life is a funny shape, made of more round corners than right angles, a lace of imprecisions, repetitions, retreats, defeats, disappointments, gaps of light and loops of loss.
i’m thinking of circles now, sitting in the corner of a greasy cafe, ignoring lurid glances, in an airport that has not changed in any meaningful way since the first time i set foot here, sixteen years ago.
revisiting; these weeks i’m retracing steps but finding nothing the same. this is no surprise, of course — by the time we accrue a half-dozen years, most of us come to realize that all things change. yet as our lives stretch on, many of us have moments of such return, setting foot on old ground and finding ourselves at least somewhat estranged.
I spent my 24th birthday in this unseemly place, a little more than a year ago. I was in the midst of some convoluted track that wound through India, Nepal, Turkey and New York, and for a beat i sat at similarly grimy table, steeled against those immutable stares, pen poised, squinting at the snow-globe scatter inside me.
I’m a literature-lover, a poorly-closeted poet, and my cheesier impulses told me there was surely some symbolism in the fact that I’d spend my birthday marooned in a Middle Eastern airport, alone, sunburned, my beaten backpack at my feet.
and here i am again, what, 18 months later? I look at my hands — a few freckles recently sprouted after a summer of handlebars gripped in the New York sun. my abaya is the same — the long, black cloak that envelopes me every public moment in this country — but beneath, i wonder about difference.
Only so much self-reflection is a good thing, i figure. if there’s one thing i’m led to believe after a quarter century of wandering, mingling, coiling and releasing, it’s that: there are stories far more interesting than my own. i may be the writer of this particular thread, but i thank God that he’s shown me we all, any of us, play only a supporting role.
the Story is a round, unanchored, roiling, embracing thing. it entwines us; we do not master it. we tumble, dance, or grow still, but the relentless Mystery unfurls within, around, and inspite of us.
thank God, thank God.
how much time and fear i must have wasted, those years i fought to bend Life to something linear, bridled, solitary and uphill-always. better, so much better, to know that it was always meant to be a chorus, in motion, fleeting, throaty and harmonic.
i have more scars than, perhaps, i ought to. I mean this literally. slips of silvery skin patched onto my body — ankles, forehead, pelvic bone, spine — involuntary tattoos, momentos of where i’ve been, and how i’ve bled. the toll of crossed lines, loves tried, life lived outside the riskless confines of fear. and a good number of spills.
maybe i could call myself marred, but thank God i’ve realized that the work of art is the Story, and that it is a pulsing, asymmetrical, scabby and unimitable thing. the only immaculate canvas is a blank one; wells draw life from the darkness only after the naked earth is cut. are we damming ourselves for fear of pain, or imperfection?
so here i’ve landed, at this airport once more. for another muted half-beat between leaps. My hair is wet on the back of my neck where my morning shower lingers; my back still aches from a night spent on the floor. my spacebar sticks a little — i’ve battered and splattered this laptop in years it’s been with me. tthe light outside the gaping glass walls, garish light comes in torrents, the Arabian sun less poetic on a noon tarmac than a sand-swept maghreb. on my tongue, the taste of sugarless “ameerikano.” the moment is generic, and i am still more than a little rootless, but i feel profoundly more at home than i did on that solitary birthday morning last year.
i have decided, you see, that the inbetween is where i’ve always been after all. Arrival is a lie, and i’m so glad that’s true. the prize, after all, is the breathing we’re doing every moment we get to, the trying and thinking and wondering and looking — it’s this which makes up Life, and most of us are missing it. not for lack of desire — we want wonder, want to live well, i think, most of us. but i worry that the way we come up in this world teaches us something very flawed about our Story.
we are taught to worship Forward, fed a narrative spun of straight lines, years strung in uncontestable order, neatly cinched with milestones, things attained and finished. and the time between these stations is obliterated, blotted by distraction or disdain. our lives are pulled so far from us we can only make out the epochs, the peaks, and at a distance they appear startlingly scarce, and far between. no wonder we run so fast — we’re haunted by the hollow spaces.
but perhaps the Meaning is everywhere we are, or at least, it could be. perhaps it’s the racecourse that loops back onto itself, and real movement comes outside the tracks, where we lose and find our way.
out here, “winning” and “losing” grow vague, our competition becoming companions, or colleagues at least, saluted in passing or clasped as we make our way deeper into our separate, emerging, beautiful Stories.
no, i’m not saying to forgo direction, purpose, or hard work. but i propose an Exodus, at least an inward one. the Pharoah’s bricks have never brought you shelter; what do you say we take our chances on the desert?
my address, on my good days, is surrender. perhaps another word for it is acceptance. no, not very sexy, or, it would seem, empowering.
but don’t be fooled. i know much more about power these days, the subversive and renewable kind. i’m freer now than i’ve ever been, in the company of my questions, mistakes, and false starts, than i ever could be tethered to another’s script. best of all, i am not waiting for my Life, or chasing it — i am abiding in it, where i find it, in every moment, in each place, as near as my corneas, fresh as a coldwater stream.
relieved of the tyrannical, ficticious Linear, i am captivated now by the curves and leaps and even the retreats. i have left behind the dizzy laps they call Progress, accepting what comes in terra incognito. it is still earnest business, living in Acceptance — much more work, in its way, than the grueling but mindless grind i once knew. it takes courage to write even a single line on the face of this wild, ranging world, but i take strength from every stroke i muster, and with time, i’m learning to trust my pen.
soon a muffled voice will call out three numbers and some letters, and i will rise and go to my gate. i’ll toss a paper cup into a spittle-pocked garbage can and shoulder my lumpy grey bag. I’ll have some idea where i’m going, at least for today, and i’m going there because i feel deeply committed to the values and work these past months have led me towards. what fruit this will bring next week, and what weather and company will befall me by tonight, i cannot, can never, say. but i am brimming with peace on a deep and quiet plane, the place where i set my feet, on surrender. this is only sort of, partly, my story, and i’m grateful to be here for the time being. i delight to find my hands and heart full, but i no longer believe i’m owed Happy Endings, nor do i expect conclusions or even tidy chapters. the ground i tread is a layered one, laden with detritus and promise, my own and that of so many thousands more. i will board my plane, i will take another step with all the wisdom i can gather in this hour, and i will plant my feet once more on this Rock. Accept.