Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Father on Son: "Trading Life for Dignity"

Shortly after his mentor left (Stones are Easy - Raise the Price of Your Blood), Aly's father called. He had come to Cairo to vote on this first day of the initial phase of the parliamentary elections (lower house). Naturally, he wanted to visit with Aly while there, and, just as naturally, Aly agreed and gave the location where we were. He was nervous, however, for he had not yet informed his parents about his injury.

When I asked him about this a few days earlier in the hospital, he said he wanted to wait until his face looked less severe (In Your Face in Cairo). Now, he had no choice. By this day of this unplanned meeting with his father, Aly's face had healed substantially, showing just small scabbing where some of the bird shot had been extracted. But underneath his conspicuously large sunglasses, his eyes and their sockets were still profoundly bruised.

Aly was notably anxious while waiting for his father's arrival, confessing not to know which of two possible reactions his father would have to learning of his injury, either: "how foolish of you" or "you didn't fight hard enough." Eventually, his father arrived.

Aly's dad, a retired professor of agriculture, shorter and slighter in frame, greeted his son unremarkably at the outdoor cafe. Aly introduced me, and we all sat down. Then, surveying his son's bespeckled face and unfooled by the disguise, the father said, "Take off your glasses."

Aly tipped the glasses up, plenty far to reveal the ugly bruising. Acknowledging the injury and after a short pause, his father merely said, "Alhamdilla." Only Aly and his father would understand all that that most commmon and essential of Arabic sayings communicated(literally: "Thanks be to God"). Gratitude that his life was spared? Gratitude for having retained his eyesight? Praise for his sacrifice? Likely these and many other emotions were packed into the telling comment.

Some insight was gained when Aly left the table for a short while. I took the moment to query his father on his reaction to this news of Aly. He said that he was not surprised; that he had already been convinced that his son would have been on the front line. He noted the ambiguity parents feel in such situations - sadness, but also glory. Mostly, he focused on Aly, noting proudly that his son would be ready to "lose his life for the DIGNITY of the Egyptian people." His life is in God's hands, Aly's father, summarized, emphasizing that - given his son's nature and commitment - what is most important is that Aly would be convinced that he was doing something right.

The father related some of what he told me to Aly once he returned to the
table. Upon hearing that his father had been convinced that he would be on the front line, Aly asked him to repeat it - not because he had not understood, but because he wanted to hear the moving sentiment again.

The tears in both of their eyes confirmed the meaning of the exchange between them, and, to the outsider at the table, it offered access to both the power of the father-son bond and the overriding salience of the collective struggle for long-deprived dignity.

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