"Everything is transitory. We can lose everything in an instant, and we do lose everything in an instant. We have to find home in ourselves," says Joyce Zonana. "That's really the theme of the book."
Writer and professor of English Joyce Zonana befriended me through the internet and sent me her new memoir, Dream Homes: From Cairo to Katrina...
I felt such kinship with this book. Zonana was born in Cairo, to a Sephardic Jewish family; her mother lived not far from the apartment where I lived during my first marriage to a native Cairene; Zonana's family left Egypt and moved to Brooklyn, where she grew up; she moved around the South in her adulthood, finally making a long term home and career in New Orleans, only to lose it all in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Zonana landed in a studio close to my last apartment in New York.
Joyce's story is not like mine at all, but we share two neighborhoods of two great cities, as well as other common interests and sensibilities. The story of her Arab Jewish family and their odyssey from Cairo to the Americas is richly told, full of drama and poignancy and vivid sensory experience. The back of the book features her family recipes! A writer after my own heart.
Today as I was musing on why I don't feel panic about the latest financial crisis, Joyce sent me this link via instant messenger. The above quote jumped out at me.
Like Joyce, I have seen how one can lose everything in an instant. My father's family lost their homes and our ancestral village in one terrible day in 1985. I lost a breast and my feeling of corporeal invincibility in 2004. I lost my father in two short months of 2006, while Israeli bombs rained down upon the land he could not reach. Two cousins died in their prime that year, suddenly and without warning. In 2007 with my new diagnosis of cancer, I lost a great deal more: My hair again. My physical strength and vigor. My timeline for my future.
And yet in losing we always find... new life, new ways of looking at life. Those of us who lose our homes can find new homes. Sometimes we are lucky and we can return to our old homes, clean out the mud, patch over the bullet holes, repaint, renew. Yet nothing is ever what it had been - not the reconstructed breast, not the reconstructed house, not the city neighborhood, which has changed in the years you have lived away.
Sometimes we think we are unlucky and have to make new lives while grieving homes, or cities, or bodies lost to us seemingly for good. And yet this moment is always the only moment we have, and this city, this home, this body is the only one we are in right now.
I learned over the last year that in time I need to finish grieving the past, finish grieving the losses of the past, even of the recent past. One grieves and then one looks around and notices: I am breathing. The sun is shining (or it's raining, or foggy, or snowing). I have a place to live, thank God, and a bed to sleep in, and my body is still alive, changed though it may be.
Yes, we must find home in ourselves - in some changeless self that is not body, not home, not city, not tribe or professional attainment or bank balance. All those things are of the world, and they all pass. There is some essential spirit, or source, or prime reality which remains. You may call it what you like, but names and words and ideas don't encompass it. I have sometimes found that home, and wherever I go, whatever happens around me, I cannot be moved from it, even when I think the world is falling apart.