Sí, Se Puede, Yes I CAN
Today is an important anniversary for me. It marks one year of keeping a resolution I never thought I’d be able to keep, even for a few days. But days turned into weeks, and weeks to months, and somehow – it’s been a year.
I admit, sometimes I’m not sure how the time passed. Often it wasn’t in anything useful. I reread the whole of Fruits Basket, from volume 1 to 23. I read all of Anne and all of Emily, and every Ranger’s Apprentice book I could find, and for a while, I was chain-reading (like chain-smoking only with BOOKS). I watched a whole season of Two of a Kind (multiple times?), which yes, did involve Mary-Kate and Ashley, and nearly all four seasons of Life with Derek, and every DCOM film ever made (okay, not all of them, but most of them) and also Wizards of Waverly Place, dozens of period dramas and a whole slew of girly films some of which were good but some of which were just a godawful waste of life. THEN I had this insane idea about blogging.
Yes, this blog exists because of that. Direct relationship. It’s strange, isn’t it? Ever since the Rock Pool began, this little seedling idea, it’s changed and improved my life and my mind in so many ways. I have a network of friends who are so good to me – and good to each other! – whom I may never have got to know were it not for that resolution. You wouldn’t be reading this.
Now? I am not rotting intellectually like I thought I might. I get lessons in makeup by email all the way from Utah (I do find makeup intellectually challenging, yes). I get exciting surprises in the post (and I get very excited XD). I get asked things like, ‘will you read the book I wrote?’ and, ‘how do you wear hijab and is it really haram for someone who isn’t a Muslim to wear it?’ and ‘how exactly DOES Muslim courtship work if you can’t date?’ I even get my RL pals telling me how much they love to read my tongue-in-cheek posts of wit and wryness (well, that is how I prefer to interpret ‘do you, like, write a blog or something?’). Moreover, I get to ask questions like ‘are Mormons allowed to have tattoos?’ and ‘what IS an Episcopalian anyway?’ and my favourite, ‘I can have this book for free??’
Nothing replaces what I gave up. There is no arguing with that. It was, by its nature, utterly irreplaceable. But to force yourself away from one direction opens up the whole of everything else you weren’t looking at before. Sometimes, you have to close one door for new doors to open. It’s like an airlock chamber – until the one you came through is properly sealed, the ones in front of you won’t open. It’s to do with pressure and stuff. You can’t keep all the doors open all the time. Some people do, but that’s not living. That’s a weird and unhealthy stasis.
It’s important to take the path of least regret. When I think about whether things could be different, the only real regret I have is that I didn’t do it sooner. And as far as regrets go, that feels healthy, and it makes me think I did the right thing. It really bothered me a lot that people kept telling me ‘just imagine, in a few years you’ll be laughing at yourself, you’ll think this is nothing, you’ll think you took it all too seriously‘. But I hated the idea it would become trivial, because that would mean that all that was happening now was meaningless. And if it had no meaning, then did I just fritter away several years on it? I refused to believe that. I think you can choose what of your experiences are meaningful. If I chose to consider this as a mistake, something to file away and forget, then it really would have been a mistake. I choose, instead, to take it with me and keep it a part of who I am – because it is. To deny it would be to deny all the reasons it was important in the first place. I think people don’t understand that it’s okay to contain contradictions, that it’s part of being human. It’s like what Walt Whitman said:
“Do I contradict myself? Well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”
The night before my friend’s wedding, we were on the phone, freaking out to each other. I asked her, because she was freaking out so hard, do you trust Allah? I could hear her making up her mind. ‘Yes. Yes I do.’ That was the courage that took her through the next day – and beyond. She trusted Him – and you know what? She’s living a happily-ever-after she never even imagined. True story. I ask myself the same question often, whenever doubt threatens – do you trust Allah? It gives me new determination every time. Yes. Yes, I do.
I know that no matter which way it had rolled out, over a thousand possible permutations, there was only one way to choose. I still think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done or had to do, and it still amazes me that I didn’t cave or crack or do anything loopy and self-destructive in a different way* (wait, this blog…). I still feel like most days are a battle against myself, but it feels good because, battle for battle, I’m winning the war. You know you’re winning when Bad Thoughts creep up on you and you can smile at them and think serene thoughts like, ‘Allah, I trust you. It’s going to be okay, whatever happens. I believe that.’
Have you heard of cognitive restructuring? That is pretty much how I exist. I tell myself things. A lot. I talk myself into things and out of them. I treat myself like a second person: encouraging, scolding, raging.** I’ve spent a lot of the past year in my own head, talking myself out of a lot of things, and into a lot of others. There was a lot of unsympathetic advice going on, too (‘What did you THINK was going to happen?’, ‘Can you not at least ACT like you know what’s going on?’, ‘What are you, thick?’, ‘Yeah, who are you kidding, numpty?’) and all of it helped because it was a constant reminder every time I wanted to reach for the make-it-better switch. Having had an otherwise difficult year made it even more challenging. So – voices in my head, especially the ones that weren’t exactly mine? Thank you, you really helped. You should help other people, too. Go.
You should know that a little resolve can go further than you think. There are always things we need to do in our lives – sometimes we really don’t want to, or we find it really hard (or both) and for some, the hardest part is starting: getting into the boat, or closing a door, or turning the corner. Stepping into the unknown can be the most frightening thing, particularly when you know, on some level, you can make the easy choice.
‘It doesn’t have to be like this’…but there are times when, to choose that path, you would have to choose to forfeit yourself – the price you pay would be everything that you are, and that’s an impossible price. Not because you’re not willing, but because a little foresight can tell you nobody pays the price of themselves and survives it. Fact. Because when you do that, there is nothing left, and it is almost the ultimate act of self-destruction. It’s like having the opportunity to fly into the sun. You can do it, and it’d probably be amazing – before you sizzle into nothing. Vaporised, gone. And then what was it worth?
At the end of a year, it’s easy to look back up the trousers of time and say, hey, one year. Woo. This is the reason I hated hated HATED the ending of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. I really hated it. Really really hated it. You know where stupid Will goes off to do his Davy Jones thing and he can only come on land once every ten years? Well in the film, they showed you his first homecoming, ten years later, and it was HORRIBLE. They don’t tell you how Elizabeth had to live out EVERY DAY of that ten years without him. How did that feel? How did she feel? How would she feel when he left again? And how would she feel the next time? How about the time after that when she’ll show signs of age and he won’t? And the time after that? HOW DOES SHE FEEL?
Anyway, this isn’t a post about Pirates (it really isn’t). It’s about having to live every moment of every day with the consequences of the choices you make. A friend once gave me a piece of advice which seems intuitive and simple, until you realise you don’t do it: take it a moment at a time. With the hardest things, it’s better not to look back OR to look forward. I often give (myself) the advice not to borrow trouble*** – if it hasn’t happened yet, don’t worry about it! Worry when it happens, why ruin now with something you can’t a) do anything about now, or b) change?
This is also a post about changing. Sometimes change happens to people – and people happen to change – and it forces them to adapt, or die. Sometimes you have to be acted on by other forces to make you go in a direction you could never have taken alone, for whatever reason. However it happens, it does happen. Sometimes you don’t change but everything around you does.
‘How can you know the ways in which you will change? There are things in your life, that haven’t happened yet, that will change you.’
It’s November and it’s beautiful. Have you ever seen southern England in November? When it’s cold and sunny and the sky is so blue? There are drifts of crispy leaves everywhere, and with every gust of wind, they fly off the trees and come whirling down like huge snowflakes. I love Autumn. A year later, I still remember what a friend said to me then – that running around in leaf drifts, she thought: I’m alive, and it feels good. And her face as she told me was pure delight, all over. I want to be that person – the one who smiles to herself and thinks, ‘I’m glad I exist’.
And I am glad.
What is bigger or more mindblowing than that?
You, too. And I want you to know this: you ARE strong enough to do it, whatever it is that you need to do. You’re strong enough AND brave enough. And you’re strong enough to live with the consequences, especially if you arrange it so that some of the choices are taken out of your hands. And you CAN arrange it so that once you push it, it takes on its own momentum. You will also never feel more ready than you do now, which may be ‘not ready at all’. When you decide what you need to do – that’s when you’re ready.
So what are you waiting for? Go change your life, or yourself, or your underwear (especially your underwear). Everything you do is a beginning.
‘If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart…I’ll always be with you.’
* Although there’s still plenty of time for that. Like, the rest of my life.
** It works, okay? Don’t think it’s too weird until you try it. And just so you know, I talk to other people in my head, too. Probably I’ve talked to YOU in my head.
*** I believe the exact words were: ‘Let’s not borrow trouble – we’ll probably have to repay with interest, and that would be haram.’