Notes on caregiving, sickness, and death
Never in my life have I imagined that I would be spending my nights checking up on my mother, to see if she is still breathing.
I never thought I'd be that close to losing one of my parents. My circle is so tight and warm like a blanket firmly wrapped around a neonate, I rarely let a stranger in, and my family is my refuge, my safety anchor and my after midnight call when things get rough. So finding them missing one wouldn't only crush my heart, but the foundation on which I built my whole existence might suddenly become crooked, the fortress would have a weakness, an opening through which the enemy could get in. And the enemy could be anybody or anything; deceitful people, toxic people, sickness, tragedies, or death.
A few days ago, my mother's sickness reached a peak. She was in the bedroom fighting death, she looked at my father and told him to take care of her daughters. And something hit me. A feeling unlike anything I've ever imagined. Why did I abandon pharmacy to be simply a writer, an artist? What did I gain from translation when I was here helping out my family with pharmacy and science; two things I excelled at in school but never really loved?
All of a sudden, my whole life felt pointless. I wasn't that famous of a writer, I wasn't a world-class artist, I was still taking baby steps in any route I've walked or so it seemed to me. Self-doubt has never been something I suffered from except when I was in toxic relationships with narcissists and manipulative psychopaths. But on my own, I always knew I was destined to be a great writer. A poet, a scriptwriter, a novelist, an artist who dabbled in multiple artistic projects, collaborating with people she never knew before to create. The idea of "creation", that something never existed before you put it out into the world was what fascinated me about art. Playing god. Being a creator myself, building worlds, having a say in whether those creatures lived or died, fell in or out of love, went rogue and killed and maimed or had redemption arcs. I wanted to be a writer so bad to be able to control life, something which I have failed in achieving over and over as a person.
But now that my mother is in pain, fighting mysterious illnesses that cost us a dozen doctors' visits, emergency room after midnight raids, and countless hours sitting by her side staring with horrified eyes wondering if that was it. Was she going to leave us? Would our house be missing a spot? Would all her belongings remain like skeletons in a closet while she leaves our world? The thought was too depressing and defeated, that I had to fight it every day.
As someone new in the caregiving realm, I probably have two cents to add about the matter.
Caregiving is tough on its own. For one, the idea of seeing a loved one in pain while you stand helplessly, unable to alleviate it, or even lessen it, is a torture beyond imagination. But it's not just that. Sometimes it could feel like your identity becomes muddled or turbid, unclear behind the gigantic task that is caring for a sick loved one. There's also the pressure of keeping track of medications, blood test results, other tests, and also the occasional linking of past and present symptoms. As someone with a vast medical background, the family usually benefits from me in that area. But as an artist, my soul feels restricted, contained, like it's been bound and sealed in a leaden box with no key. Responsibility and creativity never go hand in hand. That's the way life is and will be until the bigger end of our world. Another big bang? Doom's Day like the religious texts tell us? It doesn't really matter.
So to be a creative person and to be the family doctor, the one responsible for all the communication with medical professionals, the one who handles all the paperwork, the one who books appointments and hunts the best laboratories and health centers in town, is something that another narcissistic artist might never do. But I do it. Happily but also confused about my identity. Who am I really? Why didn't I just give in to the smart, brainaic doctor Jaylan? Why did I become struggling artist and raging poet Jay?
And who is the real me in that process? Is there such a thing really; the real self? Or are we all manifestations of a singular entity?
Another painful as a toothache aspect of caregiving is communicating with the family. My mother is a beloved woman by so many family and non-family members. She's a woman revered for her kindness, her warmth, her sincerity and care, and her spirituality. She always gives to the ones in need and is a care bear personality. So we never even grasped her contribution to the world until she disappeared briefly from it, isolated in her illness, fighting for a chance to breathe properly or even doze off for a few minutes. But answering all those phone calls and having to deal with family members whom you haven't seen in ages, and who only remember you from childhood and are now curious as to what you have done and where you plan to go with your life, is too much a burden on the modern woman. My sister graciously took over this mission, and handled all the incoming phone calls along with the uncalled for medical advice but also the generous offers and doctor recommendations, but it felt that -again- it was all about the person cared for. The caregiver becomes a ghost of their former selves, they exist solely in space and time for care for a sick loved one. And that realization might come off as a shock to some, but hopefully more conversations like that would be brought up and people would openly discuss or express how they felt about it.
To keep your sanity as a caregiver, you must find time for yourself. It can be an hour a day, or a whole day at the end of the week. You have to retain your sense of identity or else it would be absent. You might find yourself confined to a mere role "the daughter who cares for her mother". Not the artist. Not even the pharmacist. Not the dreamer. Not the woman. Not the lover. Just the caregiver, and even when you are doing this lovingly, praying for the day when your mother would open her eyes and walk on her feet for the first time in what seems like ages (but somehow it's only been a week!), you still feel like something is missing, and that thing is you.
But not just your identity. It's your safety. It's your security. It's your freedom to recklessly discard something or disregard something. It's your ability to flow within the communicating vases, fluid-like and clear, smooth and fast.
Caregiving is tough. I never thought I'd be one. But my mother's sickness opened my eyes to a multitude of things and feelings, ones I never thought I'd go through.
P.S. I always enjoy a "Burn after reading" feeling with my writings. Some of you ask me why I delete some posts or entries and why I keep others. I just do my friends. Sometimes it’s out of boredom. Others I feel like the piece of writing was too personal and shouldn’t be out there. I delete essays and posts because I want to reimplant them somewhere else, or keep them for a future book, or they were outdated opinions that I don’t believe in anymore. So if you’re a fan of my writings, enjoy them as they last. There’s something cathartic about the ability to delete things, it’s something we can’t have in real life. I delete my social media entries all the time; tweets, photos, accounts, etc. It liberates me from my past self, gives me a false sense of rebirth, much needed to be honest.
Stereotypical apothegms in the “good” ole ha ha ha happy days
Alternately titled: an abstract description governing jaw-dropping man-handling pathetic sordid vileness, no exceptions asper this scribe.
Life in early nineteen hundreds America from agrarian to industrialization begat demotic, exotic, frenetic glommed hubris inviting jingoistic, kinetic, liberalistic magnetic, narcissistic, opportunistic, paternalistic, quintessential rubric steeped in salubrious, typecast unctuous veneration wielding yielding zealousness.
Absolute codas, decrees, ethos fueled gradually hardened ideology. Joe King labelled management necessary. Occidental parochial quartermaster requisitioned roughshod salacious tenets underscoring venal veneration.
Zealots adopted BuzzFeed ding ethos flagrantly grafting humane ideology.
Jumpy ken kindly leveled manumission. Numerous outliers protested, quietly rousing teamwork ushering vocalization where yoking zealots annexed basic covenant depriving European folks generic, humanistic, intrinsic justice.
Klansmen meant notorious, opprobrious penalties qua restricting sensible treatment. Underlings vented with yawping ardor. Baseless codified deceptive etiquette fostered germinal hegemony. Indoctrinated (jury-rigged) kingly lamentable mores naturally outed protestation.
Quackery retained sybaritic treatment.
Unification viz womanhood yanked zee animalistic battled cry defying enslavement from gentlemen hectoring, indomitably jettisoning keen motives narrating ousted paradigm quixotically ruling sensate tenacious undergirded vibrant women.
Yesteryears yellowed z's assigned at banal, cruel, demonstrably execrable foisted grabbing, harassing, imposing jawbreaking, lacerating, menacing noisome, objectionably physically quartering, ramming, sadistically thwacking, unstoppably violent without zapping ambitiously brave, courageously daring, emphatically fierce-some, designing empirical female gentrification, honorably inciting jangling, kickstarting, linkedin methodology, martyr hood notwithstanding obliged punishing qua quips (whips).
I feel confident Fiona Apple would assent, consent fervently for incorporating a most captivating album title: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.
Someday soon tasting unification victory would yell zingers at beastie boys criminally depraved, essentially fabricating gross hierarchy incarcerating Jane (Doe's) kraaling lambent might never onto powerhouses quashing rabid scabrous tinmen uxoriously violating womanhood yipping zone. Amongst beholden chaps dismal effort fashioned giving hopefulness.
Indecent jabbing, kissing, lambasting, maltreating numberless operating, persevering, questing, routing the ugly vicious way yucky Zeusian abusers, bad-mouthed, crushed, dictated employment from gadzooks (heiresses) hundreds impaled, jerked, killed, left naked perhaps recovering sans, threnody voices whispering.
Lovely maidens never observed prime quality ripped, stolen, tragically, unrelentingly violated without Yay.
Zero (water) apathy blunted cut-throat, damned, exiled, fleeced gals! Heaven I jabber, kookily linguistically mumble nostrums, outpouring quicksand, realizing scathing tract useless viz women.
Though bogged down with elaborate verbosity, the initial intent which found fingers of mile heft hand devoid of a screed against the plethora of gals getting groped, indignantly, embarrassingly, and appallingly debased, grabbed, jerked (masturbated), perpetually sullied vicariously unconsciously tremulously struck with such collective offal humiliation.
"Push down," the midwife urges me.
I hear her, I try to follow her instructions but nature has taken over my body. I feel another contraction is coming, again. They are not giving me any breaks.
The midwife reminds me to "Push now". What does she even think? As if my body is able to stop or even slightly control the strengths of mother nature. Of course I am pushing, I have already surrendered to the force of nature hours ago. The contraction is gone, I try to catch my breath and for some reason I glance over to the clock. I have been pushing now for over 45 minutes. I am so lucky the next contraction is coming, so I cannot overthink whether or not I should give up. In this short moment where mind controls the body, I start to think that it is better to just give up. I am glad that the body takes over the mind again by forcing me into what women have been doing for the past hundreds of thousands of years: giving birth.
I push again.
"Look, the baby is coming," the midwife said softly.
I am not in the right state of mind to decide whether or not I want to look at how I push out a whole human being out of my own body. But I can not ignore the midwife's gentle request so I do as she says and I look down whilst pushing. I see some ball shaped head coming out of me, lots of dark sticky hairs. It motivates me to push harder, this baby needs to get out of me now. It burns, but when the head is finally born, the rest of the baby's body slips out.
"It is a boy, congratulations, what is his name?", the midwife again, but this time I ignored her.
I look at the bloody, wet, kind of ugly but most beautiful creature on earth lying here on top of me. My child. It is crying. It is breathing. I look at my husband, he has tears in his eyes. I realize I am crying as well. I tell the tiniest thing on top of me that I am so sorry that I was so mad at him during his birth, because the experience was out of earth. I could not comprehend it. Then I assure him that I am not mad anymore. I gently touch his back, afraid I will break him. Ever after the forces of birth, I feel like just holding him might snap his bones. He is the most precious thing I will never possess.
The midwife is still stitching me up. I close my eyes and I feel utterly overwhelmed. I am so overpowered by hormones and emotions. That is when it hit me. I have never loved anybody like this. Not my friends, my siblings, my parents. Not even my husband whom I love a little bit more right at this moment. Not the abstract creature that was growing inside of me the last nine months. But the moment I saw his head poking out between my legs, I knew that love just got a total new dimension.
An infinity dimension of love that just came to me, at the very first sight.
Thoughts on my mother - Chronicles of Illness
When I was little, I met many people with far bigger tragedies than mine.
I thought, man they must be getting all the support and comfort that they can.
They must be wiser, this experience must have made them dragons with wings, unlike me; stifled always by a small, sheltered life.
Now, when tragedy struck my family, I find myself even lonelier, more isolated and reclusive, unwilling to share feelings with anybody outside the family.
I look at my past self and wonder who the Hell was this girl? How was she completely different from the woman I am now?
And there's a lot to dig deeper and find out.
I remember when my mother got sick during the peak of a toxic relationship that I had with a man who abused the age gap and the inequality in power to manipulate and control me. I remember crying to him and voicing all my fears and worries about my mother, his hand on my shoulder, and how every touch from him sent a fire that couldn't be vanquished all over my body. I needed that kind of support from him, I craved it.
And now, with far better people around me, many of them showing sincere love and care, all I want is to be alone, to well in my fears and my sadness, to pray to God that my mother will get better, to drown in the medical reports and test results, to be occupied with doctor's phonecalls and appointments.
The strange thing is; my mother's sickness with said toxic powerful man in my life was nothing compared to the horror that is unravelling in front of my eyes as we speak. Everyday a new diagnosis pops up, we run back and forth to and from doctors with test results, ECG, and piles of reports and prescriptions. But still, my mother's main cause of physical ailment, of misery and pain remains unknown. Like she has something that lies deep underneath these presumptuous manifestations of illness.
In a glance my mother turned from a healthy, vibrant personality into a ghost in a shell. Her gaze is glassy, her body heavy against us. Her personality a shadow of her former self. Gone is her pride and self-reliance, she seems in and out of our world, and my inability to express the love and tenderness that are associated with a daughter, that as a tough girl I always express in the form of duties, caring for her, and work, make me feel more guilty. My mind is like tidal waves, once the current is strong and I am overwhelmed with emotions and fears, others I am calculating and intelligent, working my way through the medical terms and various medications she is prescribed.
Nights are the worse, and social media. When I casually scroll through Instagram to discover a post that she liked, her presence a microscopic emoji underneath a celebrity she likes, a restaurant she had saved and planned to visit sometime, animal videos which she adored, or one of her favorite life coaches or influencers. The discovery breaks me, and shakes me to the core. What if at some point my mother becomes only a memory? Evidence that she was once there in still life photography or videos saved on various electronic devices? I scream to God, "I'm not ready yet! Please, don't do this. I'm only 35 going on 36. The women in our family live long. Please God, save her for me. I need her."
I worship at the feet of my mother. And I think we all Egyptians do. Muslims, too. It's in the Quran. It's what the Prophet said
"Stay with her, for Paradise is beneath her feet."
And yet my mind tells me to calm down, to stay practical and tactical. Tomorrow we're seeing a cardiologist, she's taking more medications and we're keeping a closer eye on her. But it's the gravity of the dramatic transformation from healthy and all-smiles to bedridden and weak that's eating at my soul. I miss my mother, but as I look at her, praying that she would sleep an uninterrupted hour without reaching out for the barf bag, I tell myself that this is also my mother. And for the first time in my life, she looks her age.
As I encapsulate my feelings in my isolation, and reject every support or comfort that's offered to me, I wonder why I am even writing this...mini-thought? Essay? piece of prose? stream of consciousness whatever? It feels strange, since I've been writing for as long as I can remember, and having a broader, more diverse audience seems like an elusive dream, one that is undefinable and cannot be measured. Fame is tricky like that. You could write something simpy and trashy and this could be the starting block in your career, the thing that changes your life. And you can write something heartfelt and deep and still get nothing.
But fame aside, I still retain that naïveté of wanting to connect with strangers on a deeper level. I know that someone out there whom I might never meet or cross paths with might be rooting for me, feeling everything I write. My writings could actually make a difference in their lives. It could make them feel less alone, like Maya Angelou, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Milan Kundera, and Audre Lorde did to me years ago when I was younger, ravaged by my emotions and unstable life, unsure of which path I wanted to walk in, unsteady as I faced the fork in the road.
So to whoever might be reading this, and might have felt it differently, might have looked their parents -whom they loved profoundly- in the eyes and felt heartbroken as they discovered aging staring them in the eye; loss of innocence, childhood, and times when unconditional love could be offered and retained for granted, I feel you, I hope my writings could be of solace to your aching heart.
And this is my gift to you.
There's a moment when your parents stop being superheroes and just two old people, whom you look and realize, "Damn, I'm old."
For the first time in my life, I saw my mother getting sick, and stood helpless in front of her. As I wait for the second doctor's appointment, I realize how harsh the truth of my mother growing older is.
When you have a special bond with a parent, and you haven't started a family of your own, things fall into a strange place, you become both a parent and a lone wolf, with no strings attached, no extension of that bloodline. It's both a freeing and a cathartic feeling, but also strange. It alienates you from the real world where half of your schoolfriends and cousins are either married or divorced. All of them probably had kids, except the ones who were incapable of. Even the ones who really never wanted kids had them. So your circle starts getting smaller and much more sophisticated. You try to surround yourself with people who wouldn't make you feel like an eggplant in a field of rye.
And then your parents get old, and they start developing health conditions, or one of them falls ill to a mystery virus like what's going on with your mother currently. And you realize how fragile you are, how silent, how introspective and small. You realize that not having attachments is a delusion, maybe you imagined you haven't had it because you never truly fell in love. You were lucky, all of the people you've dabbled with in love and sex were just passersby in your life journey. None of them really mattered in the grander scheme of events. But despite all your emotional struggles, life implanted some people in your tapestry. You feel responsible for them, and seeing them in pain hurts you beyond repair, especially if you are standing helpless in the face of the cosmos, unable to help them, or aid them.
My mother has always been a sort of mythical creature in me and my sister's lives. She gave us unconditional love but also poetry, imagination, creativity, and the freedom to be ourselves, even though we both turned out completely different from her. She is more reserved and conservative, we are wild and liberated, but the three of us share a certain bond that was built from when we were little. "The Three Musketeers" if you may say. We had this journey of vivid, unruly imagination, and we were allowed as kids to create and express ourselves the way we wanted. She brought us everything, from small (toy) musical instruments to hundreds of crayons and water colors, books of every color and language, toys...not just Barbies, but actual toys to build a family of stuffed and plastic creatures. Our childhood was rich and vivid, colorful despite some of the harder times. And it's something that strangely I was never interested in passing on to a kid.
Life is strange. Some of my friends who have had the shittiest mothers were desperate to get a kid of their own. And me, with a mother that all my friends throughout the years loved, never wanted to become like her. I never felt that maternal instinct, the need to have someone by extended genetics on this ground to pass my wisdom and my colorful creativity to. My mother herself wasn't big on kids, and she wasn't the kind of woman who liked spending time with them or caring for them pre-marriage. She told me before that she never expected she would be that great of a mother. But she was. Still is. It's just that our childhoods would have been a completely different ordeal if it weren't for her, this particular woman.
As you grow up, you realize that you were lucky at some point, but you didn't realize it at the time. Having parents who raised you well, provided food and shelter, clothing and means of entertainment was a big deal. Being surrounded by familial love and spoiling was a gift. And having a mother with whom you truly bonded and connected on deeper, artsy levels was a blessing that not many experienced. Even when you saw some of your childhood friends living more lavish, extravagant lifestyles, you were still very lucky. Not everybody gets to bond with their mother the way you do. And for everyday she is on this Earth you have to be grateful for having her, for seeing her smile, hearing her du'aa (the religious way of sending blessings your way), and embarking on crazy adventures with her. So capture this moment, hold on to it so tight, and revel in the beauty of it.
As my heart wells up with worry over my mother, I realize that for the first time in my life, I don't have a partner whom I consider the love of my life. And that in the past, when shit hit the fan, and I would always run crying to my beau at the time, and return feeling that a sour taste was in my mouth, it always felt like dying. With every disappointment, every fork in the road, there was a partner with whom forever seemed almost like a possibility, a tangible thing to touch. And every partner resulted in another disappointment, the failure of the delusion of "monogamy", a relationship that lasts, built on both trust and mutual understanding; something that a lot of people never experience, and thus get stuck in half-made promises, and manufactured, polished lives where they make do with what they can, keep up the image for the expectant society. But now, as the world seems stretched and mysterious, beautiful in its complexity, but also heartbreaking, disappointing and scary, and as I count the hours till my mother's doctor's appointment, where time as relative as Einstein seemed to explain it in the past lags and pains in the redundancy of the hours and minutes...
I feel free.
I don’t believe in love at first sight, and you shouldn’t, either. That phrase is for young adults with unformed brains and a poor understanding of love. Love is grown and solidified through months and years of selfless commitment. It’s not the initial, breathless lust. It’s not obsessing over the idea and potential of a person. Love is built when people decide to choose each other every day. It’s not a moment, but a chain of shared experiences — sometimes it ends, one time it’s woven throughout a lifetime.
The first time we met, I was chained to the wrong person. He was, too. I don’t regret it because we weren’t ready for each other then. He deserved more than an impulse decision at first sight.
I adored every inch of him the second time we met. It took some time for us to share those three magic words when the time was right. We had to look into each other’s souls and agree to accept every beautiful part and painful piece. We had to take that bundle of light and darkness and choose to protect it with our whole hearts.
I believe in falling in love over and over again. Every year, I love him in a completely different way. I discover new things that make him smile and that we can share together. It’s not perfect, but it’s what we’re building.
A bit of a ramble on this very absurd thing we call love.
Is love at first sight possible?
Yes! Well, no. And yes. Ah, this is not going to be easy to answer. Let me give some context.
Love for me has always been complicated. I think that's the case for most of us, maybe more so for those of us raised with unhealthy views on love, or taught to aspire to an ideal or a representation over an experience---or rather a series of experiences. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, my particular brand of love-confusion included a base of religious indoctrination coupled with a seemingly healthy, but also extremely reserved example during my childhood, seasoned with some undiagnosed conditions of a neurological and psychosocial quality, and just a dash of complex trauma, finally garnished with repeated instances of obsession, regret, avoidance, despair, isolation, revelation, desperation, and compensation throughout, oh, I don't know, about 26 years? Give or take. So, not too different from the majority of my peers. Or the majority of human history, I suppose. But that is, perhaps, best left for another day.
Suffice it to say, I've had to do a lot of unpacking over the years, along with a lot of packing and moving and traveling and running out of money and working and ruminating, and all that beat generation bullshit that trickled into our psyches through the half-drunk half-jacked haze of overheard coffee-shop advice from a stranger at 2 in the afternoon on a Tuesday in January. But love has always been a topic that's stuck with me. A strange universal in the human experience, limited primarily by the ways in which we choose to box it up and refuse to label it anything more specific than the eternally frustrating vaguery that is "Love".
I won't go into any interminable contemplations on the nature of love and the way it's conceptualized in other languages (we can save that for the seminary students just starting their second semester of Koine). But I will say a few things about love: Firstly, it's almost never just love. You love pizza? Great, but that carries with it the concepts of need and the satiation of hunger. You love to write? Cool, but this also might indicate that you need to write, or you feel at home when you write, or that writing brings you to a place where love (and all the other emotions) are more tangible. You love a person? Ah, well perhaps that's true, but because you're human and mortal and can't detach yourself from the finite nature of all things. There comes with love all this fear and longing and identification with another and control. Or maybe not. Maybe some people can just love and not be afraid all the time. A lot of people, unfortunately, tend to love humans just like they love pizza.
But we're talking about love-at-first-sight. What even is that? Hormones flooding the brain? Would it change if you noticed them at a different time of day? What about on an empty stomach instead of a full stomach? What did you dream about last night? Well, if any of these could impact the moment of love on sight, then is it really love? A part of me is inclined to say no. It says that it's only infatuation or lust or idealization or some other "lesser" form of love that isn't really love. Maybe you love someone because of how they looked at you when you met them, or because their hair moved just the right way in the breeze. Maybe they laughed and it made your heart flutter in your chest, or they smelled like leaves falling from trees, or the way they tied their shoelaces was just a little bit off, or they growled at something that frustrated them when they thought no one was near enough to hear it. Maybe you only fell in love because everything surrounding that encounter just happened to be exactly right to cook up the sudden result of total and unexpected enchantment.
So, another thought then: Is such an experience invalid simply because of its circumstances? Perhaps such love-experiences aren't the "I must marry you and no one else, for I've found my soul mate!" kind, but they also aren't necessarily the "I must collect you, control you, use you and abandon you" kind. What I've come to realize---what I'm still slowly coming to realize---is that love is much simpler than all this. The former lies at the extreme of sanctity and the latter that of profanity. One of elevation and the other of degradation. Both may contain a form of love, a form of connection and melding identities, of coming into the place where there isn't you and me, but just us. But because they inherently lift someone up or put someone down, they force the one loved to be an object of love, instead of the beloved. It's as though we get too excited about love, this thing that breaks down separation and gives us a taste of unity, and in that excitement we break the spell, force the other back into the other.
Take art, for instance. You listen to music that harmonizes with your soul or look at a luminous painting or read a fantastic poem, and you're in it then, you're moving with it, you're flowing in and out of its dynamism. You're a part of it. And then that voice says, "I need this, I need to show my other people," and suddenly it's you and the art, and the art becomes a catalyst for seeing beauty instead of beauty itself. There's not just Art anymore, but the observer and the observed. There's still art there, still that connection and that emotion, but the power of the spell is faded, and it might take some time to regain it, if you can even manage it.
Sorry, I'm digressing. Back to love-at-first-sight: My answer is yes, there can be love-at-first-sight. But it turns so fast into need and fear that we hardly ever notice it and give it space to breathe. It tells us, "Ah, a kindred spirit," and then our terror of our recurrent solipsistic nightmare hurling through the Void comes swooshing in, smothers it, grabs on, fights everything else off, and squeezes a new healthy flame into a tiny ember. It is interesting that this act takes some people all the way to life-partnership, and others to the edge of a cliff---often literally. I often wonder if those that succeed in holding on to their love-object manage to keep their flames alive better than those that failed to. In the end, as I've found and continue to find, it isn't either of these who experience love the most.
Maybe I'm getting too far into Buddhist territory here. But fuck it, maybe that's where this should go. I mean there's a shit ton of very relevant commentary in Buddhist traditions that could have helped me immensely as a miserable pubescent cretin. Not that I'm bitter. Anyway, there's a saying that "out of emptiness arises compassion", and I really feel like that's the key to real love-at-first-sight situations. Here's a person I see and suddenly I experience love. Ok, so, what does that mean for me? Well, my survival instinct might jump on top of it, smother it. But then the love is there and gone, and suddenly I'm a pining romantic or a cynic, both putting me as far from love itself as one could possibly be. I suppose the other option is to do... nothing. Just feel it. Observe it if you like, but don't hold on to it, and don't flee it. Leave aside the urgency, the desperation, the heaviness of all the chaos and need and lack of solid identity. Ok, so maybe emptiness isn't achievable, but what about just scooching over on the bench? Here's something that feels right, that makes you alive and aware and tells you quite strongly: "You Exist", and in a way that isn't half bad. Could you give it a little space for a minute? Without fawning over it, trying to feed it or entertain it or collect from it---just sit with it. Don't rush it out the door. Don't beg it to stay.
If you haven't seen the movie Spirited Away, consider this a categorical imperative: go and watch it. WARNING: I'm about to give some minor spoilers!
No-face is a wonderful example of love-at-first-sight. He sees Chihiro, and from that moment forward, she's all he thinks about. He follows her constantly, intoxicates her coworkers with wealth, and continues to expand and expand, trying to control her with the same method he's used on others, until he nearly destroys her because of all the pain and desire and fear and confusion that he's consumed in his pursuit. It isn't until he literally empties himself that he finally sits down beside her, without need or fear or control, and suddenly all he hoped for from the moment he saw her is fulfilled. Chihiro has her own journey; she is her own person, and is not simply an object for No-face to pursue. Yet No-face's journey, from love-at-first-sight to pain and suffering to reconciliation and release, walks us through many layers of the way in which we complicate this love-experience, and illustrates beautifully the simplicity of it all when we just quiet down a bit.
So, yes: I believe love-at-first-sight is real. But not in the way I used to imagine. It's not always forever, or frequent, or even about a person. It might be falling in love with a place or a book or a photograph or a time of year. Even when it is about a person, it isn't always romantic. For some it happens once and that's it. For others it happens time and again; these are the lucky and the cursed. The trick (I think, for, as I say, I'm still figuring this out myself) is to approach such sudden love neither with rejection nor obsession, but to simply acknowledge it, experience it, and empty, empty, empty oneself, so that where there once was that terrible desire there is now simply, "Ah, and this too. How lovely." And that doesn't mean not to enjoy it. Luxuriate in that warm glow, that tender constant reassurance of, "You are not alone." But do so gently, without expectation, without pushing. Who knows? Maybe the more we give such moments space to exist with us without scaring them away, the more comfortable they will be hanging around a little longer.
Love is a wild fox, curious about the wood-walkers, here spooked by the excited hiker, there startled by the angry farmer. But occasionally it finds the traveler without anger or excitement. Here it walks beside them for a time, then moves on. And the traveler sees the fox, maybe shares a bite of their food, then watches it go, and keeps walking.
Love is always blind, my friend. Whether it's your first time meeting them or your 10th year of marriage. It's all love, and it's all blind.
Sometimes, it's being blind to someone's flaws.
Sometimes, it's being blind to someone's insecurities.
Sometimes, it's being blind to someone's bad attitude.
Sometimes, it's being blind to our own daydreaming.
But love at first sight requires us to be more blind than average. Blind to the fact that it may just be lust. Blind to the fact that we may just be lonely. But mainly blind to the fact that we're seeing someone so breathtaking that before we even say a word to them, we've already made up our minds about them.
So much that we can't see past our own daydreams to realize they aren't who we think they are.
Reasonable people disagree about the nature of time, and these reasonable people include physicists. Some believe time is mere fiction. Though we experience the passage of time as if it were real, really it isn’t. Time is not “out there” in the physical world, it is only “in here” in our minds. It is not a fundamental property of the universe; it is an incidental figment of our imagination. Other physicists believe precisely the opposite. They maintain with equal fervor that time is real, really real, as real as real can be. It is indeed a fundamental property of the universe. Yes, we experience time in our heads, but it is there whether we experience it or not.
And then there is the theory of special relativity. This concept of time occupies a sort of middle ground. Einstein tells us the passage of time depends on one’s frame of reference. Time is relative to motion and to the vantage point of the observer. Relative to a stationary object, the faster something moves through the three dimensions of physical space, the more slowly it moves through time. The faster you go, the longer it takes.
Special relativity might seem to imply that time isn’t real, that it does not exist in an objective sense. Afterall, if people at different speeds and positions have different experiences of time, then time purely subjective. It does not reside in the nature of things. How else can you look at it?
But Einstein didn’t say that time isn’t real. He said that absolute time isn’t real, meaning that time does not exist independently of the perceiver; it is not just sitting there waiting for us to experience it. Subjective and relative are not the same thing. Einstein didn’t say that time seems relative; he said that time is relative. Time is real and it is also relative. It is really relative.
Happily, for our purposes none of this is important. A philosopher friend of mine once told me the issue at hand is not objective reality; it is intersubjective agreement, meaning that different people independently experience a given event the same way. And we do experience time the same way. We share the notion that one event occurs either before or after another, and that one event happens for a shorter or a longer period of time than another. With the aid of a clock, we even agree exactly how long an event occurs. Our shared experience of time is what we got, and that’s good enough for us. Someone else can wonder what time it really is; we are not going to waste ours trying to figure it out.
But there is one thing about time we know for sure: Time is one Badass Motherfucker. It is as vast as vast can be. It is for all intents and purposes infinite. It is as infinite as the universe itself. If the universe has no beginning and no end, then time also has no beginning and no end. If the universe begins at date certain and ends at date certain, then time begins and ends at these same dates certain. That’s just the way it is.
Time is also by nature, continuous. It is ceaseless, unbroken, and uninterrupted. It does not have fits and starts. It does not come in discreet categories, though we say it does. There are three categories, and we all know what they are: past, present, and future. Sometimes, we divide the first and last categories into smaller units. We talk about the recent past and the not-so-distant future. Historians need to divide the past; otherwise they cannot tell us about the Early Medieval Period and the Late Renaissance. We know these are just convenient fictions, but we should not chastise the historians. They write interesting books, and we need some way of carving things up.
We also know that time moves ahead not behind, forward never backward. Our metaphors of time depict its forward movement. The worst of these is “Time marches on.” This is a lousy depiction of time. For one thing, it makes time seem effortful, and time is not effortful. It is also lumbering and clunky, and we don’t think about time this way at all. A better metaphor is “Time flies like an arrow.” Here, time is sleek, and we can see that it moves forward. The arrow points the way to the future in the most literal sense possible.
But this metaphor also has its problems. For one, the arrow falls to the ground in a matter of seconds. Time doesn’t do that. It lasts much longer than a few seconds and it doesn’t plumet to the ground. And what lay behind the arrowhead? A long line. An infinitely long line. One arrowhead pulling an infinitely long line. Damn! To be fair, the arrowhead is not said to propel the arrow; it merely points the way ahead. So what does propel the arrow of time? The twang of an archer’s bow? Please.
The best metaphor is “the river of time.” For one thing, it does not constrain the geometry of time. It allows time to wander. Time moves along any way it wants, and it may not want to move in a straight line. The river of time also moves slowly. Time can take all the time it wants. Of course, we don’t know how fast time moves, but probably slower rather than faster. Because time has wisdom, and given how far it has come and how far it must go, time is in no rush. Time knows it is foolish to hurry, to move with undue haste. Time also knows that if it went faster, it would just slow down anyway. Such is the relative nature of time. And it’s just a nice way to imagine how we pass the time, floating along the river. This is much better than riding bareback on a whizzing infinitely long line with two-thirds of a triangle at the end. So, the river of time it is.
There is something else we know about time: It is, at all times, now. We are in the present. We are always in the present. We have always been in the present, and we will always be in the present. This we know is true. We may not always be in the same place, but we are always at the same time. And that time is now.
But there are stark choices in the narrative of time. They are unnecessary choices, and we can easily avoid them, but they are there, nonetheless. One is this: What is more real, the future or the past? We can say they are equally real, that one is more real, or that the question is pointless. It is tempting to say the question is pointless, cast it aside, and move on. And we can do this. But if we wish to tell the story of time, it is best we visit the question.
To the cavalier, the answer is obvious: the past. We have hard evidence of the past. It’s sitting right there in the Natural History Museum, and we can all go look at it. But there is no hard evidence of the future. There is no Natural Future Museum. So, we can verify only the past.
OK, so let’s go to the Natural History Museum, and look at something from the past: a clay pot thrown and kilned in the year 482 AD, somewhere in Mesopotamia. It’s sitting right there, right in front of us. Do we not see what is plainly before our eyes? Yes, we do. Can you show me evidence of the future? No, you can’t. So there you go.
But I can show you the future, just as easily as you show me the past. It’s sitting right there, right in front of us: the same clay pot, thrown and kilned in the year 482 AD, somewhere in Mesopotamia. In 483 AD, the pot is in the past. In 481 AD, the pot is in the future. And the clay pot over there from 687 AD. It is just as surely in the future any time before 678 AD as it is in the past any time after 687 AD. It’s just a matter of perspective, Einstein. Events do not halt; they continue. And they continue to continue, do they not? I await your retort. I see from your expression that it will happen shortly in the future.
OK, you say, what about this: If the universe will end at a definite point in time, everything in the universe, including time itself, then there would be no future; the entirety of everything would be the past. Fair enough. And if the universe began at a definite point in time, everything in the universe, including time itself, then there would be no past; the entirety of everything would be the future. So it’s a draw.
But I submit there is no past, none at all. We agree that at any given time we are in the present, and that the present moves ahead not behind, forward never backward. People say, “The future is now.” Does anyone say, “The past is now?” No, because it isn’t. All is in the present, and the present is never in the past. Never was.
One might imagine that the present disposes of the past. That as we move ahead, the past is gone, entirely obliterated. But that is being too charitable to the past. Time is a reference point, and this reference point is always where it is: in the present. And the present is always joined at the hip to the future. It has to be; it has nowhere else to go. So the present does not dispose of the past. It can’t. It knows nothing of the past.
The past is not gone. The past is not left behind. It has not decamped, vanished, or vamoosed. Because it was never there in the first place.
Tracks of Solitude
In a forgotten corner of America, tucked away in a quiet, timeless town, lived a man named John. He was a man of solitude, content in his own company, and always yearning for a simple life. When an opportunity arose for him to work as a night guard at the local railroad, he thought it was the perfect job to fulfill his desire for solitude.
The railroad was a place of mystery at night, with its long, winding tracks disappearing into the darkness, and the occasional distant howl of a coyote adding to the eerie atmosphere. John's job was to ensure the safety of the trains and the tracks during those silent hours.
One moonlit night, as John patrolled the rail yard, his flashlight illuminated a lone figure huddled on one of the parked freight cars. At first, he thought it was a trespasser and approached with caution.
"Hey, you there! This is private property," John shouted, hoping to scare the intruder away.
The figure on the freight car trembled, and out stepped a weathered and ragged man, his face lined with the hardships of life on the road. This was no ordinary trespasser; he was a hobo, a traveler of the rails.
The hobo looked at John with a mixture of weariness and curiosity.
"You ain't gonna chase me off, mister. I ain't looking for trouble. Just a warm spot to rest my bones for a while," he said in a voice that carried the weight of countless miles traveled.
Reluctantly, John allowed the hobo to stay for the night, making sure he kept his distance. But as the nights turned into weeks, and weeks into months, an unlikely friendship began to form between the night guard and the hobo, who introduced himself as Old Ben.
Sitting around a small fire one chilly night, they shared stories of their lives. John spoke of the repetitiveness of his job and his longing for solitude, while Old Ben recounted tales of his adventures on the rails, the people he met, and the lessons he learned from a life without a fixed destination.
"You see, John," Old Ben said as he poked the fire with a stick, "life's like a never-ending train ride. You can either fight it, trying to control every twist and turn, or you can embrace the journey, savoring the unexpected stops and detours along the way."
John listened, and for the first time, he began to question his own approach to life. He realized that he had been so focused on his need for solitude that he had missed out on the richness of human connection and the beauty of embracing life's uncertainties.
As the months passed, John's heart softened, and he found himself looking forward to Old Ben's visits. They continued to share stories, dreams, and philosophies under the starry night sky. John learned to appreciate the beauty of spontaneity, and Old Ben found comfort in the steadiness of John's company.
One fateful night, as the wind whispered through the trees and the distant rumble of a freight train echoed through the rail yard, John and Old Ben shared a silent moment of understanding. At that moment, they both realized that life's journey was made more meaningful by the connections they had built, despite their vastly different approaches to it.
And so, in the quietude of that small, forgotten town, a night guard and a hobo became unlikely friends, each enriched by the other's perspective on life, and both finding solace in the friendship they had discovered along the rails.
As time passed, John's friendship with Old Ben continued to grow, and the railroad became a place of warmth and camaraderie rather than solitude. They shared stories, dreams, and philosophies under the starry night sky, and John learned to appreciate the beauty of spontaneity.
One cool autumn evening, as they sat by the flickering fire, Old Ben turned to John with a knowing smile.
"You've learned much, my friend," he said. "But have you ever considered the life of a hobo?"
John gazed into the dancing flames, his thoughts drifting into the possibilities of a life unburdened by schedules and responsibilities. He pondered Old Ben's question deeply, realizing that there was more to life than the routine he had grown so accustomed to.
"I suppose I never really thought about it," John admitted, "but the way you describe it, there's a certain freedom to it, isn't there?"
Old Ben nodded.
"Freedom, my friend, is what makes life worth living. It's not about possessions or routines; it's about the journey, the connections we make, and the experiences we collect along the way."
As the night wore on, John couldn't shake the thought of embracing the hobo's way of life. The allure of the open road and the endless possibilities it held began to heave at his heartstrings.
In the days that followed, John found himself torn between the comfort of his job and the call of adventure. Finally, one crisp morning, he made a decision. He approached Old Ben, who had become his wise mentor and dear friend, and said, "I've decided to join you, to experience life on the rails, and to embrace the journey."
Old Ben's eyes twinkled with understanding and pride.
"You won't regret it, my friend. The world is a vast and beautiful place, and every mile of track holds a new story waiting to be discovered."
And so, John bid farewell to his post as the night guard at the railroad, leaving behind the solitude he had once cherished. He embarked on a new chapter of his life, following Old Ben's footsteps into the unknown.
As the two friends hopped on a passing freight train, the wind in their hair and the rhythmic clatter of wheels beneath them, John couldn't help but smile. He was no longer bound by routine, and he was ready to embrace the ever-changing journey that lay ahead, just like the hobo he had come to admire and love.