Everything Falls Apart
Friend: “That’s it!”
Me: “What’s it?”
Friend: “Everything falls apart, that’s the title of your blog post.”
Me (shaking my head): “…because it always falls apart in the Middle East.”
I had just been giving a friend a rundown of my work in the Middle East. Actually, it was a rundown of disappointments and failures, of plans falling through. Something like this--
-Evacuated after living in the Middle East for just 3 months during the 2006 war in Beirut.
- 6 months of exiled living while waiting for residency papers to go through.
- Reoccurrence of cancer, causing me to head back to the US for surgery. Not sure if I can blame that on the Middle East but it’s a dang good example of a heartbreaking personal event.
-Created new platform in Beirut after realizing I couldn’t continue in my current role.
-Mugged. Yes, I got mugged in Beirut. Not fun.
-Returned back to the US with my tail between my legs after a tumultuous 4 years, heartbroken, traumatized, and feeling like a failure.
-The 2014 incident at the King Hussein Bridge where I was denied entry and returned back to Jordan.
-Informed 3 months later I had received a 10-year ban from entering the state of Israel, therefore banning me from serving Palestinian refugees in the West Bank.
-Returned last year to film a trailer, only to have the project fall apart in the first 3 days but then come together, only to continually fall apart and come together again for the next three months.
-Canceled my trip in September because I needed a major surgery (again, not sure if that counts but let’s throw it in for good measure).
Those are the “big” incidences, the major disappointments. But life in the Middle East is a daily, minute by minute falling apart of plans…well, everything and learning how to adjust. I felt over the past 13 years I have died a thousand little deaths. Only to have a thousand and one resurrections.
The Middle East is a good teacher, a relentless one at that. It’s taught me the art of being malleable, of being able to stand on shifting plates and keep balance. I’m not saying I enjoy it or don’t lose footing but I am learning to be malleable. This isn’t just a survival skill; it’s really how to thrive in the midst of chaos.
The shifting plates is not only how I live in the Middle East, it’s a principle for work. You must plan out projects on those shifting plates you’re standing on. That’s why projects I am involved with in the Middle East continue to morph; they must meet the ever-changing need. And the Middle East is always changing, not just the needs. I have learned that I must continue to be flexible and adapt to the moment. Because as I have found out, more than likely my plans fall apart and I need to start over again.
The constant through all of the movement and change is relationship. It’s why I base everything on relationship. The Middle East, as I said, is a good teacher. One of the most important things I have learned from Middle Easterners is the importance of relationship. They place the importance of relationship over all things, tasks, time, organization—all of it plays second fiddle to the person sitting in front of you. In many ways, it goes against my nature, it goes against my culture. We value tasks and time over everything. And if I am honest, I value “getting stuff done” over everything. I like to get stuff done, I like to accomplish goals, and I place a lot of my own value in “getting it done.”
The redemption, I have often found, is through relationships. I am grateful for my Arab (Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian, Muslim, Christian) friends because as much as plans fall apart, relationships form through failure into something beautiful. Life lesson alert—beauty comes from the ashes and in my experience it’s always because of friendships. Not necessarily that projects are amazing and change lives in the Middle East (although, that is still the goal, the “getting it done” identity dies hard) but that genuine bonds form. People who couldn’t be more different join together to help communities in need in impossible circumstances.
This doesn’t take away just how painful failure or broken dreams are but if you give it enough time and rely on healthy, solid, reciprocal relationships, beauty seems to be inevitable. And maybe, that’s the whole point.
So, once again I leave for the Middle East with hope in my heart, plans in my head, and excitement to see friends once again. And I tell you this with a sly glint in my eye, I am so excited about the projects I have planned and I cannot wait to see how they transform.
I’ve asked my good friend, Phyllis (my favorite potter and spiritual guru) to talk about her work as a potter.
“On good days the relationship between potter and clay is like a perfectly choreographed dance. On other days, well, as my teacher says, ‘it's time to give it up and clean the studio instead.’ So many things can go wrong. Any sudden move can throw the piece off center. Pulling the clay too thin in spots can cause the pot to warp before it's formed. Spinning the wheel too fast or too slow, using too much (or not enough) water, exerting too much force (or not enough) can significantly interfere with the vessel I had in mind.
Most of the time a pot will collapse due to some unforeseen violation of the laws of physics. Often the pot will slump, or wobble, or tear off in my hands due to a thin spot.
Some days the whole process just kicks my butt, and I give it up and go home.
But I always come back. I come back because I love the dance. I love the relationship I have with the clay, and the pure tactile joy I find, being at the wheel.
But most of all I love the idea that - sometimes - something beautiful can emerge from a big lump of mud.”
And I love that idea - sometimes- something beautiful can emerge from everything falling apart.
That’s why I keep coming back.