Letter to my 30-year-old self
17 June 2011 § 1 Comment
So, yesterday was my birthday <kazoo!> <confetti>! Yay. Every year as I near my birthday I think, “Meh, no biggie.” And then I’m inundated with so much love and end the day with “My birthday’s awesome!”
Last year, just a few days after my birthday, I happened across this blog and the request by the blog’s author for readers to write a letter to their 20 year-old selves offering insight and wisdom or maybe just a few words to document the passing of time. I liked the idea and so I wrote one to myself and then shared it with the few people mentioned in it – except one. The day I wrote the letter was the last day I spoke to Jing. He left after that to go on the trek from which he’d never return, and I had planned to hold off on sending him the letter until he got back. Now, of course, I wish I’d sent it. Maybe, somehow, he would’ve had time to read it and be reminded of how much he influenced my life even though I’m sure he already knew.
Anyway, if you want to read that letter you can find it here.
Dear Newgyptian, age 30 –
Though this year will see the rise of the “It gets better campaign“, the motto of your 30th year will in fact seem to be, “No matter how bad it seems now it can always get worse.” The latter days of your 29th year were witness to the death of a beloved uncle, your father’s cousin and childhood best friend and then your eldest auntie who lingered for 40 days in the ICU and then passed away. This will be a hard hard moment because you have spent almost every evening there, by her bedside fervently saying every prayer you know under your breath and watching your father ‘s belief that his eldest sister will get better deteriorate as her condition worsens. You will be the first one to arrive at the hospital after your father, and you will want desperately to be strong for him but you will find that all you can do is clutch him as you both dissolve in tears.
The next day at the funeral you and your sister will look at each other and say, “Well, hopefully this means things are going to get better because it can’t possibly get any worse.” You think to yourself,”These things come in threes – so there we go. One. Two. Three.” Do not tempt fate in this manner. It is true – these things do come in threes. By the end of July you will have said goodbye to three more people – your uncle, your best friend, and a beloved cousin – the son of the auntie who’s passed away. They will all die unexpectedly and the day after your cousin’s funeral you and your sister will fly to Athens for a long-awaited and much-needed vacation and to spend time with PG and his family, but you will spend most of your week there experiencing symptoms of PTSD. You won’t be able to sleep. As soon as your head hits the pillow you will begin to panic. This will actually continue for several months, abate, and then come back again when you move to England in November. As a result you will purchase and use sleeping pills for the first time in your life.
When you return to Egypt from Greece you will start frantically preparing for your “wedding” which will take place in a little over two months. You will prepare begrudgingly until you realize you’re being a brat and recognize how much everyone in your life NEEDS this – this small moment of joy. You realize how much your friends are pulling for you, how lonely PG has been during your year apart and how desperately your father, especially, needs to have this event to focus on in the time he has away from dealing with lawyers and the complicated inheritances of his sister, brother and nephew.
You have always considered yourself a hater of weddings, but seeing the smiling, gleaming faces of your relatives and friends in the crowd at your katb kitab will make you a believer. The way your extended family embraces (both literally and figuratively) your khawaga husband will confirm that all the behind-the-scenes struggling to get to this moment was so worth it. The next day as you sit with your friends at Sangria overlooking the Nile you will both feel such a sense of serenity.
You will arrive in England excited and then quickly be beset by a feeling of panic. You have no real job. The expected freelance work from Cairo will not kick in for a couple of weeks, and you start wondering what you’re going to do with yourself in this small town in eastern England. You set about making the flat habitable for a woman. No, actually, for human beings. Eventually you will settle into a routine of house-tidying, blog-reading and television-watching, with the occasional freelance assignment here and there. You travel and then worry about the amount of money you’ve spent. You marvel at how seamless the transition has been from living with your crazy, always-busy family to living with one person. This is the best part of your year so far. Getting to spend so much time with your man and finding that you never get sick of it. This was your greatest fear about getting married – that your fickle Gemini nature would kick in and you’d get bored quickly. And though it’s early days, you cannot imagine feeling like you’ve had enough time with PG.
On New Year’s Eve, which you spend with a couple of your closest friends and their crazy London companions, you ask that 2011 be a little easier on all of you. But then two days later you get some very bad news, and have to depart suddenly for the US. You spend a month there, and even though it is not under happy circumstances you find you really enjoy spending that time with your parents, uncle, aunt and cousin. The revolution in Egypt begins and you wish desperately that you could be back in Cairo, but know that you are more needed where you are. You all follow events obsessively on TV, on the internet, on the phone. By the time Mubarak steps down you’ve returned to England where PG has threatened to hide your passport so you can’t rush back to Cairo. Your father calls you moments after Mubarak steps down and you are in tears – this time the happy kind. You spend days blubbering over this.
By the spring you’ve accepted your life of mostly-leisure when you realize you will likely never again have the opportunity to live this way. By this point you and PG know you’ll be moving back to Egypt come August – and while Cairo is good for many things, quiet, solitudeness living is not one of them. You join a running club and learn that you do not despise running like you’ve always thought, you just weren’t doing it right. You start volunteering with a local charity and hear many sad stories and admire the resilience of people who live very differently from you. You re-learn the lesson you are always trying to teach yourself – much as you want to, you cannot control everything, and when you let go and accept that sometimes shit’s just gonna happen you actually enjoy yourself. And even though you are loathe to embrace platitudes you find yourself returning to this Quran-itude over and over again over the course of the year: “God does not burden any soul with more than it is able to bear.” You never get tired of loving that this is your back yard-
Ultimately the lesson of the first year of your third decade on this earth is this: no matter how bad it seems it can always get worse. But, eventually, it will get better.