Syria’s Little Touch

The only sensed relaxation from the news media’s coverage of one its most discussed countries, is of my own making. An unconscious involuntary relaxing of the mouth, the tip of my tongue placed close to the back of my upper front teeth where I proceed to gently blow out air hissing the whispering sounds of Syria. Accusations of being over-the-top; an embellished theatrical performance, with likelihoods of reconstructing that broken fourth wall between performers and their respective audience, has become as realistic an illusion of people crossing imaginary border lines, while objectively, hasn’t it for the most part been the other way around?

Presumably, my relentless need to constantly enunciate this country’s name whenever heard or read, with borders ironically shaped like the outlining of a tank, are a means of reflecting on feelings of discomfort; as if its tanks gun cannons point directly within my soul. A blast of fears and sympathies, misconceptions and fallacies; surrounding notions related to ISIS, refugees, Syria’s far longstanding dictatorship, and the Kurdish conflict.

And as unsettling and enduring they are within this frame of reference of picture imperfectness, its existence is far from that specific focal point where lays a memory of severe distress. Syria’s been painted with small thin brush strokes of past experiences and perceptions, and much like any impressionist portrait, a deep enough look into my mindset has led me to understand a very true but most peculiar central concept: Superheroes truly do come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

My initial encounter with the superhero goes back to the Spring of 2010, several months prior to Tunisia’s December democratic uprisings, kicking off the following year’s Arab spring. I had settled in Damascus shortly after my postgraduate studies, for reasons now looking back, completely unbeknownst, but certainly realized with the telling of time. A short ten-minute walk from my apartment was Damascus’s old city, where its narrow lanes wondered through ancient buildings, in what is conceivably the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city. People often speak of cities with a particular vibe; Damascus is no exception. And yet, amid all its obscurities, it’s impossible to fully apprehend the city. Only at times do we catch its gist, ensuing in an inability to convey all of its felt sensations.

The entrance to the other residence on the fifth floor, faced directly opposite my entrance, through which the superhero resided alongside his nine-year-old elder brother and parents. Endlessly equipped in his blue and red Spiderman attire, the four-year-old, in true superhero fashion, would zoom in and out of my apartment, when I would allow for heat to escape, by leaving my front door open on those hot summer days.

There’s a belief that the countless doorways we pass through in our everyday lives are gentle reminders of life’s passageways — emblematic of the transcendence we seek within our lifetime and upon its completion, our soul’s departure. Unfortunately, immortality wasn’t a designated superpower for the four-year-old, having met his demise far too early, with one too many doorways yet to be crossed.

A commonly held Arabic proverb translates as “forgetting is the plague of knowledge.” If this holds true, parts of me would be willing to accept a life of dreadful ignorance, obliterating my mind of those awakening screams overheard one early morning. Increasing in magnitude with each passing second, I prayed that these were mere dreams within a dream. The unfortunate edict behind my supplication was that inceptions never have well defined ending points. They have the ability to plant themselves within us, becoming ceaseless eternal nightmares.

There’s also the belief that a child’s mother always sleeps with one ear open, in fear of her worst nightmare becoming reality. Hurriedly, after having dressed, and rushing towards my front doors peephole, I could see that Spiderman’s mother’s worst nightmare had in fact become reality.

Dashing out of their apartment and down the buildings stairs, her screeches screamed for help. I opened up my front door where I saw the nine-year-old brother stand directly across from me in complete despair. Our eyes locked in an exchange of tense energy; he calmly uttered something to me in Arabic with undertones of panic. I had always the impression he played the elder brother role wisely.

Nervously, I followed him into their apartment where immediately I was hit with their homes particular distinct scent. That unique scent particular to every home had always been a pondering notion, possibly a synthesis of all the homes occupants. Motioning me to look out the backroom window, which the two brothers had shared, I bent all the way from the waist forward for a full view of the ground five floors below. There lay Spiderman, motionless, flat on the ground with his backside up. With blood trickling out his right ear, his left arm was tucked under his left hip and his right arm positioned well above his head, as though he was attempting to sling-out webs.

I turned around and held the brother tight with my knees now locked in complete helplessness. Seconds later, their mother and a few of the young men who worked in the markets below the apartment complex ran into the room. In complete hysteria, she grabbed anything in site, hurling it across the room. As to what goes through a mothers mind in such a situation is as inexpressible as it is unknown. That was the last I saw of their family, knowing that for them this place could never again feel like home.

Six years later, the aftermath of this misfortune has resulted in catastrophe. The ongoing Syrian conflict has claimed the lives of over 400,00, children making up over 15,000 of those lost lives. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent General Assembly speech, mentioned the need to “confront anxiety with a clear plan in order to deal with its root causes.” But when life becomes nothing short of an encircling film reel, perpetuating further fear fuelled poisoned minds; a constant state of drunkenness, resulting in self-interested geopolitics and competing pipelines; where are we to begin?

Children may not have supernatural powers, but their in-the-moment approach to life is super heroic, in that they combat fear, the biggest threat to humanity. I never truly found out what exactly happened to Spiderman. I’ll always remember him just like any another kid, only more outwardly in his expression.