A couple of months into the covid-19 pandemic, someone asked me what this experience has been teaching me. I shrugged them off, irritated at the possible suggestion that the extinction of “daily life,” as we know it, could have anything rewarding to offer. What could I have learnt?
The entire term pandemic now directly takes my brain cells to every other thing I was unhappy with at that time in my life. I did not want to reconcile myself with the fact that alas, things have come to shit. It was set, I was to spend my last semester locked in an apartment, with mere scraps of time that we were allotted to leave the house.
My to-do lists were now switched by lists of no-more’s that stretched beyond boundaries.
There were no more midnight strolls in Paris’s yellow-lit streets. Walks by the Seine, gone. My cigarette breaks in between classes, which were the only few moments where I could rant about love and family and patriarchy and colonial bigots, I had lost too.
My mind knew one thing only, I did not have long until I had to say goodbye to the only place I’ve ever allowed myself to be me, and I were to spend it alone.
During the almighty blessing of abundant alone-time, all my mind really did was wonder if I would get to see my friends before my flight back, and if Aba Noub, my favorite waiter from our go-to girl-gang resto, would wonder what ever became of me.
It was tough, and it broke my heart at every opportunity. But I eventually collected what remained of the sane bits of myself and told myself to suck it up.
Things were always worse, elsewhere, as I always reprimanded myself.
I should do better than complain that my privileges got me typing away political papers I disliked, and a vault of classic Egyptian comedies to watch. I mean, I did miss potluck picnics and all that but how bad could this be?
It wasn’t so bad; I eventually got to cheat time and stay a couple of extra months in Paris. It was my way of getting even with the pandemic. Once the lockdown was over, we pretended that the pandemic also was, and I was doing some of the things that I once enjoyed, but I was not happy.
And it nagged at me, the fact that I was not happy. I knew what was wrong, I knew a bunch of things were wrong. I knew but I couldn’t do anything about it, I was leaving. My flight was booked, and I wanted to leave Paris thinking that things were great.
Evidently things were not great, and in the irony of things, coming to Lebanon amidst a pandemic, an explosion, and a national crisis, was what forced me to accept bitter truths about life and people. It’s only been 4 months since I left Paris, but I was angry for a good chunk of them. I was angry and I was livid. I was angry at friendship and love and life, the pandemic, corrupt politicians, people dying, and the entire tragedy of the Arab world. I was angry at everything and I no longer wanted anything to do with it anymore, and it pains me to see how angry I really was.
But anger is inevitably temporary. I grew tired of my chaotic state of mind, and I wanted to forgive the universe just a little. So, I did, and as much as I did not want to believe it, things picked up. I stopped lamenting on the singular question of: How could my life come to absolute shit this quick, and instead, altered my question.
Was this the most life-threatening thing I’ve endured in my life? No. So then I move on.
I know many won’t be pleased with my now-seemingly fitting question. It was too “radical,” perhaps. But it’s what makes sense to me. It’s what the long line of ancestors I had used to adapt and survive, at all costs. If you’re still breathing, you say a few prayers, and you cope.
I used to think it was unsettling too. I often found my father insane for demanding us to stay rigid navigating through life, no matter what it threw at us. I thought he was asking me for the impossible, I needed to feel and cry and scream. I couldn’t do what they do, and cope.
But I think I understand now. Perhaps it took a club of catastrophes to make me see it, but the options of adjusting are truly scant.
I’ve experienced Covid-19 in three countries so far, and with lockdowns frequenting my life more than my chances at love, I can tell you the following;
Life is tough, for lots more than others. It’s also unexpected, and the people and things that we think will be there forever, sometimes aren’t. Similarly, the pandemic and other tragedies won’t last forever. That’s what gets me going, in addition to my father’s recurring voice in the back of my head, urging me to look further. It’s a tough pill to swallow, I’ll give you that.
Nevertheless, it’s not all grey and dull. The universe has a way of teaching us things, and it took all this and more to make me see what I need to work on in my life. It was the first time I was really forced to have uncomfortable conversations, until they became my safest spaces. I found new friendships in my mother, my father, and my brothers. And I found friendship within myself. I’ll leave all that I learnt for another piece, but for now, I guess a lot comes out of months of grieving over all that once was, because deep down I know, there is so much more to celebrate, because of all that I have lost. And that comforts me.