Written by Aida Safiyah
Art by Holly Warburton
I recognize that life is difficult because circumstances change and always will. They are not dead therefore can transfigure themselves and transfigure me. Of course things that are familiar and constant have the capacity to hurt as well, but they’re more passive, they cannot fight as much. On the other hand, elements of life that are able to alter state and circumstance, they will hurt because they exist in a round-the-clock state of flux. Because they are surging tides that carve cliffs and shores. And sometimes I feel that too much has been carved out of myself. The rock and minerals of my past and present dissolving into saltwater, dripping through the gaps between my fingers.
It is paralyzing, coming to the realization again and again that I’ll have to follow the swings and stirs and blows of life until my heart stops and I go to where the children go. I grew up repeatedly revising what I’d like to see at the end of this charade, convincing myself I had a wiser endgame than most people— to be content instead of happy, to be at peace instead of exhilarating joy. People tell me to stop being unhappy before the crisis actually comes, but how else do I comfort myself if I do not mourn for the wave that’s set to arrive? It can destroy me and it will arrive and I cannot stop it. So I cry.
The way I grew up, I never wanted anything more than peace and silence. And here’s a direct connection that can be made between those two things and stillness.
Stillness. What I’d do to live the rest of my days in stillness.
To take a breath and accept that I am alive is not a panacea for pain but it is definitely a buffer when made into a practice. I have to always tell myself that things will be alright. I find myself hesitating to breathe sometimes, and have convinced myself that there’s a valley, a life somewhere in my future that I could reach, where I could breathe and sit quietly and remember my name. I suppose it was naivety that drove me to assume that I could escape clamour and raised voices and grappling with expectations and duty. All the anger and sadness and gasping for air that characterised the first twenty-one years of my life, I thought I could leave them behind as if they were contained within a border that I could cross. They weren’t. They aren’t. There is no orbit with complete stillness that I could fall into.
I’m always anxious about time passing. I’m always sad that I’m still affected by the past. I’m devastated that I’ve devoted myself to a still life, a silent orbit, that doesn’t exist.
But it’s not entirely hopeless, I guess.
Even in the most demanding situations, I suppose if I work hard enough at it, I could form pockets of stillness for myself. And then for others. We could sit together and order each other’s favourite ice cream flavours and talk about when we used to run in fields with no reservations. Even during the most sombre of days, when all I want is to disappear behind the veil, I suppose if I try hard enough, I can find some little thing to be alive for. Like grass growing through cracked pavement, like the soft sunlight of early morning filtering through the leaves.
I understand. Life’s tough because it is changing. Even when it returns me to constant past memories that never changed, I become changed in some minute, fundamental way anyway. It hurts and confuses because it is able to shape and alter. I haven’t overcome this dilemma, but I do understand it better now. I’m trying to ameliorate these dire consequences of being alive, and what better way to make sense of my troubles than to make them my friends. And when I stare long enough into the night, I notice how stillness and instability shadow each other like the moon and the sea. And this helps, kind of.
Because when I sit in my moments of stillness, only then do I remember— I hate remaining constant anyways.