A fair point of criticism that could be lobbed my way is that my divorce has made me bitter.
It is true that I didn’t want the divorce at the time. I loved my ex-husband madly, without limits, and without reason. In the final analysis, you could argue that it was his choice to end the marriage. I certainly had shown no signs of giving up on him.
From a certain angle, blaming our divorce on cultural differences might also be understood as a sign that I am looking for a scapegoat. Anything to avoid saying out loud that he didn’t love me enough.
Well, he didn’t love me enough.
Let me tell you about my ex-husband. He was beautiful. Charming. Intelligent. Funny. Ambitious. Good lord, was he handsome. He spoke four languages. I adored his mother. His nieces and nephews were so sweet. His siblings were endlessly kind. I had experiences with him that I would have never had access to with another man.
Everything was always someone else’s fault. He may not have graduated with a Bachelor’s yet, fifteen years after I met him. And last I heard, that failure was everyone’s fault but his.
He had all the pride in the world, but so little to be proud of.
In the end, his sister-in-law said to me “Beda, we don’t understand. We know what you did for him.”
I made him feel stupid. When I asked him to think outside the box, he refused and leaned on a faceless, nameless Imam. I asked him if God was going to come back. He said yes. I asked him if he was going to have to stand before God and answer for his time on earth. He said yes. I asked him if that Imam was going to put his hand up from the back, interrupt proceedings, and inform God that he, the Imam, was taking responsibility for my ex’s behavior.
“Why do you have to make me feel stupid about my religion.”
I remember that conversation. Explicitly. We were in the shower. We’d been talking about having kids, raising them. The specter of Ramadan and 12 year olds who were thirsty in the middle of summer and me having to tell them no, they can’t have water.
Our marriage died in that shower, on that day. It just took a long time to realize that it was irrevocably dead.
I wasn’t perfect. I was young and immature. I was pragmatic when he needed me to be a die-hard romantic. I had these ideas about what a marriage was supposed to be and I kept trying to turn us into the picture I wanted instead of accepting what we were. I was inexperienced: I didn’t have another long term relationship as a point of reference. I was hard-headed. I fought to win.
Before we were married, my Dad pulled him aside and said, “Son, there isn’t anything in 2,000 years of culture or breeding that has prepared you to be married to this woman.” My dad was right. Didn’t stop my dad from loving him, from mentoring him, from employing him. But he was right.
So… sour grapes? Maybe. But also years of watching him and his friends in our home and in Morocco. Observing their relationships disintegrate one by one. Being a part of his family and therefore as much of an insider as I could possibly be. I was there for Al Eid when the butcher came and slaughtered four sheep on the rooftop deck of his mother’s house. Heard his family’s sympathy for his brother’s wife, who had married the crazy brother. But no one could say that. No one could confront him. They just listened to the screaming in unhappy silence. To do anything else would have been shameful. Or the other brother, the alcoholic whose hands shook until he started drinking again at 10 and may or may not have been bisexual. All this shit that they couldn’t talk about and so it just festered.
I was there in a way that the analysts and the diplomats haven’t been. Not that I know everything they know, just that they don’t know everything I know. They haven’t slept in that bed and it’s different, once you have.
Which is to say that Islam isn’t bad, or at least its holy text is on par with Christianity. Muslims are people, just like any other people: some are wonderful, some are awful, most are somewhere in-between, or both in different ways. Islamic culture isn’t … Okay, it’s sub-optimal. And I say that having fallen in love with walking your bread dough to the local bakers to have it baked while you go to the Hamam. And avocado juice. And easy smiles. Helpful, generous, open people. Promising young men living with a corrupt government, sitting around and playing cards for spending money because they couldn’t find jobs with their free university education. Things stay the same because Inshallah is the answer to every question. When do you want to meet? <shrug> Inshallah. Retirement planning? Inshallah. Address government corruption? Inshallah.
Being there, drinking coffee, people-watching… it’s beautiful. Perhaps even more so because it is doomed. The trajectory of history seems to be pointing in the direction of reason, plurality, and technology. The harder the lumpheads (of any persuasion) try to drag the whole thing backwards, the more certain we can be of a rebound. Time moves forward, at least experientially. The quantum physicists might have other views, but the rest of us experience the relentless march of time in a single direction. We get smarter, and nothing is lost even if we fall, one-by-one, victims of that march.
“We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again.” ― Tom Stoppard, Arcadia