The Art of Wabi-Sabi (or Things You Will Learn Later in your Life)

wabi sabi small_Fotor

You are 37 when you first fall in love – properly, passionately, the way you dreamed of when you scribbled furiously in your teenage notebooks and that has eluded you until precisely this moment in a dusty Cairo hotel. It is not love at first sight and there is no Hollywood meet-cute, but there is a touching of souls, as Joni Mitchell once sang, that reverberates long after you meet him.

Months later, you leave everything you know and traverse continents to go back to him and a new life in the city he has bequeathed you. Over the next three years, you learn that Great Loves can be irrational and painful, full of terrible highs and soaring lows, that passion is overrated, and it is never good, as someone once told you, to love another person more than you love yourself. One day, you wake up and realise that love is not enough.

Love, in fact, is never enough.

 

You are 28 when you experience death – sudden, tragic, wrenching – for the first time. On a bright summer’s day in your office in London, you get a call from a policeman who tells you that your oldest sister, who has been missing for months, has been found dead in a car park overlooking the Cornish coast. You drop everything and run out for shelter in a Soho doorway, watching the world continue to turn as yours changes forever.

Late that night, you make the five-hour drive down to a Cornish hospital with your mother and sister to identify her, in the tiny chapel where they have laid out her body, and receive a crash course in pain, the finality of death, and the meaning of loss. You discover what it’s like to grieve under a terrible litany of shoulda/woulda/couldas and what ifs that spin endlessly into a vortex and threaten to suck you into the darkness.

For a long time after, you dream that she is with you – at a gathering or a party or at home. She gets up to go, as she always does, and you urge her to stay – over and over again. She never listens.

 

(You are 14 the first time a boy calls you beautiful. Late one summer night, by the swings in Oakmere Park, where you have gone with a friend for a walk. He whispers into your ear urgently and you smile in a way that suggests you’re used to such things. Inside you know that tomorrow you will put on your ugly school uniform and go back to normal life.)

 

You are 5 years and six months old when your parents take you and your sisters from your home in England and deposit you in a Catholic boarding school in a South Indian hill station – once the summer retreat of the colonial English. You do not realise it then but you will be ensconced there for the next seven years, only flying back home to England for the winter and summer holidays.

Twice a year for the next seven years, you will dread the long tunnel at the entrance to Heathrow airport, which you will always associate with your mother’s sobs as she tries to say goodbye. When you get to the school in the Indian hill station, you will cry into your pillow quietly for three nights as great waves of homesickness and guilt and regret consume you, until one morning you wake up and the strange boarding school has become your home again.

You will also cry each time you leave the school to go home for the holidays.

 

You are 33 – the age your sister was when she died (and Jesus) – an age you secretly thought you would never reach because you thought you had been cursed to die too, like the heroine of some morbid fairytale. You have spent the last five years caring less and less about your life, drinking too much, partying more recklessly, haunting crowded bars and clubs, indulging in careless flings and desperate love affairs, going through the motions in a career you hate more and more.

On your 33rd birthday, you leave the job, end the last relationship, and clear out your cupboards. At some point during this year, you will embark on a new career as a journalist, which you will embrace like it is your calling. For the first time in your life, you are proud of what you do.

 

You are 12 when your mother takes you out of your boarding school and puts you in a school near your home in England. You don’t know it then but she has begged the headmaster to let you in, even though he knows nothing about you – a strange Indian child in his very English school. He puts you in the bottom class of your year, with kids who already know they’re destined for hours of woodworking lessons and dreary home ec classes.

You realise for the first time that you look different from your classmates, who also seem strange to you in their overwhelming whiteness and brash confidence and determination to break the rules. Being around boys for the first time makes you self-conscious. You get called a Paki on your way home by two awkward boys from the other school in the neighbourhood, on the other side of town. You don’t know who’s more embarrassed. The next term, you’re moved up to the top set and a different world.

 

You are 39, four months from your 40th birthday, when you watch your father take his last racking breath in a quiet hospice bed in a North London suburb. He has been diagnosed with a brain tumour almost exactly two months earlier. You fly back home to England from Cairo when your sister tells you this, steeling yourself for your entry into the darkness once more.

Unlike your sister’s passing, however, your father’s death offers a chance at redemption. Your relationship with him has long been strained but you visit him twice a day, feed him, sit with him and try somehow to transmit all the love you can muster when you hold his hand. He cannot speak but his eyes follow you around the room as you move and you hope that, somewhere inside, he recognises that he is not alone.

After he dies, you feel an overwhelming urge to have a child – a primal call, you think, to complete the circle of life. It doesn’t happen.

 

You are 42 and in a committed relationship for the first time in your life. You, who have always fled commitment and run headlong into the arms of men incapable of giving it to you, are bowled over now by the sweetness of love and how it doesn’t have to hurt or feel like you’re jumping into the darkness without a safety net and how you can love from a place of strength without losing parts of yourself, rather than going into battle and coming out with the scars.

You learn what it’s like to love and be loved unconditionally, when you’re PMS’ing and grouchy, on your fat days and bad hair days, and the days when you’re tired and vulnerable and don’t want to get out of bed. You understand for the first time what it is to seek shelter in another’s arms, and that it is possible to trust, that what feels like the end often isn’t, and that everything is possible if you take a leap of faith.

 

You are 45 when you start writing again, properly. By now, you have given up much in your life – sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, careless love affairs with careless men. You try to eat well, exercise regularly, dabble in meditation and yoga to calm the restless soul. Sometimes you miss the old you, the sense of freedom, the open roads, the unpredictability and terrible glamour of a life less lived.

But by and large you think – and hope – this:

Slowly, very slowly, you are coming home.

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396 thoughts on “The Art of Wabi-Sabi (or Things You Will Learn Later in your Life)

  1. Wow. I felt myself reading this as if it were me at times, going through these exact experiences with feelings to match. You confirm for me that no matter how different our upbringing, there are core, archetypal experiences that connect us all. This is beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to create such a well written piece. #heartstringstugged #amazingwriters #onestowatch #beautiful #brilliant

    • Thank you so much. I’ve been surprised at how much something so personal has resonated – good to know somehow. Take care and all best.

    • Have you thought of turning this into a novel? I think it would work brilliantly in the time sequence you’ve got here. Would love to read more about all of these experiences. Great work.

      • Thank you Paula – I hadn’t thought of that actually but it’s an interesting idea. If I ever get the time, I may work on it. Many thanks for the kind words.

  2. This is awesome. Love one and each story and I find myself some how in some of the ages! Wow! You made my imagination blow

  3. You know… We worry about our future for no reason. Who knew as the 28 yr old, who was running around with her mom and sister to identify her eldest siblings dead body, that one day she will find peace… In writing! As the 12yr old new kid in the block in England, who had thought that she would have the same strange feelings of loneliness after her father leaves her. Who could have tell that there’ll be true love waiting at the end of these multiple ruining relationships! Life is about Now. Planning is one thing… But presuming a dark future or worrying about life ahead has always been more destructive than preparatory.

    Your writing evoked a wonderful perspective on life. hope you churn many such wonderful pieces of art till the of life as you know it.

    Cheers.

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  6. Wow! Powerful stuff. I found myself identifying with a lot of it. I’ve not read anything written like this before and I’m intrigued by your writing!

  7. Dammit! You will make many people cry; retracing the footsteps of life. Life is an irony replete with peaks and valleys.

    This reminds me of a time when I lost a favourite aunt. Darkness, at the time; became my best refuge as I was left begging that night should go on and keep going forever. But hey, the sun has a mind of its own, it rises no matter our circumstances. In life you fall, you stumble, you trip but what matters is that to keep your sanity, you have to dust yourself off and face the light that the sun brings along with it, shining exposingly on your miseries, sorrows, secrets and so forth.

    This was beautiful yet emotionally provocative reading.

    Thank you for this.

    • Thank you so much. And yes, life goes on regardless – I’ve found that I’m very grateful for the aging process, by and large, and all the things you learn along the way. take care and all best.

      • Happy new year to you, Sunnyrap.
        I have re-read your masterpiece, The Art of Wabi-Sabi this morning and I found it, just like the first time, very much a beautiful piece of writing.
        I have shared it on my Facebook page.

  8. Pingback: The art of Wabi-Sabi (or things you will learn later in your life) | callmeklowii

  9. I found myself emotionally touched and intellectually fascinated by this post. Laying bare such difficult episodes feels very courageous and moving, while I find my mind wondering why the jumping timeline and why the second person voice?

    • Hello – this piece wasn’t planned in any real sense – it was an accumulation of things I’ve thought for a while and happened to come out when I started focusing on writing again. The second person voice just seemed to make sense – it allows you that vital sense of distance perhaps and the jumping timeline also occured quite naturally – our memories are rarely linear in real life so I was unconciously mimicking that, I think.

  10. Thank you so much to all of you for your comments – they’re much appreciated, and I’m very touched that such a personal piece has resonated so strongly. Many thanks again. x

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    • You probably hear this a lot but you have your whole life ahead of you. I was a terribly angst-ridden teen but – in case you’re struggling – it does get better and things do start to make sense : ) take care and all best.

  12. Sometimes it seems as though life is but a collection of memorable moments. Those moments mold and shape us. Some are good and some no so, but they are ours. Thank you for sharing some of your moments. God bless.

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  15. But so you still do black coffee and cigarettes? I’m just looking at the blog title after reading and it cracked me up… in a good way.

    Have a Wabi Sabi day! Home is your heart. You’re there. 🙂

    • Thank you – I gave up smoking about three years ago though I still love my coffee – just not black. I’m keeping the title in homage though 🙂

    • Thank you Carmel. The age that a loved one dies is foreever imprinted in your brain so I was always struck by that detail about Jesus. I also see 33 as the age of transformation though – probably because of my own experiences. Happy birthday in advance to you anyway – all the very best!

  16. Thank you for your beautiful words and memories and wisdom. It filled me with a certain kind of humility knowing that we cannot know what the future will bring– but that that needn’t be a bad thing. Quite the opposite.

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  18. I began reading this and after a few sentences, witnessed time stand still. That is the mark of phenomenal writing. That is the mark of an exquisite gift being shared around the world from your pen to our hearts and minds. Thank you for this breathtaking, beautiful, pain-filled, freeing piece. Wow.

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  22. This was a very personal and affecting piece of writing. I guess we all have key points in our lives that have taught us something, even in a life as humdrum as mine. By the way, I’m impressed by how much you gave up at the age of 45. I never took to cigarettes or careless love affairs with careless men, so those wouldn’t be a problem, and I don’t care much about alcohol one way or the other, but I don’t think I’d ever be able to give up sugar. The thought is just too terrible to contemplate.

    • lol. I’m a never-say-never person generally and I also think, each to their own. I needed to give up sugar because it was such a trigger food for me – I still have something sweet occasionally but I turn to it much less than I did, especially after giving up the cigarettes. I do also have a drink occasionally too – i just enjoy it less without a cigarette in my hand. haven’t had a cigarette since I gave up though- don’t trust myself. am just in a different phase of my life now, but I’ve also learned that not everything is linear and it could all change. do what makes you happy and keeps you sane and gives you some measure of inner peace – that’s what I aim for 🙂

      • I admire that you’ve worked out an approach to your life that works for you. I also like your philosophy about aiming for a degree of inner peace.

        It’s great, by the way, that you’ve managed to get off cigarettes. I don’t smoke myself, but growing up my grandmother and I were the only one of my extended family who didn’t. Even my younger brother smoked.

        Over the years, a number of my relatives have successfully given up, but it always took effort, especially at the beginning. I think a certain amount of back patting is definitely in order! 🙂

  23. Thank you, that was one of the most important relationships of my life – blogged about it here in a piece called ‘the end of the affair.’ Still miss it every now and then and as I said, I never say never, but it probably helped me transition into a calmer period of my life. keep the title of my blog in homage though : )

    • Hello Diana – good on you for starting your own blog – it looks great. Just try and keep writing – the more you do it, the more you’ll find your voice and the easier it becomes.. And most of all, read – everything that interests you and then some – it’s a wonderful way to discover more about the world and constantly improve. Good luck and all best. x

  24. I started to cry after reading this. Thank you for writing this. I’m 31 and have been married for almost 10 years. We are not doing well and I’m wondering if this is a turning point in my life. I feel like you do a lot of changing in your 20s and I think 30s will be similar and we are changing differently. I don’t think I’ve dealt with something more difficult than this and I’m glad I can read posts like this, to keep me sane.
    Thank you.

    • Hello you – so sorry to hear that. I stopped by your blog and you write very well, for what that’s worth. I was restless for a very long time and seemed to move constantly – I was always reinventing myself, I think, and there were lots of ups and downs. Getting older has been a blessing because it’s helped me understand and accept myself in my totality, if that makes sense. If you can, try and take some time out for yourself – a vacation somewhere, even a long weekend – or do something you’ve always wanted to do, to see how that makes you feel. You’re still discovering who you are and you may have some tough decisions ahead but in the long run, it helps to follow your heart and be true to yourself. As they say – it isn’t the destination but the journey. And as I always tell my younger friends, it does get better! with love – i wish you courage and strength.

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    • Thank you Martin – high praise indeed. Read – and have followed – your blog – wonderfully funny descriptive writing. Know you think this is hyperbole but the Peruvian story made me lol 🙂

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  29. I sometimes miss the “old me” and adventures that seem so far removed from my current daily rituals. At nearly 39, it’s still difficult for me to “embrace peacefully”… my rebellious spirit is buried, but still there yearning for the chaos I (mostly) avoid. I’m more at peace with who I am now as I embrace my past experiences. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your truth.

    • You’re welcome. I don’t know that our old mes ever disappear completely – like dormant volcanoes perhaps, they’re always lurking in the background. Good to know you’ve found a measure of peace though. Take care and all best.

  30. Wow. Do I know you? It made me feel as though I was reading into my own future. And similar past experiences. It also made me realize how short-lived my carefree life must be… Why I need to go do things that need to be done now.

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  32. I made my blog yesterday, and I’m still in the exploring stage. I have skimmed a few pieces, but none of them have resonated with me- this is the first thing I have read from start to finish and truly enjoyed. I’m 18 years old, and I hope that one day I can write with as much poise and power as you do! Kudos to you for writing such an inspiring piece.

  33. I love this piece. I am 19 and I start reading again. This is the best I have read yet.
    Next year, I am 20… and I become focused in life. At school, I separate from the gang, quit smoking, no alcohol… New year resolutions. I will write next year and tell how things go.
    I love your piece.
    Brilliant idea. Beautiful work.

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  35. Thank you so much to all of you again for all the lovely comments – still very touched that so many of you can relate to this very personal piece.

  36. Absolutely amazing!!!!
    Is there a chance you could give me a shoutout? :/ I’m new here and it would be great for people to get to know me more? I’d be so grateful if it’s possible, thanks for your time 🙂 !

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  39. I agree Is Awersome And the funny thing No matter How old You are You Can give or Take Love
    IT’s You choise And I se the Beuty
    In Love And I have experience in both way You Can find Your truly Love inside youself And You Can
    Love You Children Or You are blessed IF You Founf the right
    The dream of You Life Thank for share You toughts with others

  40. You are a great writer. I am a stickler for proper punctuation. Your blog is the first I’ve ever read. Forget Facebook! This is real reading material. I think I’ve found a new favourite!

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  42. very creative and inspiring. went through similar experience with the death of my mom when I was 29. It’s never something you feel ready to face no matter how old, how wise or how experienced you are. But it made us grow. Thank you for the article.

    • Emily – so sorry to hear about the death of your mum – i can’t imagine how painful that must have been. You’re right that you’re never ready – it’s something you realise all the time when you have an aging parent, as I do now. All best and take care.

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  44. Wow! This is an amazing piece. I really loved it. I was just skimming through blogs and found myself so completely and utterly absorbed in this. Beautiful concept, beautiful writing. I hope to read more of your work x

  45. Thank you so much everyone – your comments are much appreciated. Wishing all of you a warm and wonderful 2016 with some good madness and fine books, as Neil Gaiman would say, and plenty of great writing 🙂 x

  46. Pingback: The Art of Wabi-Sabi (or Things You Will Learn Later in your Life)Go to the source link, I implore you. | jeanetto

  47. I found this so helpful to read, I done a post on anxiety a while back so I can know how it can be scary to put something like this online for people to see! Well done!

  48. Pingback: The Art of Wabi-Sabi (or Things You Will Learn Later in your Life) | Anna Myers

  49. this is completely unlike anything i have ever read before and i love the voice it gives you. by saying “you” when you’re really talking about yourself allows your readers to feel a connection, i think you are very talented and have a captivating and beautiful voice. it would mean a lot for some one with so much talent to look at my blog! thank you

  50. This is such a beautiful piece – not going to lie, I actually had goosebumps when I had finished reading this. I hope everything goes well for you.

    While I’m here I might just as well mention that I’ve actually just started a food blog, just writing wee things about dining out in places in Glasgow. Things have been tough for me over the last few years but food is something that has always brought me comfort (not necessarily a good thing hahaha). Would love it if you were interested and wanted to have a look or give me a follow, it would mean a lot.

    • Thank you – I’m sure I have at least 30 years on you though so I’ve had plenty of practice : ) Well done on starting your blog – you’ve got your own lovely distinctive voice, which will get better and better as you keep going. All the very best.

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  52. I am in recovery and found this piece so, so moving. I am in the process of re-discovering myself and my talents that fulfill me and have found this process soothes and calms the soul.

    Thank you for reminding me we all have it in us.

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  57. when something is this good
    only a response of silence can suffice.

    but then you cannot see my silence, so i write to let you know how stunned i am.

    wow.

  58. Your story remind me of my entire life. I was a person passion for perfection, I disliked the place we lived in the village where I used to have a lot of fun , I ashamed by my one year older brother who always been bullied but always stand out for me, I hated my parents can not give me a better life, then all of a sudden, God seems to hear my cursed, house collapsed, brother died, parent owed a lot of debt. I still think it was a dream, as long as I can find a way to wake up.

  59. This is the longing in my heart that one day, I’ll come home too. Beautiful writing! Thank you for sharing.I lost my first love 23 years ago, been through a divorce and few relationships after.

  60. This is good, a nice discovery. You and I venture down some of the same alleyways in our writing (including wabi sabi, oddly) so perhaps we will someday turn a corner and collide.

  61. You are an amazing writer. I rarely read anyone else’s blog and can’t even stand my own, but your wabi sabi story drew me right in. I think I experienced every emotion possible in the short time it took to read it. Thank you!

  62. Very well written and riveting! I, too, love the way you structured this and the second person voice. Even though I live halfway across the world and am a West Texas gal, I could identify with so much that you shared. Thanks for sharing your story with such honest vulnerability!

  63. Beautifully written! I hope to one day write as well as you.
    I hope you don’t mind me quoting you in my (wallow) blog (not sure when I will write it yet, but I intend to). I will give you full credit.

  64. Pingback: The art of Wabi-Sabi (or things you will learn later in your life) | THE NINTH THEORY

  65. Thank you for this. I am 45 this year and I too have started to think about family who have gone ahead and where my place on earth is. An alignment of priorities and the reason for being.

  66. Thank you so much to all of you for the continued comments – every one of them is very touching – my heart goes out to those of you with similar experiences. All best and take care. x

  67. Such a touching and deep sharing!Preety much amazed with your story!please do not ever stop writing pleaseee!I am a lot inspired from your passion of writing .Lots of love from istanbul:)))

  68. Fabulous! You have an excellent flair for taking your readers on an engaging, reflective journey. I look forward to returning here again. Love how you’ve so neatly captured what it means to be human through your reflections.

  69. What a lovely post. Every woman could relate. I started coming home at age 41. And yes, part of it are yoga, meditation and writing. Thank you for sharing with us your life experiences.

  70. What a beautifully written piece of work! Thank you for sharing your painful memories and the slow home coming into yourself. (I only started “coming home” late in life and in spite of that, or maybe because of it, it is still a joyous experience.)

    • I think ‘coming home’ is often something that happens later in life, but whenever it happens, it’s a good thing. Very glad to hear of your experience – all the best for the future.

  71. Pingback: The Art of Wabi-Sabi (or Things You Will Learn Later in your Life) — Black coffee and cigarettes | Hana

  72. Brilliantly written narrative, heartfelt tale. I loved it.
    I touched my heart, enlightened my soul. Thank you for writing such a sorrowful yet hopeful article. 🙂
    May God bless you. ❤

  73. That’s a wonderful piece. Sometimes when things are falling out of place, they are usually falling in place. We are not home until our hearts decides to cherish the moments.

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