I have hit rock bottom on numerous occasions. There was the professional funk, the financial insolvency, emotional turmoil, dead end relationships that resulted in a broken heart, and of course the dreaded depression. But the thing I have learned consistently and with ever bedrock I hit was that the only way is up.

No matter how hard you hit, for how long, whether this is hope or not, whenever I was at my worst something deep inside always said it just can’t get worse. And believing that and knowing it meant that things could only pick up and move forward and upwards.

I remember in 2003 when professionally, in one year I was fired, then resigned, then laid off, then out of work for the longest time. It seemed like my professional life came to a complete standstill, and slowly I was running out of what little savings I had. I went from interview to interview and the jobs I wanted either didn’t transpire or the jobs that wanted me were shoot me boring. So towards the end of the year I was penniless and without prospects of any financial security. But what happened was the spurred me on to become a freelancer. I was and still am a “Jane of all trades”, resourceful, with a good head on my shoulders. This meant that I could do anything I wanted to and it didn’t have to be in the framework of a 9-5 position. And so after hitting rock bottom, I thrived. I learned that I could aspire to be anything I wanted to be and have fun doing it! I became a story teller, a trainer, a proposal writer, a project coordinator; I learned all about cross cultural education and managed programs in informal learning. I’ve dabbled in community organizing, activism, volunteerism and I’ve thrived. The past six years have been so robust and alive and I’ve enjoyed the bigger chunk of them. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t challenging or trying, there were moments of extreme boredom and frustration. But that only meant I had to evaluate what it was I was doing and have the guts to change it. Getting the guts, taking the leap – well that’s another story for another time.

In 2005, I found myself facing a different set of challenges. Ones that were related to family and home. It’s a scary thing realizing that though we may be related by blood, our nearest are not our dearest. Learning to deal with that concept and evaluating a home built around misogyny, selfishness pitted directly against sacrifice, emotional guilt tricks, stunted growth and potential withheld by tradition, religion, and culture that transgressed into ones physical and emotional self. Suddenly waking up to all this and seeing it clearly left me more resentful than happy. I hit family rock bottom. So what did I do? I made changes that had very negative effects in the short term including a depression. That rock bottom was not bedrock! But four years after taking the steps to assert my needs, stop the guilt trips, put an end to the transgression, saying no to misogyny and taking responsibility for myself as an individual, my relationship with my family has improved dramatically. There is respect for my privacy, my needs, and myself. Its not always rosy and bright mind you, but we have all come to know our boundaries and limitations in the most positive of ways today. My relationship with my mother has never been better!

Oh but two years after that crazy family journey came the big whopper. In May 2007 I fell in love and subsequently got my heart trampled all over it. It was a secret love affair; some may even say it was one-sided. I won’t go into the heartbreak for it left me jaded, distrustful, and more a commitment phobe than before. But it did result in some beautiful things. I learned that I had the capacity to feel at a very deep level. I learned that I could let people in and share parts of my life without it leaving me feeling vulnerable and weak (including starting this blog). Towards the end it taught me how to regain myself after being lost in someone completely. And I am not as jaded or distrustful as I was back then. The commitment issues I am working on ;).

If I were to chart my life it would have a lot of dips and a lot of highs. But one thing that screams out at me when I look at this chart is that I climbed to the highest peaks after each dip; the deeper the pit, the higher the climb was. And so I have learned to succeed from my failures, and truly appreciate what it means to be accomplished. Today I am surrounded by my accomplishments and I am very proud of every abyss I fell through as much as I am every triumph of spirit and soul.

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Michael S. Clark

1972-2009

 

Last night a man who had touched the lives of many passed away. I write today to honor him and his memory.  I first met Mike years ago when he would share my office when he would be in Amman taking a break from Iraq. We would both sit there quietly sharing the space working away. He then moved and became my boss and it was in this time that our relationship evolved from two people sharing an office space to that of two friends. I was lucky to have been a part of his life here in Jordan. He was an amazing boss but more than that he was a wonderful human being.

 

In my years of knowing Mike our relationship shifted as only a relationship with Mike could to a friendship built on trust, respect and understanding. He was a man that loved life and took every opportunity to live it. He was so sensitive to the people around him and the culture that he lived in like no other.

 

I have many fond memories of Mike, I remember the day he tricked me into being a wedding planner by asking me into his office to talk about a project he wanted me to lead and after checking that I have the time and was available he told me he wanted me to help organize the wedding. I was privileged to be part of such an important event in his life.

 

I remember how he would go off on little trips around Jordan on the weekends and how sacred his personal time was. I learned from him that we should work hard but personal and family time is also very important. He loved life and lived it.

 

I remember how caring and thoughtful he was. Before he went to Iraq for a few weeks he left the house fully stocked so that his pregnant wife wouldn’t have to leave the house unless she had to so if you walked into the kitchen the floor was covered with bags and bags of cat litter and shrinks of water.

 

I remember the day Baby H came into the world a day early because she was very assertive like her father. He was so proud and happy. I remember how he held her fondly and with such tender love and care. I remember her baptism as he and Lynne stood proudly carrying H who was well behaved and angelic as she was being baptized.

 

I remember what a magnificent cook he was. He was such a puritan about his ingredients and his recipes … such that anything he made was scrumptious. I especially remember being over there for lunch or dinner and there were three different pies and they were all so good you couldn’t choose which one you wanted more of. I remember hearing about his famous cheesecake but never tasting it because we couldn’t find the right kind of cheese.

 

I remember him being fair, kind, generous, humble, fun, funny, and an all round wonderful human being.  He connected with everyone and has touched so many lives. He left a trail of goodness where ever he went. Everyone remembers him as a friend above anything else. He made a difference.

 

Mike was a good friend, a wonderful husband and a loving and doting father. Mike to me was family. His presence will be sorely missed in this world. We take solace that he is now in a better place. He may not be here in body but he will always be in our memories.

 

Mike you will be missed.

I got an unwanted call today from someone that exited my life a while ago. It was a surprise, a perplexing one since there was no purpose to the call. This person was at one point important to me. We spoke every day, saw each other as often as possible, exchanged so much, but it all came with a price… one that was too high, and so this relationship ended. We haven’t spoken in months, I have moved on so far from where I was and if truth be told I am happier now.

 

When it ended there never was a major blow out or discussion about it, it was a sore point for a while but right now I don’t care to have that discussion nor do I want to open a channel of dialogue. I’ve move beyond that and don’t really care if this person knows, understands or realizes what they did, it is not my place to teach them, but rather I have learned. I have learned to let go, I have learned to value myself, I have learned to love, I have learned to what extent I can give. But I also learned not to be in an unequal relationship. I have learned not to undersell myself. I have learned that I don’t need to validate my decisions through others. I have learned who my true friends are.

 

 I have done well to erase all traces of this person, what is left doesn’t move me, doesn’t interest me, doesn’t even sadden me anymore. But what gets to me is flimsy excuses to call, random SMSs once every blue moon to wish me a good Eid, and the casualness of voice, the tone that nothing happened. The fact that this person thinks we can pick up where we left off astounds me!

 

Every time this happens I want to blast off an email saying stop it you have no place in my life anymore and I don’t appreciate you trying. But I don’t because I don’t want to start a dialogue, I don’t want to give any false hope that we could be friends ever again. I lost all emotion, respect, and feelings for this person. I want to be left alone without the infrequent attempts of civility or contact. I am not interested in being a part of this person’s life in any way or want them in mine.

 

So I guess this is an open letter to this person to stop! We will never be what we were, we will never be friends, we can not have long conversations or short ones. There is no need to wish me a happy Eid when it comes or condolences when someone passes. There is no need or want for you in my life. Your space has been taken up by many others whose presence is much more rewarding. Our time together may have been special, it even had its beautiful moments, but it came at such a hefty price I am not willing to even consider anymore. If I were writing a book this chapter is over, closed, the ink dry and now there are many others after it. So just stop.

 

I would like to say to those in similar situations that they don’t have to keep going back, or keep the lines of communication open, the fear that there is no other way does leave you eventually, and that time does heal. There is life beyond a person, place, job, life even. Stop being afraid to move forward because if you stand still you won’t go anywhere. Take it from me, I stood still for a long time and now time has healed the hurt, the anger, the frustration and because I have moved forward I have so much behind me that the past is a mere speck on the horizon. It is a long long ways away and now my life if full of many others who bring more, give more, return more, and deserve more and I’m the better for it. So yes time heals, but only if you move forward. 

Today I buried a bird. I have never buried anything before, let alone a living creature. The bird was carefully placed in the ground, wrapped in a white shroud. We covered him with a stone, and when the earth covered his little body, we placed more stones on his burial site. He was a loved bird, and so we chose a hill side to bury him in. When we were done my friend turned and said “he can now fly free”, no longer in his cage.

 

He meant something to her, and it was important to her that we do this properly. There was no ceremony or fuss, just dignity. His death was accidental and brutal. When we found him, he had a gash across his neck. It was obvious he had been attacked. He lay on his side, lifeless, songless. There was no dignity in his attack, but we gave gim at least that when we took him to the hill. His final resting place.

 

When I picked him up, I felt nothing. When I buried him I felt nothing. When I walked away I felt nothing. Life ebbing away, destroyed, stolen, ending, means nothing. I felt that way not because it was a bird, but because death to me means nothing. People, animals, things all come and go. Everything ends. It doesn’t scare me or sadden me. It just is. The only thing it I ask of death is for it to be dignified.

 

I never realized just how demanding looking after a baby can be. This past few months have been very educational for me as I have learned to truly appreciate what it takes to look after a baby. It has been a privilege for me to spend time with baby H and be entrusted with her care.

I met Baby H months ago when she was still hanging out in mama’s belly (see Meeting Melon), and so I have gotten to know this baby since she was swimming her way into the world. Watching her grow, cry, feed, and now laugh and smile has been a wonderful journey. Babysitting baby H taught me that time means nothing, truly nothing when there is a baby around. You get so absorbed in the baby’s needs that when you do look up hours had gone by and you really aren’t interested in rushing to make up that lost time.

I also learned that when you are taking care of the baby then you are taking care of the baby. You cannot multi-task in any way … not even a phone call! Babies are in constant need of attention: you feed them, and that includes preparing the baby meal, you then burp them, they poo or pee and their diaper will soon after need changing- otherwise baby will get cranky, and after all that they take a nap. And when they wake up you play with them for a bit before you have to do it all over again. Baby H was no exception. All of this needed my full attention and so nothing else could happen.

If this is what it takes to look after a baby, then raising a child is no easy feat. It is not something one person can do alone. After this experience I truly do not understand how single parents do it. I have a new found respect for anyone raising a child single handedly. It’s hard enough looking after oneself let alone having a tiny baby or a helpless child dependent on you to fulfill its needs.

Babies and children are a lifelong commitment. You commit your time, your energy, your money, your thoughts, but most importantly your love. Seeing how baby H is cared for is a great insight to how bringing children in to the world should be. She is a loved and wanted child and will grow up with those privileges and many more. Yet as wonderful as being with baby H was, I still am sure that I am not cut out to be a mama… not for little ones at least. And unless something drastic changes in my life I stand by my choices not to wed or have babies. I am just not cut out for those kinds of commitment.

It’s official. I hate Ramadan. It is my least favorite time of year. I know this now because I recognize a pattern of behavior and mood swings that comes with it every year, and this pertains to both the community and to me personally. It is a month that does not bring out the best in people but their worst too. This realization comes with a lot of disappointment and sorrow. A month that is meant to be such a powerful positive force is instead a month of bigotry, intolerance, gluttony and family friction.

Some of you may be wondering what I am on about with this wonderful month of cleansing, purity, giving, and sharing. It may be the case for some, but what I see of this month is unfortunately not so pretty. I don’t fast, I don’t pray, I don’t practice any religious obligation. That’s who I am. Yet I am asked to be respectful and tolerant to those around me and abstain from eating, drinking and general merriment because I too have to suffer in their chosen suffering. Well, I am sorry but last time I looked Islam was a religion of tolerance. It is tolerant of freedom of choice, freedom of religion. It recognizes free will and so each person is judged individually as the sum of their actions and not collectively as the sum of the communities actions. So why is it OK for the office cooler to be turned off, the water bottles not replaced, restaurants closed and closures of those that are legal opened to take place? Every year there is a loosening of the morays and attitudes of people only to be backlashed by aggressive behavior of those more fundamentalist. I ask those where is the tolerance that this religion preaches?

I have been to some iftars this year that have been few and far in between, and at each one it has not been a meal but a feast. Where is the empathy in that? How is this cleansing to the soul or the body? We become such gluttons, that with bellies full and minds numbed we sit and do nothing but watch soap opera after soap opera till there is nothing left of the persons we were at the beginning of the month.

The whole month is a disruption of our regular habits and schedules, and not in a good way. Life and people go crazy just look outside a window at 4:30 or 5:00 and then at 6:30. Traffic becomes chaotic and scary with people rushing to fill their bellies. And then the city becomes a ghost town not a soul in the street. I’ve gone out at this time of day only to be met with a great feeling of aloneness that is amplified by the sound of silence. The city doesn’t sleep, it dies. And then again wakes from the living dead in the evening to nights of worship. People who worship their God in a mosque or worship of the argileh, food, cards… or whichever vice that comes at this time of year. The hours of the day and night are messed up and it is reflected in our daily lives and used as an excuse in our offices.

And lets take a look at families. We all come together and so there is more friction, more tenseness, more boredom, more feuds. Even though we quietly put aside our differences for the couple of hours we share a meal the amount of passive aggressive behavior I see is scary. I heard somewhere in reference to the holiday season in the west, it is the time that emergency room visits increase because all that family time causes so much anxiety and depression. It made sense. Maybe it’s because I come from a dysfunctional family, but done we all at some level suffer from dysfunctionality?

When I was a child, Ramadan was an exciting time. It was a time that was made fun by our parents, it was a time to fast, to work hard, to learn, to become spiritual, to be one with the community, a time for family to connect. I hear that from many people around me. So what happened? Where did that spirit go? Has it disappeared into the Ramadan lights covering the city in glitter and glitz? Who stole Ramadan?

Sometimes I wonder what signs we have on our foreheads. They are written in invisible ink, and seem to change based on the reader, but recently mine has been reading “DUMP YOUR SHIT ON ME”. I don’t get it, why do people think that I want to know about their problems or that I may have solutions for them, or that I care?

 

In the past few months I have heard more crap about addictions, relationships (romantic and otherwise), health, work, sex, and businesses than I care to know. I know I am a nice person, I’ll listen and I’m approachable. I also know that I won’t lie or soften the blow; I call it like I see it. This usually makes for some tough love, and people can count on it.

 

But I would like to point out once again that every once in a while I need space to be too. I need to hear your good news too. I like to laugh, to smile, to celebrate. I am available for that kind of thing too. I like to get the random I miss you call, or I just want to see how you are doing call, or lets hang out because I haven’t seen you in a long time call.

 

These days, it seems the only time I get calls are from people who want to dump their crap, or are bored. I am available 24/7 for my GOOD friends who call for the good, the bad and the ugly. Who want to hang out because they want to hang out not because they are bored and don’t know what to do so let’s see what Shalabieh is doing. And there are many of those and if you are reading this and you guys know who you are… I love ya all. But if you are the ones that always have a drama, want to whinge, or just think about how I can entertain you … well dears this is not a news flash, and it’s not a gentle reminder either! This is the deal… MY WORLD REVOLVES AROUND ME! I have my own crap to deal with, and I have my fair share mind you. And even if I don’t I like to keep my life happy and clutter free and that includes keeping my brain, my mind, my surroundings clutter (aka crap) free too. So I really don’t care!

 

So next time you call with a problem or if you are bored, ask yourself “Does Shalabieh care?” if you don’t know how to answer that question then don’t make the call, instead go buy yourself a few self help books, get with it and pull yourself together. If you still need help call a professional, otherwise I will start charging you by the hour, and my advice does not come cheap!