Marking Time: 20 Weeks of Gratitude, Week 16

Part 1: Non-Standard Calendar

Time has been an interesting medium and muse for this weekly ritual. When I started this, I knew that I’d be making a partner of the unfolding days; I did not have a script nor plan for the whole arc of my gratitude in the first twenty weeks of #TwentyTwenty. I had general bearings, but no clear map—anything more definite would have been a contradiction in terms.

So as we begin to crest the horizon and near the last leg of this journey, I’ve become increasingly aware of the regions of time that I’ve lingered in a little longer than others. These pools of memory appeared naturally, but they are not incidental; they say something about the person that I’m trying to be today and shape the self-image that I am sharing with you. As Federico Fellini put it: “We are constructed in memory; we are simultaneously childhood, adolescence, old age and maturity.”

But the moments I’ve marked reveal more than personality; they are points of relation to the world, to my friends, to the ethics of being or doing anything at all at this time and in this place. The stories I choose to share will inevitably occlude someone, somewhere.

For example, today is the anniversary of the start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. Do I tell you about the times I slept in the bathtub, the point furthest away from any window? Do I write about the taxi driver who drove us past snipers when my mother and I fled to the airport? I’ve shared that story a few times before; I’ve deployed it in service of both academia and activism. Would it serve some purpose today?

I would enjoy telling you that story again because my gratitude towards transit workers has only grown over the years. Maybe some other time. Today, I want to think about the stories that our calendars write for us. I want to introduce you to Dammeh, the feminist collective in Beirut that produced this political document now hanging on my wall.

Dammeh doesn’t name Easter; they mark it as “public holiday.” Sunday the 19th is commemorated as their founding general assembly in 2015. Today and next Saturday both feature black bands, for the war and for Qana.

Friday is remembered as the start of a 70 day strike in the Lebanese national university in 2019. Tomorrow is Cake and Cunnilingus Day—and no, I’m not woke enough to know or want to ask about that festivity.

There is an ethic of love and care in every memory marked in this calendar. There is also a refusal to relegate these sheets of time to memory—as the personal is political, so too is the remembered historical. This is shared history forming its public.

It’s important to remember our stories and to learn from what we forget—what others remember. That’s why my story in the back of that taxi was worth telling; it highlights how the driver’s story was lost to time.

I want to remember the forgotten; I want a record kept.

Part 2: Internal Clock

For the longest time, I’d been resigned to living off-tempo, to being incapable of getting “taken in and by the game” and having “the game under the skin”—i.e. having both body and brain sync up in the internalized habitus of a group identity or professional role. This was a phenomenon that one sociologist called “illusio” and I did not seem to have it.

This was not a point of pride; I did not like feeling ill-fitted to tasks at hand and the need for quick reaction, to be deficient in both team spirit and personal drive. I did not enjoy having to fake it just to passably make it, especially as I threw myself into more and more arenas over the years; I felt like a fraud.

But that’s all I ever knew; it seemed like I was always slightly removed from even the things I believed and wanted to participate in. It seemed like that was just how I ticked, so I’d grit my teeth and try to keep pace; if I did a good job, I wouldn’t be betraying my peers.

As my time has been colonized by my day job, a paradox has emerged; I now have less and less time for other commitments I’ve made and causes I’m invested in, but I also experience more and more of what I think Bourdieu was talking about when he theorized how people embody the social field—even when I sometimes question the rules.

It’s something I experienced most fully in the past week; even as I’ve raged against some of the thinking that led us to that labor-intensive approach to Holy Week, in the moment—through the actual doing—I felt good. I enjoyed the craft.

Maybe it‘s the integrative power of this job; maybe I’m piecing together my fragmented selves into a coherent whole; maybe this is what it feels like for timelines to converge into a singular future. It feels good.

I’ve been re-membering old skills, past vocabularies, and the person I’ve been. This is montage theory for the soul, where “the cut begins to have an importance in itself.” It feels good. I almost don’t want to admit it. It feels good.

Part 3: Non-Linear Timeline

I’m in the passenger seat of an SUV with two pots of Easter lilies in my lap. Everything is hazy white. My boss is driving me back home. We turn the corner into the lot by my building. I see a man sleeping in the number 12 parking space. Cut. I’m in the back of a taxi. Everything is greenish grey. My mother is in the passenger seat. We turn a corner and the driver asks us to crouch down to the floor of the car. Cut. I’m in the driver’s seat. Everything’s a dusty bright yellow. A soldier leans down to speak to me through the open window. I tell him that I’ve been driving around for two hours trying to find a road that isn’t blocked; I just need to leave Beirut and go home. He points to a police officer across the way and tells me to ask him if he’d let me through. I see the officer watching us. Cut. I get out of the SUV and struggle to sling my backpack over my shoulder while carrying the lilies and a small bag of Easter candy. Christine yells down from our kitchen window: “what have you brought for me?” My boss yells back from his car: “Happy Easter!”. Cut. I’m flat on my stomach with my mom’s hand on my back. She’s stretching her arm in the gap between the two front seats. I can’t see the driver but I feel the car accelerate beneath us. Cut. I pull up towards the cop but he simply waves me onwards. I keep driving and soon find myself in the middle of a massive protest. Hundreds of people begin to flank my car on both sides. Two guys on a scooter drive up alongside and ask me if I need help. I tell them that I’m just trying to get home. Cut. Christine sees my boss get out of his SUV. He leaves a pot of Easter lilies next to the number 12 parking space. Cut. The taxi lurches to a stop and I hear commotion. The doors open and two sturdy arms pull me up to a man’s chest. All I see is a white t-shirt. Cut. The guys on the scooter tell me to follow them. They drive up in front of me & part the sea of protestors. I have an escort all the way to the intersection that takes me home. I wave them goodbye. Cut. The man sleeping in the number 12 parking space is on his back. He’s cradling the flower pot. He’s talking to the lilies. Cut.

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