Friday, February 13, 2015

"You Cannot Stay Here"

The harder I try to hold on to things the faster they seem to slip away. There seems to be this kind of invisible current that is pulling us off into different directions, like stars hurtling away from each other at unbelievable speeds. In space the distances involved are so vast that the movements appear minuscule, and we think we are being stationary but that isn't true. We all have this kind of yearning inside us, to get back to some kind of home. A place of origin. Paradise. Maybe it's part of our subconscious, to always seek the safety and familiarity of the womb from which we came. But we can't go back. We are moving away from home as steadily as the hour hands on a clock with a blank face. Some of us move to ruin, others to plenty, and others are destined to die in a strange land, plucked off this earth in the spring of our youth and without the slightest sympathy for the life we could have lived. I sigh heavily at the sheer scale and monstrosity of it all. We are so powerless.

I want to go back to Syria. I want to have a home there, and to have the life I dreamed of for myself and my family. It is true that I might - one day - visit it again. This nightmare might finally end, but it feels as if the die has been cast and many of us have already been jolted onto a new track. This is a permanent change, and it is a frightening thought because we don't know where this track leads, and what will happen to us. The destinies of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Syrians have been scattered apart like shooting stars from the explosions of the last four years. I feel afraid. I think of leaving behind the land where my grandparents are buried, of the colour of the soil and the warmth of the sun on my face as I breathed in the air of that land. I think of strange people who will walk past their tombstones in the years to come and they won't feel anything when they read the names. These people will not care about what happened on this earth, and about all the things that passed before them.

When I was young I was taught the story of how Abraham and his family moved beyond the grazing areas of their tribe. He had to set off alone to new pastures, to new lands, because he simply couldn't stay anymore. I wonder what he felt like as he moved away into the unknown, leaving behind everything that he knew. The Middle East back then wasn't what it is today. It was a vaster, emptier place. He must have felt very lonely, very worried, as he picked his way through the wilderness. In Arabic we call Abraham, "al Awah". In its simplest translation it means the one who says, "Oh!" or "Ah!" a lot, as if sighing. It implies a man with a sensitive and tender heart, one who feels the suffering of existence and the burden that life places on us. And when he had given up hope of having any children, it is told that the angels came down to see him, and that they said to him his children will be as numerous as the stars he could see in the sky above. I once saw the night sky over Syria when all the lights went out, it took my breath away and I realised how small, how insignificant I was in front of this universe. If we were all snuffed out in an instant nobody would even notice, and yet we live on.

We are some of those stars, the children of Abraham, and through no fault of our own we are being forced to go down the same difficult and uncertain journey. It started when we stood up for what we believed in. We couldn't stay the way we were. Something had to change. We were so frightened, and we are still frightened, but we keep moving. The graves of my forefathers are cold, their bones rest and their souls say to me, "you cannot stay here", but I don't know where to go, or what to do when I get there. It is tempting and feels liberating to stop struggling against the current, to let it carry me. In the distance people who are dear to me are still kicking, they call to me and I call back for now. But soon we will all have to face the silence and emptiness alone.

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