Returning to Istanbul

I am back in Istanbul and it feels so right to be here, at the epicenter of my greatest joy and my greatest pain. Getting here was not easy. It took two panic attacks at the airport in Amsterdam, an excruciatingly lonely flight, two hours of holding back tears in an endless line at passport control and finally walking out after customs, his face missing from the crowd at arrivals. I knew he wouldn’t be there, why would he be there? Still, I hoped.

I think I’m almost done hoping. Almost. Today I went to therapy. I’ve been so mad at the universe for doing this, but I have finally given in. I asked for one thing only. “If you are insisting that I take this shitty road, at least clear out some of the thorny branches ahead. Make it easier for me to walk. You can start by sending me to a therapist that will actually help me.“ And I think I was heard.

I have figured out so much about myself these last three weeks and I have never worked this hard for anything. I needed to show a stranger who I am, or rather the things that I have done or have been done to me that I thought were who I am. I needed to have the courage to ask someone who isn’t my friend or my family to see me. I want to be seen so badly, but I have been so afraid of being unacceptable. Today my therapist saw a glimpse of the worst and the best of what I carry, and she looked back with compassion, not judgement. And somehow that brief exchange, felt like getting the next number of a code that opens the lock. I hadn’t mentioned any of my pilgrimages and my obsession with walking. I came into her office today and said I need you to help me learn to suffer. She listened and then she offered up this, “Maybe what you need is someone to walk beside you through the suffering so that you’re not alone anymore.”

I am home and I am safe.  This city, as my friend Katie said yesterday “requires a blood sacrifice,” but it gives back so much if you can stand the suffering just a little bit longer than you thought you could. If you surrender to it just a little bit more generously than you want to.

I feared that losing him meant losing everything that I love. And it finally doesn’t feel like that. I saw a friend the other night for the first time since this happened and I was scared of how he would be around me. What if he was uncomfortable and distant? They were friends first, they work together, and because they are Syrian they share a loss that I will never be able to feel, no matter how much I try. How could I not be edged out? But he held my hand and asked me why I had to go to Amsterdam to be with family, when my family is here too. “We need you. We’re Syrian, think of what we’ve lost already- we can’t lose you too.”  I am home and I am safe.

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