It’s 2 PM. I stand on the balcony where my grandma and I used to chat over a cup of coffee. My grandma was the wise old woman, my friend, my advisor, and my companion when no one else was there. I shut my eyes for a moment, detaching from the present, allowing past memories to flash before me. The scene is of life before the war: crowded family gatherings, giggles and tales till dawn, my grandma at the center of it all, and mornings at her house with the aroma of the huge pot of coffee wafting through each room. These memories flood my consciousness as I sip from the mug I’m holding between my hands.

   I look out at Al-Qusoor square from the balcony. It has been ten years since the start of the war and just as the physical landscape before me has changed, so has my emotional landscape. The war stole my relatives and childhood and forced me to grow into a mature, responsible young man. Instead of a
carefree kid playing with my friends, I was left to face tragic events. The silver lining was the close bond I developed with my grandmother; she was my light, hope, and support.

  And then we received her cancer diagnosis. Back then, I never imagined anything worse than war could happen. But the potential loss of my sole support system devastated me. It also fueled my curiosity to learn more about biology, immunology, and oncology. I started reading books and articles, learning about the human body, amazed by its complexity. The more I learned, the more I could support her. I smile as I remember how every tragedy has been a life-changing experience for me.

  At sixteen, I became an intern at the hospital. I went into the internship to learn more about my grandma’s medical issues, stressed about ensuring she got the attention and treatment she needed. I helped other patients as best I could and I saw the gratitude in their eyes. Most importantly, I began to understand more fully the issue of health disparity that plagues my country and the world. I realized that I need to advocate not only for my grandmother but for equity in healthcare. It is simply an essential right.

  My grandmother passed away this December. My grief is still raw. From her, I learned to be grateful for everything I have and always stay optimistic even in hopeless situations because life surprises us with hidden lessons. I look at where I stand today, what responsibilities I have, and what experiences I’ve acquired, and I’m reminded of the struggles I have faced and how gratitude, diligence, empathy, and kindness helped me face them, overcome them, and turn them into life-lessons. I look at the sky knowing my grandma is in a better place. She has motivated me to be a passionate student and to learn to help others. She has taught me to fight for what I believe in; she has taught me to have a voice and use it, and I will use it to combat healthcare inequality.

  As I survey the scene from my balcony one last time, I see a country scarred by war, but I know with love and care and the indomitable spirit of our people, so embodied in my grandmother, we can all flourish once again, knowing that even if my country was in ruins and baths of blood, that resiliencein the spirit of my people will prevail, letting our country flourish even more than before.

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