This year has taught me that there is nothing underneath. There is no safety net, no one holding out giant, pillowy hands to catch you when things fall apart. On this earthly plane at least, we’re on our own. The goodness in which we insist on believing: we alchemize it from fear. The faith that keeps us buoyed: we produce it, practice it, will it into being. Generosity, patience, kindnesses: we craft them from nothing save conviction, and dole them out as best we can.
#1 Turn all potted plants in your home, office, or any hotel lobby away from the windows. Observe their chaotic, vital, mad scramble, stem by stem and leaf by leaf, to turn again towards the sun, in silence and at a snail’s pace over several days. Remind yourself that the same instinct is within you. Consider what riotous, equally essential undertakings are happening inside your body even now as you sit in lethargic, sub-zero solemnity. #2 Make like the silver-haired, elderly woman at the gym, who sauntered into the workout area with its weight machines and steel contraptions and hard bodies, wearing nothing but a colorful bathing suit and a shower cap, her perfect, audaciously wrinkled limbs supplemented by a cane. At a comfortable pace, ease forward onto the linoleum floor, barefoot and determined. If an employee attempts to thwart your path with talk of rules and health code violations, make no apologies, make no explanations—turn and saunter right back out. Setting is secondary to attitude. #3 Be the tugboat. Your affairs of the heart …
Make deep lengthwise cuts into your large potato hunks, and cram more filling into the crevice. Using Mom Magic or Chef Magic, it will stay put. Excavate the artichoke hearts from the top, creating a sort of crater. Stuff more meat mixture into that crater, so it’s overflowing and doesn’t make a lot of sense.
When things are broken, it’s easy to fixate on the fix. You get consumed by what should be, and start to imagine things that way, overlooking the cracks, the stains, the dead light bulbs, the mess. Much of the time, we live in denial of how things are, right now. We press forward into perfection, buoyed by craving and delusion. I think a lot lately about the concept of renewal, and what it means in the face of brokenness—broken relationships, broken plans, broken pasts.
There are other sweets out of Mogadishu that I devour enthusiastically, an array of crunchy, colorful, cookie-ish treats that generous colleagues hauled to the office for me during a recent trip. And when I write haul, I mean it: in total I carried more than 10 kilos of sweets back to Hargeisa. I daresay no one takes their sugar as seriously as Somalis, and after four years, it’s rubbing off.
We believe that labor will cure what ails you, whether it’s physical or mental or emotional—it may not be the quickest path, but it’s a righteous one and it feels good. Zizou and I hike together, in matching gear and early in the morning, through the forests of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. The tricky thing is discerning when the work is a process of mourning and when it becomes a process of avoidance. But it pulls me out of bed in the morning, it requires a cup of coffee and some clarity of thought, and it gets my feet moving underneath me.