The following is from a series of musings on trauma, memory, community, and place. The introduction to the series and beginning essay [link] explains the purpose of this month of entries.
I remember a story a friend related to me of a crowd surrounding an old man on a bench in Prospect Park.
No one was sure if he needed help because he seemed to be sleeping.
Or else, not.
My friend could not get a policeman to intervene.
He then ran to an EMT vehicle he saw down the street.
The EMT told him: “You have to call it in first.”
“You can see him from here; you can see the crowd from here”, my friend pleaded.
“Call it in”, said the EMT.
My friend dialed 9-1-1 on his cell phone. The radio in the EMT vehicle crackled into life. They drove the man away.
No one knows the end of the story.
I would like to state for the record that I am no longer comfortable in an environment that requires me to be bear the brunt of stress and worry concerning my individual health and safety at all times by myself.
I find this an extremely violent existence.
I’m not really sure how I survived it for so long.
I don’t know how to explain the discomfort of this when I do return.
Compared to Lebanon, which, to those back in the States, seems to be much more evidently violent.
There are degrees of violence.
In a vast spectrum of violences.
Some are quick and brutal, like war.
Some are slow and aching, like poverty.
There is a similar spectrum of responses thereto.
With another axis determining scope of response, individual to communal.
I’ll leave this as a graphing exercise for those familiar with the fourth and above dimensions.
I’m reminded of a book written by a friend in New York on the NYPD’s “cold cases”.
Murders that go “unsolved”.
This is “a given” in New York City we tell ourselves.
We brush it aside as a normal state of affairs.
Acceptable violence, shall we say.
I remember once leaving my apartment on Avenue A and 12th Street.
Back in the day when my father told me I could live anywhere I want in New York.
Except in “Alphabet City”.
So I immediately found an apartment there.
Subletting from a heroin addict.
Who never quite gave my money to the landlord.
Who ended up putting an eviction notice on the door.
But that’s a whole other story.
On this particular day I opened my front door and found myself behind a police line.
Someone had been murdered in the courtyard.
I remember the gun shot from the middle of the night.
“You can’t stay here”, a policeman informed me.
“I live here”, I replied.
I sometimes question the validity of a culture that could manifest Lord of the Flies.
I just want to put that out there.
This violence is glorified in the media.
Or de-glorified, according to one’s political agenda.
The inherent cultural violence is definitely a problem.
As is its endless mediation to a captive audience grateful to not be suffering of it.
I think this goes far to explain zombie movies.
I’m dead serious when I say that.
The problem as defined is relying on Authority to deal with the symptoms of a society’s dis-ease.
Or else in relying on oneself as if there were no connection to anyone else.
This is belied by the logic of sheer interconnected existence, and so deserves no rebuttal.
Ignored is the idea of relying on Community to pre-emptively short-circuit such ills.
I’m not saying that there is no violence where I currently find Place.
But the day-to-day, minute-to-minute violences are near to non-existent.
This varies according to place, of course.
And the major violences can be skillfully avoided by responding communally.
So I choose my places carefully.
There are places I won’t go in Beirut.
They are not the neighborhoods you might imagine.
Bourgeois living destroys community.
I just want to put that out there as well.
It is as an individual without connection that one is most vulnerable.
I often joke that I judge Lebanese politics based on whose checkpoints I would least mind going through.
I’m just saying that the social fabric here has not yet been completely destroyed.
This is, perhaps, its only Saving Grace.
I compare stories of people dying alone in New York, only signaled by the seeping stench of death weeks later, with the obituary notices which are postered all around a given area in Beirut upon the passing of a neighbor.
I was quite touched when some neighbors suggested they do so for my father after he passed away a few years back.
Even though they did not know him at all.
It’s the connection via connection that is important.
Paying condolences is considered a given.
I’m grateful for this in no small way.
When I do go, I’d like to be so acknowledged by the place I leave behind.
Image: Obituary notice | Date: October, 2013 | Place: Ras En-Nebaa, Beirut, Lebanon | Camera: Nokia 6303ci phone | Caption: Word of mouth and community posting/networking speaks more quickly than, say, newspapers, or online communication.