The Sea is Still Beautiful

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I jumped into a taxi — late for an appointment, my phone struggling with 2% battery — and there spied a godsend USB charger gleaming on the driver’s dashboard. I smiled, feigning a more pleasant mood, and asked if I could use his charger: “my phone is off because I have no electricity at home these days.”
“Neither do I,” he said, laughing. “Neither does the rest of the Lebanese population.”

Always on the road, taxi drivers are gurus of storytelling, and prone to harassing their passengers into random conversations. So, as I plugged the driver’s charger into my phone, the situation predictably became more intimate.

“What do you do for a living?” he asked.

“I write.”

He laughed out loud, looking into his rearview mirror with a well-choreographed smirk. “You write?” he said, laughing some more. “You mean, for a living?” I stared out of the window and laughed along. “But does anyone read anymore?” he wondered, only to answer himself, “No.” I never understood that question: Does anyone read anymore? I mean, how is that a question for a writer? How can people stop reading? Not for the love of words, but for the bare necessity of acquiring information. It may be true that most people don’t read books anymore. Indeed, maybe tv shows, with their quick, easy narratives, are more suited to these days of rapid-cycling stress — but they still have to be written, don’t they?

Someone needs to author these relatively new narrative forms. Companies want prosthetic tones of voices now. Brands feel the need to communicate with consumers around the clock; 24-hour news channels have to reinterpret the same event; leaders want to convince people of their relevance; and so on and so forth.
All these communications, which are generally offered as reasons why people don’t read anymore, require writing. Reading and writing is no longer as simple as a quiet rendezvous between writer and reader. I find it exciting to see what writers can do on this new, diverse landscape of competing mediums, that would have the impact of what their forerunners used to do just with books. Books created the world we inhabit just as much as architecture did. And where architecture failed to instill “inner beauty,” books were there to fill in.

I decided not to share this little, internal monologue with the taxi driver, but instead opted for a scripted moment of silence. “It’s funny you say that,” I said, “I was just told that my weekly blog at Al-Akhbar is going to be discontinued.” As I said it, I looked at him with the dense eyes of a pan-Arab TV news anchor announcing a massacre. You know the emotions are fake, but you accept it.. Silence indeed. He didn’t know it at the time, but I “wrote” that awkward scene to end our conversation. He played his allocated role. I thanked him for the charger and stepped out the car.

As for you, thanks for reading ‘The Farewell Chronicles” as I leave this particular vehicle. It has been a beautiful fifty-eight weeks trying to figure out how to create texts that would participate actively in how we see and interact with the world. While starting this as someone writing my farewell chronicles to Beirut, a city I love and hate, Beirut actually won. As these letters stop, I’m still here. Every time I write about this place, I have more desire to make it habitable than to actually leave it.

As I’m not sure what actually changed on the broader scale of things, I feel compelled to leave you with the most valuable lesson I learnt over this past year. We tend to get entangled in tiny webs that we think are larger than they are. We get caught up in the love of people and forget ourselves. We get caught up in the hate of others and build personas of nonchalance to protect us. Tasks can become monsters that eat up our time without invitation. A typographic mistake in a printout can seem like the end of the world. A paint color slightly different than expected can cause hysteria. Being unemployed can be very scary. Realizing that we must change our beliefs and logic systems endlessly to match our changing selves is even scarier.

But I have learned that the sea is still beautiful. And not just that, but if you walk up a little rock, a concrete barrier, or a stair on the streets of Beirut, and look up into the ugly buildings and the darkening sky in between, that this whole Earth, to the entire Universe, is smaller than you in relation to it. Take that in. Take that in as deep as you can, and then breathe it out. Everything that makes you tick, makes you angry enough to ruin your day, is a mere speck in the bigger picture. That thing that you think is the end of the world… is not. And when that’s not clear enough for you, go down to the corniche, get yourself a shot of coffee, and stare at the sea. Whatever is bothering you is not worth it, because the sea is still beautiful. We can still make this place better, and there’s no need for a final farewell. Thanks for reading.


Will miss your blog!

This column was one of the brightest spots on al-Akhbar English. I awaited new entries with anticipation. It's sad to see it end. Best wishes to the author.

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