Sometimes, we spend so long mourning all that is wrong, that we forget to look back at everything that was just right, the day that started out with fresh french toast at a gorgeous restaurant with orchids and freshly brewed coffee, the coconut trees and the historical edifices all around us, the phenomenal company, the incredible views and the fact that we made it to a place I’ve always wanted to see, and we saw it 48 hours after I had a ping pong ball-sized benign tumor removed from my left breast.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about three things: how to speak up in the space of cruelty, and how to refrain from succumbing to the pain of loss by creating walls around me and pushing out the people who wish me well, and thirdly, how to recognize and distinguish those who wish me harm and ill will, from those who wish me well.
And in all regards, Cambodia comes back to mind, as a reminder of what to aim for in this year ahead. To speak up, to speak up even when it hurts, especially when it hurts. The trouble with speaking up is that other people may not protect us, but as American poet Audre Lorde once said, “Your silences will not protect you.” Ironically, Lorde herself had undergone a benign tumor surgery weeks prior to making her famous speech- a fact that I found out just recently.
On the road to Cambodia, my cousin Hadidd and I were stopped for a few hours at the security checkpoint, whereas all those traveling with us, and around us, were let into the country easily. I assume it had something to do with our green passports, but it was so painful, particularly because it was a trip we had discussed for years. I ended my 20s watching fireworks and started my 30s with the most spectacular sunset, only to go into surgery right after procuring a Cambodian visa. I stayed quiet at the border, knowing that my paperwork was fine, and still feeling frustrated that despite having a three month visa into the country, we were only allowed to enter for seven days.
But the truth is, we can choose to focus on the rubbish, or we can speak about the great things that we experienced. I’ve always been a little bit afraid to speak up about what hurts me.
In graduate school, I had the misfortune of befriending some obnoxious individuals who deliberately told me that I shouldn’t try to get too deep with people.
I’ve never been one for superficialities, but over the past three years, I took this terrible advice to heart- showcasing only the superficial, and if anything, my life appears more than perfect, more than charming, superficially. Regardless, my saving grace if anything, is that my writing has been proof that I should continue to explore the full spectrum of human expression, and I doubt you’d be reading the tips, the thoughts, looking at my photographs, or thinking about all that I’ve had to say so far, if I were someone entirely different.
Every day, I remind myself of how phenomenal Angkor Wat was, despite how horrendous the folks were to get there. Semisonic’s great lines in their song, “Closing Time,” comes to mind:
So here’s to honesty, to feelings, being emotional, to getting things wrong, to be unafraid to express when we’ve accomplished less than we intended, or also, when we’ve got it just right.
I intend it to be a great year. This will involve me opening up with my writing in a way that I’ve been too afraid to do so before now- because finding wonder is built upon picking yourself up, every single time you fall. It will involve late nights and cups of coffee, french wine and perhaps a beer more than I intend, but it will also continue- I hope, in the note this year has already continued in- making tents with little kids, bicycling around cul de sacs, making momo and khowsuey, beautiful conversations with genuinely phenomenal people, educating myself about how to deal with trauma, ill-health, and recuperation, finding a way to make ends meet while continuing to make the most of it all, forgiving and loving and hoping and dreaming, and for all that comes in-between.
I wish the very same for you.