There are times that walk from you like some passing afternoon, Mr. “Iron and Wine” Beam sings in one of his songs (songs you can often pull over your ears like you would your blankie, back in the good old days).
If you’d ask me what I did last week, my answer would be very short. Not because I didn’t do much. I studied, worked, studied some more, had an exam. I could say a lot more about all this but it doesn’t really seem to matter in the light of last week.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to write about bombs, terror, injustice, fear – a lot has been written about it already, probably in a more eloquent manner than I ever could. Besides (as one of my friends rightly pointed out and is all too obvious): you could always write about any of that.
Whenever someone tells me we’re currently living in one of the longest periods of peace in a long time, I wonder what they’re talking about. I wonder if they’ve watched the news lately. War (terror) doesn’t have to blow up right in your face to be real. So that’s that. Let me rephrase: I’m not going to write about bombs, terror, injustice, fear – not any more than what I’ve written so far.
But if this isn’t about any of that, what is it about? Perspective, maybe. Realizing what really matters and what really doesn’t, maybe. Also, realizing that sometimes, even though something matters a lot, there’s still nothing you can do or say or feel that is going to change anything. And then, realizing that none of us is immune to pain and fear, no matter how much we’d like to believe it.
It’s about building a shell all around you to distance yourself (from whatever, really), only to find out it just doesn’t fall to pieces as long no one tries to break it – because as soon as they do, it’s falls apart all over you and it knocks you down or out right away. It’s also about how things like that often happen when we least expect them.
No, actually, I take it back. They always happen when we least expect them. Like that phone call happened just like that, this one summer day when you were simply having ice cream with your best friend (your grandmother died). You’re never prepared because there’s no way to prepare yourself for something like that. That’s what this is also about, maybe.
And it’s also about how life goes on, just like that. Because it’s that moment, when life just decides to go on (no matter how much you think there’s no way that this is how it works) and you’re not sure if you’re just dreaming and you decide you wish you were so you just try to numb all your senses (not temporarily, this is not something a couple glasses of gin could do for you; rather, you will your body to go numb – because there’s nothing else you can do) – these are times that walk from you like some passing afternoon. Thank you very much, Mr. Beam.
So this last week’s just walked by me – and if I’m really honest with myself: not just this week. And if you’re really honest: do you remember what you did last week (last year maybe)? It’s scary to think about how life slips by if we’re not careful; if you let your suffering, your fears take the upper hand. Life just goes on, that’s the way it’s always been and although it sounds tacky: this is how it’s always going to be.
We wake up the next morning, to dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, work, another day, brief moments (a fifty-fifty chance: meaningless or meaningful) and all of this is going to be there – no matter whether the times just walk by us or we try and walk with them.
That’s the challenge: to try and keep up. I guess that’s what this is about: keeping up. Even if this week, that’s the last thing on earth you want to do. Especially if it is; especially this week (and other weeks like this).
I spent most of March traveling and although I’ve been back for a while, I haven’t entirely unpacked yet. Because I hate unpacking.
It’s the least romantic part about traveling to me: dirty laundry, (hopefully still intact) souvenirs, used boarding passes/train tickets, crumpled receipts, postcards you meant to send but forgot about; it’s like taking down Christmas decorations after the holidays – it always feels too soon.
I think of emptying a suitcase as surgery: delicate; you have to remove piece after piece carefully and in the right pace or it’ll be a bloody mess.
I love to keep some sand in my shoes, and some change if the currency is foreign. I usually find little notes, candy wrappers and flyers advertising concerts, museums, movies and all sorts of food between the pages of my journal after I’m already home for weeks.
This time, there was also a note from a friend I visited for a few days of my trip.
She moved to Houston last year and I hadn’t seen her new apartment yet. I only knew her old apartment in Austin.
In the end, the new one reminded me a lot of the one she’d had before – her bedroom looked almost the same, to me it did anyways: postcards and pictures on the wall (quotes in English and Arabic), books (in English and Arabic).
One evening, we sat on the floor, having an indoor-picnic-dinner (because, even though we were in Texas and it was March, it was still too cold to picnic outside).
We decorated slices of apple with dabs of peanut butter and the soft carpet with crumbs of bread (there’s a reason why people usually picnic outside). I tried to pick up a few crumbs with the tip of my index finger, tracing back the way our dinner had gone, a path back and forth between our plates, like a bridge; I tore it down (sometimes, that’s what you have to do).
We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year so we talked about things that had happened: life and everything in between.
We talked about how one of her friends was almost pulled into a car by a couple of strangers on her way home while they studied together in Egypt and how this is not a big deal there because it happens all the time and no one ever says a thing (until it happens to them, but it doesn’t, right? it’s always someone else); we talked about how one of my friends was kidnapped a couple of years ago because her family was too wealthy and the rest of her country too poor and how this is not a big deal there because it happens all the time and no one ever says a thing (until it happens to them, but it doesn’t, right? it’s always someone else).
Sometimes I’m sure there’ll be a loud creak any second and the world will just fall over, unhinged, because there must be an imbalance between good and evil in the world; sometimes I’m sure the only reason it doesn’t happen is because you’re in a relatively stable position while you’re knee-deep in the shit.
Other times I get up to my favorite song on the radio and it’s enough to make me think it’s maybe not that bad. Not because I think my favorite song is going to level out everything that’s going wrong in the world – but if we’re going down, I feel a lot better knowing that at least the soundtrack is good.
We also talked about our favorite songs, a movie I’d recommended to her a while ago (Harold and Maude), and boys love, its complications, its many layers and whatever it is that girls people talk about when they talk about love.
We talked about the future – job possibilities, what our friends had done with their lives (and impressed us with it, or the opposite), what our parents wanted us to do with our lives (and how we didn’t really want the same, of course); things we wanted to do, ideally; things we could imagine settling for.
There’s so much life ahead of us, she burst out all of a sudden. The only answer I could think of: What are we going to do with it? So we tried to come up with a plan; it ended up being a list of things – written as a note, the twist: we wrote it to the other (because advice to others is often easier).
My note said: * Keep writing * Keep learning/teaching * Keep breathing * Keep doing yoga * Keep taking pictures * Keep watching inspiring movies/reading inspiring books * Specific items to do: play guitar, research teaching assistantships in America, find and visit the German-speaking part of Romania (yes, it exists! no, it’s not where the vampires are … or is it?) * Always remember: it’s worth it to fall in love.
I put the note into my journal; I re-read it many times since she first wrote it. I’ve been trying to keep it in mind – while I’m waiting for the loud creak and the sinking feeling you get when you’re going up/down too fast for your stomach to keep up because the world’s falling over after all; while I’m hoping it doesn’t.
Because there’s so much life ahead (and a lot in between).