In the opening pages of his Journal of an Ordinary Grief, Mahmoud Darwish writes these haunting words:
What are you doing, father?
I’m searching for my heart, which fell away that night.
Do you think you’ll find it here?
Where else am I going to find it? I bend to the ground and pick it up piece by piece just as the women of the fellahin pick up olives in October, one olive at a time.
But you’re picking up pebbles!
Doing that is a good exercise for memory and perception. Who knows? Maybe these pebbles are petrified pieces of my heart. And even if they’re not, I would still have gotten used to the effort of searching on my own for something that made me feel lost when it was lost. The mere act of searching is proof that I refuse to get lost in my loss. The other side of this effort is the proof that I am in fact lost as long as I have not found what I have lost.
Mahmoud Darwish, Journal of an Ordinary Grief, pp 3-4. Translated from Arabic, with a foreword by Ibrahim Muhawi. Archipelago Books, English translation published in 2010; first published in Beirut in 1973.
When I read these words I can’t help thinking about our national crisis. Not Covid-19, or even political wars waging night and day in cities and towns everywhere.
Our most pressing crisis is our identity. Who are we as a nation?
Mahmoud Darwish’s father struggles with an “ordinary grief.” Ordinary because the grief never goes away. It’s the grief of a Palestinian whose heart has been broken. The grief of an old man without a country. Grief that won’t let go of memories because they’re the last link to what once home. The place where hearts were nourished and cherished. Memories now represented by pebbles. Bits and pieces of stone standing in for what was lost.
The USA is no paradise. Those brought here or captured against their have already attested to this.
They and their descendants are still looking for something. Dare we join them in their search? Stone by stone, bullet by bullet, bone by bone. Small connections to the past, and reminders of what they and we still don’t have: liberty and justice for all.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 March 2021
Painting of old man found at lettalkknowledge.wordpress.com