But it seems to keep happening. Death, I mean. Not the writing about it part although it tends to stir up pestilential thoughts that end up here.
Last month was zeitoun season, when those of us whose families have olive groves start to argue over how many tankeit zeit you get from the pressed share. Of all the years I’ve lived here, and although the trees only carry enough fruit to warrant harvest and oil production every other year, I never went to see the olive-picking occur on my grandparents’ land. It seemed strange that I’d developed such a love for vines but hadn’t taken advantage of the access to our own crop of the green elixir that goes on everything. Wine may be a passion but olive oil is in my blood. I almost missed the harvest this season too as my weekends were wrapped up in incoming boxes of wine or the trivial tasks that, at the moment, seem more important than witnessing nature do her thing.
Because you always have more time, right?
But then something happened that made us put life matters on hold: death. My teta fell asleep forever in her home of the South surrounded by the olive trees. It was a Tuesday that brought us to her before the zeitoun were all picked and gone that weekend. The cigarettes, the stacked plastic chairs, the Advil and Panadol flowing like sugar cubes, the tissues and bottles of water, those ugly, coral coffee cups. Coral. What a perfidiously fantastic adjective for such a dull funerary necessity. Teta let me see the olives and the most wonderful palette of color in a sea of black and coral.
Death has this way of slapping you with so much truth. Anthony Bourdain. Gavin Ford. The media gives you this false sense of knowing. You’ve lost a travel buddy, whether he was showing you the feijoada of Brazil or helping you open your eyes before a dreaded 8AM T/R Plant Physiology elective that you foolishly registered for. Like how Bourdain had deep pain, as we all do, even if he was being paid to explore the world with his stomach. Like how Gavin, our morning companion, was murdered and violated posthumously by the audience that loved him. Like how his British passport may bring him faster justice but evokes more shame because this is how we treated our adopted patriot. Like how I feel I knew them better than my own grandmother.
Before her heart affected her memories, she used to use her kibbeh bil saniyyeh or djeij bil forn to entice me to visit. My dad says she lived for everyone else and I feel like I missed the chance to find out about the parts when she didn’t. Because I know they exist. All children forget that their mothers have lives beyond them. When she met my maternal grandmother in California, they knew how to communicate although neither spoke the other’s language. Even though she’d ask my female cousins about romance, she’d ask me about work. She knew how to read people more than words. I think my sister has her hands. We weren’t that close but it’s been almost 40 days and every olive I see reminds me of her.
There are glimmers of life that arise from death. Like the trees that sprout out of the rooftop of the dilapidated Holiday Inn. Like the birds returning to their nests in the bullet hole scars of my war-time building. Like the thought that teta maybe, just maybe, has been reunited with my jiddo after three decades apart, half of which he was still alive for.
But that’s another death for another day.
For now, a star was put out and the world lost some of its light. Mornings will be a tad grayer. As a nation, it’s a good thing we’re used to being in the dark.
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