One of these days, I’m going to re-focus on break-ups. I’ve been doing breakup coaching for my niece (having attended the school of hard knocks on the subject and obtained something of a master’s degree in breaking up) and there is something that came up this week that seems relevant to more than just the affairs of the heart.
A fair point of criticism that could be lobbed my way is that my divorce has made me bitter.
It is true that I didn’t want the divorce at the time. I loved my ex-husband madly, without limits, and without reason. In the final analysis, you could argue that it was his choice to end the marriage. I certainly had shown no signs of giving up on him.
From a certain angle, blaming our divorce on cultural differences might also be understood as a sign that I am looking for a scapegoat. Anything to avoid saying out loud that he didn’t love me enough.
Well, he didn’t love me enough.
Let me tell you about my ex-husband. He was beautiful. Charming. Intelligent. Funny. Ambitious. Good lord, was he handsome. He spoke four languages. I adored his mother. His nieces and nephews were so sweet. His siblings were endlessly kind. I had experiences with him that I would have never had access to with another man.
Everything was always someone else’s fault. He may not have graduated with a Bachelor’s yet, fifteen years after I met him. And last I heard, that failure was everyone’s fault but his.
He had all the pride in the world, but so little to be proud of.
In the end, his sister-in-law said to me “Beda, we don’t understand. We know what you did for him.”
I made him feel stupid. When I asked him to think outside the box, he refused and leaned on a faceless, nameless Imam. I asked him if God was going to come back. He said yes. I asked him if he was going to have to stand before God and answer for his time on earth. He said yes. I asked him if that Imam was going to put his hand up from the back, interrupt proceedings, and inform God that he, the Imam, was taking responsibility for my ex’s behavior.
“Why do you have to make me feel stupid about my religion.”
I remember that conversation. Explicitly. We were in the shower. We’d been talking about having kids, raising them. The specter of Ramadan and 12 year olds who were thirsty in the middle of summer and me having to tell them no, they can’t have water.
Our marriage died in that shower, on that day. It just took a long time to realize that it was irrevocably dead.
I wasn’t perfect. I was young and immature. I was pragmatic when he needed me to be a die-hard romantic. I had these ideas about what a marriage was supposed to be and I kept trying to turn us into the picture I wanted instead of accepting what we were. I was inexperienced: I didn’t have another long term relationship as a point of reference. I was hard-headed. I fought to win.
Before we were married, my Dad pulled him aside and said, “Son, there isn’t anything in 2,000 years of culture or breeding that has prepared you to be married to this woman.” My dad was right. Didn’t stop my dad from loving him, from mentoring him, from employing him. But he was right.
So… sour grapes? Maybe. But also years of watching him and his friends in our home and in Morocco. Observing their relationships disintegrate one by one. Being a part of his family and therefore as much of an insider as I could possibly be. I was there for Al Eid when the butcher came and slaughtered four sheep on the rooftop deck of his mother’s house. Heard his family’s sympathy for his brother’s wife, who had married the crazy brother. But no one could say that. No one could confront him. They just listened to the screaming in unhappy silence. To do anything else would have been shameful. Or the other brother, the alcoholic whose hands shook until he started drinking again at 10 and may or may not have been bisexual. All this shit that they couldn’t talk about and so it just festered.
I was there in a way that the analysts and the diplomats haven’t been. Not that I know everything they know, just that they don’t know everything I know. They haven’t slept in that bed and it’s different, once you have.
Which is to say that Islam isn’t bad, or at least its holy text is on par with Christianity. Muslims are people, just like any other people: some are wonderful, some are awful, most are somewhere in-between, or both in different ways. Islamic culture isn’t … Okay, it’s sub-optimal. And I say that having fallen in love with walking your bread dough to the local bakers to have it baked while you go to the Hamam. And avocado juice. And easy smiles. Helpful, generous, open people. Promising young men living with a corrupt government, sitting around and playing cards for spending money because they couldn’t find jobs with their free university education. Things stay the same because Inshallah is the answer to every question. When do you want to meet? <shrug> Inshallah. Retirement planning? Inshallah. Address government corruption? Inshallah.
Being there, drinking coffee, people-watching… it’s beautiful. Perhaps even more so because it is doomed. The trajectory of history seems to be pointing in the direction of reason, plurality, and technology. The harder the lumpheads (of any persuasion) try to drag the whole thing backwards, the more certain we can be of a rebound. Time moves forward, at least experientially. The quantum physicists might have other views, but the rest of us experience the relentless march of time in a single direction. We get smarter, and nothing is lost even if we fall, one-by-one, victims of that march.
“We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again.” ― Tom Stoppard, Arcadia
We need stuff to do when there’s nothing that can be done.
For some reason, I’m thinking about my favorite rationalist and the candle she lit for me and my mother. The nice thing about atheism is that everything has an explanation. Or at least an empty space where an explanation will fit as soon as the scientists and mathematicians get smarter. The faith that is required is reasonably minimal.
I can’t argue with atheism. Personally, I want a world where magic is possible, but my wanting isn’t a proof that I can write up on a blackboard. I certainly can’t ask someone else to believe that magic is an option just because I’ve seen a glimmer of it here and there.
But we need something to do when there’s nothing that can be done. A gesture to make into empty space and the hope that a candle in London puts off a little heat that can be felt in Washington D.C. Ration is human. So is the inexplicable. If not magic, then our own need for small rituals that can’t be explained.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing in my book. I think there’s a lot of beauty to be found in the cracks between what makes sense and what we’re compelled to do in spite of our logic.
I found myself pissed at her today. There is the hint of a possible reason to be hopeful about a job prospect that would mean a lot by way of stability in my life. It is the kind of thing I would have called to share with her. And she would have half listened, more thinking through what she was going to talk about when I paused than really hearing what was going on with me. She would have taken the first opportunity to interject and then run away with whatever compliment shed last received from a colleague or authority figure, more to remind herself that she was essential where she was than to meet any particular need of mine.
My sisters and I rolled our eyes at her, long distance. But it was what we did, her and I, finding a sliver common ground in career decisions. Meeting on the telephone line in an unspoken agreement whereby I called with news and she took over the conversation.
What it lacked in depth, it made up in longevity.
And she wasn’t there for the ritual, damn her. My sister suggested I start from scratch with one of the lovely women who have offered their maternal urges as a substitute for the mother I was born to. But the explanations required. The idea of having to explain why the one sentence relates to stuff that happened 10 years ago, what it means under the surface, and how it fits in to everything else.
I was the weirdo on the subway with my sunglasses on after dark, crying. Quietly. They warned me that I would find myself crying at the oddest times, entirely unexpectedly.
All I hear is Anthony Hamilton singing “you picked a fine time to leave me Lucille…”
It seems odd to make that claim so close to my mother’s death. This was a year that saw the return of my mother’s cancer, a move, a break-up of disastrous proportions, the end of a job, and the rapid deterioration of my mother’s health, concluding in her death.
But it was also a year wherein I discovered just how strong my relationship is with my sisters. I got back into the pool this year and found a little peace underwater. I got solid with what passes for spirituality. I added a new and lovely mentor to my collection of smart women that are willing to tell me when I’m full of shit. I’ve spent more time interacting with my niece this year. There were book reviews and new followers and real progress towards being done with TCR II. I got to cuddle with my nephew. And I was positioned perfectly to be there for my mother’s last breath.
Nobody is calling it a pretty easy year. Not much to claim by way of having a pretty joyful year. But if good includes growth, or grounded, or stronger, or more solid, or smarter, or braver, or in better alignment… If good includes being in a place now to ride with whatever happens next… Then it was a pretty good year.
This is something I’ve talked around in various and assorted posts, but not something I’ve ever addressed directly.
Enough is not a meaningful measure. What is “enough” anyway? Who gets to call it? A house that is big enough for me wouldn’t be nearly big enough for a Kardashian. Enough is a relative measure, entirely subjective, and it moves constantly. Because as soon as we reach a point where we would have called it “enough” before we got there, suddenly, it is no longer good enough. Because we’re there and a lot of us (not all, but many) are convinced we’ll never be enough so if we can do it, then the “it” that needs to be done must be a little further ahead.
A year ago, I would have told you that swimming a mile every other day would be more than enough. Now I’m doing two miles every other day and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be pushing myself to do a little more because maybe two miles isn’t good enough.
That’s just ridiculous.
On the other hand, this striving for a target of enough that we move beyond our grasp isn’t all bad. Doubt is a good thing. It keeps us open-minded, it keeps us learning, it keeps us growing.
But for functioning in life, for moving forward, for taking a leap of faith, am I good enough is a pretty rotten question.
The reality is that you’ve gotten this far. You’ve made some mistakes, you’ve screwed some things up royally. You’re still here. You’re still breathing. You’ve survived some shitty days and you still have a sense of humor. That’s pretty amazing. Even better, you still have this marvelous opportunity embedded in today (or tomorrow, since it’s late) to show up. Get the ego out of the way. Dispose of the judgement and whatever concerns you might have regarding other people’s judgement. Your gift is your presence, for whatever the task at hand is. You don’t have to be good enough. Good enough is a feeling, it isn’t a fact.
You just have to show and you’ll be way ahead of everyone else who is paralyzed by the idea that good enough is a real thing they have to achieve before they can do something great.
So I admit it. The phone needed a breathalyzer. Or I needed a friend to pry it out of my hands. My texting aside, I was on public transport home and then I caught a cab for the last 1.5 miles. As luck or fate or whatever would have it, I landed in a cab with a good Moroccan boy.
On the subject of Morocco. I miss my former MIL, who remains one of the best examples of humanity I’ve ever come across. I miss the part where I knew a little something about a world that isn’t the one I grew up with. I miss going over there, the hamam, preserved lemons, some of the cutest nieces and nephews in the history of progeny…
I don’t miss trying to negotiate the cultural expectations where they so clearly didn’t match up. I don’t miss my ex husband. I do miss knowing bad words in Mahgrebi.
So there I am in the cab, I find out he’s Moroccan, and so I start asking questions. He’s got a wedding ring on and so I ask him about his wife. Remember, I’m thoroughly tipsy at this point. He’s not yet married, but she’s going to come over as soon as she finishes her degree. Now I get bossy, because I know this experience. And I start explaining to him what it’s like to be here instead of there and how his out of the house social life will be much as it was, but her inside the house social life won’t be the same at all, and he’s going to have to make some adjustments.
This is clearly none of my business. Yet something must have worked, because he gave me his phone number in case I ever need a ride (I don’t think there was any more to it than that) and he gave me his worry beads.
I’m a big fan of the kindness of strangers. Not out of greed, but because we live in a world that can be so disconnected. You never know with people. Good and bad. You never know what they need to hear, or how small things carry on with them. You never know what is behind a frown, or silence, or even rudeness. I mean, some people are just horrible and rude, but even that starts somewhere. Everyone has reasons. Everyone has a story. Kindness is the right choice. Every time.
And now I’ve got a set of prayer beads in my purse that I suspect will be something I carry with me pretty much full time from here on out. A reminder of the kindness of strangers, and to pass that kindness forward when I get too far in my head.