 3 weeks doing what I most enjoyed, dancing. I trained viciously during this time, learned how to let go of my inhibition and let myself dance freely. I learned how to feel, instead of follow. There, I discovered a country where people are struggling, where the material is not an option, where poverty is prominent, where family is central and where collectivity is dominant. I must admit that I lived in conditions that were often challenging but I did not care, because that was exactly what I was seeking — Perspective, my second and recurring theme of the year. Because how quickly we get used to our wonderful lives, get wrapped up in our first world problems and blindly take life for granted. This experience was beautiful and difficult at once. It left me with chronic physical pain (due to 7 hours of dance a day) but it also left me with the most unique memories that I can carry with me.

A few days after my return from Guinea, I had to leave for San Francisco for my company’s yearly sales conference. The contrast I was living was overwhelming. From a place where I had 3 hours of electricity every 3 days and no running water to the relatively lavish parties, gifts and a copious amount of food. I was troubled by the contrast, but also grateful to be able to access that part of the world. Why was I so fortunate? This question ignited a third theme: Gratitude. I focused a big part of the year acknowledging how fortunate I was. I was grateful to be born to the most wonderful family, to be healthy, to be living in a safe country and to be gifted with the necessary assets to empower me to be successful and happy.

I was grateful to be able to travel some more. I got to go back to my home country Egypt, where I discovered new parts of it and where I reunited with the most important people in my life. How fortunate I was to love people as much as I loved them. Despite my immigration to Canada, the genuine affection for one another remained unbreakable. I was grateful. This introduced the forth theme of the year: Friendship.

This year, I developed unexpected and strong friendships. As one gets older, it becomes more difficult to find new and genuine friendships, but I was privileged once again to meet exceptional people. I strengthened friendships, let go of those that compromised my happiness and most importantly reunited with old friends. A trip to New York and one to Poland reunited me with my Polish family. I met them 12 years ago when I worked in Poland and it was love at first sight. I embraced them as my family and they adopted me back. 12 years of separation could not even dent our bond. It felt just like yesterday. How lucky.

This leads to fifth theme: Family. No words can describe the sweetness they add to my life, period.

Despite the perfection of this year so far, despite being so grateful, was I happy? Not always. This year was a year of constant self-criticism and self-destruction. I was not smart enough, I was not thin enough, I was not tall enough, I was not a good enough daughter, a good enough aunty, a good enough employee. I was not generous enough, kind enough; I was just not enough. I tirelessly criticized myself unforgivingly. Why couldn’t I be better?

Luckily, I have always been self-aware of my critical nature and ultimately of myself. After a few months of punching myself down, I remembered one important notion, perspective. I did not need to change my weight or my job, but I needed to change my perspective. And that little change made the world of a difference. And this reintroduced my second theme: Perspective. This perspective enabled me to accept myself; to accept and love what I could not change.

I did however hold on to some of my self-reproach because it remains my drive to self-improvement. I continued to focus on what I could change to ultimately learn and grow. I forever defied stagnation, and this year was not going to be any different. This introduced my sixth theme of 2017: Growth.

I reignited new passions. I started to write again. I started improvisation classes to nurture my desire to act again, to overcome my stage fright, to prepare me for work presentations. I trained harder at dancing. I dove deeper into my work and found joy and satisfaction in it. I reminded myself to be compassionate with others, to be patient with them, to be forgiving. I worked to be more tolerant, I learned to accept criticism from others, I learned to acknowledge my weaknesses, because without all that there would be no growth.

I had once again gained perspective, I was more grateful, I was a better person. Was all this enough for 2017? You guessed it dear readers, it was most certainly not. I am way too restless to end it there. The deeper acknowledgement of how lucky I was reintroduced my perspective and gratitude themes. Life has granted me the essential tools to be happy — I had to try and give back.

This led to my last big trip of 2017. I finally fulfilled my desire to volunteer for the migrant cause. I went to Lesbos, Greece where I volunteered as a translator with one of the medical teams at Camp Moria among other camps. My first day there turned into numerous breakdowns. I couldn’t believe the stories I was hearing. Every person with a story more heart breaking than the next. And all waiting in this nightmarish camp for a better future. I finally understood the notion of hell except it did not exist in the afterlife but right there in front of me. I just couldn’t understand why these people were the chosen ones.

These refugees would enter the clinic and only for these 30 minutes of consultation would they feel a sense of hope and safety. And if we could provide only that, if we could remove them from their reality only for that little time, if we could show that we cared and provided the slightest light — only for these 30 minutes…maybe that could help amid the darkness they were living.

Frankly I am the one who left there quite hopeless. I felt that 30 minutes of listening to them and trying to help them was petty. I felt helpless for them. I felt as though the world neglected them. I only spent 2 weeks in Lesbos. What is 2 weeks in the grand scheme of things — it’s barely a star in the universe.

In my weak attempt to do more, I have made a commitment to create more awareness about the refugee tragedy, the adversity, the individual stories, the personal hardships. I will be writing more articles, maybe a short-stories little book about the catastrophes I have witnessed, because by staying neutral and not doing anything, I become as guilty as those that put them in misery.

And so, I end this article with a quote that has touched me: Life is inexplicably beautiful and hopelessly dark. If we can only try to be more aware, grateful and giving, we might lead this world to its inexplicable beauty.

Like what you read? Give Amal Gayed a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.