In my solitude..

The following is an excerpt from a self-portrait I had to write as a project a while back. A dear professor once said that one way to resist the occupation is to show the world that Palestinians are human beings that feel pain and love. People who laugh and cry. People who write and reflect. This is a piece written by one Palestinian as a daughter with thoughts on her father – the once activist who gave his life and soul to Palestine, but no longer does. Maybe one day, when I muster enough courage, I’ll post the whole portrait unedited.

…I believe my dad was an idealist who had so much hope for his cause, who actually believed that things would change in his lifetime, anytime soon now. It will change, he told himself. I will fight for it all I can; I will write, I will speak, I will call on everyone willing to listen because I believe. I have faith in justice and in life, in hope and in tomorrow. My dad lived off the fire of his cause. I can see him in the eye of my mind, with his classic pose- smoking over Turkish coffee, blowing the fumes from his cigarette into a haze of long lost memories and an irretrievable past. The look in his eyes; how can I begin to describe it? It’s a soulful look that speaks of a loss so deep, of a pain so strong, of a struggle so sorely inevitable. I think my dad was losing faith. The same faith that sustained his fight, that fed his resistance to giving up, the faith that whispered every morning in his ear that today, today things will change. Yes, that faith was dying. As he slowly but surely felt his dreams slip through the fingers that held his cigarette, my dad became hard with cynicism. It’s strange how hope softens our skin, how it shines through our eyes; a reflection of light, no matter how tiny and how far.

I don’t know precisely when it was that my dad reached a complete halt. I don’t recall when exactly it dawned on him that the place he called home will remain a slave to his imagination, or that his mother who gave birth to him, flesh and blood, will transform from a physical body into a wistful voice on the distance line. My grandmother died in my father’s imagination; she died in the homeland that became bound to his imagination. Like a mirage testing his sanity, my father’s life became a hazy mix of the real and the unreal. All of this lay heavy on his shoulders and the man that once felt he could conquer the world with his words suddenly had no more to say. My dad quit journalism and immersed himself in the commercial sector where he taught himself the techniques of trade. My dad the journalist became a businessman. In a way, I think, he wanted to materialize his existence because he felt like he was holding onto thin air.

I am sad for my father. I feel like he sold out on his cause and that he aches over it whenever he gives himself the luxury of reminiscence. The only thing that remains from that time when he had so much vigour is that look in his eyes- that soulful look that has become eternally linked with my image of dad. What makes this look so distinct in my mind is that it is this look that often made my dad seem distant to me. Dad would not let anyone intrude on what went on behind that look. That he still has the same look today only makes me believe that my father was a changed man forever. The person he was some 25 years ago only exists in his mind as a memory not as a self; a memory that resurfaces only when he has that look. And I know-I also feel- that in him there is so much regret. If you’ve ever felt regret you’ll understand that a lifetime filled with it is suicidal to one’s soul. I can almost taste the bitterness of my dad’s thoughts, as bitter as the Turkish coffee he sips. How can one go about forgiving himself for betraying what he stood for? Back then, my dad had absolutely nothing, yet he had so much. You can sense it in the way he moved, the intensity that illuminated his words, making way for more greatness to come. Yet he turned his back on his passion. Or did he turn his back on it after it seized being a passion? Still, I wonder how my dad decided to put down his pen once and for all. I wonder how much it hurt…

                                                                                ******

(Homecoming)

This summer, I had a beautiful experience. To feel so in tune with what you’re thinking – so much that everything around you seems to be a vivid manifestation of what your mind’s thoughts looks like – that’s what a perfectly beautiful experience feels like.

This summer I stood in a refuge camp and saw the meaning of home emblazoned on an old woman’s brown forehead .

Hajje Fatima was shy at the beginning. I noticed because she stood awkwardly in her tiny living room/bedroom, embarrassed because she couldn’t invite us to sit – she had only bed sheets spread on the floor. I felt embarrassed because here I was, a girl old enough to be her granddaughter, and I was causing her discomfort. But as I began engaging her in a conversation about how her house can be renovated, she warmed up and her eyes looked twenty years younger as they sparkled with excitement. She spoke of how she wanted just enough space for her granddaughter to play and a well-lit kitchen that wasn’t too stuffy for when she cooked meals for her tiny family. Her hopeful tone didn’t go unnoticed but what got to me, really, was how her eyes turned into star-filled skies, soft and hypnotizing. In her eyes, I saw how she imagined herself standing in her sunny kitchen; whipping up a meal from the available ingredients and love while her granddaughter babbled away her six-month-old vocabulary in the tiny living room.

Something else struck me in her eyes – dependency. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean the overbearing type of dependency in which one becomes a burden on someone else. This was more a…delicate dependency. Something in her eyes clung to me, seeking healthy compassion – humanity, not to be mistaken with pity. I guess that encounter was enough to hook me. That old woman was a breath of fresh air to me. In her face, I saw raw emotions that I’ve never seen or have seen occasionally and missed. Beautifully unrefined, that’s how I would describe her. I felt fervour. I felt a need to act unlike anything I’ve ever known. I felt my dad’s previous zeal now running through my blood. It was my priceless inheritance. I saw my dad’s words becoming my actions. It occurred to me, my dad has been indirectly raising me to become his translator, his mediator. Things fell into place in my mind so beautifully. I was unknowingly paying tribute to my father in that old woman’s house, because she represented my father, my relationship to him, and his relationship to home, his cause, and its effects. Everything made sense all of a sudden, even my infatuation with the image of abundant light drifting into a room because that was how I felt standing there and then – warmed by the rays of light seeping through, vision all clear.

 

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Comments
9 Responses to “In my solitude..”
  1. Calf says:

    …sorry for not contributing anything meaningful, but it’s funny how you sound like the granddaughter from The Da Vinci Code :S

  2. Dino$ says:

    Thank u aloosh for sharing but i want it ALL!!!

    LOVELY!

  3. al. says:

    Calf, haha! I’ve read the book 2 years back but I’m not quite sure what sounding like her would mean? :S

    Dinos I will post the entire thing one day — right now, I feel too personal about it 😀 You should write your own self-p! God knows you have a lot to say.

  4. Calf says:

    Heh, my memory of the book is a glorious blur at best, but I remember how the female protagonist (Sophia, or was it Marlene?) mentions how her grandfather was secretly raising her as his successor by challenging her to solve tiny cryptices and puzzles from an early age, and then only when the events of the plot unfolded did she realize that she was meant to inherit his legacy and act on his behalf, because only then did his past actions and mode of upbringing make sense.

    …this is only relevant to the second-half of the last paragraph in your post.

  5. al. says:

    Hmmm, I see. Wouldn’t it be great if my dad was consciously instilling all these thoughts and feelings in me? I doubt it was like that, though. I think what happened was that my dad was going through an epic struggle in his life, in which his identity as a person was roughly shaken. He had to deal with becoming an exile almost overnight (because he was unjustly prohibited from entering Palestine after having lived there his entire life). I just happened to witness this mental trauma. It definitely left an imprint on me; it’s tough seeing your own dad breaking and fighting to stand firm for what he believes.

    By the way, he has no idea I’m moved by him this way.

  6. Calf says:

    There’s your mystery. Neither party knows what the other is thinking. You think he wasn’t raising you that way. He most likely thinks you don’t see him the way you do.

    I don’t know about other people, but sharing mushy feelings like that with immediate family members is absolutely off-limits for me. It’s material for movies and books only, not real life. Am I alone in this? Or is this a guys-only thing?

  7. al. says:

    Calf, expression of mushy feelings to family is forbidden territory to most people I know, myself included. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing though. I’m not a mushy-feeling type of person with anyone anyways, but I’ve been feeling more and more obliged to express some feelings towards my family. I feel like they don’t know me at all. Because we’re different but also because I’ve never made an effort to explain myself to them. It gets more difficult with time which gives me a sense of urgency to do something about this gap before any one of us regrets the fact that it’s too late, you know?

    I also feel that my dad needs to know I see him this way because I want him to know he’s secretly been my role model for a while now. I think it’ll do him good knowing his struggle didn’t go to vain.

  8. Saha says:

    This is beautifully written, obviously the journalist blood!
    ‘In a way, I think, he wanted to materialize his existence because he felt like he was holding onto thin air.’
    I particularly like this. But is materializing your existence any more real than holding onto a dream?
    Are you going to help with the renovations? Dependency is a beautiful thing and to be depended on is an honour.

  9. al. says:

    Interesting observation Saha. Well, it feels like it’s real for most people, doesn’t it? When you have assets (the house, the car, the job)..doesn’t that make you feel like you’re treading on solid ground? It may be a barren ground, but it is solid nevertheless, no? But I get what you mean by ‘real’. You mean an existence pumping with life and meaning, right?

    If so, then yeah of course, a material existence is as unreal as it gets.

    Well! I hope I will be helping with those renovations and more this summer. And yes, when you realize that you hold something someone else who is less privileged needs, it adds so much more value to that which you have. It can really humble you.

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