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 after the July War in 2006 I was back in the States visiting.
I imagined it might be cathartic to talk to friends and family face-to-face about what happened during that month.
Maybe communicate in some small way what it was like.
Except I came up against people’s preconceptions.
Their expectations; their mythologies; their quite emphatic need to not know.
Someone in my extended family said to me: “Between your diary and CNN, it was hard to know who to believe!”
I just stared at her rather dumbstruck.
I’ve since given up trying.
This is an unbridgeable chasm.
One that needs energy from both sides to fill in.
There is a disconnect between experience and the ability to relate that experience that is very surreal.
I think it is referred to in certain milieus as “PTSD”.
You know, one of those diagnoses that blames the sufferer.
The problem, as I see it, is not the experience itself, nor one’s ability to relate that experience to others.
The problem, as I see it, is in fact the inability or unwillingness of another to share or empathize with that experience.
It is the sharing and empathizing that makes our existence livable.
It is perhaps these moments that I remember most from the war.
Especially when they absurdly drifted into humor.
I had left my apartment one rather intense week to live with a friend and her family in Hamra.
The shaking of my building every time a bomb fell was too much.
So I traded them in for the gun reports of Israeli ships off the coast.
Which also made the buildings shake.
A relativizing of lesser evils.
We were sitting on her balcony.
We were laughing that the Red Cross had seen fit to put a big sign on its roof.
The sign basically stated: “WE ARE THE RED CROSS”.
As in: “PLEASE DON’T BOMB US!”
Since humanitarian targets were being hit.
Like the Civil Defense building that houses the Red Cross in Sour.
Or convoys of ambulances.
Just for starters.
We thought of making a sign for our building that read: “NO, WE ARE THE RED CROSS!”
Then we decided that it might be an idea to put big photographs of the Israeli prime minister on rooftops.
A final resistant gesture before the bunker-buster bombs hit home.
My friend at one point jumped out of her chair.
“What’s that in the sky?”
Something was floating toward us.
“I can’t make it out! What is it???”
Was it a propaganda-leaflet bomb?
A diabolical slow-motion explosive?
A new kind of silent drone?
Something even more insidious?
We frothed ourselves up into a panic.
She called her husband; some friends in the neighborhood; everyone was trying to figure out what Evil was drifting our way.
The reflective metallic object in the distance turned out to be a heart-shaped balloon running out of helium.
We couldn’t stop laughing.
Mostly because we spent the next half hour on the phone explaining as word spread and built up and the rumor mill went haywire.
The Hamra Love Bomb.
On my walk to Hamra to help with the relief efforts I would often run into my friend Yasmeen.
One day a car screeched around the corner and jumped the curb right in front of us.
The car had the word “TV” painted on its roof.
Drivers–in typical Lebanese “beat-the-traffic” mentality–thought this gave them priority somehow.
Others saw fit to put national flags on their roofs.
I mean to say, of other countries, such as Germany, or the U.K., or Japan.
As in: “DON’T BOMB ME I’M NOT LEBANESE!”
A gesture of selfishness and cowardice if you really think about it.
We would joke how most of these flags would actually be helpful in targeting.
That Nintendo-game “+” that we see in videos of bombers dropping their payloads lines up very nicely in the middle of a “Union Jack”.
Or the Japanese flag and its central “sun”.
We both laughed at how ironic it would be to die in a car accident during a war.
I said: “Leykeh, if it happens to me, please have them drop a bomb on me just to make it look good!”
When I returned to her house that evening, I recounted this to my friend above.
She told me a joke from the days of the Civil War.
A bunch of Lebanese widows are on a MEA plane to France, all dressed in black.
As they are chatting, they are asking each other how they were widowed.
“Haram, my husband was hit by a sniper.”
“Ana, my husband was killed in a car explosion.”
“My husband was killed on the southern front.”
And so on and so forth.
Finally, one woman in the back who has been silent the whole time is finally asked her circumstances.
She looks up, slightly crestfallen.
She says, “I’m very sorry, but he died of a heart attack.”
In retrospect, I think that I didn’t “suffer” psychologically from the war until I got Stateside.
Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments.
But the barrier of communication there made things much worse.
I might as well have been speaking a completely different language.
I see now that the problem is not an inability of the “sufferer” to communicate.
The problem is society’s reluctance to properly assume and thus alleviate the teller of her suffering.
Meanwhile the sufferer is expected to “process” and “move on”.
Or, should I say, to “have processed and moved on”.
Leave it all behind.
When such an action requires energy from both sides.
Not just the individual.
The problem is not with the diagnosed, but with those diagnosing.
This is not just a corporeal, psychological, and spiritual rejection of the sufferer.
It is also a reneging of the role of society to comfort him.
Given this–the willfully unshared nature and alleviation of the burden of such trauma by one’s society–I understand perfectly well why soldiers, having returned, might commit suicide.
I mean, I understand perfectly.
They’ve jumped into an Abyss.
The Fall is intolerable.
They know what awaits.
They simply wish to speed the Landing.
Image: “TV Camel” | Date: July, 2006 | Place: Abdul-Aziz Street, Beirut | Camera: Sony “CyberShot” DSC-TX1; Carl Zeiss lens | Caption: I’m not a big fan of individual “personality” graffiti artists, given the public nature of street art. Arofish had come through Beirut and had left these markings on the walls here; a different kind of “bombing”. I remember we were laughing at the tired and stereotypical trope of the “Arab” camel in the camel-less land of Lebanon. Someone saw fit to make the camel safe for wartime by marking it “TV”.