Sometimes, saying “no” to others is, in fact, saying “yes” to yourself.
The summer when I was about to turn sixteen, my family and I traveled to Greece, Turkey and Egypt. I remember resting on the sandy edge of the Suez Canal – a manmade waterway separating Africa and Asia – as my father pointed across the tranquil cobalt inlet and said, “Look, we can see Israel from here!” Not a single cargo ship in sight, one could only permit imagination dance to life upon the taciturn stillness of the Suez. To this day, one canal marks one boundary – it separates cultures defined by soulful languages – an adherence to distinctive yet mundane norms.
This was one of countless memories when we often looked up, gazed over mountain tops beyond the sky’s limits then say to each other, “I can see Kazakhstan from here!” That was from the hills in Xinjiang, China. In Cyprus, crossing the 30-meter Buffer Zone created by the United Nations peacekeeping force meant that we were categorically standing at the diplomatic intersection of the Northern Turkish and Southern Greek sides. When I study the world map, lines between countries are precisely etched to separate governmental systems, faces of God, even traditional dishes that narrate stories from ancestors who carry proud collections of spirits and heritage. If boundaries between lands can be marked ever so clearly, why is it that when it comes to our personal journeys, most of us struggle to draw the lines?
Boundaries, is the biggest life lesson I’ve acquired in the last two years. This was a difficult one to attain since it defies all that feels natural to me, or all that stems from a cultural upbringing which fosters giving, generosity, and hospitality. But life is full of funny ironies, just when borders between countries were shutting down due to COVID-19, I also began to draw the line by saying NO. In order to do so, I needed to stop guilt from entering the doors of my heart. These darn doors on autopilot, craved to swing wide open, lacked the ability to screen and protect from those who have turned overstepping into an avid sport.
During the pandemic, I had to say goodbye to several friendships. It’s, unfortunately, a challenge that all of us can comprehend. Friendships should lift us, not deplete us. With any close friendship that can often be treated as a relationship, I’ve come to learn that rather than opting for the pretense of “you complete me,” it is far more difficult yet empowering to recognize that “you deplete me.” Depletion seems to be a running theme for the doors-and-hearts-wide-open kinda gal, or those of us who have a difficult time tracing boundaries.
From a satellite view, boundaries upon Earth’s surface are engraved by azure oceans and glorious deserts. In a human’s heart and mind, the definitions of boundary vary among individuals, ever-changing through the beauty of time. Our ability to say no and when to say it comes at different forms and at different stages. When I was younger, I could choose to say no when a circle of friends sniffed cocaine up their noses. A few years ago, my friends disappeared to a bar’s bathroom for 20 minutes. Refused to wait and knowing all too well what they were doing, I instantly left in an Uber. This girl right here…no longer has time for this. Around the same time, I often met with a friend who preferred to spend our giddy hours together deciphering texts messages from her flings like they were Shakespearian sonnets. As much as I frequently found myself staring into an abyss of white noise, I sat there and convinced myself that our one-sided friendship was full of depth and sweetness. Until the pandemic besieged everyone’s lives upside down, I couldn’t sit through another round of text-analysis as my boundaries shifted from non-existent to underlined and Sharpied. This girl right here…no longer wants to deal with this.
Boundaries come with age. As we grow older, our level of patience simultaneously decreases. If you’re a multitasker, your time is probably incredibly limited. At least for me, the time that I do have outside of work and working out, I’d like to spend it wisely and beautifully. With the people that I love, with friends who inspire me to be better. With women who I want to look like, on the inside.
What I’ve also learned is that trauma makes the best indicator for boundaries. During times of desperation, despair, depletion; there are friends who will always pick up the phone, friends who never do, and friends who picked up the phone but didn’t really mean to. For the friends that do, they’re lifers and keepers. Our hours upon hours of conversations are never draining, always thought-provoking. We can count ourselves lucky if there’s one woman in our lives who defy the limits of boundaries. I thank God everyday that I have numerous. They’re my squad of international women. Not only are they quite literally…international, our friendships are not harrowed by boundaries, but rather, they’ve proven to be boundless.