Last week, I found myself sitting in front of my laptop and –quite miserably–observing the various achievements of creative individuals, whose beautiful websites appeared in droves at the merciless commands of my own browsing. Crowded tabs of virtual success stories popped up one after the next, while I found my shoulders slinking further down as I considered the companies I have not started, the books I have not written and the Great Unknowns of my current state of affairs. I was recently talking with a friend about career paths, and we were both commiserating about how so many others have quite specific skill specializations, or a drive to produce that seems greater than the uncertainty of the outcomes. I, on the contrary, feel myself to be carried along by the flow of life; I perceive myself to be a recipient of circumstance rather than a molder and shaper. And yet, I am not sure whether or not this is an accurate explanation of where I am and how I arrived at this point. It’s quite clear that I also chase after my desires, which is why I now find myself landed in an improbable, yet somehow delightfully fitting, life path.
Having returned once again to Lebanon after a sojourn around the UK, now newly married, and with plans to settle in for a good while, I find I need to re-center myself. The honeymoon was lovely and surreal, but even as we were trekking through breath-taking expanses of landscape or hiking up buttery gorse scented climbs, I think we both realized that we prefer building the rhythm of daily life. The sweet mundane of home, with the challenges and joys that make it our own.
For me, though, this is all still new. I am learning the particular symbiotic between open trust and active pursuit of what I want in life. It’s a relationship that requires a bit of discernment. Control is mostly partial. We have autonomy over our response to our circumstances, and over the actions we take to influence certain outcomes, but there is also the wide and wild realm of possibility and chance that is largely outside of our jurisdiction. This is the space that I have come to respect and revere. What has become most essential to me is an abandonment to the mystery of that which we cannot fully predict or foresee.
Here I am walking down the vibrant, aching-with-passion Hamra street in the heart of Beirut. Here I am waking up each morning to a pack of garrulous garden roosters, and opening the window to the mountain breezes. Moving to the balcony to enjoy an early daily coffee with my C. Here I am calling Lebanon home with a sureness that still surprises me. Here I am feeling homesick and unravelled and often rather lost. But I try to welcome that discomfort, because the alternative would be to clench my fists so tightly around certainty, that my life might become a series of narrow calculations.
Instead, I want to answer to the guidance that comes when I meet the demands of the present. I know that perspective is a key to the puzzle, but I don’t think this openness I am working towards is reached simply by maintaining a positive attitude. It’s more of a virtue than an outlook, in the sense that it takes practice and work to acquire. What an admirable trait it is to develop the courage to refuse victimhood, and to look squarely at the whole beloved broken package of yourself, and say “This is it. Here I am. Let’s go.” To bless your failures for the roads they take you down and the lessons they teach you. To realize that in everything there is hope–and that hope, when chosen, is more reliable than what may appear impossible in the moment.
I know that I’ve been most amazed by life when I’ve been willing to both walk forward without being sure what’s out there, and to meet the demands of the present, here and now, and then watch in wonder at how life unfolds.
We borrowed Mary Oliver’s articulation of these thoughts for our wedding brochure:
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever in allegiance with gravity,
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the scars of damage, to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.