No Skin in the Pain

If Beirut is this severed, I’m fretful about what it would be like to walk in the streets of Damascus again.

Beirut with it’s crooked charm, feels as intimate as a cul-de-sac and as experiential as a metropole.

Beirut tempts those with no skin in the pain with it’s little fables of familiarity. For it’s guests, it’s entirely livable. Because as easily as they came, they can go.

Beirut cautions those tending scabs with the salty reality that much has become unfamiliar. The sensation that you are a stranger on the half- pavement you’ve stumbled upon a hundred times arises from the alienation in every walker-by’s eyes. For the scarred, it’s painstakingly unlivable. Because as paralyzingly hard as it’s been to remain, it is almost impossible to leave.

The same is true of many close enough places.

More than one Arab writer friend has said to me that we cannot make zombie and vampire movies because what’s left of us is already one or the other. Half-dead or half-alive, sucking on someone else’s blood to keep the threadbare versions of ourselves resuscitated. That’s the non-fiction live-stream.

So what would it mean to walk again in Damascus then. All I have to do is ask a Palestinian who knows all too well the sensation of being estranged in their own city and a recurrent stranger in all the close enough lands.

Torn. Apart. At best it’s a new tear scabbing. For the most part, it is as raw as an open wound or as disfigured as an untended one. Generational sewing at the same seams. Sometimes all there is to look at is how disfigured we are. Other times, it’s almost unbearable to see how beautiful we appear – to those who don’t have skin in the pain.

Beirut with it’s just-about-lit alleyways and skeletons for buildings, feels the way youth should and looks like the old woman looking down at her street from the draped balcony with the plants.

Damascus never felt like the restless young. But Damascus also has someone at the balcony. Often it is children gazing at life outside their apartment with partial view. Damascus is not one to reveal its beauty or horror all at once.

In Damascus nothing is ever quite what it seems and secrets are poured into leaning ears as eyes scan and screen, mouths full with gossip. But in Damascus the word on the street whispered in the wrong ear can get you snatched from one never to reappear – loved ones still waiting.

It is not the only city where this occurs. But it’s the notorious one, the big brother, with many half siblings test-driving the art of disappearance in close enough cities.

Guests, as permanent as they may be, somehow get the best of what’s on display. And those, in their own cities, or from a close enough towns; living in the thick of it, can’t or won’t. We are our own lesser-than compounded and confined to a system of have and have-nots.

Those whose skin is the scathed sky above and land beneath – handed the scraps of those with no skin in the pain.


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