I Was There, Mourning Myself

"Umm Al-Ezz Al-Farsi"

It was Sunday, March 5, 2017 at the American University in Cairo’s Oriental Hall when a group of like-minded Libyan men and women gathered to commemorate Idris Al-Mismari. The attendants were overcome with a sense of powerlessness in the face of the state of their shattered country. They had gathered there to draw inspiration from the life of a true patriot. A love for his country had run through his veins, desiccated by Benghazi’s salty soil, and tanned by its gentle winter sun. Forty days after his death, the elegies were wrapped in sorrow and the certainty that death is the only undeniable truth. 

I was there, in disbelief, as if caught in a whirlpool in the heart of a stormy sea. I tried to keep it together, and not to breakdown, yet all I could hear were the words of Murid Al-Barghouti echoing within me: “You betrayed me / You met your death once and survived it / Only for me to believe in hope and naivete / That [death] had lost the bet / And I wondered after you left / How to live sometimes  / And how to die from time to time.” 

Idris’ armor against death was his will to live. He endured many health crises, and always powered through. He no longer complied with doctors’ orders, and would sooner respond to an appointment with a friend than take his shot on time, or eat breakfast. He was a fatalist; stubborn and fearless. 

Now I place my hand on my heart, filled with love for him. I have loved him since the moment I learned the meaning of love. I believed in him and in his positions at the same time I learned the meaning of believing in God. He wasn’t just a man in my life; he was my whole life. I stood on the corner of the best years of my life waiting for him to be released from an unjust prison. It was a life sentence as terrible as a death sentence; an arbitrary decision signed off on by someone who found no one else to detain, so he detained him. Nothing scared him or his comrades, for they believed in life more than they believed in death. Prison didn’t change him; he remained that stubborn man who inspired me with his strength and bravery. We built our life together consciously, lovingly, and with a deep understanding of our national history. We had the home of our dreams, good children and a loving family. We had friends around us who filled our evenings in a time filled with fear. We were stubborn–with nothing but the love of our country to protect us. 

I try to regain my balance as I search the list of our comrades for someone who might help me think positively, who would steer my thoughts away from death and its inevitability, who would help me focus on a promising future instead of my present grief. As I try to remember Idris, my hands shake. My eyes cloud every time I attach “the late” to his name. I imagine myself in his place. What if I had died and he had lived? 

Would he have let my eulogies end without a word from him? Would his grief be so overpowering, it would shroud his world in darkness?

I suppose he would’ve acted like a groom; he would’ve tapped his cane vigorously, taken energetic strides, exuding his signature scent as he greeted everyone with a smile. He would’ve thanked them all for coming. He would take cover in my spirit and still relish in our love, as if nothing had come between us. This is how he had dealt with the death of our two sons, Al-Mahdi and Mahmoud, and our daughter, Dunya. This is how he dealt with the death of both our fathers in the same week, his soul mate, Mohamed al-Tarhouni, his childhood friend, Mohamed al-Mismari, Nizar whom he embraced as a son, and his betrayed brother, Rafi. I used to observe how he carried himself around loss–all that loyalty and love. He had endured our displacement from our home, and never gave up on the dream that one day this country would live in security and peace. He was optimistic despite his soul’s agony and the relentless challenges of his withered body. 

I need a lot of support to put myself back together. I need a long time before I can convince myself that he’s gone for good. I need a lot of words to thank my family and friends, who stood by me in my grief. I promise them to stay committed to Idris’ many projects–as his soul watches over us from above–until we achieve his dreams.

Born in Al-Abyar, she is an academic and activist in public affairs. She obtained her Ph.D. from Cairo University and is a professor of political science at Benghazi University. She has several published books, including “The Privilege of Veto in the Security Council,” “The Diwan of Silence,” and “We Have God.”

Umm Al-Ezz Al-Farsi
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