After every defeat, every loss, every heartbreak or simply every new year’s day, we hear those irritating words: “new beginning, new me.”
And it always makes me wonder why “new?” Why not just “different?” Because at the end of the day, you are still the same person, carrying the same scars and memories, and that these things won’t vanish or disappear just because you have decided to mark a new start for you.
I realise people reading this will think I am being negative but there is a difference between someone shutting doors in your face and another who refuses to play into the cliché that the world has designed for us that promotes the romanticised and supposedly positive and motivational “New Beginning.” I speak from experience and not from an empty objection.
My First Beginning
My life began in Mosul, Iraq, ironically labelled as the city of two springs; the only city that has two chances in the year for new beginnings, yet nothing ever changed there and things stayed consistently the same.
My life began with a difference. I was different, disabled without using the label due to the unspoken stigma that it carries, so instead I was told I was ‘special’ and naively used that term when other children asked me why I was always sitting and not actively running like them. My start in life was dictated by fate, not a decision that I had made, like when you play a game of cards or backgammon, the cards you're dealt and the roll of the dice determine the outcome of the game.
I didn’t choose to be born in Iraq, or Mosul, or be a girl with a disability. I inherited my nationality and faith and accepted my name that was bestowed upon me; these things were decided for me by fate, just as I had no choice in being born into an educated, middle class family who were able to offer me every opportunity available at the time. My and the emphasis on My, start in life was a mixture of luck and fate and definitely not choice.
The Beginning Determines Your Next Step
I guess the first major choice I made was when I opposed my parent’s plan of home-schooling. I wanted to be like my siblings, venture out and learn at school. That was my new beginning, away from the protective environment of my family, where I thought I could be like other children. I was wrong. Even when I had decided my new start in life, my previous beginning had determined the outcome of this “new beginning.” I went to a Catholic school because my parents knew the headmistress, where she ensured I would be protected and treated differently.
I was also accompanied by my nanny who would only leave me during lessons. I was spoilt and looked after but with so many teachers, it was a matter of time before one of them would shout out: “Why are you not standing like the rest of the class?” during the customary ovation that we had to do everytime a teacher entered the classroom. I didn’t have a reply and just got teary, I guess I wasn’t so special after all.
An Entirely New Start
A year before the end of the Iraq and Iran war, my family and I moved to the UK. London became my new home and a fresh start was the aim, at a special needs school where I would be accepted in a country that was supposed to be more open and inclusive. I was wrong, as your past always follows you and there are more prejudices in the wider world, way more than my Mosul; the city of two beginnings. I didn’t speak English and despite the fact I was disabled like the rest of the students, I wasn’t accepted and spent so many solitary days trying to learn English as fast as possible. What amused me and I guess irritated me at the time is that none of them knew what or where Iraq was located. They would ask me, “Is Iraq in India?” I guess prior to the Gulf War no one knew Iraq. In many ways, I wish things remained that way and Iraq stayed a mystery.
The End Of Our New Start
Less than two years into our new life in London, my father passed away and that signalled a totally different life. Three months later I had a spinal fusion, a corrective surgery to my spine with the promise of a straight back and better respiratory function. Things, however, proved to be entirely different: my back collapsed as the muscles supporting the spine were weakened by the operation and in less than 20 months I had to start using a non invasive ventilator due to respiratory failure, and so that was my new beginning. It’s funny there is an old Iraqi saying that the death of your father breaks your back, and that’s literally what happened to me.
Another New Start
I had decided to go into mainstream school for my secondary years. I thought that now that I speak English, and being stronger in character, I could deal with this new academic start. The problem here wasn’t my language but the fact that Iraq was now infamous because of the Gulf War and so I would get asked, “Are there bombs in your school bag?” “Do you travel by camels in Iraq?” “Do you eat on the floor and do you have chairs at home?” There was no escape from these ignorant questions. Then of course there was the disability issue, maybe not as a big issue as in Mosul but it was still there, with teachers constantly telling me to keep my expectations low, and not to aim for high academic achievements simply because I was disabled.
The Pattern Continues
This became a repeated pattern in my life. Whenever I decide to start anew, I realise that it can never be new, but just different, because new would indicate a blank page, not one that had been written upon then erased, the smudge of the eraser will always show, no matter how hard you try to hide it. This is precisely my issue with people claiming this is their new start or urging others to make a fresh start. It is an unrealistic concept, an illusion that people have due to their longing to restart life.
How can we start fresh when we are carrying years of scars? Even without the scars, we can’t escape our past, who we are, where we come from, our beliefs and experience. All these elements shape our existence and determine the path we take no matter how many “new beginnings” we endeavor on, because in the end, it’s not a new beginning but rather a different one that we have to work with based on what we have learnt.
If we look at things on a bigger scale; how many new beginnings did Iraq have in the last 60 years or so? The reality is that none of them were new, because with each era, it was built on the past, an inherited pain and suffering that can’t not be wiped away in the name of a new start, but they just add to every different beginning that Iraq has tried to create.
About the Writer
Raya Al-Jadir is an English degree graduate and holds a Master’s degree in Renaissance Studies from Queen Mary, University of London. Raya is a freelance journalist working with a range of publications, such as The Independent, Huffington Post, Nasher News and the UAE The National newspaper, and is the co-founder of the first Arabic lifestyle e-magazine of its kind, Disability Horizons Arabic. Raya’s interests range from culture, TV, social projects and initiatives, literature and art, but her main focus is disability rights issues. Raya is a fellow at the Rosalynn Carter for mental health journalism. An avid blogger, she launched Careless to raise awareness of life with a disability.