Yesterday I was rummaging around my closet, looking for something, but I didn’t find it. I did find an old art project I’d done in high school, more than fifty years ago. The assignment was to choose a short phrase, a meaningful phrase, and to write it artistically using pen and ink. We were not taught standard calligraphic shapes, but we were tasked with creating our own shapely letters, and then embellishing them with squiggles and curlicues.
I chose, “To thine own self be true,” a famous phrase originally from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I never read Shakespeare, but I loved the phrase and my resulting poster, and I saved it all these years, intending to frame it. It’s become yellowed, stained and frayed at the edges, but when I found it yesterday and admired it yet again, I decided to finally put it into a frame. Why did I wait fifty years to do so?
Well, during most of my adult life, I had not been true to myself. Even now, five years into retirement, I have not been true to myself, though I always thought that retirement would give me the circumstances I needed to develop the talents and interests I had to leave dormant during all my working years. In fact, even in retirement, while I do now have the time and support and no impediments to doing anything, I have not been true to myself. I suppose I’ve become so entrenched in putting myself aside, in stuffing myself into the corners of my daily life rather than climbing onto central stage, that I’ve become too comfortable in ignoring my writing, forgetting my Arabic, drifting away from my Italian, turning away from my photography, postponing the repair of my sewing machine, and even giving up my intention to ride horses again.
Finding that poster yesterday, with its ever wise advice to be true to myself, I realized that I don’t have much time left. I’m approaching the end of my life. At the age of seventy-one, how many more productive years can I expect, provided I remain in good health? Ten? Twenty? So many years are now behind me, and if I do not steer myself closer to the truth of myself, and if I do not do so now, today, then when? Shall I give up altogether, and sit comfortably, with a cup of coffee and a piece of cake, entertaining myself with my knitting and my binge-watching of Turkish films? The prospect does not fill me with dread. I feel no shame in embracing a retirement of quiet indulgence. Could this scene reflect a new authenticity? I think not– not yet.
The title of this blog, Return to Riyadh, holds the meaning of returning to the life I lived in Riyadh, the life of self-fulfillment, if not by the literal return to Riyadh, then by the return to living as authentically as I did while in Riyadh. Practically, this means the return to Islam, to the extent I am capable, and the return to the study of Arabic, Islam, and the Qur’an. It also means claiming my strengths, honoring my artistic accomplishments rather than simply reminiscing about them. I’ve let these subjects lay fallow for years, but if I will be true to myself, then I must return now, and I must find practical ways to do so.