Seest thou one who denies the Reckoning? Then such is he who harshly repulses the orphan…. —The Small Kindnesses, 107:1–3
We are as splinters, expelled from the body. The corpus surrounds us, englobes us, and drives us out; it then returns to a state of “as if” we had never existed. Should we attempt return, we do not notice that the immune response starts yet again. Only at this point we are incapable of understanding its reasonings and explanations. Ô Lebanon! Shall I be sorry that I wished not to return to you as an “American”? Had I done so, I know I would have been embraced with open arms, as the colonized always greet their oppressors. There is no comfort here. No, I sought something more from you: an origin, a sense of source, an acknowledgement of belonging, a claim to place—a wish shared by many also discounted as not being “of” this place. None of which you deemed worthy of offering. In this regard, I was naive to an extreme, no doubt. But things have changed. Following my latest visit to what I understand now is a neighboring familial village, my story was revealed to me by my cousin Jamal. Two weeks ago we met with the father of my top DNA match, as well as a family friend who saw my BBC interview years ago. Like a frozen river come springtime, a great unblocking took place as word got round, as the who and the what and the why made the rounds. And an elderly man plagued by his memories of a child absconded with half a century ago came forward, and revealed a secret to the only man he says he trusts with such information, Jamal’s father. And with that the Sisyphean task, twelve long years later, is accomplished.
Of the two scenarios I had whittled things down to, I perversely preferred the one involving kidnapping. Such an act absolves kin of any crime, of any complicity, and reunion might thereafter be imagined to be a joyful occasion. Quite the other scenario has borne out. There was a woman in trouble, and a paternal denial. There was a choice, and a determination, and there was a familial verdict: Her life, or mine. Then followed a forced sequestering, and a calculated banishment. Despite the unmatched balance of familial power, it seems my grandfather sought a reprieve, requested a stay, asked for a paternal registration so that I might be raised by maternal family—this was refused. Apparently, my mother fought to keep me an extra month in order to nurse me; to prepare me for the journey that was literally out of her hands. It seems she resisted other pressures, never marrying, and never having any other children. She sought refuge in her faith, the family being mushayakh; this is a comfort to me. And now the question remains: Who dares fathom such grief? Who will atone for such suffering? Before I could even formulate the question, I was informed that both had passed away some time ago. An infinite pause followed, and an abyss opened its maw before me. Her name, in Arabic, means “happiness”. What I would give now to have seen her eyes gladdened by my return; her name thus restored as well.
To those who arrogantly propose the “win-win” of adoption, I ask you now: Do you feel no duty, no compulsion, to take on this, the grief of a mother for the child she hardly knew? Now compounded by that of her son, grieving the one he never met? I will visit her grave on Friday, inch’allah, and I will place this crime on your shoulders as I place flowers at her resting place. Will you, at long last, include us in your horrid calculus of valid humanity? Do you imagine, after all this, I will continue to suffer gladly your sidewise glances, your sneers, your judgments, your backstabbings, your underminings, your euthanizing musings? “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers”: a succinct condemnation of your arrogance and disdain. And I have nothing if not my mother’s resistance. Her story, of patience in the face of incalculable adversity, is one shared by millions of others. Her narrative of standing up to you is a comfort you cannot deliver and an agony you cannot assuage with your despicable adoption, its baleful marketing, its woeful mythologies. You have failed miserably, on a global scale and a universal level, and the displaced, and the dispossessed, and the disinherited now hold you to account. You are the inculcators of an intolerable misogyny; the doctrinaires of wretched misery, all in the name of “family”. What is your answer? How do you plead?
Goodbye, Lebanon. May you treat more kindly those who follow. And may they find something other than the harsh rebuke suffered by those who have the great misfortune of finding themselves within your bogus borders. May you be haunted eternally by all of those you have disappeared, in ways as nefarious as iniquitous; those who have gone missing to preserve your fascistic notions of “reputation”; of “purity”; of patriarchy. I survived your immune response for 12 years. What I know now, what I have learned about myself, in terms of my sense of place and family and belonging, will undoubtedly inoculate me for however long a future that might remainder me in this realm. You can no longer sap my soul, nor will I allow you to foment my nightmares; you are bereft of power over me, you are exorcised and extirpated in turn. And my name henceforth shall be known as: Daniel Ibn Bahija, may God rest her soul; grandson of Hussein and Latifa. You cannot deprive me of my right to origins. And there is one final statement to make before I close this chapter of my life: know that I will return. My place is secured; the mountain winds are at my back; my journey is as on the plain; my people have been informed of your doleful crime. And now I can state that I have survived you twice; returning stronger each time; and it is my great pleasure knowing that my expulsion will be forever marked by a scar, and I am honing my skill at further flaying your woundings. For I have learned the meaning of patience, and steadfastness in the face of adversity; and my very being, let it be known, is noble testament to my mother’s fortitude. And my existence is her resistance.