Between a Giant Octopus and Falling Pieces

November 22, 2009

“Incidentally, the process continues to teach me not to reach out to my pockets for security,but to something deeper and immaterial that cannot be retained in clenched fists .Something that never vanishes. Never falls. Never expires.”

Dear Papaito,

There was something deeply empowering about canceling my trip to the MESA (Middle Eastern Studies Association) conference this weekend.

By Friday night, I had paid the fees, I had found a place to stay, and I had let my family and friends know that I would be away. I had arranged all that I needed to be arranged… and I was miserable about it.

Was the excuse I needed not to travel seriously not going to materialize? Where on earth was it?

Oh how unhappy I felt about the trip!Sitting on a chair by my desk, my laptop turned on, and MESA’s webpage on my screen, I saw a jelly-like mottled purple thing sliding surreptitiously from under the door… At the beginning, I could not quite tell what it was, or whether it was moving or not, because only my bedside lamp was turned on. But once it was obvious that the thing really moving, and that it did not look human, I became terrified (not that a human arm sliding under the door would not have been terrifying…(?)).

It was the MESA octopus that had traveled miles to come get me… With a high pitched voice that reminded me of Snow White’s Wicked Queen (you know, in that part where she extends the poisoned apple to the gullible girl), the octopus said to me, ‘you already registered and paid Janan, you have no option but to follow me.’ ‘I must scape!,’ I thought, but no sooner had the octopus uttered its deadly sentence, than it pulled my right foot from under the desk with violent force. I did not even have a moment to recall my best boxing moves from my college days (and I had great defense moves and punches, Papaito. You should have seen me)… So I fell helplessly to the ground… but determined not to give in, I fought back courageously… and not in vain, for I was able to…

Papaito, why are you looking at me like that?

Yes, like that. Like this is not a true story. Yes, you are looking at me funny. Aha…right. Of course you are not.

See, I really think you don’t believe me, and that you are struggling to contain your laughter. Yes you are. No, yes you are. You should see your face now. You know…I am not telling you what happened with the octopus after that (I’m not telling you, for example, how I defeated it,or how it left a trace of black ink behind it when it left). This is it, no more octopus story for you (oh come on now, don’t look at me like that… maybe if you buy me lemon ice cream, or an orange, I’ll tell you the end later…).

In any case, you know that this decision not to go to MESA is not as simple as it seems. It represents another piece from that original puzzle that falls from my pockets as I tread along. A little extra step away from security as I had conceived it. Away from my comfort zone.

What pieces remain now, if any? The center fell quite early…then the middle, and now the edges are crumbling too.

I have been watching these pieces fall off my pockets from winter to summer, through spring and fall. Sometimes I see them on the ground. Sometimes I catch sight of them as they fall. Sometimes I want to let them fall. Sometimes, I drop them intentionally …

I used to fiddle nervously with these pieces. I used to clasp them fearfully in a closed fist. These things would have a comforting effect on me.

Whenever I was in a new place or a new situation (once, not too long ago, every place and every situation was new), all I needed to do was to reach out to these pieces in my pockets. I’d reach out to them, confident to find them there, and my worries and fears would be assuaged. True, they were but mere pieces, but one day, I thought, I’d put them together and they’d be the puzzle I had envisioned for myself and my life.

Not quite so.

I lost one, and then another, and then a third… Even before the image of that puzzle had faded from my mind, I’d lost half of them. Later, even the image was gone…but maybe I wanted to hang on to a few of them…? Please? One?

Now I am dropping perhaps that one remaining piece. And I am letting it fall within my full sight. Craziness. Utter craziness. Yes, why not admit that sometimes I am seized with fear… Am I really letting go of the last traces of security I wished so much to hold on to? Pieces fall oh so reluctantly. But oh so surely too. And God knows how much I’ve hated to forsake the security ‘knowledge’ and imagined certainty claimed to deliver.

But would you find it ironic Papaito, that while my pockets continue to be emptied, I also find myself strangely relieved from the weight of expired pieces. That time one, this time another, and I am made lighter than I can remember.

Incidentally, the process continues to teach me not to reach out to my pockets for security, but to something deeper and immaterial that cannot be retained in clenched fists . Something that never vanishes. Never falls. Never expires.

Freed, and ever so light, perhaps I feel myself rising a bit… Perhaps, Who knows, what I see around me now are the edges of a new image yet to be built…and filled, with a middle and a center of its own.

J.

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