The Locker from a Previous Life

And a walk down memory lane

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

She opened the locker. Three years had gone by. So much had happened since the last time the locker was locked, so much had changed in the world. In her world too. She did not remember the lock code anymore and had to have it broken. She would come to remember later that it was the birth date of someone dear to her heart. 0804.

You could write a book about the locker and its content. It was a microcosm of her life before the pandemic, before the illness. But first stood out the names. Dozens of names, some old, Germaine, Pierre, Eugénie, some younger, Nicolas, Aurélie, Chloé, and some from elsewhere, Farida, Evgueny, Mauro. They came from all over the world and from all walks of life. They did not share much, except having been really ill, at the doorsteps of the world after.

She would stick their names on the back of the locker, praying for those undergoing surgery, remembering those who did not make it and cheering for those who did. Many of the names were testaments to the miracles that modern medicine and its practitioners were able to achieve, especially when all hope seemed to be lost.

Those she cared for were here on a last chance. They came to undergo the stuff of magic, which are procedures closer to science fiction if you fancy a less irrational description, but all the same if you asked her, because magic is what it really took to save these lives in dire situations.

People on whom medicine would have given up a few years ago, or even a few kilometers away, had a chance here. A reasonable chance. And I like to think her touch contributed greatly. She was the last face they saw before the great ordeal, a great responsibility which she did not take lightly.

She did everything she could to deliver them smiling and fearless to the magic procedure which was supposed to mend them. Most made it through because a smile, a pinch of hope and a prayer are powerful spells too, maybe the most powerful of all.

She stood there, in front of the locker, memories rushing through her. She remembered her colleagues, many of whom had retired or moved on to other endeavors. She remembered the pandemic, her illness, and felt the toll that these three years had taken on her.

She remembered the old days, some happy, some sad, and all the hard times that had shaped her into the sharp professional she once was and never stopped to be, even with the past three years weighting on her shoulders.

All she needed to do now was to enter into the cold white light and take her place in the magic procedure of wizards bringing back to life those who had no other alternative than their magic.

She closed the locker, scrubbed up, donned the gown, and with her magic wand in hand, she went on saving lives, in honor of the names in the locker from a previous life.

To my lovely Rita, and to all the wizards, Elie, Stephan, Saïd, Emre, Joy, Olaf, Dominique, Philippe, Julien, Ramzi, Sacha, Régine, Sebastien, Bechara, Iolanda, Pierre, and the many others doing miracles at the edge of science and magic, to save lives which are otherwise doomed.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Satiric Spleen With a Pinch of Smiley Melancholy

Si le ciel et la mer sont noirs comme de l’encre, nos cœurs que tu connais sont remplis de rayons!

Photo by Dan V on Unsplash

Some folks seem to have this rather unique feature of being able to play surgeon on their own soul. They seem to have more awareness of their inner gears and levers, and they write about life as they know it in a very unique style, which I can only describe as Satiric Spleen with a pinch of Smiley Melancholy, if that makes any sense. Like trying to frame the absurdity of life in deadpan humor.

Yes, life can sound like tragedy met with quiet laugh. Life is absurd if you bother to think about it for a couple of minutes. We should not even be here. Life hangs to such tiny probabilities that our very existence is a challenge to the universe. But the real question is mind twisting.

Could the universe even exist if there was no life to witness it? 

Could the universe exist if it was not imagined?

So yeah, Satiric Spleen with a pinch of Smiley Melancholy, until you realize at some point, albeit with a bit of irony, that your life, this miserable and finite comedy, might still underpin the existence of a universe.

And then, standing at the doorstep of this realization, would you not long for something else? Would you not reach further and try to find some kind of hope? Hope that Life itself, with a big L, is at the inception of this universe and that we hold parts of it in us? 

Some would call it God. I know I would. It makes much more sense that way.


If you are wondering about the French subtitle, it is an excerpt of a poem by Charles Baudelaire, which I thought befits the state of ming of a satirist spleener indulging in smiley melancholy. Here is a part of it.

Ô Mort, vieux capitaine, il est temps ! levons l’ancre !
Ce pays nous ennuie, ô Mort ! Appareillons !
Si le ciel et la mer sont noirs comme de l’encre,
Nos cœurs que tu connais sont remplis de rayons !

Verse-nous ton poison pour qu’il nous réconforte !
Nous voulons, tant ce feu nous brûle le cerveau,
Plonger au fond du gouffre, Enfer ou Ciel, qu’importe ?
Au fond de l’Inconnu pour trouver du nouveau !


This essay was inspired to me by the stories of Mike Knittel, great surgeon of the human soul and inner gear specialist before the eternal. Oh and a masterful satirist spleener who takes you to introspective depths with few words, a pinch of Satire, and a tea spoon of irony.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Is It Faith

Moving mountains

Photo by Matt Sclarandis on Unsplash

Unescapable fate we wrap so willingly
Around our shoulders and desperately call it hope
Or a spiteful surrender, like a horoscope
As it becomes our destiny so seamlessly?

Hoping for the best or bowing blindly to fate
We ravel in despair, or long for green pastures
Fate, auspicious disguise to cowardly postures
Hope, hollow-point bullet served on a silver plate

Illusions however, white sheet hiding the shame
Of Lives sealed by the inevitability
Of doom to which we forfeit prime eternity
Hope? Fate? Immutable destiny be thy name?

Unless we call thy “Faith”, and quite so suddenly
Find ourselves moving mountains instead, fatally

Let the board sound

Rabih

Happy Birthday in A Major

With a mellow twist for a newbie guitarist

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Here’s how it goes if you ever feel like playing it, dear potential newbie guitarist. It only takes three very simple chords: A, E and D.

A                 E
Happy Birthday to you
E A
Happy Birthday to you
A D
Happy Birthday dear Rabih
A E A
Happy Birthday to you

Simple.

La simplicité fait la beauté, as we say around here. Nonetheless, there is a problem with the simplicity of this version: it is dull. Too sweet. Too optimistic, like a fairytale. Like everything is going to be OK. Like you’ll never stumble and fall. No illness, no hazards. No Coronavirus. No Sub primes. No war. No inflation.

Fake.

You can however add a chord to the last “Happy” to save the day: the B minor, or even better, the B minor 7th.

Bm7        E      A
Happy Birthday to you

This chord kind of breaks the happy path to which the birthday song was heading, making it more real. The B minor 7th does not sound happy, it does not sound sad either. It sounds, well, mellow, I guess. Nostalgic. Like a reminder from an old friend who’s been there before, that this new year on which you are about to embark will have its share of bliss but also its share of sadness. That you need to better manage your expectations and that time is flying. That today is gone forever, and tomorrow is not yet. That the past will always look brighter.

Trust your ear nevertheless, the chord is not sad. You can even notice an after taste. Something like Italian coffee with an orange peel. The story this chord will be telling you is one of hope. However rough, everything will be all right eventually.

In the end, when you find yourself playing the birthday song to your child or your parents, on the eve of leaving your home country to head back where you belong, it brings tears to your eyes and hope to your heart, hope for the impossible reunion, one day, with all the parents, siblings, friends, and memories you are about to leave again. That life will somehow bring us back together somehow, for good, in the country of our childhood.

Right now, on the plane back to Paris, I can hear the B minor 7th version of the birthday song resonating in my head, and I find myself hoping that the promise it seems to hold is as real as the mellowness of its sound.

To my parents who are celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary.

To my child who is celebrating her birthday.

Let the board sound

Rabih

أهواك بلا أمل — Hopeless Love

The perfect music for grieving Lebanese folks

Photo by Marjolaine Blaison on Unsplash

I’ve been listening to this piece of music in near-repeat mode for the past couple of years now. It is an instrumental rendition by a Lebanese flutist and a Lebanese pianist of a love song written by Zaki Nassif decades ago and interpreted by Fairuz, called أهواك (Ahwak) , which I think applies to us, the orphaned Lebanese, crying for a country on the verge of oblivion.

The song goes like this:

أهواك، أهواك بلا أملِ
وعيونك، وعيونك تبسم لي
وورودك تغريني، بشهيات القبلِ
وورودك تغريني، بشهيات القبلِ

أهواك ولي قلب بغرامك يلتهب
تدنيه فيقترب، تقصيه فيغترب
في الظلمة يكتئب، ويهدهده التعب
فيذوب وينسكب، كالدمع من المقلِ

I always imagine myself singing it to my home country. This song describes exactly what I have been feeling these days, especially the second verse. Hopeless love.

I love you and my heart burns for your love
You decline it, still it approaches
Estranged, it becomes alienated
In the dark, it is hopeless and tired
It melts and spills like tears

Look at us poor folks, scattered around the world, trying to rebuild a dream dreamt by those who came before, who shed their blood for it, hoping we will see it blossom. A dream to which we are still holding, to which we are still bleeding, hoping our children will see it blossom. Hopeless dream, hopeless love.

In this recursive maze of hopelessness, we are but shadows, writing from the end of the world to a lost love, orphans to a forgotten country, for the country where we grew up is no more, and we remain heartbroken over the shadow of what was once the land of milk and honey.

Anyway. Here’s the instrumental version of the song. Piano and flute. Give it a try and let me know if you can hear my home country. Or yours.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Hold on, Don’t Fade to Sleep

Just a few more hours, I’m on my way

Photo by Ramy Kabalan on Unsplash

I’m coming. Soon. I really am. I swear.

Now, to say that I am rushing to meet you again would be a slight exaggeration. Not that I dislike you. You know how dear you are to me, how hard I thrive to raise and hold your name high and how my heart bleeds over what your health bill has become. You know. I’ve already told you. I’ve shown you. Many times.

I am just afraid of what I will find. It has been a while now, and your situation is worsening by the day. By the hour. I am afraid of loosing the little hope I still have of seeing you recover. I know, advice is easier given that followed, and besides, you are beyond advice now. I know I will not find you home this time, I’m heading straight to the ICU. But hey, at least you are still awake, conscious, we can speak, hold hands, even hug. I got my booster shot, don’t worry about that.

I know what you will say. I have not been visiting as often as I used to, but you have stuff you’d want me to forgive too, so let us not go there for once. Come on, give it to me straight, I can take it. Is there hope? How long do you have left? God, do you realize how hard it is for me to utter those words? It is even harder than listening to your answer, which I already know by the way: not long. Unless…

Well, unless a miracle. Shall I hope for one? Can I hope for one? Do I want to? I mean, there are elections coming up in May you know? Will they yield a change? Aren’t people too busy surviving to vote a majority of the 128 MPs out of parliament? Too many questions, to which the answer can only be at the level of faith. You either have faith in your country or you don’t. And right now, I just don’t know. I want to have faith, I really do, but I just don’t know…

Here’s what I think. The current political system consists of two factions, both corrupt to an extent rarely seen in human history. Because of this, it will be impossible to form a majority which is not aligned with one side or the other, but it is always possible to elect enough “clean” outsiders to office to create a meaningful minority with which the factions will have to negotiate to reach an absolute majority in parliament. If they can tip the balance in favor of a few urgent changes, it could buy you months, even years, by unblocking funds or restoring confidence in your economy.

It is possible. Will it happen? Nothing is less sure. I any case, I am boarding the plane as we speak. Surprise… And to be totally honest, deep down inside, I do look forward to seeing you, even if I will not admit to it. I miss you man! It’s been a long time.

Try not to fade to sleep before I get there. Just a few hours. Once I land, I will take care of you, you will feel better, we will buy ourselves some months. At least until May, until the elections. Hold on to life, you’ve been doing that for centuries now. Just a few more hours. Got to go now, the plane is about to take off.

See you on the other side of the Mediterranean my dear country.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Lettre à une amie

Chère amie,

Je t’écris ces lignes sans trop savoir où elles nous mèneront, sans trop savoir pourquoi je prends la plume. Il est une heure treize du matin. Je n’ai ni la clarté des idées ni l’assurance du verbe qui légitimeraient un titre à cette missive, en introduction aux lignes qui devraient ou auraient dû en découler. Nous coucherons donc ces lignes ensembles, à la faveur d’une inspiration que le silence de la nuit, un verre de cognac et quelques souvenirs douloureux sans doute, joyeux peut-être, marquants sûrement, se chargeront de favoriser, pour donner corps à une diatribe, qui, j’espère, ne s’éparpillera pas trop. Mais il me semble que je m’éparpille déjà…

Il fut un temps, pas si lointain, où je n’étais pour toi qu’un inconnu de plus qui, débarquant à Roissy en ce 20 septembre, venait quémander une place au soleil. Le voyage ne fut pas des plus reposants: un aller simple, un retard de huit heures à Athènes et une arrivée mouvementée à la Maison des Elèves de Telecom Paris, Maisel pour les initiés.

Il m’aura fallu trois mois pour t’apprivoiser, Ô rouleau compresseur exquis. Que de jours n’ai-je savouré ta beauté sublime tout en subissant l’écrasante tyrannie de ton rythme. Que de fois, du haut de mon balcon au huitième ne me suis-je retrouvé la nuit à murmurer ces quelques mots de Baudelaire, cette incantation au Vieux Capitaine, cette injonction à lever l’ancre. Non pas pour fuir l’ennui mais pour mieux succomber à l’appel du vieux pays, à la tentation de plier bagage pour revenir à ma zone de confort, suicide symbolique de l’immigré raté, risée des siens pensais-je à l’époque, mais suicide Ô combien réel aujourd’hui, à l’aune des évènements de ces deux dernières années que rien ne laissait présager à l’époque.

Au bout de ces trois mois donc, point de vieux capitaine, encore moins d’ancre. Ce fut le coup de foudre réciproque, l’amour qui dure encore. Des hauts et des bas, nous en aurons pourtant eu, mais les départs fracassants auront toujours été suivis de retours, jamais de regrets. Je t’en aurai préféré d’autres, j’en aurai même courtisé quelques-unes, orientales, saxonnes, tu m’auras fait subir les rigueurs de ton tempérament, le feu de ta rébellion.

Car tu es rebelle chère amie. Tu as un caractère bien trempé dirai-je, si je voulais faire dans la dentelle ou l’euphémisme. Un caractère de chien si je prenais un ton plus familier pour cet article. Et pourquoi pas au fait? Je le dis donc, haut et fort: à bas la dentelle. Je concède pour autant que tu auras dû bien des fois composer avec mes humeurs massacrantes. Et mon Spleen …, tu auras dû te faire violence pour le souffrir.

Un couple comme un autre. L’un suit, l’autre se laisse suivre, les rôles s’inversent, et puis c’est le coup de foudre, l’état de grâce, jusqu’au rappel des troupes, cette réalité où l’on fait véritablement la connaissance de l’autre, et suite à laquelle tout passe ou tout casse. Tout est finalement passé.

Tu as fini par avoir raison de mon Spleen, j’ai fini par apprivoiser ton caractère. Je t’aime encore, non plus d’un amour éclatant et fougueux qui veut dominer, façonner à sa guise, mais d’une amitié douce qui réchauffe le cœur. Je t’ai tout donné, tu m’as tout donné: je ne suis plus un inconnu de plus pour toi, tu m’as adopté comme l’un des tiens et pour cela, je te suis à jamais reconnaissant.

Mais au bout de toutes ces années, une petite flamme vacillante brille toujours dans mon cœur. Celle d’une mère patrie vieillissante que j’ai laissée derrière pour suivre mon destin. Une mère patrie qui perd la santé, qui perd la raison, mais dont le cœur bat toujours, dont le cœur à défaut de la tête, se rappelle encore et toujours ce fils parti il y’a des années mais qui revient de temps en temps prendre des nouvelles.

Chère amie, souviens-toi, tu fus sa marraine à une époque pas si lointaine, elle fut rebelle aussi, à sa façon, il y eut des hauts et des bas… Aujourd’hui plus que jamais, ta filleule a besoin d’amis. De vrais amis. Elle a besoin d’espoir, elle a besoin d’un phare, d’une lumière dans les ténèbres. Pour l’amour de Dieu, ne te renie pas, ne la renie pas, sois cette lumière, ce phare, reste ce flambeau de civilisation qui éclaire le monde, garde le cap pour elle quand d’aucuns qui se prétendent de ses amis l’auront d’ores et déjà perdu, quand d’autres ne l’auront jamais eu.

Reste Libre, Egale, Fraternelle, et garde dans ton cœur la nostalgie d’un Liban meilleur et le Liban vivra…

Bien à toi douce France

Rabih

Cet article est également publié dans les colonnes de L’Orient-Le Jour