Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grateful for Grace

 I started writing out a list of the things for which I'm grateful, and found myself lingering on Grace.

Grace is something I want to ponder more and more. I am continuously at the receiving end of it. I may be (or feel) unlovable, but I experience grace over and over and over. Grace feels a little like a pity party - what we extend to people we can't love but who we know could use some loving - but I am grateful for grace nonetheless. I bask in it.

I feel it being lopped into my lap from all ends. Well, almost all ends. Maybe it's more accurate to say that the experiences of grace fill my heart all the more because they stand in such stark contrast against the withholding of grace. Some people have indeed been inspiring me by their grace lately, and some of them are the people from whom I may have least expected it. But they just do it. It's as simple as that. And it's beautiful.

My definition of grace this week is as follows: grace is allowing another person their space, but doing so in community. Maybe that's not the best definition ever, I mean it obviously isn't the most brilliant definition ever. But that's the grace I need these days: I need to be given my space but know that people are still nearby.

Grace is the person who sits next to you on the sofa helplessly watching you cry. They don't get up, they don't tell you to stop, they don't try to sneak in a hug because that's-what-cool-friends-do. They just sit there and nod, pray or wait until you're ready to talk. Grace is watching you spin and spin and spin yourself dizzy until you collapse, perhaps doing a little spinning along just for the fun of it, or perhaps just smiling. But they don't egg you on to spin harder, they don't try to stop you, and they don't calling in a crowd of others to watch you make a fool of yourself. When you collapse, Grace is standing there ready to help you back up, or is sitting on that sofa making sure there is space for you to sit, inviting you to take a breather if you want.

As the recipient of grace, perhaps I am being terribly selfish and self-centered, but that's not the point. The point is that I'm becoming more and more grateful for the experiences of grace in my life. I'm going to cry and I'm going to spin - that's just the phase of life that I'm at right now. And those people who accept that about me, without trying to try to make it more intense and without trying to make it stop, I'm so grateful for them. Those people who walk away have every right to walk away - no one wants to be around a weepy spinner - but those people who stick it out are emulating the character of God. I hope to learn from them, return the favour someday, or perhaps pay it forward to someone else.

Merry Christmas, dear Emily and everyone else who is part of the Imperfect Prose community. Loving the grace I feel amongst you!

Monday, December 19, 2011

the first twitch of the itch

Yesterday I was catching up on the news, as I tend to do over the weekends - how people stay on top of the news everyday is beyond me! I need to schedule time on the weekends to catch up.

Anyway, being December, there were a lot... A LOT... of "year in review" kinds of articles out there. Here is how I read them:

One year anniversary of Arab Spring... already? It's been a year? I was there for part of that.
A new country was born this year... I was sitting around with the Northern Sudanese fretting in resignation about the referendum.
Famine in Somalia... yeah, this has been intense indeed for my colleagues.
Flooding in Thailand... I wonder if I'd be there today if I were still in the Asia programme.
Syria's ongoing struggle beginning to be dubbed a 'civil war'... Oh how I wish I could have seen my friends in Syria one last time before going back wasn't an option anymore.
End of the war in Iraq... a million memories of my work with Iraqi refugees flooded back to me.

And so on and so forth.

As I read, it slowly dawned on me that world events will likely cease to be as personally relevant to me as I begin to settle into my more geographically defined life. My friendships with Egyptians, Timorese, Sudanese, and Syrians will always be there, but they will fade a little bit in my consciousness. I won't read the news with as much personal investment as I have for the last several years.

And so I felt the first twitch of the itch. I don't want to give that up. Yes, I do want to give up the instability, rootlessness and emotional fall-out. But I don't want to give up the sense that I am somehow connected, albeit in a distant manner, from the challenges facing humankind around the world. Reading the news and receiving the odd email from a friend out there isn't going to feel as intimate to me as being there myself. I'm escaping and they can't escape.

I know it's different on too many levels to compare, and I think my reaction is part-guilt, part-adventurer and only part-solidarity. For all three of these motivations, there's something very tantalising about re-subjecting myself to the whims of a major international relief agency. I'm not going to do it, but I've got to brace myself against the itch which is unlikely to calm over the course of the coming months.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

There are things I can't bring myself to write

Are there things that you're too ashamed to admit to, even to yourself, even in your deepest heart?

I think I have a lot of those. They're not even dark secrets or horridly embarrassing things; they're just things that I don't feel comfortable admitting. Sometimes, I write them down and then I look back at the paragraph I just wrote and feel like someone else wrote it; it just doesn't look right. But usually, I can't even bring myself to write them in a private journal or say out loud to an empty room.

These things generally have to do with my deepest desires and fears. I think I'm unwilling to put them into words because I'm such an analytical person, and so I know that I'm not really sure I want or fear those things and that my heart can be so easily affected by external circumstances, as I explored in my previous post. So they stay unformulated. And so they are not realised. I don't face the fear, I don't pursue the desires.

I wonder if I should change that. I think I probably should change that.

But it's not happening today. Maybe I could bring myself to do it, but not on this blog because this is that moment at which I realise that I do, indeed, care about what other people think. I don't want you to know my deepest desires and fears. I'm not sure why, but I think it's because I fear your reaction. I don't quite know why I should fear your reaction, but I do.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Life is flying by too quickly.

Way too quickly.

I feel like I should have had certain goals for my youth which I have not yet achieved, and really, I'm not sure I want to have achieved them yet. I am perfectly fine with living my life.

But I'm at this age where, on average once a week or once a fortnight, I learn of another friend who has met the love of her life, or proposed to his girlfriend, or is pregnant with their first child, or something equally moving-on-ish.

I don't want to begrudge them their joy, but I am not moving on and I miss them.

Do I wish I'd met the love of my life and set a date for wedding bells? Do I yearn to hold my own baby in my arms? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, but I almost inevitably feel some degree of peace and confidence that those things are not for today. But every time I get news of a friend hitting these life changes, all of a sudden I feel that longing, even while I know that it's not for the right reasons.

This week, there was one day where I felt perfectly content with taking transition slowly, and figuring out, one day at a time, what I was to do, so much so that I didn't want to talk to anyone at all. Then the next day, I received one of these bits of news and my entire emotional state was reversed. I imagine I should land somewhere in between: never complacent but always content.

It's funny, really, because I think I have a reputation as a person who moves fast, who jumps into change and transition quickly. To some extent I agree: once I've made up my mind about something I don't see the point in faffing around in preparation. So yes, it's true, that I put an offer on the 6th house I viewed, only a day after I'd started viewing properties. It's true that more times than my loved ones care to count, I've called up a brother or an uncle or a parents and said I'd be moving back from Timbuktu and arriving in two days' time, could I please crash at their place for a coule of days/weeks.

But these are the little things. And my loved ones also know that I've been studying listings and even had an estate agent on the hunt for my perfect flat, for several years already. They know that I was applying for jobs for two years before accepting the job which had me floating around the world as if I was driving from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Staten Island every day. It takes me a while to be ready for the change, but once I'm ready I'm ready.

One thing I know is that life is about the journey. I've learned several languages, obtained several academic qualifications, and done pretty well at work. These were the doors that opened for me, and so I walked through them. I don't regret them. What I do regret is that life would...not...stop long enough for me to enjoy those experiences and still have time for living the rest of life. I struggle with the fact that now that I'm back on solid ground for a while, the people I used to jaunt and scavenge and dream with, now have spouses and children and homes of their own. They are still my friends and I dearly love them, but their lives have moved on and mine has not. Yes, I suppose it's true that I walked away for a while, but while I was gone, that relational-hole in their lives has been filled up by others and there's not the same kind of space there once was for me. (Perhaps as a parallel, I could say that I haven't filled my hole, I just threw a lid over it.)

The other day, a friend was commenting about how women need to be careful because our childbearing years don't last forever. Sadly, this is true, but it honestly doesn't bother me so much for the sake of myself, as it does for the sake of the fact that if I do someday have kids, they'll be so much younger than my best friends' kids and than their cousins. I know I can't ask everyone else to stop living while I savour today's adventure, but sometimes I really, really wish I could.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Living with Uncertainty

You're standing in a doorway. Not a doorway to a house, but a doorway to a train, or a motorhome, or maybe even the hatch to a big boat.

You have just arrived at your destination, and by all accounts it is an amazing place. But you've never been here before. So you're standing at the doorway, waiting for the train to stop at the platform, for the motorhome to pull into the driveway, for the boat to dock, because the moment you feel the motion under you stop, you are going to jump out and explore this new land!

The train stops. The motorhome turns its engine off. The boat anchors. You're now free to open the door and so you eagerly reach for the button, or the handle, or the lever. The door opens. The rays of sun hit your eyes, the chill of the cold fresh air attacks the nerves on your cheek. It's glorious.

But once the door is open, you don't run down the stairs or bound onto the platform as you'd imagined you would. You stand there, enjoying the rays of sun and the fresh air on your cheeks. You breathe deeply and sigh.

After a couple of minutes standing like that, the other passengers start to nudge you. They saw you anxiously waiting to land, pushing up against the door with urgency and anticipation, and now that you're here, you're not getting out. You turn around and SHHH them, telling them to enjoy the moment.

But then you start to wonder, Why haven't you gotten out? Why haven't you started to explore this new land that you've so anxiously awaited?

So you turn around and look into your little motorhome, or train car, or boat hold. You look at the things you know and are oh-so-tired of seeing: the same drab walls, the same smudged chairs, the same piece of paper eternally stuck under the leg of that same table with the same set of scratches. The artwork looks so familiar you could probably create it yourself, and the fact that the edge of that frame is chipped has never irritated you more than it does today. You are ready, oh so ready, for this new land!

Now the others in your group are rushing past you and disembarking. They've given up on giving you the coveted first-one-off status. Soon they will have left you on-board, all by yourself. You should get off.

What keeps you on this boat/train/motorhome? Are you (a) scared of what's out there? Are you (b) more in love with your drab familiar surroundings than you thought? Or are you (c) dreading the moment when the unknown mystery becomes, itself, familiar? (Or are you (d) thinking this is a silly illustration because you've already got off the boat like a normal person?!)

I suspect for me it's a little bit of all three, but I think option C is a huge part of it. I love the mystery. I like asking the questions. I love learning and I love the answers, but I probably love the unknown even more. This makes the days spent in transit to a new destination a fun adventure, and makes the arrival somewhat painful. I'm still going to walk down those stairs into the new world, but if I take slow steps then the unknown will last a little bit longer.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Be patient, or Just get on with it?

It's been a very, very long time since my life has resembled anything which I might consider 'normal'. And, of course, since 'normal' is such an elusive concept, I should probably think about how I define that. I think the way I define it is in terms of role models: 'normal' means that I can look to someone else's example and feel like their reality bears enough in common with mine, that I can learn from them. There are a great many people I admire in this world, for sure, but I don't see them as role models, because I feel like their world is too different from mine to bear any fair comparison. Is this wrong? Perhaps. But I can't help but feel that most of the advice I receive is based on assumptions thadon't apply to me. For example, most of the people I admire are married with children, and got married at a much younger age than I certainly will; so it feels like the wisdom they share from their experience of relationships or friendships is based on a reality which revolves a lot more around family than my life can. That's just an example, and perhaps it's a terrible useless cliché and I should think of a more valid example. Anyway, maybe I'm right and maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like that.

At the same time, I do know people whose life has a lot in common with mine, for sure! But I have a hard time respecting their decisions. Many of them have a fundamentally different set of values from me, and others seem to have become embittered in a way that I desperately try to avoid being (the jury's still out regarding my success in avoiding bitterness. but I want to try, anyway).

So all that is to say in a roundabout way, that I'm really struggling with how much of my life I shoul djust accept. And how much of it I need to resist. When I feel so tired, so emotionally worn-out, should I indulge that and rest up? Or should I struggle against it and just keep trudging forward? Since I've spent most of my life trudging, I'm inclined to err on the side of indulging now. But I really wish I had the answer. I really wish I had a good sense of whether I should watch a film while eating dinner, then do some light tidying up tonight. Or if I should try to reply to emails, find friends on skype and write an article? I don't know.And I don't know who can tell me.

So inevitably, I will likely spend the next five hours alternating between the two. Watch half a film with dinner. Then start some work but not finish. Then sit and stare at the wall while I listen to Christmas music. Then pull out the revision I'm working on and re-re-re-revise the first page while not sticking it out long enough to revise the subsequent 5 pages. Then watch 10 more minutes of the film before thinking I should check if so-and-so is online, then reply to some emails but not the important ones. And thus the evening will end. I'll get some stuff done. I'll feel a little rested. But would it not be better to choose a path and commit to it?

Is this procrastination? I don't think so, because I kind of think the resting option might be the right option. I've read books and I've sat through many sessions of receiving good advice, but none has yet felt like it matched the situation. I'm open to more advice but not sure if I'll feel I can follow it??