These past few days, weeks, years have culminated in a matter of life and death for me.
Either I love and accept myself, or I kill myself.
Before you gasp in horror, physical death in not the only one there is, though it is a real possibility and an option at the end of the day. No, I know a good few people who are alive, but have let themselves die – kind of spiritual zombies in a way. Ultimately, there is only one real dilemma in life, and only two real roads forking out from the present moment. These are not the choice between Oxford or Cambridge, a 2,000 or 3,000 dollar salary, marriage or the spoils of a single life, family or career (these were, in my circles, the discussions). Though legitimate on a day to day basis, once you draw the curtains to the backstage of existence, you encounter the real quandary: Do I understand who I really am and really accept it and even embrace it in loving kindness, or do I let myself die?
Yes, it may sound melodramatic, but no I don’t care. The depth of sadness and joy I have felt in my life is testament to how real, how important, how essential this work is to me. Splashing on the surface was never my predicament; I always caught my breath to dive for oyster pearls.
There has been so much push-back inside me against loving myself, that I see now that the seat of all my struggling has been this; something so small yet so difficult, so insignificant in the face of the universe yet everything in the scheme of my own small, shy life.
I have inherited this anger from my mother. As a child I must have sat next to her countless times while she sailed deep in her own thoughts, her gaze glazed over and turned inwards, the lines on her face carved deep and stiff and tense, like an old Cypriot woodcarving. I have no way of knowing what her thoughts were anymore, but I most certainly can remember the energy emanating from her body and filling the room up with splinters. Perhaps I was sensitive and open to cosmic disturbances, perhaps it was a survival thing. I am learning to accept that despite herself, she may have been stricter with me than my brother, she may have projected more, she may have expected more. I have forgiven her, and I hope she has forgiven me too. But I am still struggling with breaking this mode of perceiving myself in space, time and spirit; at once arrogant and contemptuous, prideful and hateful, brimming with scorching envy, rage, bile and infinite concern, love and tenderness for the world. It is like a gold ring or wedding dress handed down through the generations, a gift that breaks you open to the frail and beautiful heart of the world, but also throws you into the pit of snakes out of which you have to claw yourself until the day you die. I love and hate my mother for it, I love and hate my grandmother for it, I love and hate the whole lineage of wombs and arms and breasts that coddled and nursed the translucent diamond-shaped pain that ended up inside of me, throbbing in brilliant light.
Some habits never change. It is Sunday, I am thousands of miles away from where I was born, where Sundays mean sunny car rides to the mountains with the radio playing "laika" and the coffee waiting for us hot, bitter and bubbly when we arrive and where a sense of well-being and carefree-ness penetrates the very cells of one’s body and soul. I sit here in the room overlooking my flooded tropical back yard with the windows closed to block the swarming mosquitoes, the sky cloudy and uniformly grey. Blue-jays and cardinals are flashing red and blue in the deep green of the magnolia tree, once in a while swooping down to bathe in the murky puddles, showing off their plumage to the brown females looking down from the safety of the neighbour’s oak tree. Youtube is blasting Vitali and Glykeria, my coffee is imported and expensive, my mind is swirling to tsifteteli rhythms, and a joy is bubbling up from a well of happy memories, like Arabica cooked on the stove with a mother’s love.
“Costa, theleis kafe?” must be the happiest words of my childhood, as this was a very real gesture of love between my parents, a time when there could be no fights, no arguments, no anger, just a tiny cup of coffee on a saucer on a tray on the table at the porch in the sun. My safest, coziest memories revolve around coffee get-togethers. Even the women of my family could sit around a coffee table of peace, reconciled for as long as a cup lasted. When guests came over the ritual was more elaborate: different levels of sweetness require different batches of coffee, and two maybe three brikia would have to be unearthed from deep inside the kitchen cupboards, often of differing sizes depending on how many people wanted “”sweet”, “slightly sweet”, “almost sweet”, “medium” or “plain” coffee. The silver tray was now bigger, and full of little open-mouthed cups whose ears pointed to different directions depending on the sugar content, the only person holding the secret to decoding this language of cups being my mother, who had transfigured from ball of melancholy to radiant, able and funny hostess.
Really, the happiest memories (or memories at all) I have of certain people involve a little cup of coffee. Like my uncle, whose presence in my life has been distilled to the image of him sitting at the white linoleum table with the rusty metal legs in the back yard with the lemon tree, cigarette in one hand, legs crossed, newspaper sprawled in front of him and a perpetually full cup of coffee. “Stathi theleis kafe?” were the same words of truce uttered by my aunt, perhaps the only words she exchanged with him that harboured neither abuse nor hatred.
Today I make myself coffee in the same spirit of reconciliation and love, and suggest coffee dates to my dearest, closest friends, or even potential ones. In preparation for skype conversations nowadays with my family, I always brew a fresh batch to last the duration of the call, and I probably regard people who dislike coffee with somewhat of a suspicion. To guests in my house I always extend the hand of hospitality with an offering of coffee, and delight in an affirmation. My best ideas and conversations and essays have been facilitated by caffeine or borne out of a coffee haze; I think you get the idea. Wars could perhaps be avoided and problems put aside even if momentarily, for as long as the open mouthed cups on the silver tray whose ears point to different directions hold that strong, dark liquid of ceasefire and peace.
To be completely honest, lately I am struggling with the concept of ignorance, of which I admit I harbour much myself. I suppose if I had to explain it, I’d say I am much more intolerant of ignorance that stems from privilege than the ignorance that stems from lack of education. I am terrified at the thought of my own ignorance stemming from my own privilege, and this has been the cause of a lot of self flagellation and censorship. I am partly afraid to write, because I am afraid that I will pour my ignorance on the paper where I am trying to pour my heart out. I acknowledge that if it is done sincerely and openly and truthfully and compassionately, exposing oneself to the world can only be a good thing, since any critique and backlash can point out the flaws in one’s thinking and the privilege in one’s point of view so that those parts of oneself can at least be illuminated and accepted and taken into account, if not amended and integrated. That is however, a braver thing than I am always capable of, and I find my courage slipping away from me and a silence descending like a big heavy cloud over me, severing my thoughts from my voice and the outside world. Cowardice is such a big curse. Self-awareness is certainly a curse too, which is why you see the most insensitive people having the most success and power in the world today. A more just world would have to be a gentler world, one that would not demand such bravery of its most sensitive and vulnerable people – such a world would surely have been devoid of great art, music and literature; a heavy price to pay, I admit.
I am increasingly more at peace with all of this, and acknowledge that to live one’s life in any meaningful depth and truth and clarity requires an inordinate amount of courage and forgiveness – of self, so that you may pick yourself up when you have fallen and resume your trundle- and of others, so that you may reflect back at them the compassion required to deal with this world, when they seem intent to believe that the wheel of life runs on injustice and hardness and suffering and all the other things brought about by the ego, and the buying into the illusion of the ego.
There is only one thing I am growing to know for certain: there is a basic goodness underlying the whole of everything. I used to read this in books and not believe it, and I am still most days coming to grips with it especially when my cynical side creeps in with an ego-woven narrative, but I understand more intuitively now what this means. If you are having trouble with this think back to when you were a child, and remember the sense with which you related to the world and the feeling of having an underdeveloped ego – your actions sprang forth pure and clear like from a freshwater spring, right? Life is supposed to be effortless and joyful like that, even in pain. This is the essence and truth behind all religions and concepts of the Divine, and I beg you to search for that goodness that you have covered up in so many layers of hardness over all the years of your life, and believe that it is the yeast and the truth of life.
I think once you start feeling this in your bones you start shedding your fear, slowly but surely, because you have increasing faith in the process, though the path is unknown and scary and dangerous. I remain terrified of pain and disease and death but a small voice inside me tells me that behind it all I still have the choice of letting that fear steal the moment, which is all I ever had, or love myself and believe in that basic goodness that underlies and transcends my mortal body, and let myself go.
All this is much easier said than done, of course. Today has been a good day for me, where I have sat here and managed to concentrate for a little more than five minutes at a time, it is quiet in the house and I have allowed myself to stop letting my mind distract me with demons (what am I going to cook, I need to clean the house, what do I have to do tomorrow, I still only have one Bachelor’s degree, I really am very bad at my job, I will amount to nothing in life, I have to wash the dog today, is Mark going to drive safe back home, my in laws would rather I was different, I have no friends left, the laundry is still in the washing machine, I have no money in the bank, what will happen with Mark’s shoulder and we need new health insurance, I hate my therapist, I like my book study group, do they all think I am a bad person, I shouldn’t have stopped volunteering at the bird sanctuary, does everyone hate me, I am very bad at writing, so and so is better at writing, she will get published before I ever write a single word worth anyone’s while, why did I study Biology, the rainforests are burning and I’m sitting here, I don’t remember anything from my degree, Mark will eventually divorce me, who will take the house, I will be left with nothing no degree no career no money, I will die alone and friendless, my mother would be ashamed of me, I wish she never died, I feel bad about leaving my dad behind he is growing old, why wont he ever get on Skype and call me, why wont anyone call me, I must really be a bad person, I am overbearing, I hate myself, I'm scared of getting cancer, I should eat better, I’m lazy, why won’t I go to the gym, I’m scared of the people at the gym I hate them looking at me, I’m so different from everyone here, I always look scruffy, my mother in law hates my red converse shoes, I have big feet, I have no talents, my parents wasted their money on me, my brother is so much better than me, everyone is better than me, I can’t cook for shit, I can cook but I always eat by myself, I’m a killjoy and not funny at all, I hate so and so she has everything, so and so betrayed me, so and so is a spoiled brat, I can’t have female friends, my best male friends have been lovers and that’s over with, they all hate me, I don’t have a PhD, my mother would have been better off with so and so as her daughter, I hate me, I should journal more, I should read the news). Today I haven’t thought much of that and I hardly feel as exhausted as usual. Today I feel like tomorrow could be a good day, and I’m not half as scared of tomorrow as usual. Today I have thought of past cities and past lovers with a sense of fondness but not nostalgia, with a deep feeling of gratitude but no pain, and I have asked all the people I have ever known and hurt to forgive me by sending good wishes out to the universe, and I too have made a small step towards forgiving the people whom I feel angry with deep, deep in my heart.
I know this all reads very fragmented, but I know inside of me all of these things I write are connected in a deep and meaningful way. Even the fear of my Cypriot-ness mixing with my British-ness and my Greek-ness and my Middle-Eastern-ness and my Asian-ness and my Western-ness into a great big clusterfuck of curly hair and coffee-breath doesn’t phase me today. It doesn’t matter to me if no one understands or connects with my identity, my personal insights or my use of language. It doesn’t matter if I am the only person on Earth who defines herself not with nationality or skin color or mother-tongue or religion (in fact, none of these at all), but with the books she has read and the foods she has tasted, and the places she has traveled to, and even the museums she has visited, and her dreams, and all the moments she has hid herself under the bed covers and willed herself into oblivion and came out of it alive somehow the next morning. It doesn’t matter if I am not unique or special in any way other than the fact that I feel unique or special to myself just because it is my eyes I use to look out at the world and my eyes alone. It doesn’t even matter that I have filled my blog and countless pieces of paper with bad poetry, or that I have typed them up and shared them with people who are important to me who might have recoiled in disgust at how bad my poetry was. I feel happy about sharing it, because I had to share it because it expressed something terrifying to me that I survived and had to make known and validated and heard. It doesn’t matter that I was born into a middle class household of educated and tormented and highly self-critical people who trod lightly on the world and led discreet and quiet and modest lives because I experienced that and I survived that too and I enjoyed it and hated it and delighted in it and now it’s over and I can make my own family and bring more people into it and into the world.
I’m not scared anymore to say I suffered myself manifold into becoming what I am today, like everyone does, like a cicada breaking out of its chitinous shell until the next moulting occasion. I am happy that my suffering has been my very own and it will continue being my very own and that it is no less or more important than the next person’s suffering and growth and life.