I flourished around deep connections and like some psychological ‘excavation’, I tried to understand people’s deepest aspirations, fears and insecurities. It was no gambit, just pure intrigue.
Though my love to connect with others was a great part of who I was, I loved solitude. Growing up I would watch Barney, America’s most favourite purple dinosaur in our spacious home. I liked to feed myself, entertain guests and dance cheekily on the dance floor while my mum would sneak in a giggle. She never dimmed my light but just let me be. She was a skilled sower, singer, a Diana look-alike I would always tell her, and she dressed me up in cute white dresses to matching bonnets. Menfolk would courtesy to the beaming baby with ocean blue eyes, to which my mum would proudly and congenially say, she’s mine. Now one would assume she became overly protective in an unhealthy way, the type you’d expect to find in a Middle Eastern home, but this was far from the truth. Despite her deep love for me, she never took an obsessive or overprotective role.
I wasn’t wrapped up too warmly in the winter, and that meant my body learned to acclimatise to any weather in any country very early on. I ate whatever, whenever and wherever, even if it had accidently fallen on the floor, and which overtime served me well. I was already building a strong immune system, like it was preparing itself for the outbreak of a deadly, sinister virus decades later. Call it primitive – for me, it was a little girl casting in Running wild with Bear Grylls, always in “survival mode” and like a ripple effect over time, my mother’s style meant I was better equipped for what the future had in store for me.
Later, over the years, my parents got used to the chameleon vanishing between four walls. Whilst I enjoyed partaking in solo play rehearsals enacting Miss Honey from Matilda, I was always immersing in great fiction or sketching away. Sounds serene? Well this wasn’t always the case. When I was only 5, I was eagerly trying to get my father’s attention. After, a third, and final attempt, I agitatedly gave it a shot. ‘Na’am Haneen (yes, Haneen)’, my father replies. To his surprise, I come in with a full force slap across his face. I was only five, but it was the first time I understood what it felt to be ignored and not listened to. It was a memorable moment for my father, and understandably so. Not for the pain; I was no Tyson Fury. But rather, what the reaction translated into at the time. It was a learning curve of course, but eventually, my father was attentive to the subtleties of my feelings and every unspoken word. Like deciphering a code, every gesture was meaningful to him and he made every effort to understand it way before the flowers turned to thorns, and my dormant feelings became a storm of repressive rage. He acknowledged later that while I honoured my space, I longed for his attention. A child who exhausted her daily dose of energy to then go for the best part and coil away in his warmest embrace.
The benefits continued, as my long hours of solitary carved my way through university. I learned focus and resilience, sitting in a library for hours on end, engaging with every critic on post-colonial literature or postmodernism. I challenged ruthlessly, critiqued relentlessly and brought my ideas forward in seminars with sheer conviction, to which people took notes. I knew early on, what I needed during my alone time was to recuperate, grow and become. I started yoga early on and gave myself the opportunity to come out with a clear mind for my next essay topic and dissertation direction.
But still, the “wrong kind” creeped in – the narcissists, ultra-conservatives, obsessive, control freaks, arrogant and glums. Those connections were nevertheless important, teaching me oil and water couldn’t mix. In the same way interactions couldn’t be forced. By identifying the traits of others, I learned about what got me repelling and what got me gravitating.
Ultimately, I knew my gentle petals deserved to enclose every now and then, and that my heart was not available for grabs. In the words of Gibran Khalil Gibran’s poem, On marriage:
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow
not in each other’s shadow.
This formed a basic principle to all my relationships, to stay close, but not too close – lest it rendered pain. To love others for the craft they bought, but not too much. To respond to life’s blessings and to retort proactively to life’s flux. Thankfully, my only constancy midst the anarchy, was my commitment to my dreams and a faith in a higher power. My family’s gentle reminders of valuing myself, and understanding my self-worth continued to etch my journey to maturity. It meant my lows were never too low, and my angst were never self-destructive, to say the least.
Committing to a goal was probably one of life’s most fulfilling and rewarding experiences. I learned in all the fragments and broken pieces that only I could make myself feel whole again, and so I fell in love with falling in love with me. I started learning about myself in all my intricate forms and layers, and in learning about myself, I navigated a better understanding of others, and the world around me. Had I have been selfishly interrupted whilst I was dedicating my long hours to close reading, I would not have reaffirmed my love for English. Had I have not taken the time to find my hobbies, I would not have had an outlet when I needed it most. Had I have let my exes emotionally blackmail me whilst losing myself to their allures, I would not have continued to excel in my path. Alas, my raised standards eliminated many people, but that was okay for me.
Today, I navigate my deep connections with people by problem solving and communicating proficiently in my business. My clients fumble and twine in their words, but they find themselves again whilst I sit back and smile at their psychological voyage. The same smile my mother gave me in my early years after each one of my stumbles and twiddles. There was no secret to letting people fulfil their true potential, but to simply avoid clouding, interrupting, judging and scolding them; leaving to exist in their own worlds while staying in close proximity for any hazardous free falls.
By demanding space, I had always subconsciously reinforced to others that I was an entity of my own, and like any entity, it must be revered and respected, never rudely handled. In the fragility of life and unexpectedness, I continued to retreat, write, and heal. It was not a hobby, but a cleansing ritual and one that I taught people to do. Abraham Lincoln and Obama even did it. They would write “hot letters” when they were most angry as a result of an individual or situation, and by that they would allow themselves the catharsis. Once this unproductive emotion was released, they would either burn or file it away, but under no circumstances would they ever send it to the person. The closure, clarity and composure would find after would translate into better leadership, equanimity and ultimately, stronger political engagement. Not relevant to you? Hold your buckles as for us mediocre people something magical happens once you do this. You learn to set your mind, heart and soul free and navigate around others gracefully, and never grudgingly.
And amongst the plenty of lessons I learnt was that my heart was no ‘shaft’ – it was a fortress, built over the years of solitary hours, carved with the branches of self-love, conviction and most importantly, respect. I learned I was a lone warrior who avoided letting many in, for I knew that fortresses built on blood, sweat and tears avoided wanderers easily coming in. Instead, I focused on becoming – accompanied or alone; it neither mattered and nor it should, for people who understand their self-worth can always count on themselves to be whole.