It’s 3:00 a.m. in Hargeisa, and I’m caught between a (literal) nightmare that woke me, and suhoor, the pre-dawn meal before Ramadan fasting begins, which makes it useless to go back to sleep now. So, let’s do this… I’ve long been a fan of the start-over, the blank page which holds promise, tabula rasa. I made “art” prolifically as a child, but one errant mark of the crayon gave way to a whole new creation, the first (second, fifth, twelfth) “failed” version tossed aside. Even today, my amateur paintings are often four or five layers deep, whitewashed multiple times in dissatisfaction, a more economical alternative to swapping in a fresh canvas. I never had much patience with fixing, or saving a sinking ship, which always seems to get me in trouble. When I do stick it out, it’s with a “new leaf” mindset: This isn’t what it was before, it’s something different. That’s how I’ve always found the energy to dig in to relationships, jobs, creative projects, etc. Ironic, then, that in my newest endeavor I …
Set the meditation timer to five minutes. Consider whether you set a low bar for yourself in all aspects of your life. Set the timer to ten minutes. Remember that you have 14 things to do before the day officially begins, and set the timer back to five minutes. Allow all the nagging thoughts of errands and obligations and forgotten tasks to simply fall away… so that deeper fears of self-doubt and wasted purpose can really come to the fore and shine. Glance down at the timer, notice you’ve winningly achieved 43 seconds of mindful bliss. Add the State of Nirvana to your dream destination list, pack it in and get on with your day.
The year also brought a whittling of the self, especially a recognition of my limits. Time expands beyond the moment to the far reaches of age where, if I’m lucky, I’ll look back fondly on slow walks down the stairs, on the lines of schoolgirls in long, bright yellow hijabs like flocks of canaries, on the hot stacks of loxoox in the kitchen each morning, on the frigid hop from bed to closet on winter mornings. I think about my aged years as though I’m already there, ruminating over a life well lived or not, observing wrinkled, spotted hands, remembering when they were smoother, tighter, and when I took them for granted. I feel fullness, and a gentle longing, and fullness again.
What matters are the earnest embraces of greetings and farewells, the unique infusion of scents that accompany the people you love, the sparks of energy that scatter with their laughter, the loving gaze of those who know your story and bear witness to the triumphant and crushing steps on your upward spiral. While living overseas amplifies the magic of those moments it also rarefies them, detaching you even when you most need them.
Over time we’ve lost, relievedly, the quest for illusory perfection as individuals and in partnership. We’re flawed; we wear old glasses. The functional old is as good as the shiny new; as long as you can see that clearly (as well as, you know, oncoming traffic), you’re in good shape. We’ve learned to rely on what works. Marrying is typically appreciated as a process of gain: joint commitment; two lives indefinitely summed; the amalgamation of homesteads and accumulation of material trappings. Yet, there is loss. It’s inherent to gain and equally an element of relationships, albeit less advertised.
Bit of a knock-down the last few days: my grandfather passed, my Last Grandparent Standing. Fortunate to have had him in my life for so long; fortunate to have so many fond memories. He was a mischief-maker right through to the end, always one well-timed pause away from the next joke. I presume he’s back to franks and beans and the occasional ice cream sundae, in a condo at the beach with my grandmother. I’d rather write about him, now, than the regularly scheduled programming.
Herewith, a bit of wit and wisdom from Jack Reilly, Grandpa Extraordinaire:
Brush your teeth after lunch. You don’t appreciate your teeth until you lose them.
Driving in reverse is an equal, if not superior, skill to driving forwards. Learn it well; it will come in handy one day. Freeze candy bars, chocolate covered graham crackers, Oreos: They’re surprisingly delicious cold.
Give more than you think you can to people who need it more than you do.
One of my closest friends talks to me about “upward spirals” of life lessons: Our baggage is ours, our faults and failings won’t leave us, and they come around again with cyclical persistence. But we face each approach differently, with a higher level of understanding. Each time, it’s a newer, better, stronger us that takes on those tired challenges. This is how you manage to accept the stuff that haunts you: it’s never the same you, even if it’s the same stuff.
Are you familiar with fernweh? A German friend mentioned it to me the other night over pizza. It’s all the nostalgia and longing of homesickness, but not for home–for somewhere far away. In the dry, dusty capital city of Bamako, at the edge of the vast Sahara desert, I cried over stunning loss and dreamed of the lush greenery of Ireland. In fact, I longed for it, I felt fernweh for Ireland, though I’d never been. In my gut it was a place I had to see, a place of my ancestry, and an antidote to the sand pit (literal and figurative) in which I found myself. Years later, after I’d moved on to work in the Horn of Africa, the Addis Ababa to Washington D.C. flight route was rearranged to include a fueling stop in Dublin. Embracing serendipity, I extended my layover on the Emerald Isle, my first trip as a solo traveler. It was, indeed, the tonic I’d sought, albeit delayed…