met this girl
when he was a traveling salesman, peddling lingerie in the south. He married my grandmother when she was eighteen years old and took her back to Brooklyn, where she lived with him and his mother, at first. Ida Mae learned how to speak Arabic, cook Arabic food and then raised five children in a tiny brownstone in Brooklyn. When I asked her many years later why she'd married Grandpa when she was so young, she told me Well, honey, he was tall, dark and foreign.
I'm telling you this story now because I can't get them out of my mind these days, particularly as I watch and listen and read about the conflagration in Syria. I am one-quarter Syrian. That quarter is from the city of Homs which has been in the news of late as one of the tinder boxes of the civil war there. My grandfather Charles was a Christian Arab who fled persecution with his family more than a century ago, and he never let us forget whose side he was on, barking his views from the Barcalounger he seemed to be reclined in for my entire childhood. Israel, Palestine, Jews, Muslims, Christians -- these were words I heard over and over on those weekends my cousins and I ran through the house and outside to the garden, or sat and colored while our grandmother shaped raw lamb into kibbeh and our aunts and uncle argued.
I don't know what to think about the whole thing other than it's a fucking (there's really no other word) tragedy of a colossal scale. Pure madness. All of it. I can't say I feel comforted to see President Obama sitting grimly next to John McCain as they collude on how to persuade our legislature to vote that we strike Syria. I can't say that I agree with them. I don't see the sense of bombing as punishment. I can't say I feel neutral, either, when I read of hundreds of thousands of people brutally murdered, citizens of one country killing one other barbarically and millions displaced, wandering.
I remember the fighting and yelling in my own extended family, though, over what seems like the same old shit.
Pure madness. All of it.
I don't know if I have any relatives in Syria, but I imagine someone whose blood and genes I share is running around there, throwing rocks or bombs or fleeing with her children to neighboring countries or even receiving the gas meant to kill from her own government.
I don't know what to think.
(Arabic for shit)