Silence. And then some sobs. She didn’t mean to. He didn’t mean it. They never meant for it to be this way. He is angry. She cries. They hold hands, they try. Every apology begins well. And then they excuse themselves with good intentions. The consequence is laid bare at their feet, but it’s okay, they didn’t MEAN to hurt you. They didn’t mean to ruin everything. It happened. It was out of their control. But remember, they mean well. They care. They will hold you tight and they will impress their good intentions on you. They will murmur words of consolation until you sigh. Because how can we possibly know what their intentions were?
Intentions. Always be aware of your intentions. Parting words from my father when we were in Cambridge. He does this, accompanying his kids on their first trip to a new city, helping them set up their new lives away from him. Maybe it’s his way of reassuring himself that we are still his, whatever the distance. We were having hotel breakfast. Buttered croissants, orange juice, weak tea. This was a ritual we were both getting used to, what with it being the third time around. It was raining heavily. And Cambridge in January made my bones hurt. The first time, he gave me a lot of practical advice on staying safe. And made sure I saved all his local friends’ numbers on my phone. The second time, he assured me I’ll never be alone. I’ll have him and mama. I’ll have Raiyan and Rasha. I’ll always have Allah. The third time he said, think about your intentions before you act. Think about why you want to do something before you do it. Be honest with yourself.
I have found this last bit of advice to be the most self-actualising, a tipping point, a moment which changed the way I live. We know that every action has a reaction. But every action also has an intention. Every word I speak has a reason behind its utterance. And it’s up to me to take the time to understand these reasons, my intentions. Because they exist without knowledge and sometimes we live our whole lives not knowing why we do the things we do. And isn’t it scary? To not know yourself. To be locked away in a room, hurting, aching, lachrymose. And not knowing how to heal yourself. To forever stay broken.
I recently read a line by Jean-Paul Sartre about how if you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company. It made me think about how we invest our time in getting to know others but not so much ourselves. Don’t you think though, that if we did, it could save us a lot time and heartache? It could save us from attaching ourselves to the wrong people, actions and passion. It could save us the horrible feeling of aloneness amidst a crowd. Like they say, you need to know how your heart sounds if you want to understand what it’s saying.
The first time I left home, my father taught me to be aware of others around me. The second time, he explained that I’ll never be alone. The third time, he taught me how to survive on my own. I’m very interested in the concept of envy and why we live in a world where we are all pulling each other down. Being aware of my intentions meant I was thinking of other people’s intentions as well. This helped me understand that those who care for me will criticise me where necessary (thanks ma!). And it’s in my best interest to take their advice. But those who envy me will criticise me the moment they think they have found a weak spot. And the best I can do in this situation is take a step back from them and try to understand their motives.
I knew a girl once. She contacted me through my blog, told me how amazing my writing is, how much she admires my thoughts. She spoke in detail about how I’ve changed her life and how much she loves my work. She put me on a pedestal and showered me with adulations. I took it all in and I smiled. I’m very self-aware of my talents. I read a lot of great authors and I know where I stand in terms of good writing. I have a long way to go but that’s not to say I’m not enjoying the ride. I thanked her for her kindness and I told her as much. She insisted. I gave in. We met. We spoke. We got to know each other. And soon her compliments started getting back-handed. She pointed out faults in my writing and how I wasn’t doing justice to my ‘talent’. She wanted to dictate what I wrote about and suddenly my work just wasn’t good enough.
We allow others to come into our lives and tamper with our measurement of self-worth. We make it very easy for people to flatter us. We start to believe them and soon we need their constant approval to feel better about ourselves. And some people like to be the ones who hold that power over others. When we spend time getting to know ourselves, we know where we stand. And we know that we won’t fall just because one person changed their view about us. Because I have taken the time to get to know myself, I know where I stand and I also know when to walk away. And sometimes that’s the best we can do. When my father told me to be aware of my intentions, he made me aware of my existence. He forced me to think of myself as a person before anything else. I was Zeba even before I was his daughter. And that has really helped me stay grounded. Wherever I go, whatever I do, I’ll always be me and that’s my only truth. And when you know that, no one can come in your life and tell you otherwise.
Unlike Thoreau, we don’t have to live in the woods to live deliberately. I understand why he felt the need to flee, but I did rather stay put, I am staying put for the people who matter. We spend so much of our time thinking about the people who hurt us, that we forget about those who have stayed with us. Because for every person who pulls us down, there are those who encourage us. Who see the potential. Who smile when we achieve and who gracefully step back when we are ready. And it’s only polite to give back what we have received. But how can we know what to give back if we don’t know what we have had? And the thing about intentions (unlike actions) is that only we know what we are accountable for.