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.
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.
Roda invited us into her tea shop, a wooden frame of sticks and crunchy, curled, leaves shading customers from the sun. We had made our way into rural Somaliland for monitoring activities, and at one stop we chatted with Roda, businesswoman and single mother of six. A tea kettle sat on smoking logs, and we sat on woven mats on the ground. birds flitted through the leaves above us, chirping away. At the time, Roda was doing pretty well for her family: she had a decent income from her tea shop, and she owned a couple cows. She was making it work, holding it together. I’ve been thinking about Roda during the past few weeks as the drought in Somalia and Somaliland slides quickly into something much worse. Of all the things we’re able to control in the modern day, the weather just isn’t one of them (yet), and this corner of the world is especially vulnerable to climate change. I think also about community, and its power to manifest resilience in the individual. In this place, community is fierce; a Somali with …