Although I have many pending drafts that I would love to finalize and post, I feel I must write this one before I can resume the others, as it is looming heavily over my heart and mind. So here I go, the flow of my deepest thoughts and pure emotion…
After a month in California, I am back to my cave in Cairo. In just a few days I have been forced to face a harsh reality about myself and some of the deeply rooted insecurities that have left numerous wounds and scars. As much as I would like to believe that I have worked through the most painful ones, the reality is quite the contrary. In many ways I have simply patched over them, often disguising them with another strength, and in the process, prohibiting them from healing fully and properly. Since I was young, my greatest challenge has always been with my emotions. They neither make sense nor feel comfortable; always more of an inconvenience and form of vulnerability rather than strength. I have always been taught that a girl/woman is supposed to be reserved, to show restraint and refrain from too much expression. My occasional deviation was met with reprimands and as a result, I created a convenient habit of avoiding emotions or overriding them with logic and reason. But at the end of the day, are we not human? I am still learning at this very moment, through challenging lessons that I must be honest with myself when it comes to emotions. If I am to properly heal and find balance, I have to stop running away. I must find a way to confront, understand, and ultimately, conquer this seemingly everlasting battle with emotions and internal scarring.
This year is the first time in my life where I have promised myself I would no longer run away from my emotions. It is horrifyingly discomforting, intense, and painful. There are memories and scars that decorate the epidermis of my body and those that are deeply ingrained in the depths of my mind, my heart, and into the very structure of my bones.
“Some scars are visible, in plain sight…”
When I look at my physical body, an infinite bundle of recollections bubbles into mind that tell stories of the doltish abrasiveness of youth, the intrepid determination of rebellion, and the deliberate flirtation with trouble.
For example, the 2.5 cm by 1 cm linear scar located on my right thigh just below the knee is a kind reminder. It was once approximately 5 cm in length by 1.5 cm in width, a wound created when I was about 8 years old. I was working on a school project and trying to cut through a cardboard box. Instead of laying the box on the floor as instructed by my mother, I wanted to do things my way, so I held and cut the box over my right leg. As I took the boxcutter and forcefully pulled it across from left to right, I made an incision through the cardboard and the upper part of my right thigh. There was no pain, just the initial shock, followed by a loud cry and flowing tears as I saw my blood gush out and down my leg. The scar reminds me that not all rebellion is good or necessary. It is important to think through our words and actions, and consider those that came before us prior to engaging. Otherwise, we merely repeat the same or similar errors over and over again.
On the top of my right foot, there is a wrinkly light pinkish skin patch that starts from the base and runs to the center of my foot next to my scorpion tattoo. One late evening at the beginning of August 2014, I wanted to operate a vespa. What better way than to use my friend’s vespa in the super “clean” streets of Cairo, with no understanding of the equipment, no safety gear, or proper shoes? I knew it was a bad idea, but I thought, “What’s the worse that can happen?” After starting the vespa, I moved a couple of yards before hitting a bump and losing control. The vespa tipped to the right, skidded on the ground and dragged my right foot along with it, leaving a large open wound splattered across the top of my right foot. Given the late hour, I had to go to the ER where a male nurse decided to clean my open wound by scrubbing it with rubbing alcohol and a coil bundle that resembled a coil wire ball used to clean dirty kitchen pots. The pain was so potent that it shot up my spine and triggered a muffled scream behind my locked jaw and bundled fists, which led to an immediate flow of uncontrollable tears and sweat.
Despite my insistent objections, I was hustled out of the ER without further treatment; no shot or antibiotics. The open wound worsened and suffered from infection over the course of two or three days due to lack of proper treatment. My foot swelled, doubling in size, immobilizing my movement, and the color of the surrounding flesh went from an inflamed pink to red to black. By the end of the week, I had been in and out of the hospital at least 2-3 times a day with no results before I was finally able to see a specialist who conveniently returned to Cairo from a medical conference abroad. I was immediately scheduled for surgery where I was told the best possible scenario would be to simply remove the dead skin and rotting flesh, and allow the wound to take its course in healing – if the infection was contained to the surface. The worse case scenario would be the spread of the infection and the contamination of the rotting flesh to the blood… That’s all that the doctor would say to me, probably because my facial expression revealed all the fears that boiled within. Thankfully, the infection, dead skin and rotting flesh were contained to the surface of my foot. The surgery took around 20 minutes, but it took me over a month to be able to to walk again without support. I spent the entire first month after surgery with my previous boss and her family. As I am living alone in Cairo with no immediate family members nearby, my boss opened her home and took care of me without reservations. In reality, she is one of the many families that I have come to known and appreciate beyond measure since arriving in Egypt 8.5 years ago.
Today the scar reminds me that it is sometimes better to be safe than sorry; we should always trust our intuition. It is important to consider multiple perspectives and not limit ourselves – especially when it comes to our health and well-being. Blessings in life are variously packaged and come in many different ways – not always as expected. Nothing in this world matters more than our health and the company that we keep. We can either uplift each other to better places, or we can hold ourselves and each other back. We can learn a lot about and, from the people we surround ourselves with, but most importantly, we also learn a lot about ourselves. That’s not to say people should be sorted into categories of “good,” “bad,” and “to be decided”, but rather, our paths cross accordingly, at different moments for a short or long duration with differing impacts.
My body is also decorated with innumerable amounts of leftover circles from mosquito bites and the chicken pox, which I loved to scratch despite my better judgment or my mother’s; or by linear and criss-crossed horizontal and vertical lines from jumping and falling off the bed, or from various bumps and crashes on longboards, rollerblades, bicycles, and skis; or the riveting dents that cling across my shins from being bashed around during lacrosse, American football, football, field and street hockey, and the likes… The list of visible scars are in plethora just like the lessons learned from them – sometimes, the same lessons over many sessions.
“…some scars are hidden in the shadows…”
The physical scars are easy and simple. They tell relatable stories and could even be similar or the same as someone else’s. When I look beyond the physical, I get a small glimpse of the scars that are conveniently hidden. To see them, I must peel back the years of insurmountable layers of invisible brick borders that encapsulate my heart. What remains is a fragile vulnerability known only by me and a selected few who I have willingly chosen to share them with. But for others, my fragility often takes on the personas of strength, courage, and perseverance. Similar to tangible borders where the objective is to protect, the invisible bricks shelter my heart. Each layer constructed as a means to preserve the leftover pieces of a heart that has been tarnished, broken, mended, and reconstructed in countless ways. So much so that I have lost count; so much so that the ways are sometimes muddled that it causes internal visual impairment, which ultimately affects the external manifestations.
Additionally, much like tangible borders, sometimes when we try to protect or preserve what we have – or what remains of what used to be – we also inadvertently inhibit growth and development because we block out exposures to new experiences and possibilities. The scars that hide behind my invisible borders are emotional and fueled by expectations. Since they reside in the heart – the lifeline of the body, when the wounds and scars tremble, they reverberate throughout the body. Some tremble with such ferocity that the scar has carved itself into my bones – the very foundation that holds up the body.
The scars that harbor within my heart stem mostly from my childhood experiences and the social, familial, and personal expectations that relentlessly compete with one another. As I peel back one seemingly simple layer of my invisible brick wall, I realize I must engage my vulnerability despite how fearful I am of the secret that lies behind it. I believe the root of most, if not all of my emotional troubles, stems from a need of wanting to be unconditionally understood, and ultimately, to have my love and care reciprocated. The Greeks traditionally distinguish three types of love: eros, philia, and agape.¹ The love, or lack thereof, that triggered the entrapment of my heart, comes directly from my perceptions of my father, which concerns philia or love that “entails a fondness and appreciation of the other; the term philia incorporate[s] not just friendship, but also loyalties to family and polis – one’s political community, job, or discipline”.²
Contrary to the rationalizations dictated by my heart and mind for two decades, my father is not a malicious person. In many ways, he is similar to a child. He embodies a carefree spirit. He lives his life for him and engages in activities that interests him without much care or thought. Like most human beings, he seeks pleasure through different explorations such as food, sports, games, traveling, friends, and the likes – much of which I also love and engage with often. However, complications arise when one considers the roles, expectations, and responsibilities. If my father was never married and did not have children he could very well do as he pleases, but this has always been him, regardless of the looming responsibilities. Deep down, I believe he may have never really intended for his actions to cause harm to others, but his inability to acknowledge or accept his role as a father yielded detrimental consequences to those around him – with or without his knowing. His carefree and child-like characteristics were not the ones I was hoping for or needed in my youth, and it was not the characteristics that I saw in the fathers of the families around me, or of the fathers that I read so much about in my books. As a result, in my personal life and personal relationships, my father became the foundation of my resentment, my anger, my struggles, my pain, and now the very scars that dwell in the shadows. To be fair, my father is also the reason why I changed the direction of my career, and a driving factor for my love and dedication towards at-risk and disadvantaged children.
It was only after this trip to California that I was able to fully realize and accept my father as he is, NOT as what I had perceived him to be, or even what I so desperately had wished he could be. But even as this realization settles into me, the leftover remnants of the years of damage lingers in the shadows. Regardless of the amount of light, the shadow stalks. Some days the size of the shadow is meager that it’s almost nonexistent. Some days the shadow fluctuates as my internal state of being mulls over the particulars of long ago fleeted moments. And some days the shadow’s enormity overpowers and I lose touch with the here and now.
“…but there are other [scars], the ones that slowly destroy your own existence that can hardly be seen. I have plenty of those…”
The essence of the scars hidden in the shadows can only be truly known to the bearer, should the bearer wish to investigate. The heart and mind are the most enigmatic entities of our physical world. Its tangibility can be weighed and measured through science and tools, but its intangibility is vast. What the heart and mind holds onto with regards to memory and experience, and how it initially reacts, (re)engages, and comprehends remains a mystery. The culmination of our memories and experiences then triggers us, as a being, to feel and express accordingly. Our hearts can grow warm with compassion for others or causes that resonate. Our hearts can grow cold and distant, creating a calculated separation for various purposes. And our hearts can also become numb or indifferent, maybe even distracted or in a state of denial. The progression is never limited to one state of being, but it is very possible that without acknowledgment, one may linger too long in a particular state.
The scars that can hardly be seen but have the potential to slowly destroy our own existence is quite possibly the slumbering fear that harbors deep within, beneath the visible scars and the scars hiding in the shadow. It is the fear of moving backwards – so we maintain a staunch demeanor; the fear of standing still – so we charge without thought; the fear of moving forward – so we sabotage to return to the familiar. A vicious cycle of fear.
My fear is obvious… I fear my emotions because I am not confident that I understand them. I fear that when I engage, I won’t have any to give or too much to give. I fear that what I can give won’t be appreciated, accepted, or reciprocated. Or maybe it will simply be rejected or betrayed like so many times before, specifically with my father. By isolating my heart behind layers of invisible brick borders, I not only protected what was left from the damage, but I also unknowingly stifled its potential to grow. This was only made clear recently when my unchecked fears manifested. I unintentionally thrusted my insecurities onto another, pushing them away because I feared they would unwittingly hurt me. But when I was left to my solitude, I realized my fear was unfounded. With this realization, a new fear manifested… What if my actions conceived my original fear? What if my desire of wanting to be unconditionally understood, and have my love and care reciprocated, would now be out of reach? This time, it would be because of my own doing.
There’s an ancient Japanese art called kintsugi, which translates to “joining with gold”. It is believed that the practice started around 500 years ago when a 15th century military commander Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke one of his cherished Chinese tea bowls and was dissatisfied with the repair. Thus, came about the the art of kintsugi, where broken pottery is repaired with gold. The philosophy behind the concept is to accentuate the damage as opposed to hiding it. The damage is seen as something beautiful that enhances the object – making it more valuable than before. Thus, the damage plays an important role in the object’s history and future, as opposed to tarnishing it.³
As I continue to reflect on my own journey, I can only hope that my hidden scars will one day resemble my visible scars. Maybe they will be at the forefront of my heart and mind rather than burrowed deep within. Maybe through meditative engagement, my perspective will change. Maybe like the inspirational street child Rasha, I will finally learn to embrace my scars as something beautiful rather than undeserving. Maybe then, the invisible brick borders will start to tumble. Maybe then, I will not be afraid to move backwards, to stand still, or to move forward. Because maybe, at the end of the day, it is the open dialogue that we have with our wounds and scars that enables us to find peace and balance. Until then, there are still many lessons waiting to be encountered. So I will continue to look within and peel back the layers of my invisible brick borders, until the stitches etched in my heart become glimmers of acceptance.
¹ The three types of love can be define as the following: (i) Eros – refers to that part of love constituting a passionate intense desire for something; it is often referred to as a sexual desire; (ii) Philia – entails a fondness and appreciation of the other, the term philia incorporate[s] not just friendship, but also loyalties to family and polis – one’s political community, job, or discipline; (iii) Agape – refers to paternal love of God for man and of man for God but is extended to include a brotherly love for all of humanity. Agape arguably draws on elements from both eros and philia in that it seeks a perfect kind of love that is at once a fondness, a transcending of the particular, and a passion without the necessity of reciprocity. To read more check out “Philosophy of Love,” by Alexander Moseley, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, https://www.iep.utm.edu/, 10 August 2018.
³ Broken a pot? Copy the Japanese and fix it with gold. (n.d.). In BBC. Retrieved August 9, 2018 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/326qTYw26156P9k92v8zr3C/broken-a-pot-copy-the-japanese-and-fix-it-with-gold