A letter to Antioch
I never thought I would write you a letter. I never thought I would lose you with my loved ones. Wherever I went, I would take you with me. Where I was, you were there too. I was you, you were me. You had thousands of stories, I was just one of them. I would get lost in your old stories. I took long trips knowing that I would always return. Sometimes 3 months, sometimes 6 months, sometimes 1 year. But I always came back to you. When I was away from you, your presence warmed my heart. I used to say, “Antioch is always there, my loved ones and my home are there”. When I missed you, I used to dream of a street of you. I used to set up a feast table in my head. You were always the same. You were the same every day. That’s why I’d get bored of you. I would take a break from you. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel your warmth when I’m away from you, Antioch. The corner of my heart that is you is as cold as ice. Because you are gone now. I have always called out to you with love until February the 6th, but now I am calling out with pain and anger. I used to say “O Antioch”, now I say “Ah Antioch”. Ah Antioch ah… Maybe you wanted to leave us, but you took our loved ones with you when you left. I used to say, “O Antioch, they murdered your soul,” and would blush. Now I can only say, “Ah Antioch, you killed our souls”. Last July, I returned to you as usual. I said that I would not stay long, that I would leave as soon as possible. Days and months passed. I stayed with you until you drained me. I wanted to leave you but not like this. You were a big part of me. I just wanted to get away for a bit. You were the one who made me me. My grandmother used to say “May it be blessed, sweetie” about my inability to leave you. Turns out it was. You held me inside as long as you could. You knew, maybe, if I had gone through something like this without seeing you and my loved ones for a long time, I would have been much worse. February came, I went away for a job opportunity. This time you left me. In the worst possible way. Turns out it was the last time I saw you. You said, “See me and your loved ones as much as you can.” In every adventure I went on, I said “Worst case I’ll return to Antioch”. Thank you for always welcoming and accepting me with the same sincerity when things went wrong. No matter how much you change, you are me and I am you. Oh my beautiful mirror. Oh my shattered mirror. I put you in the most special corner of my heart, I hid you there, you grew up there as I grew up. There is a wound in that corner that will never heal, and every part of you is getting deeper with each passing day without you. Oh my laurel scent. They tell me you smell dead now. How can I make it fit you? Oh my little homeland, oh the one I love too much to fit into the world. I engraved all the values you taught me with your presence and absence. Everything that is yours is in my mind, I will pass it on from generation to generation.
I’m telling you what Fairuz told Beirut. My homeland, O gold of lost times. My homeland, born out of the shine of eulogies. I am a poem at your door, written by the stubborn wind. I am a stone, a violet, my homeland. The tree of your land was planted by the hands of my family. And the stone of our borders is built with the faces of my ancestors. They have lived in you for 100 years, 1000 years, since the beginning of the world. My homeland, I swear on you and your love. What’s going on with me? I am growing and as I grow, you are also growing in my heart. The days to come, hidden by the sun, are coming. You are strong, you are rich… You are the world, my homeland.
I asked a friend of mine who survived you for a laurel branch. I hold tight to what’s left of you, it feels like medicine in your absence. I extend that laurel branch back to you, I will not let you go, but give me hope. My eyes are watering like a fountain as I’m writing this letter. Good thing you existed. I’m glad I was born and grew up in you. I wish we had more time. The story we wrote together is unfinished. I feel indebted to you and to those I have lost, and I swear before you. You will rise from the ashes and I will return to you. I will do my best to rebuild you again. You are me, I am you.
To my grandmother, to my aunt, my friends and their families, and our soul, our land, Antioch/Antakya, whom I lost on February 6th…