Several months ago, I took a series of classes on how to write with vulnerability. A little strange, when you think about all the things I’ve written and released into the world in the last decade – about disease and heartbreak and the joys of leaving and the pains of being in the middle and winter mornings and climbing mountains.
I introduced myself to my new classmates with a confession – that once I hit publish on a piece of work, I would never re-read what I have written. And that I also did not like reading my work aloud or having it read back to me. It was a strange thing to admit in a class about vulnerability but some time later when I was thinking about it, I guess it made perfect sense. Writing, to me, was a purging of the gunk within, and I did not want to speak that back into my existence. Or maybe, I was just not comfortable showing all these soft, dark parts of me that I tried very hard to protect with a stronger, shinier outer. The grey bits of me that wonder – will this ever be good enough (for someone else)?
I was listening to a literary event recently that was on revolutionary joy. The moderator asked one of the panelists how they defined joy, which seemed particularly relevant in a world that was ever-so-ready to broadcast its hate. The response from one of the panelists was blunt, cutting to the quick – that sometimes there was no joy, and perhaps the greatest revolutionary act in the face of fire and salt, was peace.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what peace looks like for me.
Whether peace is a continued state of being or moments that float in like pockets of breeze on a hot, humid day. I think of my mornings, where I am making coffee, and slowly mixing in the milk, and the way my eyes glaze softly for two seconds as I breathe in the smell of the roasted beans and hot milk melding, just the way I like it.
I think about the long stretches of time I have in a bath, the steam rising up from the hot scented water, the salt on my skin, salt, my favourite salt of the earth, of my tears, and how sometimes I’m so tired that I doze and my heart beat slows as my muscles relax and how much I feel, but at the same time, how little.
I think about all those moments in the waiting lounge at an airport, my favourite parts of traveling, the anticipation of being in a space that is completely untethered, and how close to freedom that felt, though I have always had a free life, or maybe not, and really, how do we know of something that perhaps we have never experienced?
I think about the moment in the middle of a prayer where I feel my soul surging with something so big that the language I have cannot name it, and how my eyelids shudder, as if they are unable to contain the magnitude of emotion and how there is so much, and then all at once, how smoothly it gets absorbed back into me and then just when the prayer ends I take a deep breath and the silence, that perfect silence of reception, is probably the closest to peace I will ever know in this lifetime.
I think of all the people who have lost their lives fighting for peace, I think about people who lose their lives trying to run away from peace, because with peace comes space which can be a lonely and isolating home to visit with your hollow self and your too-big heart.
I think about how sometimes my mind is the most peaceful when it is miles away from the present, like now.
Where I live now, I hear birdsong like I’ve never heard before. The birds engage in the most riotous conversation. The joy is abundant. Here, I am quick to use the word joy, to express my vulnerability when I say that when I hear the birds sing, I feel alive. I want to cry. I am reminded of a life and an existence that is bigger than mine.
On particularly exuberant days, I whistle back to the birds. We converse gaily about living.
The sun shines brightly on my brown, brown skin.
Arathi Devandran curates personal experiences, snapshots of the world and the stories people are willing to share with her through prose and poetry www.miffalicious.com
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