Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Certain days challenge the ability of a writer, singer, choreographer to make sense of. They are few, and in this instance mercifully so.
Today was about torture.
Severed and dismembered, blinded, burned, beaten. Told in the first person. Those are moments that ask you the most fundamental questions – who are we, how do we descend into Hell and what is the path back? Is there a path back from acts which seethe inside a victim and bubble up in despair and in violence? If I thought that I could take it in and not take it on, I was wrong. Its right there – a stone in my stomach.
And then I’m sitting in an airplane at 25,000 feet over the Bekaa Valley, entering Syrian airspace and seeing the glittering nightscape of Damascus out the window. I’m teasing Alyssa and grumbling that there’s not enough time to finish a Corona before heading through security. Those are my problems. Below me somewhere someone is atop the back of a motorcycle, strapped to a smuggler and speeding over dirt roads in the night, pursued or haunted by security forces from countries which live in some ways barely out of legend for Americans. What do we know of Syria? What do we know of Lebanon? Yet the worst they can throw at this man, this refugee, is better than the best prospects for him if he sets foot in Iraq again.
“They took our lives. They took our laughter. Then they took parts of our bodies,” he said at the far end of the table. Restart is an NGO whose mission is counseling, of finding the psychic keys to reboot someone’s deepest soul. He rocked back and forth as he sat, and through the small separation in the table you could see his feet beating time like a frantic drummer racing to catch up with the band. Much of his left hand was missing, and he cradled it in his right even as he twirled a cell phone like a baton. Eye contact was difficult, and inside his eyes was a whirlwind, a dust storm of memory and terror at the cost of being the wrong person in the wrong moment in the wrong time, the wrong sect or the wrong minority.
“There are only women left in my family in Iraq now.” The men had fled or died.
“If you show this video on television and people see it in Iraq I could be killed. My family could be attacked and killed. But I don’t care. I am already dead. They can’t kill me more than once and people have to know the truth.”
There is a sense of guilt that accompanies hearing these stories, and these dismembered lives, and then getting in an SUV and going back to the air conditioned hotel and the espresso that I don't understand how to reconcile. Perhaps its the responsibility of making something worth the faith that these people put in you to "tell our story honestly, fairly and with care."
Banking over Damascus in the dead of night I think about the roar of a motorcycle engine in the cedars of Lebanon.