A panic followed me into the St. Mary’s River where I’d hoped for a clear-eyed, early morning canoe trip on glassy water. I rolled up my pants and pushed off the sand with my left foot, the other inside the boat on its center line, my hands steadying me on either lip of the canoe’s thin walls. Paddling up the bank, I looked down into the muddy water next to me at the occasional stones. I steered clear of the channel’s current, never going too deep, yet both the murky unknown and the riverbed terrain, where I could see it, were frightful, one mysterious in its opacity and the other bone-chillingly undisturbed, like a graveyard. I trained my eye on the shoreline ahead, paddling assiduously, keeping up pace and imagining my grandmother’s petite figure on the bow seat as it often was, once, a Velcro back brace stiffening her posture, laid over a white turtleneck and hidden by a woolen sweater. This imagined scene didn’t much calm me; a haunted canoe ride wouldn’t soothe my …
They say the brown bear has the strength of nine men and I say, in that case, he’s more like a woman. The closest ancestor to the short-nosed brown bear made his way southward from North America, freed by the formation of the isthmus of Panama during the Miocene epoch, in what I imagine was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s own deft, creative hand at spinning magic from evolutionary realism, carving homo sapiens from chimpanzees, painting grassy plains over forest, forging ambitious mountains ranges as an impatient toddler might: forcing tectonic plates together until they capitulate, crack, flake, and fold upwards towards the sky like majestic saltine crackers. At some point in this fruitful chaos, an exponentially-great-grandfather of the brown bear, Ursus arctos, made his way across the plains, step by muted step, traversing continents just before Pangaea divorced itself and scattered in large pieces across oceans.
Just as the aboriginal Ainu of Japan emptied the bear skull of eyeballs, tongue, and brain, so I stuff the rickety skeletons of life’s traumas with fresh flowers, succulent berries, the stuff of renewal and rebirth, in the hopes of a revitalized incarnation, in a show of divine acknowledgement.
I keep faith in the healing power of hibernation: low and slow in body temperature and heart rate, I rouse for no one, not even for myself. At the conclusion of those episodes I regurgitate the half-million moths my ursidae brethren swallowed before sleeping, calories aflutter, that keep our organs aloft and keep the blood pumping during these Great and Cyclical Slumbers.
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.