The second letter

My son

Syria is your ancestors’ country but not necessarily yours. I say that because I am convinced that you are free to choose who you become, and where you belong to irrespective of my influence and heritage.  Still, if you ever elect to present yourself as Syrian please don’t hesitate to do so, and never be distracted by the currently rampant civil war.

In fact, you should feel immensely proud because Syria has existed since the earliest stages of civilisation, and has always continued to flourish irrespective of the madness of men. Syria is an idea that is much larger than the country marked by the fake borders. This idea is one of the reasons the war is raging over there.

On the other hand, Syria for me is the centre of the universe. It is the place that I spent the first thirty years of my life in. It is where I had many firsts; the first walk in the rain, the first buzzer beater in a basketball game, the first religious discussion, the first kiss, the first breakup, the first drink, and many others.  Syria is where my parents, relatives and my childhood but lifelong friends lived. It is where many of these loved ones continue to live. Syria is where I spent many days in the nourishing company of all these people, and grew up safely and slowly to become a man.

Ironically, I wasted many days in Syria planning to leave it. I did so to follow my ambition, passion and dreams. Now, that I have been outside Syria for the last fifteen years, I am not able to stop missing every detail of my past life there; wishing I lived a fuller life, or stayed a bit longer, or visited more often.

Many Syrian will talk in a similar way about Syria, but regrettably all Syrians including me proved to have never been mature enough to appreciate our differences, or to understand that we fully complemented each other in that fantastic place.  A complicated formula of a dictatorship, radicalism, conflicting international interests, lack of influential ideologists, venomous neighbors, and many other factors has led to the eruption of a war that is yet to reach its full destructive potential.

I will write about this war and my memories in Syria in other letters, but for now I will leave you with one more contradiction to accept and learn to deal with. This is the observation that the awesome music of sweet memories, dreams, and life continues to play, even though the actors continue to kill each other, and continue to be engulfed in their wild hate. Could you accept that?

The first letter

My son

As you approach your teenage years, I am unable to stop thinking of the 6 o’clock hour in the morning of Saturday the 10th of April 2004. I remember it as clear as if it was yesterday. This was the time that the long labour of your mum ended. I was there for that moment. I recall that I had planned to cut the umbilical cord, but was never offered this privilege. The midwives unwrapped it from around your neck in a hurry as it was causing you some distress. Your grandmother was there too, but she couldn’t stay until the end of labour. I think she was bored, and not just worried as she said back then.
I remember clearly the junior midwife considering calling for help, as she was concerned about your breathing pattern. I think my presence as a physician in the labour room affected her judgment.   Anyhow, the more experienced midwife confirmed that your breathing was normal, brushed the idea of calling an on-call doctor aside, and reassured us all. Needless to say, you never had a breathing problem in the thirteen years that followed.

I also remember clearly standing in the car park moments after your birth, and talking over the phone to my parents in Syria. I was then proud as proud can be. I was oozing energy and joy. I had a great sense of achievement that was never repeated until your sister was born 6 years later.

I see you now approaching an age where you will not need my support, or you will not be asking for it. Still, you will be having many questions, as you grow older. You may not feel like asking me. Mind you, I never felt like asking my parents when I was your age. Also, I am not sure when the talking between us will stop, or if it is ever going to stop. Many of my friends keep repeating that talking, as a form of communication, will eventually stop between a dad and his son. I hope that never happens but if it does, I pray it will be temporary.

Anyway, I didn’t know what gift you would appreciate on your thirteenth birthday so I decided to write you few letters. Well, I know I don’t speak often. I have your mum to remind me of this fact every day. I might have missed many opportunities to discuss with you Syria, religion, love, friendship and many other things. I must have missed many opportunities to communicate with you, but I hope these letters will help to do just that. I believe they will help you to understand who I am, and will possibly shed light on the person you want to be. They may also give you some suggestions on how to face the life that is ahead of you.

To be honest, I am not certain if I am writing these letters only to you or also to myself. I truly think both. Maybe these letters will help you shape your personality, and will help me heal my soul. I don’t know but I will try regardless, because I believe I am going to enjoy this exercise.

These letters will be from a Syrian expat father that is going through a midlife crisis with all its contradictions, to a son that is starting to form his identity and personality. I am not sure how often I will be able to write, but I will try to find a rhythm. By the way, you may always choose the subject you want me to write about, and I sincerely hope that you too enjoy this project.

These letters will carry my established views on the subject that I am discussing at the moment of writing about it. Let me explain, and please consider my explanation as the first letter; I used to read to you ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ story on most nights as I was putting you to sleep. I was never good in recalling other stories, so I read you this single story as written in the book. However, I recently discovered that it would be very easy to change its end or to view it from a different point of view. I list for you the different endings that I came up with;

First version, the wolf and his gang enjoyed the delicious meal to the last bite. She and her grandmother shouted but nobody cared. The wolves grew happier with every scream.

Second version, she was smarter and quicker. She ran to her grandmother’s house. She anticipated the wolf and his gang. She killed them all and laughed loudly while doing so.

Third version. She saw the wolf. She was speechless. They must have met in a previous life. She forgot her grandmother altogether. She and the wolf lived happily ever after.

I chose this story as part of the introduction to set things correctly from the beginning. I hope thinking of the many possible versions of the same story, helps you to understand that there are many versions to every story in life. There is no such thing as the single or the correct view or opinion. Things depend on one’s accumulated views, principles and experiences. So if you were feeling optimistic you would possibly prefer the third version of the story. On the contrary, if you were angry or were feeling down you would probably prefer the first or the second version.

As you grow older, you need to develop your own opinions or views on matters in life, love them, stick to them and defend them. With time you may come to appreciate that no one can understand all aspects of a single incident at one time, and that your opinion and others on certain matters may evolve as you accumulate years and hopefully wisdom. So you first challenge is to appreciate that although my views in these letters have matured through many experiences, they are only valid at the moment of writing them, and possibly only through my eyes. Could you accept that?

الغربة

ها قد أصبحنا بعيدين عن ماضٍ و تاريخٍ و طفولة، و عن أهلٍ و أصدقاءٍ و أحبة. و عن بيتٍ و أرضٍ و حجر

و فقدنا التواصل مع من كانت الروح معه وله، بشراً كان أم بلد. ووضعنا اللوم على الخوف و البعد، و اقتنعنا أحياناً بالحذر

و ها قد انغمسنا في الاندماج في مجتمعاتٍ لم نكبر فيها، و لم نخبر مدنها ولا مشاكلها و لا طينة ابنائها

و غرقنا في لحاق أحلامٍ نسجها الطموح و الخيال، و أعاق تحقيقها الواقع و العقل وعثرات الزمن

فتعبنا، و تعبت الشكوى منّا، و ملّ الشوق و الأمل. و أدركنا أنّ الوقت يمضي  فيتراكم البعد و العمر، و لا ينتظرنا أحد

غربتنا غربة روحٍ تخشى توقف تقاطع حلقات حياتها مع من تحب و افتراق القدر

هذه حالنا فسلاماً لمن كان شريكاً، و سلاماً للوطن

الطريق

حياةٌ قلقةٌ نعيشها فكل يومٍ يمر نزداد حيرةً، و ننتظر صباحاً جديدا علّه يحيينا
نفيق على مزاجٍ، و ننام على آخر، و العمر ما زال يمضي و يترك الاثار فينا
يتعاقب علينا الغم و الفرح بتواترٍ سريعٍ، سبق بمراحل تعاقب نهاراتنا و ليالينا
و يزداد سواد الليل الداكن قتامةً، و لا يعقبه نهارٌ، و لا يضيء نجمٌ حُلكةٓ أماسينا
و الريح في أعماقنا لا تهدأ، و لا تُسَكِّن الروحَ صلاةٌ، و لا نعرف راحةً ولا طمأنينة
فتتجاذبنا قوى متقاربةٌ و متنافرةٌ ،و نعيش نصارع للحفاظ على توازنٍ ما يرضينا

لا نعرف اين نمشي او نقف، فالتفكير صار عسيراً ليس فيه هدوء ولا سكينة
و ننتظر طويلاً أشياءَ و صدفاً من الإله و ملائكته و نتمناها رسائلَ لتهدينا
و نبكي بحرقةٍ يوماً كان القرار فيه لنا، و كان الحاضر و التاريخ من صنع أيدينا
و نحتار ولا ندري أي طريق نسلك، و يطول الكابوس و تنشّل مع الوقت أغانينا
فويلٌ لنا نفوسنا و هي متعبةٌ مريضةٌ لا ترى العشب أخضرَ إلا خارج اراضينا

و ويحٌ لنا من بلدٍ عاث بها الطامعون خراباً، و زاد في طنبورهم نغماً حامينا
و ويحٌ لنا من أهلٍ قُتِلوا أو قُتلت آمالهم، فصُرنا وصاروا في آخر الزمان مساكينا
و ويحٌ لنا من أطفالٍ لا بل أماناتٍ يكبرون و ينظرون الحب و الفرح و الاستقرار دينا
و ويلٌ لنا من عربٍ فقدوا مصداقيتهم فكذبوا و تاجروا بأعراضنا واحلامنا و أمانينا
فلعن الله الحرب و النفس و الاكتئاب و كلّ من قتل ربيع منتصف عمرنا و الاربعينا

The echo

 

 

In that field, he regularly stood as a boy and shouted. The field was paved with tall green and brown grass. It resembled a savanna that was disrupted by islands of plants and a maze of roads carved by the feet of farmers and the occasional travelers. It was surrounded by hills and green mountains. On his side of the field stood a modest white mosque on the edge of a graveyard that hosted his ancestors, while on the opposite side stood a gigantic villa of a young and lunatic, cigarette and hashish smuggler. On his side of the field the plants had bulkier roots, while on the other side the plants were greener.

In that field, he regularly stood and shouted. Just before the end of his screams, the echo of his voice, on every single occasions, pierced the air and became clearer and clearer. In the few seconds that followed, he always enjoyed the feeling of being the master of the land!

Many years later, he regularly hears the same echo although he stopped shouting. It visits him mostly while drifting to sleep but on occasions it is clearer at early mornings. It becomes louder as the events of life intensify. It becomes closer to yelling as he tries to embark on new adventures or as he faces life pleasures or tragedies. The screams fade away as his memory drifts back to his side of the field. In the few seconds that follow, the once master of the land fights hard to continue being the master of his life.

  • The pics are for his side of the field.. The other side can barely be seen!!

Regret

imageThe water well was in the centre of the courtyard of his grandparents’ village house. It was near the grape trees and not so far from the mulberry trees. It was well preserved but rarely used. Its walls were colored white with shades of decaying grey. Its mouth was covered with a thick scrappy metal sheet that was fixed down by the weight of randomly distributed stones.

The water well was the centre of many stories about ghosts, walking skeletons, snakes and mysterious creatures. They all lived inside it and were ready to eat any child that dared to uncover it.  Even worse, they were ready to kidnap any child and hide him away from his parents inside a maze of murky water caves.

Still, the well was so luring; he remembers clearly uncovering it on number of occasions, he actually remembers daring to look down to see the clear but black and far layer of water. He also recalls sessions of throwing small and large stones into it and hearing them as they slapped the deep water. Screaming sounds always followed these sessions. On each occasion, he expected to finally see the creatures that lived deep down the well. But, for a strange reason, these sounds always turned out to be those of angry parents or relatives promising gruesome punishment.

Thirty years later, he believes that these stories were most probably told to frighten the kids, block their inquisitive minds and protect them from falling inside the well.

However, somehow he still regrets that he never went down the well to unravel its mysteries. An opportunity missed; that forbidden path is now abandoned and closed forever!

First lesson

My ten years old son was arguing with his mum about the reasons for changing his T-shirt.

I stepped in and gave him the first father to son lesson: I advised him to choose his battles in life. “Sometimes we need to forgo some fights to win others” I said and thoroughly explained!!

His eyes brightened as he fully appreciated my sincere advice.

I omitted the fact that, I have rarely won an argument with my wife or any other women. I deliberately did not want him to know. I felt he was too young to loose hope.

I raise my kids on need to know basis. He will learn in time