Some of the greatest parties I have ever attended were in the Middle East, where we’ve lived two different times because of my husband’s job. The party I loved the most, though, was a New Year’s Eve rug flop we hosted in our villa right before the movers came to pack us up and return us to the States. Our boy/girl twins had just turned four and our baby girl — who was born there in the Middle East — was not yet one.
A rug flop is a Middle Eastern tradition featuring the ancient carpets of the region “flopped” one on top of another for a household of guests who the dealer hopes will also be buyers. The rug dealer brings a lavish spread of local foods including just-out-of-the-oven naan, tikka, shawarma, tabouli, hummus.
Our favorite rug dealer, Mr. Mohammed from Carpet House, brought an entire van full of rugs for our party. We invited friends we had met during our time in the Middle East, and we pushed back furniture so Mr. Mohammed could flop rugs in the entryway of our rented villa.
Champagne corks popped, glasses were filled, plates were loaded, and the laughter reached a din. Mr. Mohammed lugged in rugs, one by one, holding them up for all to see, yelling out the region, material, history, size, quality, and of course, price. Every rug that hit the next would give off an old world billow, filling our entire downstairs with ancient smells.
During our two-year stay on this small Persian Gulf island, the Shi’a were rising up against the Sunni, rioting for civil rights. Because of this infighting, our liberties were restricted as neighborhoods all over the island were filled with burning tires, rubber bullets and tear gas. When you have three small children and one small island becoming even smaller due to rioting, life can begin to feel cramped in every way.
Some nights, after the kids went down, my friend Jean and I would sneak out to Mr. Mohammed’s shop and drink tea with him for an hour or so and look through his shop. We’d take our shoes off and run our feet across the silk Qums. We let the beauty sink into our souls, which were tired from hypervigilance and heat and homesickness.
The rugs were magic carpets flying me to a different land, or maybe more accurately, showing me the beauty right where I was. So when it was time for our final party in our villa, we asked Mr. Mohammed to bring his rugs to our home so we could fill our place, one last time, with the beauty of the region and the beauty of our newfound relationships.
It’s so very easy to celebrate when life is abundant, but it’s when life is closing in that we need celebration the most. The etymology of the word celebrate is to “assemble to honor.” The same Latin word, celebrare, also means to “practice often.” So, then, to celebrate means to assemble or gather and to honor … and to do this often.
What were we honoring in the Middle East? Sure, we were honoring New Year’s Eve, but I knew we were honoring much more than a date on the calendar, a new year turning over.
We were honoring our adventure — which was both gorgeous and gnarly, as adventures always are. We were honoring a time and place that brought us our new baby girl. We were honoring a season in our marriage and our family that has been a defining experience. We were honoring the way it feels to have come through something only because of the people who have supported you. We were honoring the unexpected beauty we found in the unfamiliar.
Time can pass without punctuation, especially in the very early years of mothering. Celebrating the milestones and the moments and the memories can be a way we punctuate our living. Even though celebrating might cost money. Even though celebrating might mean opening our home and our table and showing off all our own perceived imperfections. Even though celebrating might feel overboard or overdone.
When we celebrate life lavishly, with total abandon, we say our lives are worthy to be noticed, witnessed and cherished. When we use our precious resources — time, money, talents — to celebrate lavishly in the company of those we love, we say, I am all in on life, and I will choose to celebrate my days instead of tolerate them. We are saying what Emily Dickinson said: “That it will never come again is what makes life sweet,” and we must kick up our heels for the sacredness of each and every day so we don’t forget life is precious.
I have many difficult memories of our time in the Middle East, most of which associated with three young children, unbearable heat and few options for activities. But, it’s funny, all of that difficulty is truly transcended when I think about Mr. Mohammed’s rug flop.
Life can become all about me putting my head down and getting to work — coping and making it happen. Celebrating lifts my eyes to help me see the things that will sustain me: love, goodness, plenty, hope, creativity, beauty, grace. In that way, celebration changes us. And I want to make it more of a habit in my home. Serving breakfast to my kids on the pretty plates is one small way I remind myself to practice celebration in my every day and not just reserve it for special occasions.
Sometimes life lacks space, and we have to find the portals taking us to larger moments, grandeur. The portals remind us of the resilience and artistry of the human spirit. They are reminders of plenty. They open our eyes to gratitude. Celebration is one such portal.
The other day I found a picture of Mr. Mohammed standing on top of what had to be a hundred rugs in our entryway in the Middle East, hands up in the air dramatically hollering out. In the background of the picture, you can see a room full of vibrant conversations and belly laughs.
I teared up when I saw the picture because it was the epitome of beauty found in the midst of the desert.
This originally appeared in Hello, Dearest Fall 2015. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get Hello, Dearest in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to email@example.com and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.
Leeana Tankersley is the author of Breathing Room. She lives in San Diego with her husband, Steve, and their three kids, Luke (6), Lane (6) and Elle (3). Leeana writes about living from the spacious place on her blog: leeanatankersley.com.