2011, a turning point in my life. I, Amr Bazgifan, understood the meaning of death and reincarnation. The same day a door was opened for me, a book of sweet anecdotes and tales was closed forever. It was the same day and only a few minutes separating the phone call I received (informing me about my acceptance in LAU) and the death of my grandfather.
LAU stands for Lebanese American University, which is one of the three prestigious American universities in the Middle East. The idea of leaving Yemen to join an American university was thrilling. You can only imagine the joy bursting from the eyes of a teenager, a teenager who comes from an impoverished and nearly illiterate nation. The feeling he gets when he opens his inbox to see an acceptance letter supplemented with a fully-funded scholarship. Alas, my book was about to be buried and a new page in my academic life was about to be turned. It was the only time that I actually believed that death could exist, that in a transaction there must be a give-and-take process. I celebrated my acceptance in the graveyard.
It was a cloudy morning, surprisingly, with a sprinkle of chilly breeze. I was on the bus heading to AMIDEAST, an American language institute and non-profit organization that works “to strengthen mutual understanding and cooperation between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa,” to distribute the chocolate I had promised my fellows on account of me receiving an acceptance letter. All the way on the bus, I kept pulling out my printed copy of the acceptance letter to let my eyes linger on the lines. The longer they lingered, the more joy I felt– each glance was like a natural dose of dopamine and serotonin for my system.
Nevertheless, that state of euphoria was slaughtered to death by that irritating ringtone my phone has adopted. All the light and colors ceased with a sudden blackout. I was halfway to my desired destination when my father conveyed the agonizing tragedy. I was confused by what to do, so I stepped down from the bus into the middle of nowhere. I was intoxicated by the news. I walked for ages, or at least that was how I felt, until I reached the nearest bus stop. All of a sudden, I saw myself kissing a deceased body. I was kissing a non-responsive grandfather staring at back me. From one moment to the next, I found myself grasping a tray of luminescent-gold cups filled to the brim with coffee that was more akin to crude-oil than the fragrant brown liquid we all know and love. So bitter was this coffee, it was as if whoever prepared it was trying to make those comforting the mourners taste their loss. I felt as if I was bipolar, captured by moments of joy that took harmonious turns alongside moments of grief.
Wallowing in this unforsaken tragedy, I kept my cheerful news secret– after all, who would be capable of producing a sincere smile on their face after a loss. I felt alone as the world had other causes to tend to. The Yemeni people had a revolution to accomplish. My Father was busy trying to make ends meet, and my mother, stricken with grief and unable to comprehend the notion of being physically detached from her eldest son, worked day in and day out to convince herself that I would not be leaving. I was trapped in a cave of isolation lit only by a diminutive candle that could reveal its light for no one but me.
Freud described, that happiness is a momentous phenomenon, whereby sorrow and sadness are more permanent. My grandfather left life, and I left Yemen to Lebanon. Almost six years have passed since he passed away, and I have since joined LAU. The old Amr is being polished into a new one. Whether this is good or bad, only God knows.
It still aches. There is an unforeseen pain when my mind unconsciously rewinds to the memory of his loss. Growing up, my grandfather was always there to enchant my ears and provoke my ambitious mind with his stories. So, as a humble attempt to return this favor, I envision what could have been, what it would be like to share my stories with him. How proud he would feel upon hearing that his grandson was now a distinguished graduate from LAU. In my mind, I narrate my adventures to him. He listens as I tell him of my travels to Turkey, New York, Chicago, Washington, Malaysia, and Singapore. I count for him my endless new friendships with Christians, Jews, Buddhists and atheists, all of whom I encountered on my path of self-actualization. I make it a duty of mine to tell him the importance of cherishing diversity, pluralism, and coexistence. But then the reality hits me– our discussion of such notions could have altered the affectionate relationship that we share. After all, it’s not easy to change someone who has lived the entirety of his life in a homogeneous society. Yes, culture baggage fights to persist, but nothing is ever absolute. Rest in peace my beloved grandfather, rest in peace my drastic past.