Grief, revisited

Eat. Or at least try. Sleep properly. Or at least try. Get some rest, read a book, escape in words to forget those lodging themselves in your head, unwilling to move.

I had these very words been said to me, by the very people who love me, their love their unique consolation to my pain. I’ve seen their eyes, pleading with me, willing me to be ok, willing me back to life, firmly anchored by their love.
Stay here with us, we’re losing you.
I know how they felt, as I have myself said those words to people I love, my love trying to bind them to life, refusing to let them go too deep in the pits of depression, and grief and sadness. I’ve urged loved ones to rest, to quell the never ending stream of suffering going through them. I pleaded, my eyes were the ones willing them to be ok.
Eat. Sleep. Rest. Is that all there is left when all is said and done, when you’ve been knocked off your balance so hard you feel the emptiness and the heaviness of the world deep within you, the anxiety coiled deep within your heart? Take out what and who made us who we are, take out the people who’ve helped build you and all you have left is a wounded animal who needs to eat, sleep and rest.
But no matter how coated in love these words are, no matter how well intentioned, they remain utterly useless, for grief doesn’t work that way. Once you’ve been hit by grief, it never leaves you, it makes a permanent mark on your skin, etching its passage in wrinkles, tears and frowns, as if it were carving the rocks of a conquered land. You expand to live with it, to accommodate it in your swollen heart.
Most of the time it is dormant, lurking at the surface, waiting for a smell, a song, a place to rear its ugly head and send your precarious balance off the tracks. Grief nestles itself in your chest and never lets go. You never forget. You learn to walk around with a neverending, incommensurable hole at your core, the shape of the person you miss. All these cracks on your once whole façade let in a lot of light, probably the ones who’ve made the final jump letting you know from now on they’ll be your light, your inner strength.
Grief is one of the few experiences where words don’t help, where they can’t break the barrier loss creates. You withdraw within a place buried so deep within yourself you end up wondering if you’ll ever be able to find your way back out.
But some things help. Some things get through you and bring you back to life, like ugly crying nestled in the shoulder of a lover, the indestructible power of women friendships, all of them building a protective wall around you to shelter you until the rawness subsides, each of them going out of their way to see a smile upon your face. This isn’t squad dynamics, this is the very particular understanding and acknowledging experience of pain women have, for better or worse.
Love and time and the iron clad belief that the people who left are loved, and thus still there, safely kept in your heart.

Living/Leaving here

Featured

This post was originally written as a submission for the Outpost, for their second number on the ‘possibility of living here’, so I wrote about my own experience living in Lebanon. The submission didn’t make the cut, so here it is!

You always want to come back.

No matter how comfortable you are in your life abroad, some part of you is always thinking about it. You think about it when you hear someone next to you on the bus speak Arabic and you feel your heart melt a little. You think about it when you close your eyes and can feel the Beiruti sea breeze on Rawche without having to do much else. You think about it every minute of every day, it’s like this nagging feeling that won’t ever go away, gnawing at your soul. I’ve always asked myself how can one could be nostalgic of things one barely knew. But you can. You can feel linked to where you come from by an invisible, tenuous yet incredibly strong thread, coming from your heart to that place.

I was born abroad, another statistics on the Diaspora never ending numbers, and for as long as I can remember we’ve always gone back and forth between abroad and Lebanon, for my parents didn’t, or rather, couldn’t bear exile too well.

Then one day, I decided to come back. I packed my bags and went, deciding somewhere along the way that I wanted to be part of the new Lebanon. I have two degrees in international law and human rights, work experience in that area, and I was a remote part of the booming Lebanese civil society that was trying to organize itself to bring social change to the country. I wrote articles for different Lebanese outlets and took part in any online campaigns I could get my hands on, but somehow at some point this did not seem enough. I needed to live it. I had the luxury to choose, and to be able to come back to Beirut to become an actual part of it. I thought I could bring my skills and experience to my country, I thought Lebanon would need me, and that I could give it my all. And in a way, Lebanon did need me. Just not in the way I thought.

Beirut had, and still have, this incredible attraction over me. Its bubbling creativity, exuberant force of life, its people, its smells, everything seemed to be calling my name. Needless to say, despite knowing Beirut quite well, distance and time had blurred its flaws, only leaving a frangipani flowers/diesel scented dream. I was in for a rude awakening.

Over the past couple of years, Beirut has earned in Western media the reputation of a lively, stylish city, a heaven for party goers and a cultural hub for arts, which in some part is true. However, this depiction is only one tiny aspect of Beirut, the one the most privileged only can enjoy. What I have discovered while living there is that the incredible weakness of the state is felt at all levels by people living in Lebanon. Basic infrastructure of making water and electricity available to all are not fully functional, thus once again creating inequalities between different regions of Lebanon and neighborhoods of Beirut. Political instability is clearly a drawback for anyone that is thinking of coming back to Lebanon, but I wouldn’t say that for me it was the biggest, for after a while you just learn to live with the risks. It’s the daily chaos, the constant need to have an alternative solution up your sleeve because the state simply isn’t there to fulfill its obligations and the constant violations of civil liberties and socio-economic rights that wear you off after a while. Workers do not have social security, social benefits, people’s rights are trampled on every day, human rights like the right to education and health are contingent to your financial means and this, in order to get Lebanon’s talented workforce back, needs to change. To me, the most insufferable part was the dire inequality. The wage and social gap between different strata of the population is disheartening. And can – and should- inspire revolt.

After a year in Beirut I received a job offer in Switzerland. I thought long and hard about going back to Geneva. Was I abandoning Lebanon to its inept government? I felt guilty, but here I was, having an opportunity to do a job I love, under normal working conditions, in a country that uses the taxes I pay to build proper roads and offer good public education. Something in my mind kept nagging me, telling me I had a right to a decent life after all. And so I left again. Looking back, I was too angry at Lebanon’s phenomenal potential being wasted by greed, sectarianism and corruption to stay and be useful. I was too angry at my own inadequacy to change turn things upside down. 

And so I left again.

However, i remain convinced that opportunities are there and lie in the resourcefulness of Lebanon’s inhabitants, in civil society that grows stronger and manages to get more people engaged, in the creativity of its talented people. The more we push for positive change, the more we’re likely to attract and bring change. The moment is now, when the whole region is pounding its fists for change, demanding that its potential is achieved. The moment is now to impact our region’s future and we should not let it pass. The moment is now. We have a whole new landscape to build. 

Love letter

It’s your skin you see, the sweetness of it, the unique smell of it. It’s your skin at the nape of your neck, it’s the wrinkles at the corner of your eyes, it’s your laughter when you’re amused, it’s your furrowed brow when you’re pensive.
It’s the three beauty marks that form a triangle on your shoulder, it’s how I discovered your body, how I made it my country, my territory, mapping each vein, each tensed muscle with the tip of my finger.
It’s the cliches thoughts that I find myself having even though I promised myself never to become one of “those” women, you know who I mean, the ones who can’t form a sentence without mentioning the subject of their love.
It’s the incredible joy of being next to you, I guess that’s what they mean by love, I guess that’s what they mean by passion, I guess that’s what they mean by devotion.
It’s never knowing what comes next but knowing you’ll be there, it’s not being so afraid of the future anymore, it’s being able to think something great will be around the corner, it’s being cheesy and not giving a damn.
It’s being slightly unhinged and not scaring you with my quirks, it’s an Edith Piaf song, simple and efficient, straight to the point, il est entre dans mon coeur une etoile de bonheur, it’s seeing the world a little differently since you’re in it.
It’s feeling my heart beating, each pulsation an hymn to glorious life, a glorious life where you’ll be in.
It’s the couple of music notes on an ever imperfect partition, making it the most perfect symphony, one only us can understand, and slowly, in rhythm, we dance to it, our feet synchronized, our breathing unified.
It’s a tap of on my door, it’s a stomping of my soul, it’s overpowering and overbearing.
It’s simple, really, that thing we call love.