From loss to solitude and not the other way around!

Yahya Ashour

Yahya Ashour is a Palestinian poet, born in Gaza in 1998. He studied sociology and psychology. He’s currently active in the cultural field. He is the author of the poetry collection “You’re a Window… They’re  Clouds” 2018, and the chidren’s book “For This, Ryan Walks Like This” 2021, both published by Tamer Institute in Ramallah.  

Photo: Abdulmoez Shurrab

In July 2019, about a year ago, I consciously experienced death for the first time, through the experience of loss. I experienced it suddenly, simply, quietly and in complete disguise. Death had ended my father’s long battle with cancer. The moment I received the news at night, death penetrated a part of me, a part I did not know of, nor ever felt before. My immediate reaction upon learning the news seemed to match what my readings about loss in literature, philosophy and psychology had prepared me for: acceptance. However, all my strength vanished with the sunrise.

It was not just the experience of loss that shattered me, but everything that had followed: washing the dead, saying goodbye, the prayer, the funeral, the burial. I felt angry at life and at those who were alive. What I have read about loss must have never been written the moment the author was experiencing the loss of a loved one. Death and its rituals will always remain an undocumented secret.

I did not interact with close or extended family, nor with my close or distant friends. I barely interacted at all. My bitterness appeared to be quiet and led me to solitude, instead of wanting to end the world. This bitterness began to leave the way it came in the first place: voluntarily. Then, my life made me stay in my solitude. I only communicated with people on social media while engaged in community work and college.

I gradually changed my desire from wanting to end the world to wanting to stop it a little. Yes, I mean the whole world, not just mine. I wished for it every day as I struggled with loss and life at the same time. Suddenly, Covid-19 shook the world, forcing it to stop! What a wonderful gift!

A state of emergency was declared due to the coronavirus earlier this year, in March. I was ready to stay at home, or rather, in my room. I had been practicing this the previous months without knowing. Corona allowed me to master social distancing before it vented its anger towards the world and fulfilled my wish to stop it. Anyway, the advantages of social distancing have never outweighed the disadvantages of social proximity for me.

College, institutions and meeting spots shut down. The Internet, however, did not stop! I was in no rush to blame corona for ignoring the fact that all social interaction has moved to the Internet. In the worst-case scenario, it was an outlet for the denial of loneliness. I could turn it off with one touch at any time! However, the Internet slowly turned into a mirror in which corona revealed itself.

On the surface, corona has been isolating, suffocating and killing people around the world. However, it has become ridiculous to consider the pandemic a coincidence rather than a product of capitalism, patriarchy, racism and globalization. Countries where these oppressive systems reign have been impacted hugely by the pandemic, and material wealth and technical sophistication have proven no barrier to the virus’s spread.

Corona has pushed the world to the very brink, allowing it to evaluate its systems. However, we will only find out whether the world has learned its lesson after this phase is over. It is obvious now that the world is a dangerous place, or rather, fake.

If this is the state of the world, then what about Palestine, my country, which lives under one of the last military occupations in the world and often feels like it’s been forgotten by the international community ? Corona did not affect the occupation’s policies against us. On the contrary, this occupation took advantage of the world’s preoccupation with the virus and continues, with its allies, to achieve its goals of establishing its presence as a fait accompli. It is no surprise that this occupation has caused the Palestinians to suffer the impacts of corona in several aspects, depending on where they live, whether Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, the 48 lands or the diaspora.

In Gaza, where I live, neither the siege nor the division has changed during corona. Besides, the prisons and missiles still long to visit us every other day. I do not know why I had hoped, as I always did, that corona would improve some of these conditions in Gaza. However, I was disappointed, as I have always been. The authorities in Gaza managed to quarantine whoever returned during the partial opening of the crossings for 21 days to ensure no one was infected.

I was confident that in Gaza, we would not suffer the direct impact of the virus.

For the first time, many here thought that the blockade was finally good for something.

Life gradually went back to normal in Gaza. Restaurants, schools, universities and institutions resumed operations, and there was no more social distancing, which many had not committed to in the first place. There was a constant feeling that one mistake made in the quarantine policy near the border would be like a time bomb exploding inside Gaza. Even this fear began to diminish as the world started to ease measures. Corona, however, stabbed us in the back.

The mistake happened. Corona was finally within us by the end of August. It was not kind to us, unlike what we initially thought. It seems that whether in good or bad times, we are the last priority of the world and in life.

I do not know what the coming days will look like. I do not want to expect or hope for anything. Yet, I know I will grasp onto some hope and hold on some more as soon as the former disappoints me. That is how I survived the difficulties of life before corona and this is how I will survive corona. And if, at worst, I do not survive, at least I will not be alive to laugh at myself. Hope is my home, and despair can get to me as much as it pleases when I die.

It has been one year since I experienced loss. I had finally broken down the walls of solitude and started to regain a sense of things. Indeed, I do not want to say that I am not ready this time to experience more solitude, as I have trained well for that. I want to say that I have fears—fear that the ghosts of loss will haunt me with the same ferocity to guard my solitude. Fear that I will not be able to help others with their feelings and troubles. Fear that those who helped me once to survive will not survive corona. Fear that I will not be able to present something new to myself and the world. Fear that I will fail to assume the responsibilities of my independence from the nest whose builder I lost.

When the virus was first spreading, I imagined that I would be the first to get infected in Gaza. I told myself that I would be the first perhaps in revenge or for a lack of self-confidence. However, I was not the first to be infected. And now, I am not trying to get infected at all.

I thought that I would not be able to graduate and obtain a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology through e-learning. I, however, graduated and received my diploma and forgave my university for the graduation ceremony that I did not want to attend anyway. I thought that I would not join the crowd to learn a new skill online. However, I found myself entering a new field on the Internet and excelling in it. I thought that I would not be able to write a letter about corona, and here I am writing it after all. . .

I now have to organize the mess inside of me and my electronic devices. I need to stay away as much as possible from Twitter and get closer to books, music, art, videos and words. If, after all that, I am to feel bored, I will remember the sun, the night and my jasmine on the window. Perhaps I will dance and sing with Amr Diab in my room while I think about what I can achieve in the future during and after corona.

Translated by Bisan Samamreh