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Layer by Layer

"You thought you had hit every layer possible" are the opening lines of Jan Richardson's poem, and that's where I get stuck. I wonder if she is alluding to layers being infinite. Is it true? Is that what she is saying. I am certain she knows even if we fall on another layer, we did not expect, in the end, the layers are finite.

In the end, layers are finite!

When I am making baklava, I am creating finite levels of layers; a hundred layers, built one tissue paper-thin phyllo sheet at a time. One by one! Every single sheet painted with clarified butter, a canvas prepared for the ground walnuts. But finite nonetheless.

If someone asks about the recipe after they have tasted a piece of my baklava, if he is around, my husband jumps in and tells them it is a secret family recipe, and I would never part with it, but what he tells them is that it takes me all day to make it. I don't say anything. But the fact is it takes so much longer than that. Baklava is crated in layers in my mind first. I start to build it the moment I decide I am making baklava. I think about the butter I will use – European or domestic? Sugar – beet sugar or cane? Phyllo – which brand? How soon do I need to buy the phyllo? Because I need to defrost it properly so the phyllo sheets do not stick to each other and become a doughy mess.

When everything is ready, I build it one single layer at a time until 100 sheets of phyllo become the baklava on someone's plate.

My life is just like the baklava I bake.

Each layer starts on my birthday when fall takes its hold, colors turn, and the pleasant, dry, cool air makes its presence known. And then it is layered with winter, which is layered with spring, and then summer. Come fall, it starts all over again.

Every single layer prepares me for this moment in time. Each layer - spread with a life lived in full colors and sometimes in black and white -leads me here.

I remember my therapist telling me that human beings are like onions one time. You have to do a lot of peeling to get to the core of the person. I bought into it at the time. But lately, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that there is no core. The Onion analogy makes me feel like I am in a constant state of "lost." I don't like the idea of my core hiding behind all those layers that I need to peel.

I believe there is my soul, and then there are the layers of a life lived. My soul moves with me through these layers. I like it better when I imagine my soul moving through the layers - staying with me. I am not giving up my layers. They are what make me who I am. I can peel the edges of those layers now and again and say hello to a past happiness or a heartbreak, or pull out a dream that got stuck in one of the layers that I want to breathe new life into, but at the end of the day, I am made of my layers, just like the baklava. I built it layer by layer, with love or haste at times, but I built it myself.

I can only pray that I will create 100 or more layers of living.

I have quite a few layers to go yet. There was a beginning layer, and there will be one last layer to finish it off.

Nowadays, I am working on the layers I call my second act. I don't know what it will look like yet, but I am curious to find out. I am finally learning to sit quietly, breathing in and breathing out, not hurrying my moments away, watching the butterflies born from the caterpillars that feasted themselves on the leaves of my lemon tree. Watching their fluttering wings feels like a loving "I am sorry" for the carnage they left behind. I am pleased that the layers of my second act will include watching caterpillars turn into butterflies.

God knows I could use undergoing a metamorphosis myself right about now.

Tell me about your layers. What do you want me to know?

Nukhet H.


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