Twenty-five

In many circumstances, I find it hard to say “I have learned that..”, and find it easier to say “I’ve come to realize that..’’. To realize is to become fully aware of something as a fact which could possibly mean that you somehow knew about this thing but was not aware of it. When you learn, on the other hand, you gain and acquire something maybe even discover something. Whatever you learn, you didn’t know before. Whatever you realize, however, you become conscious of.
Looking up the etymology of each word, I’ve learned that the word realize origins from the french verb réaliser. In french this verb means ‘to bring into existence’; that is to make something a reality. Yet, learn origins from an old english leornian which also means to gain knowledge; again to add to one’s knowledge something he didn’t possess before.

I have turned 25 last month. I was a bit dramatic about turning 25. I can’t really pinpoint the reason why, but maybe it’s that I’ve visualized 25 to be a lot different for me when I was a kid. Or maybe it’s that, in my head, I never grow up. I can’t seem to daydream about a family, a job, an office, bank accounts, death… When my mind travels, it goes to a place where there’s only music, dance and love. At 25, I have realized, life isn’t a song nor a dance routine. At 25, I have learned that whatever I lived before was never really a love story.

It’s disappointing yet realistic and maybe a bit cowardly, to accept that this is life. Life is hard and complex because we humans in our nature are complex and hard. I, for instance, find it hard to believe that there’s nothing bigger in me. I seek comfort in a nonexistent God, that the kid in me still hopes exists so I can seek refuge in him, and the adult in me hushes this child by telling him you are God. I seek a God who has a better plan for me, one I can blame for the wrong in this world he created, one I can ask for things out of my human control. When I was a kid, before I fall asleep, I used to close my eyes really hard and wrap everyone I loved in a bubble, a godly bubble, one that protects them and keeps them alive for the next day. And oh, keeps the cockroaches away from them. This was my prayer, for my loved ones to stay, along for a few prayers they taught us to repeat to praise the lord of the above. At 25, when I close my eyes, I can’t wrap them in bubbles knowing that bubbles burst and loved ones die.
Last year, I lost my uncle to a deadly cancer that swam in his blood. His name meant honest and righteous. His cancer was honest and brutal. It took him down a one-way road to death. I couldn’t wrap him in a bubble, I couldn’t pray for him. I only saw him on his last days as I was away the whole time the cancer was creating unauthorized settlements in his body. When I saw him, the calm self-contained uncle I remembered looked so different. He was half his normal size, mouth wide open desperate for oxygen, arms jerking uncontrollably as if resisting the death as it approaches him. My eyes, shocked and terrified, tried to erase this image by blurring it with endless tears. My uncle was dying. I loved him because he loved me so unconditionally. Unlike my parents, he didn’t set boundaries for our love. He always pinched my cheeks, kissed them and said his usual sentence in Arabic ‘may her heart be filled with joy’. It was as if our only language was love; a love so big there was no room for other emotions. His death was comforting to me. He didn’t deserve to suffer. He was a lawyer, he spoke for the ones who needed his defense. Yet, on his death bed, no one was able to defend him against unfairness of his suffering. I learned then that death doesn’t care who you are, what good you’ve done in your life. Maybe that’s why, people invented a God, to comfort themselves with an after life where death is justified.

My uncle’s death made me realize that I live with death. It’s always there; somewhere in the corner. It was never hides, we don’t seek it, but it’s nevertheless there waiting and watching. We talk about life as something we live but death as something that lives with us or rather invades our ‘life’. However, as birth and life are natural so is death. It’s inevitable. It’s the only fate we know and are sure of. It’s my ending and yours and that’s okay; I’ve learned. So now, I see the wrinkles on my dad’s face and his limping walk in high resolution. My grandmother’s actions and sentences deprived of meaning make more sense to me now. Everyone’s aging process, mine as well, is so clear to me now. With every birthday, with every extra candle we blow off, everyone around us also gains a year. My 25th birthday meant my dad’s 67, my mom’s 54 and my grandmother’s senile.

At 25, I recognized and identified a new enemy: proximity.
Proximity: nearness in space, time or a relationship.

I’m a girl who grew up learning about science. I loved science. If I daydreamed about dancing on stage to my favorite song, in real life I was working hard to be the number one student in whatever science class I was in. In science class, I wasn’t my shy cautious self. I raised my hand, I spoke up, I was recognized, I was praised. In real life, I took a step back, too scared to fail. I was always fascinated by the lesson ‘ Nature vs. Nurture’.
Nature could be summed up by our genetic inheritance. Nature is the color of your eyes, the shape of your nose, your height and body type. Nurture, on the other hand, is summed up as your influencing environment (Side note: environment is the best influencer out there). Nature and nurture interact endlessly. Nurture is defined by the external factors that surround you and influence you. Nurture is your childhood experiences, your culture and basically all that surrounds you. You will normally find nature and nurture separated by the word versus; as if they are constantly in a ruthless battle. It’s important to keep in mind that nature never plays against nurture; it’s us humans who are trying to grant one of them the cup of who influences us the most. Nature and nurture collaborated all their life and interacted in fascinating ways to yield the life we live now. But why am I bringing up this endless philosophical and psychological debate to this long piece of writing which point you’re not getting?

It’s because nurture is my enemy that has always disguised itself as nature. Nurture is my religion, my parents, my middle eastern culture, my socially constructed rules and my social circle. I am a 25 year old woman who has lived her entire life in the middle east with her parents who taught her the rules of life in a country I didn’t choose but was forced to love for its few and random kind gestures but chose to consciously hate for the constraints it surrounded me with. Proximity to this nurture that I didn’t choose as much as I didn’t choose my nature, is my enemy. The things you do not yet realize, you are unconscious of. They influence you and affect your behavior and choices without you even noticing. These things are your parents habits and relationship, their language, their mode de vie, your need of their approval. These things are your culture; its the gender role you’re playing, their classification of it as secondary and the ‘other’, its their looks on your maturing body, and their fear over your blossoming childish figure. These things are your country, its language, its history, its endless defeats, its constitution, diplomatic figures dictating your life, its passport, its political value and stance. These things are your proximity and until you realize it, you have no idea how they’re molding you to fit perfectly in their only accepted and constructed container. Who you are is a lie, everything you define yourself as was already predefined for you. Everything your learned, you were already destined to learn. Every time you thought you had the choice; you only had one option.

In my 25 years in this life; I only lived 8 months away from my usual environment. I lived in another country where a different language and culture existed. I lived with different people of different values and habits. I lived where a different cuisine decorated their kitchen tables and different smells perfumed their homes. I lived there as a 25 year old middle eastern woman with a mother tongue they didn’t speak, speaking their language in interrupted sentences looking for words vocalized with a foreigner’s accent, from a culture of a third world country and that was a turning point in my life. I lived in proximity with many things that probably defined my experience, and having had a different environment in this foreign place probably would've yielded a different one. Although I lived in a different city where women celebrated more freedom, I carried my insecurities with me. They weighed even heavier there as they were the fruit of a different environment that nurtured them constantly. Being there meant they were malnutritioned; as whatever was around me was a fertile soil for anything but my dormant seeds of insecurity and fear.

These eight months, although so short and probably lie meaningless in comparison to my other 24 years and 4 months, opened my eyes a bit wider to a different reality. I learned and realized in these 8 months what I can summarize in 25 points:

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أنا مُتَغَيّرة

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