Monday, February 27, 2012

From You to Me, and from Me to you...


As I tried delving in the depths of her trauma, she almost gave me another blow, perhaps like what life had given to her just as she would attempt getting used to one. She told me that “true exile was a condition of terminal loss”. I looked at her with eyes filled with shock and pain. Speechless as was I, her eyes still moist, I tried my best to gather myself. I came forward in my chair and held her hands in mine. As I did that, we both looked into each other’s eyes, almost as if our arms enwrapped the other in a warm solace. The silence at that moment was of utmost value. Almost bitter- sweet, it conveyed to me how brave a lady she had emerged. When one comes across people who have lived through the most jolting of life events, a myriad of affects are felt. Other than feeling grateful for our own life, we feel na├»ve at the same time for not having seen in life what they have. One also wonders then the capacity a human has to ‘search meaning in life’. As I listened through Naila’s words, I felt near yet distant at the same time. She brought me near to my own moments of surface happiness; for I wondered in such moments how much despair did I carry within. In such moments I often found myself receding from smiles and laughter, questioning how real they were. The distance between us came naturally so, owing to the events she had seen in contrast to mine. This distance perhaps could have been bridged in a case where the events I had lived had as much intensity as those experienced by her. Yet to call an event a trauma is a difficult task, for each has its own effect and affect. With respect to Naila, perhaps my own so called ‘traumatic events’ fell short of the definition ‘traumatic’. But listening to her made me feel that we all have some or the other kind of empty spaces in us which when in sync with others get filled in their own mysterious ways. These spaces do not get filled up, never to remain empty again; rather they come closer to that of the other. Perhaps in subtle moments of feeling connected with the pained other; it is one’s own empty space that unites with the empty space of the other.
Through her narrative, I recalled an interaction with a friend of mine. It was my first one- to- one interaction with her. That day, unlike from what I had expected, she ended up sharing personal memoirs of her life, and I, much to my surprise, remained a listener. This friend, for the first time in many years, showed me my capacity to listen and with-hold all that she had to share. I also recollected my very intense and overwhelming interaction with one of the patient’s family member during my field work. That day instinctively I felt as if I was meant to be there and listen her pour her heart out. I hardly spoke few words, that too of reassurance as I ended my talk with her. But I clearly remember feeling full till brim sans any space left for extra input. This moment of recalling my moments of strength felt as if Naila unconsciously communicated to me that I was not as weak as I thought. With a blur in my eyes, and the past alive in her eyes, we exchanged a short smile, letting each other know we had come a long way and had a long way to go.
Naila shared experiences which had never been imagined by me. Maybe in times of grave adversity do we know who we really are and can strive to be. Often when one thinks of being in no man’s land, the image of that small patch between two countries, belonging to neither of them comes to mind. Here was Naila who experienced being there for she neither had French culture as inherent, and the one which she did inherit ( i.e. the Lebanese culture) was too distant from her {when she said “ But it meant, and I did not see it then, to be ‘between’ cultures and into none”}.
I have often thought of identity as being something that leads a person in life. But when the environment from the very beginning has been an unstable one, finding even a single anchor to hold onto seems essentially significant to help that person define who one is. Naila tells me that she had begun to build her identity as an exile. For her ‘home’ began and ended with her family and people who were humane amidst the madness that the others lived out in her country. It was then she brought the ironies. She said it was the stability and safety she felt in her home that allowed her to lead an interesting nomadic life and prevented her to stick to one place or for that matter think of a future. Thinking of her being a nomad brought her ‘solitary journey’ from one country to another into perspective, as I contrasted it to travelling for the sake of exploring something new. Here was Neila in search of her identity, if not roots, as she led a life of a refugee. As for her future, I wondered, then, what was future without any dreams and if she had stopped dreaming at that age. At the same time I thought about the beauty of ironies. As much as ironies always felt musical to me, they also felt too deep and distant. For me, the more difficult an irony was to comprehend, the more painful and musical it was to ears. It was in this instance, that she sang these words “My future lay somewhere behind me in an idealized past.” As she finished her music, I found myself looking at her beautiful face with awe, for words with such depth come out only after having lived something intense. With these words, she almost changed the direction of time and her life. It was in her past she saw her future, one that could be idealized; and because she considered it as ‘her right to refuse to belong’ it felt as if the past memories were all that she had to treasure and live from.

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