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Lessons in Gratitude, Part 1

I spent the past few weeks dreading today. I indulged in the comforts of mostly food and TV to dull the pain of the thoughts I have about spending this holiday alone. The echoes of past years both haunted me and also made me nostalgic, and here I am, spending this holiday alone, but actually quite happy that I have been able to spend some time reflecting and writing.

I’ve spent the past few months mourning. My mother passed in August, shortly after my last transmission here, and then I found myself hitting bottom again. It wasn’t as deep a bottom as the lows I felt last year, because in spite of the challenges this year has produced, I still feel way better than I did last year. My mother’s passing was a long time coming I suppose, but part of me saw her as invincible. In spite of her illness of the past six years, she seemed to be a force of nature that had endless energy, which is how she lived her life at her best as well. Her death came at a strange time, and because of our global situation, I was unable to see her and offer her comfort in her last moments. I am still feeling such deep grief about the fact that I will never get to face her again, or hold the hand whose grip was so strong and tender ever again. I expected to be able to have some resolution with regard to her life and decline, in face of her death I realized that I would never have that even if she had lived forever — her illness continued to develop and she continued to lose touch with our reality. It might take me the rest of my life to come to terms with her illness, her deterioration, and her passing, but today I am grateful for all the lessons that these hardships have taught me.

Here’s a reflection on my important lesson in gratitude for today:

The cycle of pain that continues with each generation is a product of a lack of awareness about where this pain comes from. I had a wonderful childhood by all standards. My parents did their best to give us everything that they thought we would want. I had comfort, education, cool clothes, lots of food, attention, security. But the unconscious pain that they brought with them to our family isn’t something that they acknowledged, or that almost any parent acknowledges. They were refugees, who had suffered tremendously in their youth, and though they found stability and success later in life, they never tended to those psychic wounds that made them the flawed people they were. The acknowledgment of these wounds, and the space and energy to dedicate to actively healing them, seems like a privilege of my generation, something that they never had and never thought they deserved. Talking about feelings, especially among men, and traditional Middle Easterners, is mostly forbidden. My parents were far from traditional in most ways, but they were solidly grounded in the traditions they were familiar with in spite of their remarkable journeys. That’s part of how any immigrant provides themselves with comfort in a strange land. So, they never cleared up these wounds, and passed on those traumas to my brothers and I, in spite of having created the opportunity for a long and stable life. I’ve dedicated my past ten years to learning to be expressive as a singer and writer and artist, and one of the things I’ve learned and most value is that constructive expression is the panacea for almost all psychic wounds. I have come a long way in liberating myself from the patterns of pain that I unconsciously inherited from my parents at a young age, and yet I feel like I am still making only very little progress in creating a healthy and stable life. Why is that?

I’ve found some answers thanks mostly to the isolation of living in a new city during a pandemic. It’s that people that I’ve brought into my life over the past ten years have mostly been detriments to my stability. The types of people that move to New York to make it are generally self-centered people who move there to look out for themselves, and not to create meaningful and healthy relationships with the communities they engage with. There are some exceptions of course, and those are the select few people who are still close to me even after I shut off my social media. Those are the rare folks that genuinely care about me and others, and who have the sort of integrity of a human of the evolved sort. The people who have come and gone from my life are the ones that brought me so much pain and disappointment, and that’s something I continued to bring upon myself by investing in these people even though all signs indicated that they were liabilities. I’m too sensitive to be burned by people I love, and while I thought for a long time that more friends is better, which is the typical big city New York way of thinking, now I know that higher quality is better, even if that means fewer friends.

The pattern that continued to set me back even after I’d done so much work to heal from my parents’ traumas is that I repeatedly found myself depending on people that were scarcely worthy of my trust.

I take the blame though. It is my “magical thinking” that led me to keep repeating that situation. You might even say it’s an ego problem: I expected that if I acted with integrity and love, that it would inspire those around me to follow suit. But now I realize that people are hard pressed to change, and I think I have an unusually high tolerance for the discomfort of growth and change that most people have very little tolerance for in normal circumstances. This might appear as a sort of brag, but in the end it’s left me where I am: mostly alone in a world of weak vampires. That’s a bit harsh, but that’s how I think about some other people from my past in my angriest moments. So, being so isolated, which has been so hard for a person as social as I am, has been the type of environment needed for me to see that it’s been my fault for being intentionally blind to the patterns I saw in people that ended up hurting and disappointing me. When I’ve been hurt and abandoned by people I loved but shouldn’t have trusted, I end up taking it out on myself in self-destructive ways, setting back my movement towards reaching my goals and finding stability.

So, this isolation has been healthy for me in certain important ways. Now that I understand how I’ve created the situations that have led me to my own self-destructive patterns, I can be more careful about who I let in. This isn’t something I’ve typically done in the past: I let myself be vulnerable even after being hurt repeatedly. I had this misguided notion that I could bear the pain of loss no matter what. In face of the loss of both of my parents, I realized that the strength I needed to bear those types of pain relied on having some familiar safety net to fall back on, like family. Without a family, the pain is just too great for me to handle alone.

Part of me still yearns for those folks that I loved and lost, and I hope to make amends some day. I have an incredibly good life right now, with a job I love and living situation that is the best I’ve ever had. I would love to share that with someone who is worthy, but I’m in no rush. I’ve gotten so good at being self-sufficient that I’m almost too good at at it, and it would have to be someone really special for me to let them in at this point.

I still love everyone I’ve ever loved. That’s never going away — true love is eternal, and I recognize that. But I realize now that loving someone can sometimes mean that you give yourself distance from them for your protection and theirs. I have tremendous gratitude for everyone who has ever guided me in any way, even in difficult ways. There are certain people who I still feel so strongly for, but might never talk to again, and that’s something I’ll have to probably just put into a song.

Since my mother passed, I started writing quite a few tributes to her to publish here, but I didn’t have the heart to follow through and finish. It was just too fresh and painful a wound, and I’ve put walls up to protect myself from the hard feelings I’m harboring until I have the stability I need to confront the pain. I’ve been spending a lot of time singing, working on my health and body, and just general living on auto-pilot, gradually working up to producing my next piece of work to share with the world. I don’t know who is listening, who is reading this, who cares what I have to say anymore, but if you are reading this and want to say hello and to offer me your condolences, now is a good time.

I expect to be posting more regularly now that I feel like opening up a little again. Thanks for caring enough to listen to what I have to say.