Lima Al-Azzeh

For A.

In Uncategorized on September 27, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Image by Leo Reynolds (LEOL30)

I’ve always had a slightly morbid fascination for testing the breadth of my own limits: for compassion, for love, for patience, for forgiveness and so on. It’s nothing sadistic, I don’t wish or intend to purposefully inflict pain upon myself in order to test my endurance, with the exception of a few small tattoos. What it ultimately comes down to is a test of will and of strength. Admittedly, this post has nothing to do with Vancouver specifically, but I promise you, it’s a worthy digression.

Three years ago, I packed up some suitcases and fled to Toronto all by my lonesome. This was the first test, in a long series of tests, that forced me to face independence and loneliness simultaneously. Did I have what it takes to rely solely on myself, not just for practical needs, but for my own emotional sustenance? Could I find happiness in isolation? Would I remain confident and proud of the person I am without others feeding me?

About 4 months into my little experiment, I got a swallow bird tattooed on my foot. I asked the artist to have it soaring upwards, mid flight. I had heard some stories indicating that traditionally the bird is a sign of good luck, but to me it was everything to do with freedom. It was a gift to myself for deciding to risk putting myself way out there and for, so far, surviving. I have since learned that the bird also symbolizes homecoming and resurrection, two concepts that seem to compound more value as I grow older.

It was then that I met my dear friend A. – an impossibly beautiful, twenty-year-old tattoo clad ballerina with a mouth on her that would make a sailor blush. She’s a few years younger than I am but I never really felt the difference. Ironically, as I was leaving Toronto in search of further travels and even greater boundaries to push, she moved to Vancouver to push her own boundaries, only she was testing love.

It’s not my place to divulge the details of her relationship, sufficed to say that this past year I watched A. struggle to define the future of her relationship, and come head-to-head with the gruelling decision of whether to continue forward or suffer going it alone. It was torturous to see her wrestle with these conflictions, so deeply nestled in the crux of her heart and the bowels of her emotions.

The toughest advice to dish out was “put yourself first” because that seems to just complicate things more. To tell someone to “put themselves first” is to tell them to go ahead and be selfish, but we so often forget the implications of this piece of advice.

We’re told our entire lives to “share”, to never be selfish because being selfish hurts other people, but did anyone stop to think to teach us the difference between selfishness and self-preservation? Why does that lesson always come so much later? Why do we treat it separately? Why do we think that children somehow don’t have the capacity to distinguish the boundary between doing something solely because it pleases you and doing something because it will hurt you less in the long run? What about saving ourselves? Isn’t that a lesson we should have learned long ago, and not just when it backs us into a corner?

Letting go of someone isn’t easy when you grow up in a culture that so heavily enforces considering other people’s feelings. Not to say that teaching civility and respect is a waste, but it’s all that talk of empathy that really does us in. That phrase “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” was just not taught thoroughly enough. It was meant to teach us compassion, but at what cost and to whom? Now, we sit for hours and contemplate how our actions will affect the course of someone else’s life, however briefly, before we even dare to think about how those actions might save us from ourselves. We start to get these funny little ideas in our heads that to endure conflict is to be strong, to be heroic. We force ourselves to simply ignore the ever growing knot in our stomachs or the chronic twist in our intestines. And so from this heroic “empathy” we turn ourselves into a wasteland for guilt.

One day, it hits you like a ton of bricks, that you’re absolutely exhausted. Your realize that you haven’t felt comfortable in ages: your body releases aches you never had before, you lose sleep, your mind wanders, you sneak into the shower to cry so that your tears wash away with the current and empty themselves down the drain. You weaken yourself as you try to stay strong – conflict feeding conflict.

It takes a while, but you finally decide to go ahead and make the unpopular decision. Hardly a decision, so much as a knee-jerk reaction you blurt out at an inopportune and incredibly inconvenient moment just because you hunger for the release so badly you can taste it. You don’t even care if the other person hates you because you just hate yourself so much you figure their pain won’t touch you. Nobody tells you that when you make unpopular decisions you don’t just become unpopular to the other person, suddenly you have to live with feeling unpopular to yourself. It’s frustrating to try to champion your own choices when you’re your worst enemy.

As consolation, everyone and their mothers will tell you to be proud of yourself, but that word just doesn’t ring true. Proud of what? Of being no less miserable now and for having put someone else through that too? For feeling like you’ve lied endlessly for months and months to others and especially to yourself? Proud that you’re inflicting loss upon yourself?

You are the Albatross hanging around your own neck; how do you fly free?

Next time I see her, I’m getting A. to tattoo a little addition to my swallow bird. A reminder of the one thing that will force each of us to keep propelling upwards in flight: resilience.

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  1. such insightful words. Every woman should read this-you bring all timeless struggles to light, and still manage to make it feel positive and hopeful. love this!

  2. Great post. I think the words ring true for everyone with an empathetic heart, not just women. Those of us who feel so deeply that the emotions of others become as much a part of us as our own sometimes bear crosses not meant for us. We are usually stronger than most in heart but for some reason that also mean we allow ourselves to put up with more abuse than others. Yet, no matter how weighed down we get or damaged we become we still deplore causing pain.

    It’s definitely an easy to take advantage mindset, but when we let like people into our lives the result is awe inspiring. So, for me, resilience is protecting myself without sacrificing my regard for others. Even if it means a little hurt along the way.

    • Thanks for this wonderfully insightful comment. At first I read your comment as “everyone with an emphatic heart” and that’s also a strong and beautiful concept (aside from an empathetic heart which I agree isn’t meant for females alone, but I think Mich here may know a few females who may suffer under the hands of guilt too greatly and for too long.

      “Resilience is protecting myself without sacrificing my regard for others” is an inspiring spin on the post. That definitely means a lot. I think it especially reflects on how you let go of someone, as in doing it without hate in your heart or ill will towards them. Letting go isn’t about punishment of yourself or the other. Sometimes it’s enough to realize that the person will be just fine without you, that they are strong as well and remain kind and well intentioned people who just simply don’t mesh with your life or way of being.

  3. […] spent the better half of this year struggling with the concept of relationships, friendships and selflessness as a part of one giant complicated package. I’ve grappled with my own morality, my own […]

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