Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Jet Laaaaaag

I was looking through a notebook trying to find something I had written recently when I came across something I wrote in Beirut that I never typed out and posted. It isn't dated, but it was written after To the Lighthouse, so it had be around November 2011. I've only made minor edits here; I've left the substance intact.

At the top, I wrote a note. "Need to: get MTC card, notebook." MTC is a mobile phone company; I needed to either refill my account or get a new SIM card. Weird, because I only remember using Alfa.

Hamra at 6am is a peaceful place. The jackhammers have yet to break apart the quiet and people are not yet noising up the street. Missing are the car horns, the scooters, and the endless lines of traffic. The Lebanese seem to have agreed that it is an hour when they should all rest.

I have been reminded of this because I didn't sleep last night. The seven hour time difference has wreaked havoc on my circadian rhythm. I laid on the couch and watched some movie about a demon child and another about a guy whose brother died but comes back every day to play catch and another about some warped Australian girl whose obsession with weddings destroys her relationships with friends and family and still not a yawn would come. [I'm guessing the last one is Murial's Wedding?]

The jackhammers start a bit after seven, soon followed by an endless procession of Japanese-manufactured delivery trucks and bankers going to work and Syrians [I was told they are Syrian. I thought perhaps they were Palestinians.] picking through the garbage bins to find anything they can sell or recycle for money. Scooters and honking taxis add to the cacophony so by about nine the noise level leaves one longing for quiet.

But in the quiet I experience when I'm not in Beirut comes a longing for that noise.

[There's a note at the top of this next page: "Shamash/James -> Seamus, Amos," Shamash was the Babylonian god of the sun and justice. I was wondering if there was a connection to St. James. Although I know James is a variation of Jacob, which comes from the Hebrew Ya'aqov, Jesus's brother James in the Bible was known as James the Just. I can't help make an association.

On a side note, some people think that in Koine Greek, the word IESOUS is transliterated as Jesus. It comes from the words "uios" meaning son, and Zeus, the supreme Greek god. Son of Zeus. The consensus is that Jesus is a variation of Joshua/Yeshua, which means savoir, but it's still fun to think about the alternatives.]

I am not a morning person. It's not that I don't like mornings; it's just that I'm not very good at them. I would love to watch the sunrises and to experience the calm that exists before the world wakes up. But my soul and my body are out of sync, and the need for sleep defeats the need for beauty in the morning hours.

So it is a gift to experience a morning even if the bearer is jet lag. It is a gift to watch a neighborhood come alive and to ponder the petty things that people undertake to survive: deliveries of milk, pushing up a shop's gate, taxis taking passengers to work, an old woman sitting in the only patch of sunlight that sneaks between the buildings.

Even in winter the Lebanese sun is strong as it moves across the sky and marks this thing we humans call time. Lebanon is the land of Baal, the sun god from ancient times who rules over the country three hundred days a year. To think about Baal is to be reminded of history books; that people once worshiped the sun seems primitive, but how is it more primitive than believing a man walked on water or rode a horse from a rock in Jerusalem to a magical place called Heaven? If anything, worship of the sun is less primitive than today's religions, because the sun sustains us and makes life possible.

What is time? Time is history books and sun positions and mornings and gray hairs and science fiction movies. It means nothing. Human beings get about seven decades of physical presence if they're lucky, less if they live in places in religious or economic strife, and they spend most of it worrying about things that don't matter - material things like houses and clothing and cars. What really matters is the connections between people. If you've ever loved someone - a child, a mother, a husband, a friend - you know that love is not something that's physical, because you can feel it come from a place you can't explain. A heart is a symbol of love because love is felt in the center of your being. You can feel that connection even with distance between you, even an ocean. But sometimes the mind gets in the way, sometimes we try to rationalize relationships, sometimes we ignore the cosmic forces that throw us together because a relationship isn't convenient for us or because it doesn't fit with our preconceived notions of what life is supposed to be like. When we get trapped inside our minds, our lives can fall apart. I don't know what this paragraph refers to anymore.

Religion is of the mind. Today there are seventeen recognized sects in Lebanon, each convinced that its version of the sky genie is the correct one, each unable to understand the true nature of the human soul isn't rules and holy books. This land has always been home to warring religious sects and probably always will be, for surely human beings will cease to exist before religious hatreds are eradicated. Oddly enough, the one religion that calls for balance of the mind and soul, Buddhism, is not a recognized religion here, perhaps because it has no sky genie to believe in.

The irony of Lebanon is that while minds are polluted by the politics of religion, spirituality of an irreligious nature is present everywhere. There is soul in everything. Time truly does not exist here - the past, present, and future are wrapped together in a pita and dipped in locally grown hummus. Family and friendships are important and rare is the sense of isolation. Even through many Lebanese have emigrated due to conflict, they maintain ties to the people back home, and the sense of longing for the land of their ancestors never disappears entirely. It's odd to say that a place where so many have died in pointless conflict has such an insatiable love for life, but it's true. That's Lebanon, a land of impossible contradictions.

As Lebanon is drawn closer and closer to the war in Syria and the friends I made there are leaving for less greener pastures with stronger fences, my desire to be there has all but dissipated. This, the place where I knew the happiest state of my life, when I saved every penny for another trip back. The stupidity of individuals blinded by the sectarian brainwashing they've grown up with, continued corruption of politicans that everyone knows about but shrugs anyway, the deplorable state of infrastructure and the defeatist attitude of "Welcome to Lebanon..." I guess my relationship with the place has matured to the married state...

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