Fire Roosters and Epictetus

Dear world,

It’s February 2nd, the year of the Fire Rooster.

According to the Chinese zodiac, this means it is “(my) year, but it usually means conflicts.”

I’m not superstitious. I believe everybody walks their own paths and chooses their own detours. I think we are all wandering this planet, both alone and together on our journeys through life.

But sometimes I find myself slamming into the weight of this world and coming face to face with all its untimely coincidences. Sometimes I feel as though I have run, headlong, into a metaphorical cement wall. Sometimes I wish I could find comfort in words of fortune and warnings about the future.

I wrote yesterday that I am astounded by life, every moment.

About a year ago, I spent a day in the underbellies of Canada’s largest city, capturing candid shots of commuters and posing in the places where public telephones once stood, relics of our past.

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Three years ago I spent the evening with a friend, watching Life of Pi and eating Ethiopian food.

Before that, I attended a cat christening at a cozy little Ottawa apartment, dubbed the “Lady Palace.”

I have lived in “gypsy dens” and a century-old house named Pablo. I’ve stayed the night in a castle in Salzburg and eaten home-cooked ugali while sitting cross legged in Kigali.

I moved across the country when I was barely 18. I’ve lived with sex-bloggers, small-town-girls and devout Christians. When I was only 20 years old, I found a place in Centretown and moved in with my Albanian-born boyfriend.

And now, abruptly, I am home…with my parents.

And the view of the ocean and Vancouver skyline is breathtaking, but I can’t call these rooms my own.

This is not where I thought I would find myself at 23, ringing in the Lunar New Year and looking at the heavens in case there is some small sign up above.

I’m on leave from work, trying to fill my time with yoga and running and coffee and dinner dates, trying to avoid turning on Netflix and binge watching from beneath my blankets.

And I’ve come so far. Three months ago I could barely function. I was unable to speak, unwilling to eat, and trapped within my own mind.

My doctors say I’m progressing faster than they could have predicted. My parents say they can’t believe how I’ve improved. Dario tells me the whole episode — our temporary North Vancouver apartment, my dramatic illness — feels like a dream looking back.

So really I shouldn’t shoulder this pressure to be better. But sometimes it’s difficult to see the small miracles of my recovery.

As proud as I am of them, sometimes I can’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy when I hear about how successful my friends, colleagues and former classmates are at their new careers, how they’re leading clubs at school, preparing for graduation, organizing events and protests, working towards promotions, landing job interviews or editing gigs, getting stories published. Sometimes, I can’t help but feel down when I receive an unplanned phone call and there is unexpected and unwanted news on the other line.

It’s petty, but my thoughts remain imperfect, even as the swelling in my brain goes down.

On Sunday evening I went to a 6:30 p.m. Yin yoga class and between poses the instructor, a silver-haired woman named Andee, told the story of Epictetus.

According to her simplified biography, Epictetus was born in 55 A.D. Originally a Roman slave, he also suffered from some type of unidentified physical disability. Despite these obstacles, Epictetus gained his freedom later in life, and eventually moved to Greece to teach philosophy.

There, he imparted his wisdom on some of the era’s greatest thinkers, espousing his view that we cannot control the external world, but that, with deliberate thought, we can control our own actions and way of thinking.

“(He taught that) judgment is the source of all negativity,” Andee said, before encouraging us to take a few more inhales and exhales and shift to a different position.

After weeks of distressing politics, massacres on holy grounds and my own ongoing struggle to regain myself, the words seemed significant.

It is “(my) year, but that usually means conflicts.”

May I have the strength to breathe deeply and stretch my body, my mind and my soul a little further.

Love,
Emily

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