Monday, March 11, 2013

In Istanbul...taking away the fear

In a reflective mood, I flew into Istanbul four days ago for a ten day intense burst of project work on my own. Major responsibility, pretty much all on my shoulders. Nothing new in that...it's my job.

Here I am again, I thought. Challenging myself. If I'm not scared, it seems - if I'm not pushing myself to the limit of what I can bear - then maybe I feel like a failure, a coward.

I take apart my fear sometimes. I know its origin. I am frightened of weakness more than I am of the hurdles I set myself. Indeed I create those hurdles to keep the fear at bay. And that perhaps comes from living a life which looking back now feels uncomfortably characterised by weakness.  I didn't have the courage to face up to the reality of my inner knowledge for decades. As the years went by I buried the knowledge as best I could, and as others came to rely on me more and more, there were more and more reasons to not deal with it. I thought I was doing the right thing. To start with I thought I could hold out, then began to realise I could not. I think I despised myself, from then on, and I live with that legacy now. Indeed I am terrified of feeling it again.

So have responded to that memory with what I can only guess is some kind of personal courage. I say this not in any way to eulogise myself in any way - it's a coping mechanism, a way of trying to drive away the fear in a constant game of chicken with it. Perhaps there's a more a pig headed objective there too - of defeating the fear, defeating the weakness? My life as a war, something that feels familiar? But it means I live a life which feels like a constant struggle between two competing instincts at total odds with each other. I often feel like an exhausted, shell cratered battlefield. The more frightened I feel of what lies ahead of me, the more I must turn on the taps of courage to beat the fear back. I don't do weakness. I have no-one - at all - to be weak to. No-one whose strength I can lean on. For many with my background - cut out of family life, made to move away - that's how it goes.

I struggle to find ways to replenish the energy I need. The more so now that the job in which I - a woman, and a transgender one at that - have worked so hard to prove myself has now elevated another notch in stress and demands on me. As that stress rises, I am ramping up my attempts to face it down, ever bolder. It's what I do. More challenge equals more effort. But will that work? I have been through one monumental collapse of my bulwark against the things I couldn't face already. It was like the engines cutting out mid flight - no fun whatsoever.

I guess the guts I use to get through the day - to do things that maybe you'd never give a second thought to - do have their uses. Today, I was in the Blue Mosque, with all the tourists. I was shoeless and in a headscarf and as I spent time standing and watching, I noticed the small sections cordoned at the back for women to pray.  I joined the women there, after a few minutes of deliberation (me, a Non Muslim, and with my backstory?). But I did it. Wanted to know how it would feel for me. So I knelt down with them. One woman, a young mum with a young baby, smiled at me. I was quiet and prayed with them.

Islam may call him Allah, but he's my God too, I thought.  As I quietly asked him to take my fear away it felt right to be amongst women, in a place only for women, a place where something bigger was in charge.

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