The Resilience of Longing

The English language in its practical and innovative usage, and in its diverse richness of synonyms comes up short sometimes in expressing feelings. In my profession as an Arabic translator, dealing primarily with technical and scientific subjects I am often frustrated with the opposite problem in my native language.  Arabic often fails to deal with practicalities while it has oceans of words for feelings.  For those who are interested in the subject there are apparently 14 degrees of love in the Arabic language, some scholars have named even up to fifty. I often bemoan the shortcomings of my native language in my professional capacity, but when I am feeling nostalgic, blue, or when I am struck by deep longing for my lost love, I always listen to Arabic songs, or read love poems in Arabic.

I am sure the classical English poets have burnt through their papers with ardent poetry about love. There are many well repeated and quoted sonnets, describing in detail the intertwining feelings of love’s joy and pain. But the terminology of feelings comes sometimes lacking and borrows much from imagery or from other languages. The English, it seems, have no word for the deep longing that the Arabic expresses in those many synonyms for love, they even fail to express it as poetically as the Germans do in the expressive term “Sehnsucht”. The single word combines longing with obsession and addiction, and mirrors the torture of pining for someone who is not there, or no longer there.

My longing for the presence or even the sight of my beloved has been the hardest to overcome. The resilience of this longing continues to surprise me as I am never sure when or where it will spring from. It could be triggered by a word carelessly uttered, that reminds of something he often said. My son could show a sudden dislike of bananas and it will remind me that he hated them too. Or I would hear a song I have always loved and realize for the first time that its opening features the sound of the saxophone, his preferred instrument.  I never know whether the longing will be a passing thought, or a stab in the ribs. I never know whether it will bring on a smile or a deluge of tears. But it is still there, and its longevity after my last meeting with him, is always a source of wonder. I just allow myself to feel it and acknowledge it as part of love and loss.

 

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Walking Away from Love

When it comes to love, it is either given or returned. It is neither forced upon someone, nor taken. It can be perhaps learned, and practiced, and willed into existence like a forgotten habit. It can also wither and die without sustenance.

My love for Aquarius was a force of nature, a phenomenon all itself that I was not prepared for. Its singularity left me without options, I wanted either to embrace it or abandon it entirely to embrace instead the full grief of its loss.

While I gave generously and completely, my beloved was pleased to receive my adoration. He shone in its warmth but was not prepared to return affection in the same way.  I could not force him to acknowledge the depth of my love and reciprocate it. Even though I knew that I could have pressed my advantage, exploited his weakness, and the emotional need I felt he had for me. I did not want to be just a passing fancy, a fling, or a quick answer to an unfulfilled desire. I loved him too much to settle for this. I would have settled for the role of an occasional or temporary lover, I would have taken the love affair, with all its guilt and inevitable breakup. Love though would have needed to be an acknowledged part of it, not the close friendship he wanted it to pass for.

Perhaps I am paraphrasing Gibran when I say that love gives only itself and grows by the giving. And only a heart that completely gives itself, and opens itself to pain is capable of thriving in love, or at least truly appreciating its force. Many people approach life with a closed heart, whether in the interest of self preservation, or to protect the self or others from pain, and those will never uncover the mystery of true love.

I still grieve over my love, that was never meant to be. I still cry sometimes over what I could have had. But I am comforted with my conviction of freedom in love. I always accepted the choice of those who walked away from me, and exercised the choice to walk away myself when love ceased to be enough.

It is easier to remember the callous, self-absorbed, and constantly complaining Aquarius, when I do not have to gaze into his eyes. His eyes always told me their own story. Through them I looked into his gentle soul, and peeled away at the layers of pretense. My beloved’s true substance, I felt, hid under all these layers of opinionated adherence to certain form, style, physique and diet. If I do not see his eyes again, I can no longer interpret the subtext of his soul, or misinterpret it.

I am starting to rewrite his memory, it is my way of forgetting what I felt.  The English say, out of sight out of mind. In my Arab culture this saying goes, literally, “Far from the eye, is far from the heart”. This literal image fits my situation perfectly. His eyes were his way into my heart, and by walking away from them I am trying to set my heart free.

 

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The Angels of Nairobi

I have a new catchphrase now: “I have never lost anything of value in Kenya, except for my heart”. The story remains true, and I have added another chapter to it today.

There are many reasons why I fell in love with Kenya, since I first visited Nairobi in 2009. I had mentioned elsewhere on this blog that JKIA (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport) was my first landing point in Africa twenty years ago. I have had a long history with this place, but I am mostly attracted to the friendliness of its people. There are times in Africa when a mzungu* could feel intimidated and afraid, but Kenyans rarely unsettle me in this way. They are in general honest, peace-loving, helpful and genuinely friendly.

I have always enjoyed a laugh with the security guards in our estate. I am on good friendly terms as well with the taxi drivers who regularly help me out with lifts to the airport or when my car breaks down (the latter happens more often than I would like). Almost everyone I work with in the banks, at my coffee station, or the local grocery is helpful, courteous and kind. They offer help most of the time without reservation.

One incident that demonstrates the helpfulness of Kenyans happened to me late last year. I was driving to the aforementioned JKIA to fetch my parents who were coming on their first visit to Kenya (it was also my father’s first visit to Africa). It was dark but not too late at night, and I was happily following the directions of the google navigator. I was perhaps within minutes of arriving when I took the turn to the airport too early, and ended up heading towards the industrial area in bumper to bumper traffic. The google navigator went ominously silent and completely stopped making any route suggestions. There was a dark screen showing a dotted line on the road where I was heading away from the airport. My son beside me started panicking and proclaiming that we were lost, and I was worried that there was nowhere for me to turn around. I was not afraid because the road was full of cars and there was no chance of anything criminal happening to me in such setting. But the time was approaching my parents’ arrival and I needed to act, so I did the only thing I could think of, the African way. I rolled the window down and signaled the passenger from the car next to me that I needed to talk and asked how to get to the airport. The man and his driver/friend smiled and told me that I needed to turn around, I told them I knew that but I did not know how. They tried to explain, and I struggled a bit to follow their directions. They kept watching me and the driver used his indicators to point me to the turnaround route.

It is quite complicated to drive in Nairobi as there are so many parallel routes that run along a main road and offer a chance to turn around, go onto a side street, or to continue on the same main road. After a while of this partially successful navigating their car stopped and they told me to follow them. They ended up leading me to the airport security gates. I took the number of the helpful passenger and promised to stay in touch. A few minutes later, I managed to get to my parents after they cleared customs and collected their bags, they had to wait for me for a bit. Later that evening I also enlisted the help of another kind Kenyan airport worker to point me to the parking pay-station. He earned the price of a cool drink for his trouble.

As for my airport guide, I invited him a few weeks later to have lunch with me and my son. The story ended on a little bit of a sour note when a few days after our meeting he texted me to lend him money for his agriculture project. I told him I would gift him a significantly less amount, and I sent him that to never hear from him again. I still think that my overly obvious gratitude for his original kind deed made him bold enough to ask. If I did not offer that type of gratitude (and the very expensive lunch) he wouldn’t have asked to borrow money. And he did not expect anything in return for helping me that first time. I would like to think that he would have done it anyway. After all I could have just driven away into the airport that evening, never to see him again.

Now getting back to my luck at never losing things in Kenya, I have a few stories to demonstrate it, including my brush with disaster some time ago. But the first incident that set the scene for me and gave me a good feeling about the place happened a few days after my arrival in Nairobi. I was still unsettled and living out of my many suitcases in a guesthouse. My son was trying to adjust to the new school, and we did not have yet our regular routine for daily transport. Sometimes I picked my son up from his nearby school and brought him with me to the office compound, where we had lunch at our cafeteria. We arrived in the rainy season, so we always had some umbrellas and rain jackets with us, but this being Africa means that there are always spells of sunshine even on rainy days. It so happened that my son forgot his rain jacket at the cafeteria one Friday and we only noticed this at the weekend. I thought that I will never see his beloved blue jacket again, but on Monday when I checked for it at the lost and found counter, it was there. And I thought, this is cool, this place is for me. I completely lost track of the number of things I lost and had to discard in New York, yet this place welcomed me by returning to me something that I care about.

Later things like this happened with my son again. Whereas he lost many things at school or at the YMCA in New York, never to be seen again, he always managed to find the things he misplaced at his school in Nairobi.

Today I added another chapter to this saga of lost and found. I walked to a nearby bakery to order donuts for a school party. I withdrew money from the ATM, to pay for the oder, then headed back to the office to have my coffee in the garden. While getting ready to receive my coffee I noticed that my debit card was gone. Surprisingly, and because of my history of being a loskop I did not panic and just went meticulously through my wallet and my hand bag. I still had the receipt from the bakery and I phoned the lady who took my order and explained to her what happened. She said she would look. Meanwhile I retraced my steps out of the compound and back to the bakery. I was sure that I either left it in the ATM machine, or dropped it on the way back. When I arrived at the small shopping mall where the bakery was, the saleslady was already there and told me that she asked the bank. The security guard was there too, and some other people from the bank. Where this would usually unsettle me, I sensed the genuine helpfulness and concern from everyone. I was completely calm through all this. I went methodically again through the contents of my bag and wallet, then I sat on the bench in front of bank machine and the small bank branch and started dialing my overseas bank to cancel my card. The bakery sales lady told me that she informed the bank manager so I did not bother to check with them again. As I was starting to make my phone calls one of the bank employees came out to check the machine, I told her that I had lost my card, and that it might have been retrieved by the machine. She asked me to hold on a bit. A minute or so later I was asked for my passport but the only ID I had on me was my work ID, they accepted that and returned my very same debit card.

I laughed thanking them and said that I always tell everyone that I haven’t lost anything of value in Kenya, except my heart. The bank manager smiled and said: You lost it to someone in Kenya? How sweet ! Yes, I said, although I thought that sweet was something else. Then you haven’t lost it really, she replied, it is with someone, you see?. Perhaps you are right, I answered. But I wished I could believe that.

In the meantime, I send a heartfelt blessing to the angels of Nairobi. Thank you, I feel honoured to be one of you.

 

* Mzungu: Common Kiswhaili word referring to a person of pale complexion or European descent – plural: Wazungu.

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Going Somewhere Authentic

My son and I returned last weekend from a short holiday. It was the first time I travel to South East Asia, and my son was the one who chose the destination, the small island nation of Singapore. It is one of a handful of places that allows me entry without a visa, so I did not object, although the trip came with a large price tag.

My boy has a fixation with architecture and buildings. When we were in New York he pestered me to go up the Freedom Tower, but for many reasons we could not. When we were there the price for the excursion looked steep to me, and before we left the USA things got so hectic that we did not have the time. Last year we went to Dubai. I paid for the visa and a nice hotel, but the visit was hugely anticlimactic for me. I lived part of my youth in the middle east and my experience there as a growing young woman, then a single working woman, was anything other than positive. I could not wait to get out of there, and the first opportunity that presented itself was getting married to someone I hardly knew, but who was heading out of the middle east for good.

I might have passed through Dubai airport after 1999, but the last time I visited the city was perhaps in 1997 or 1998, almost twenty years before. During the nineties, I drove  sometimes between Al-Ain and Dubai. The Dubai World Trade Centre used to be the building that loomed large on the Dubai skyline on approach from Al-Ain, and the two Emirates Tower, where we ended up staying last year, were still under construction. Today they are dwarfed by all the giant structures around them, and the World Trade Centre is a puny, nondescript building, hardly visible among the other giants around it. I felt that the Dubai skyline bordered on the grotesque, a Frankenstein Monster of architecture, with clear examples of bad design and taste. The whole vista wasperhaps saved by the singularity of Burj Khalifa, which stands out as unique and beautiful. Since Dubai is often trumpeted as the Singapore or New York of the Middle East, I had really no expectations about the little South East Asian city/country, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.

The place is unbelievably clean and organized, and there are gardens and parks and natural green around. The weather, while warm, is tolerable unlike the alternating torture of Dubai between the furnace of the outside air and the freezer temperature of the malls. There are no traffic jams, the public transportation runs well, and is within budget. The skyline is not overly crowded with enormous structures and the tall buildings leave room to see the sky. The architecture is amazing, especially the new Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with its classy mall, museum and adjacent botanical garden. There is an interesting integration of art and nature, which was evident even to my young son. The artwork chosen is beautiful and speaks volumes of the artistic bent of Asians in general. The food was also great, there is plenty of opportunity to experience the authentic local food fare at very reasonable price.

I know that taste is highly subjective, but Singapore, in my opinion, is a nation city that works on many levels. I am not exactly sure about its environmental footprint but I am willing to bet that it is more environmentally friendly than Dubai or New York. I could not tolerate either of these cities, whereas I could imagine myself living in Singapore. Dubai is stressful, hectic, and extreme in its weather, while New York is snobbish and pretentious in addition to being stressful and hectic. It also suffers from extreme weather conditions. In summer, the sun bakes the tarmac and reflects on the concrete and glass structures creating heat islands that closely resemble the heat of the Sahara desert, while the trains and buses are cooled to winter-like temperatures. As for the New York winter it can get extremely cold as demonstrated by this year’s record-breaking freeze. Singapore is blessed by equatorial climate, mild year round.

Perhaps what made Singapore close to my heart is also its authenticity. I am sensitive against impostors of any kind. Dubai feels to me like an impostor. It pretends that it is modern, while hiding its underbelly of gender and income inequality, along with poor human rights record. It does not score well either on freedom or democracy. New York is better at hiding its vices in plain sight. There, the long arm of capitalism touches everything. It inflates property prices, crushes the poor and squeezes them out into filthy neighborhoods and crumbling schools. I know that poverty exists also in Singapore but I do not think its anywhere near the scale or desperation visible in New York.  Democracy might be another problem in the Island state, as the ruling party has been in power for half a century. Still, the place proudly displays its own ambiance, culture, food and technology. This cannot be said about Dubai for example, a city that borrowed whatever money can buy from everywhere else. In its quest to showcase the expensive, I feel that the desert metropolis lost many aspects of art, simplicity and beauty that do exist in its native culture. Singapore has a keener eye for beauty, and displays it stylishly in the Gardens on the Bay, the Museum and in its unique music and light show. Dubai does try with its musical fountains which impressed me at the time, but now I feel that they pale in comparison to what I have seen in Singapore.

You might think that I am biased against my native culture. Yet I still appreciate parts of this culture, the undulating curves of Arabic calligraphy that are drawn into symmetrical or artistic shapes, the heart-rending whine of a violin tuned into the melancholy Arabic musical scales, a touching poem about love sung to the tune of the Oud, and the rhythm of the tabla (goblet drum) to which you cannot help but dance. There were so many authentic examples of art, traditional crafts, and culture in the Arab and Islamic world. Unfortunately the natives did not value them and they mostly end up collected by western orientalists, museums or curators. I have been blown away by the Aleppo Room at the Berlin Museum for example, but I have not seen anything similar in its artistic quality preserved in my native city.

Authenticity in places and people touches me, while spuriousness and falsehood repel me. Living in pretentious New York exhausted me, and visiting Dubai felt like sinking into a spiritual vacuum, eviscerating and exhausting too. Singapore enriches and invigorates with its orderliness, vitality, authenticity and artistic flair. There is a soul to places too, and that place has a calm and gentle soul.

 

 

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And I do Forget Sometimes

And I do forget sometimes, about you. In the space between one breath and the next. As if I exhale you on one, to breathe you in on the other.

And I speak with all other men, desperately trying to ignite a spark from a stone, when the mere thought of you sets me on fire.

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A Close Brush with Disaster

For the past few weeks, I started using different techniques to process my breakup with the man I love. I had started out with yoga some months back, and I found that it helped me a lot on the days I was overwhelmed with emotions. Later I opened up to guided meditation and mindfulness, in addition to reading about dealing with grief.

This helps at times, but at others I just need to stop and let the pain of missing my beloved go through me like a tidal wave, until it crashes on the shores of my soul and leaves me at peace. Today was one of those days.

Perhaps part of it is hormonal, in addition to factors of stress and dealing with planning and problems alone. We are traveling on a short trip for Easter and there are tons of things to arrange before then. On top of that, yesterday the gearbox of my car gave way completely as I was on the way to work.  The security guard had waved me through after a brief check at the office barrier and when I handled the gear to put in first it was a uselessly swinging pendulum. By some miracle I could drive the car home (it was possibly stuck on 3rd gear), but it had to be towed from there to the mechanic. Huge amounts of money are needed now to fix  it. It is a British tin of rubbish, but I have grown attached to it, for all the care and nursing it needed. Later in the day I also had to deal with my son’s anxiety about his upcoming dental appointment, and today when I took him to the dentist I was greatly unsettled by the size of the cavity hole and the procedure the dentist followed to remove the pulp of his tooth (the equivalent of a root canal in an adult).  And again there was a huge bill to pay.

My son handled the treatment surprisingly well, and managed to go on to music lesson right after.  But when I finally sat down to process my stressful situation, I was overwhelmed by sadness and the need for a shoulder to cry on. I felt the pain of missing my beloved more acutely and sharply. I stopped to meditate and felt my tears flow freely, and it was a relief perhaps to let go of all this grief and sadness. My day however stayed unsettled as I went on to work after sending my boy back home with a take-away lunch of Sushi to make up for his discomfort.

Throughout the day I fought the urge to text my beloved. I had lunch then coffee and checked again that he hasn’t shown up online since last night. I ran to the bank to replenish my balance, as I did not have enough Kenyan pesa (money) to pay rent. I checked again with my son to see whether his numb jaw had resolved. I made a toilet stop after the bank and I rested my phone and wallet in the stall. When I finished I just collected my handbag and left everything else there. I stopped at the mail drop point to see whether I had any uncollected letters and chatted to a colleague there at length about my upcoming trip, and what I could get her from there, then went on to my desk to continue my paperwork. Only when I checked for my phone did I remember that I left it in the bathroom. I ran to the bathroom downstairs like a madwoman. A uniformed cleaning staff was busy mopping the floor, but there in the last cubicle I saw my phone sitting on top of my brown wallet and the deposit slip from the bank (both of which I had not yet missed). I almost stumbled on my feet to retrieve them and hurriedly retreated out the bathroom nodding thanks to the cleaning woman. Later I discovered that there were a few bills missing. By coincidence, I had counted my change at the bank to see whether I had enough for taxi fare to the airport (I had some change amounting to a 1500 Kenyan Shilling or 15 dollars). The kindly thief left me with 500 Shilling, which was the largest denomination bill  I had in cash, and it was enough for taxi fare home. I was shaking all over when I went back to my office and I think I randomly babbled about the incident to some unknown people in the corridor. My colleague from next door came to inquire and we both agreed that I was extremely lucky. Kenya again has been good to me. I had the fortune of meeting with a kindhearted thief. She is wholeheartedly forgiven, for leaving my wallet alone. I cannot imagine what losing it would have meant for my travel plans tomorrow.  I would have had to cancel our trip for sure. That would have broken my son’s heart, and perhaps it was his guardian angels looking out for my wallet, not mine.

The incident left me shaken to the core, and gave me a reason to text my love. Again, I reached out in my state of shock to complain in one short text about how bad I felt. I only mentioned the car and how I nearly lost wallet and phone. Again the answer comes back completely detached. He told me that when he nearly loses things it is a warning to be more careful. I know baby, I wanted to say, I was just having a bad day, I miss you. Heck I might have even said something along that line, minus the terms of endearment.

Another meditation session followed, some more tears flowed. It is perhaps that time of the month, the turbulence of the change years. I crave chocolate, sex, and perhaps some attention. I pine for my beloved like a teenager, only I am grey, wrinkled and pathetic. At least mediation teaches me to accept what I cannot change. I just breathe through the pathetic rush of emotions.

The storm is all but passed now. He just send me a message meant as usual for someone else, a friend, unlike me. He invited them to drinks because he and his wife are around for the hols. I know I did the right thing to leave this guy, I just need to convince my heart.

 

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What it Means to Be a Dad

On the rare occasions my son speaks with his father on Skype or Facetime, I often contemplate his distant role in my child’s life, and what it really takes to be a proper dad.

I have a very loose relationship with the father. I allow him as much (or in this case as little) contact as he wants with his son. He initiates the contact when he has time, and when he is not travelling somewhere. When he makes an appearance, it is always via a video call once every five, six o sometimes eight weeks, depending on whether the father has something to say, or whether he wants to find out how the child is doing at school or on a holiday.

The last time the two met in person was on my initiative, when we were ready to move out of New York in August 2015. I have so far failed to get the father to visit again or meet us in South Africa, even though there is a pressing need for his presence to sign the forms for our son’s South African passport. It is always too expensive, or there is no time. I try to process, and get over,  my resentment at how little my ex contributes, and how much he complicates our life by the mere fact of his legal status and existence as a father. It hurts my pride that I have to pursue this futile effort of demanding his cooperation on some issues, passport approval and travel permissions for instance, when in fact he bring next to nothing to our lives.

I know my son enjoys the long or short conversations he has with with his father. The man is technically savvy, and a bit of a nerd when it comes to subjects that interest my son. Yesterday evening they spoke about aircrafts, airlines, international aviation and travel. They shared information about YouTube videos they both follow, and opinions on recent air travel trends. My son is quite knowledgeable in these things. The problem that I see, though, is that my ex teaches my son certain attitudes. They spoke, for example, about germs and how they spread during air travel. According to my ex the worst places to carry germs are the tray tables, the magazines, the safety cards, the carpets and the top of the headrest where people usually grab a hold to get into their seats. This information might be of some importance, but I fear that it will make my son into the kind of germophobe my ex is. I have nothing against people who are aware of the possibility of contagion. I always carry a hand-sanitizer in my backpack, although I rarely use it. I do, however, look askance at people who make a show out of opening and closing bathroom doors with pinky fingers or using a paper towel. The action itself is not a problem, it is the attitude that underlies it that bothers me. And this is one of many things that eventually eroded any pretense of companionship I shared with my ex.

For me what is most important in a dad is to show moral leadership. My ex shows nothing of that. He is a man with an attitude and a grudge against the world. He is critical of people of certain body types, grooming, intelligence and sexual orientation. He does not come outright against them, but he has this poisonous attitude of one-upmanship. This poor parenting style is quite different from what I experienced as a child. My father is an old man now, and he is quite set in his opinions, attitudes and mind. He is quite inflexible on some moral arguments to the point of rigidity and sometimes extremism. He has always been, however, a principled man, who can show deep compassion. His love to us, his children, is the one constant that always shines through. He can argue with us for hours over petty things, and a minute later offer some huge amount of material or physical sacrifice if he felt we needed help. I could never expect any of my son’s needs to trump his father’s sense of entitlement or comfort.

My son loves his father. He said that to me, with a bit of an accusing tone, “I will always love him, no matter how he is”, and my heart ached for my little boy. I know that he enjoys what little the father offers. But I truly wish I could have brought a better father in his life.

Son, I wish you had a good man for a father. Someone who can teach you to accept and love people, the way they are, without judging them. Someone who could love you in the same way without judgment and accept whatever choices you make in life, and whatever path you follow. A man who would teach you how to respect women, protect their rights and treat them as peers and equals. I would not trust your father to teach you these things correctly.

I am also sad that I could not offer you someone to step-in as a father figure. Good men are hard to find, and when I did find one, he was already taken.

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Still Missing You … Fifty Days On

You remain my beloved, even when you rejected the opportunity to become my lover.

Everything I know about love, are the feelings you have taught me. I will never reach out to claim you, steal you or borrow you, but I keep you within me, and missing you is my silent companion. I feel like I belong to you, and as time passes I wonder whether the thoughts of you will ever set me free.

Before I met you I neither knew nor touched the depth of my intensity. During my first year in Kenya, I met a young Kenyan man, who was attracted to me physically. He claimed that he felt my intensity, the way my eyes spoke, he called it. I almost laughed, and considered this some innovative pick-up line. Eventually, I let him down easy after two dates. He was married and much younger than me, and I did not want to complicate my life.  I always thought that men mistakenly felt this vibe from me because of physical attraction or plain lust. Then I met you, and your eyes were twin mirrors reflecting back the intensity of my own soul. If I had imagined this, I would have never stayed for that first coffee, and avoided meeting you again. But I got addicted to that connection, because I recognized you, beneath all your uppity exterior and snobbery. You are my emotional twin, a mirror to my soul.

One night last week the pain of missing you made itself felt again, and I lay awake torn apart by longing. The hours dragged past, as I tried to breathe slowly and deeply through the agony. Eventually sleep arrived, but not rest. The next day I caved in again and texted you. You were your usual nonchalant self, speaking how you are sick of having lunch alone, and you even mentioned your solo birthday lunch. You will never know how much it cost me to say no to meeting you on that day. I spent the lunch hour outside in the office garden, away from people. I put down a mat on the grass and lay face down in the afternoon sun, weeping silently into my folded arms.

You offered me coffee again, and said that you will be happy to see me “when you feel better”. What if I never feel better? I know that I cannot meet you anymore in the open, without letting my arms reach out to you, without hugging you so tight that I crack my ribs, or yours. How dare you try to make a friend out of me when you are my beloved? It is not fair. Love is still steering my course, I set it free, I breathe it in and out, and send it out to you on the wind, with every silent tear. I send it out to you at night when I put my head down to sleep and in the morning when I first open my eyes. I do not resist it, nor resent it, I just accept it along with its suffering.

My longing is deep and powerful, and I treat it like a wild and unpredictable animal. I let it fight and pull against its restraints, I let it act out its wild nature, in the hope that it will become tamer one day. Sometimes I wish I was dealing with something as natural, primitive and elemental as lust. Because physical desire is a wild animal that I can understand. It just needs to be fed and satisfied. My longing for you defies understanding, and it can neither be fed nor forgotten. I try to survive one day at a time as Zen teachings dictate. There is no past and no future, I just need to survive this moment, without you.

One day I will stop counting the days since I last had coffee with you, but today I still know, it has been fifty days.

 

 

 

 

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The Memory of my Beloved

My son has had a belated fixation with the Titanic for some time. Because he was born a mere decade ago, he missed all the hype that ensued decades ago, with the exploration of its wreckage. He was also a bit young on the centennial of the disaster. I remember we went to the Titanic Exhibition held at the Cape Town Waterfront in 2015, and he was only mildly interested in it then. We both held reproduced tickets for actual passengers of the Titanic and looked them up in the passenger list, whether they survived or died on the day. We also tested the temperature of the water in which the last people on board plunged into after the ship foundered. It was a dramatic expo, but he spoke about it for a few days and then it was forgotten for a while.

Recently his interest was revived when he watched a few YouTube documentaries on the ship. He looked for the artifacts we got from the Titanic Exhibition and wanted to watch the Titanic movie. I was surprised by his stamina a few weeks ago when he stayed up for the full three hours of the film. Later he rattled off trivia and information about the ship, and its captain Smith who perished with it, and was supposed to retire after its maiden voyage. Of course I knew the movie very well from decades ago, and did not want to watch it again, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed seeing it with his younger eyes, and I was also struck by the emotional effect it had on me again.

Twenty years ago, I watched it on the big screen. I remember I visited a movie theatre in Dubai, or Sharjah, and took myself there alone. At the time I had my fresh heartbreak to process. My first boyfriend got married and I had to leave the scene because I could not stomach becoming the girlfriend on the side, or the other woman. It was no surprise that I was touched by the love story, and the idea of having a lasting connection with someone even after their death. I do not know whether I internalized the love story to my own situation but I know that even then it struck a deep chord in my sentimental and romantic nature, otherwise I wouldn’t have paid three times to see it in the theatres.

Titanic was a great movie for its time. My son recited to me many facts about how it was filmed and how long it took to produce the special effects at a time where computer graphics lacked their present sophistication. At it heart, however, it is a cheesy love story, that appeals to lonely and broken hearts. I could have watched it perhaps a year ago without shedding a single tear, but I sobbed when I watched it for the first time with my son and then cried a bit again when he repeated it this weekend. I wondered about the universal hold that love has on the heart, and how perhaps there are some types of connections between people that survive parting, distance and even death.

When I wrote about the Emotional Affair, I found many articles that treated it as a form of infidelity.  Most counseling sites argued for the preservation of the married relationship and advocated for actively trying to connect to the long-term partner, investing in this partner emotionally, rather than expending emotional energy onto the outside emotional connection. One article in particular thought that love, or at least the real and lasting form of it, is similar to stirring oatmeal; a comforting, necessary and simple activity that promises nourishment and has elements of meditation and requires some effort. It might not produce any form of excitement such as the flush and attraction of the affair. The article goes on to state that people who jump into the excitement of affairs are those who read books like The English Patient and Bridges of Madison County, where the great love makes a larger-than-life entry and then leaves in an emotional storm, never to be seen again. I blushed while reading this because both stories affected me deeply. The story of Jack and Rose is a cheesier version of the same theme, a great love that comes and goes but leaves indelible marks on the life of the person who had experienced it.

So who is right? Does true love really leave an indelible memory in the heart, or do we idolize only the loved ones we have lost? I am undecided on this matter. I do believe, however, that time is the answer. The men I loved and lost previously did not leave their marks in my memory. I do not take refuge in nostalgia for the memory of my first boyfriend. I do not lovingly recall us lying in each other’s arms and crying over the sad words of an Arabic love song. I do not remember the look in his eyes, nor the thrill that it once gave me. When love is mentioned there is only one person that comes to my mind. The heartache is still fresh, I know, and I hope that it will fade with time, but I fear that I will remember him for a lot longer than the heartache. For me, he might be the one love that I will remember and long for into old age.

Time might heal the pain of true love but the memory will stay. There are millions of love songs, and love poems that speak about love being deep and endless, they cannot all be totally wrong.

 

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“And think not you can direct the course of love…”

When I was young, it was easier for me to fall in and out of love. I also found it easier to recover. Even when the first man in my life decided to get married to his fiancee and I carried the guilt of our relationship with me out of my home country, I was sure that I will love again. I cried endlessly, and I disintegrated into a thousand pieces every time he called, but all this never obliterated the certainty that somewhere there will be love for me again.  I was only 27 and my whole life was ahead of me, with endless possibilities. It also helped that I had a future career to look forward to, and no burdens. My only responsibility was to guard my future and mend my heart.

I am finding it much more difficult to recover from the love I found unexpectedly, later in my life. Now instead of looking forward I can only look back to realize with dismay that all the things I felt before were small tremors of the heart. They do not compare to this major earthquake. I had long given up on the notion of romantic love, content instead with the love for humanity in general, the love of my child, my family and my friends, until I was struck with this lightning bolt. I was a love agnostic, an atheist even, and then god chose to speak to me. I still try to reason that this was only an illusion, something that my wishful thinking has conjured up, but my heart knows it was real.

As its newly converted disciple, love opened me up to joy and pain, in ways I never imagined. It was as if I lost a layer of skin, and started to feel everything more keenly.  Pleasure, pain and loss magnified to a point they became unbearable. I now see beauty more clearly, and feel deeper empathy.  When I cry now, I cry not only for myself but for everyone who has ever loved and lost. I even touch the pain of the boy who once read me a poem he wrote to my beautiful eyes, about how much he loved me, and whom I rejected and laughed off as silly. I now know how he felt all those years ago.

Sometimes I miss my ignorance, and my dismissal of love as a passing ailment, no more destructive than a hailstorm in the middle of spring. I was content in rejecting it as overrated and unnecessary, before I figured out that I have been passed a sugar pill instead of the genuine drug. Now, instead of my cynical dismissal, I am left with despair of ever finding it again.

Now I think that love is exceptionally rare. You have to quit looking for it to find it. It has to find you, and when it does all you can do is just surrender to it. Whether you get over it or not is a matter of destiny.

Khalil Gibran — ‘And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.’

 

 

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