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 when we marched to the border with Palestine on May 15, 2011.
To celebrate the Right of Return.
I was there against doctor’s orders.
I was freshly stitched and stapled up from hernia surgery.
After we arrived, I saw elderly men and women being carried around by their family members just so they could take part in the event.
This in and of itself alleviated my pain quite a bit.
Borders are hugely imposed entities.
75,000 refugees attempting to refute this point is a joyful event.
Until the shooting starts.
I’ve described this day at length elsewhere.
So I won’t go on and on about it.
The place we marched down to now bears a monument to the twelve young men gunned down by snipers from behind a smokescreen.
No one need read their names out loud.
They are collectively remembered.
People and their ties to an acknowledging Place becomes the crux of the displacement issue if you ask me.
Most particularly as concerns adoption.
Such that we might be adopted by a family, but this does not guarantee our “adoption nor acknowledgment” by a Place.
Especially when the class of that family exalts non-place.
By this I mean to say that those with the luxury and privilege to claim place, and property, and proprietorship also spend an inordinate amount of time describing themselves as “nomads”, and “border crossers”, and “hybrids”, while exulting in things like “starter homes”, recreational vehicles, and job-based reassignments.
This is a staggering offense against those uprooted, or stuck at borders and checkpoints, or who don’t perceive their place-identity to be discardable like old snakeskin.
Those with such luxury and privilege furthermore legally, culturally, socially, politically, and economically point out who belongs, as well as what the limits of their belonging are.
In the process of doing this, they dismiss much of the world’s population.
This cannot stand.
My neighborhood in Beirut is made up of others displaced and dispossessed for a variety of reasons.
Filipin@, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, Sri Lanki, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Kurdish, etc.
They “network” much more effectively than any reconstructed online “community” I know.
They have not been coerced to remember fondly the reasons for their displacement.
Like those in my old neighborhoods in New York and Brooklyn.
Mythologizing The Statue of Liberty, or Ellis Island, for example.
So people here just get it.
This makes a huge difference.
For everything that has taken place in the nine or so years since my own Return, it’s pretty much impossible for me to be depressed.
Oh, I have my moments; don’t get me wrong.
By “depressed” I mean to say how I spent a large part of my life.
Writing bad poetry that I later don’t understand.
Or remember the trigger for.
A life which leaves me with much in the way of regrets.
And a shelf of notebooks full of trite prose.
But I needn’t belabor the point.
Here, someone will always come checking up on me.
This was rather astounding to me at first.
But I have happily become used to it.
There is an afforded balance between having my “space” and needing to explain my state of mind.
By that I mean to say as an exercise in commonweal.
The emotional health of the community is in a constant state of checks and balances.
The expectation that I give voice to my feelings comes from people who, if they ever were to start complaining about the injustice in their lives, would never stop screaming at the top of their lungs for the overwhelming agony of it.
But we all get it.
So they don’t have to.
If you ask them how they are, they reply: “Thanks to God”.
This, in and of itself, is a cure for “First World” depression.
And so it is quite humbling when they ask me: “What’s wrong?”
This is quite the opposite of attempting to get society to listen.
When “not listening” is part and parcel of such a society’s destruction of community.
If I refuse to use foreign loan words, I can’t even really say: “I’m depressed”.
Most words describing this particular state of mind as I previously lived it are borrowed from French psychological terms.
Such as déprimat and hystérie and nervooz.
The closest Arabic word might best be translated by “aggrieved”.
Which implies an external source, and a communal “mourning”.
The Arabic word for “crazy” does the same thing (evoking external possession), as well as implies a “hiding” from the community.
To be crazy is, in a sense, to be alone.
To be removed.
And so loneliness is to be avoided at all costs.
And this burden is a given of the social contract.
Which is more and more evidently under attack.
When people Stateside express the hope that I might “come back”, they are evoking a geographically measured distance expressed in miles.
Whereas the problem as I now sense it is based more in an emotionally measured one.
It is expressed in minor acts of communal bonding.
Without this expression there is no home.
Ask me where I feel at home and I will tell you.
Ask me if there is anything more painful than being a stranger in one’s own “home”, and I will tell you.
A slight shift in perspective to our collective “homelessness” brings us no closer to home.
But it puts us in good company.
And relieves us of the burden of feeling lost.
Image: Right of Return March | Date: May 15, 2011 | Place: Maroun Er-Ras | Camera: Sony “CyberShot” DSC-TX1; Carl Zeiss lens | Caption: Most of those taking part in this march had never left the square kilometer of their various camps. The urge to continue down to the border was obviously too much. Even after 12 boys were shot dead by Israeli sniper fire, people continued to stream into the valley toward the border, itself full of land mines and cluster bombs from previous invasions.