Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thinking About Love

Valentine's Day is and its connection to romantic love is celebrated worldwide in February. It is not a particularly Egyptian tradition, and in fact November 4 is celebrated as well as the Egyptian holiday of love. Rather cynically, one could easily suggest that the cute stuffed animals, the roses, the chocolates, the cards, and the rush on intimate dining spots are all a ploy by the commercial interests to get us all spending more money after we've recovered from the giddy rush of the Christmas season, especially since there is no real historical evidence that either the day or the saint have anything to do with romantic love. But the ease with which many cultures have adopted the day of thinking of one's loved one suggests that this is something important to us all.

If you examine the day and the relationships that it celebrates, it is indeed important to us all, for without the bonds of friendship and love between partners it would truly be difficult for us to renew the human race...a fact any single parent will attest to. It is always a good thing to remind ourselves that we are not alone in our daily struggle to survive. As a widow for ten years, it's been rather a long time since I got a Valentine's Day bouquet or card, and I have friends who are just entering the long period of adjustment to this state. It's hard to lose a partner and Valentine's Day can be especially painful in the first years. Those of us who have survived that first traumatic year take care of our friends who are struggling through. We call, visit, email and try to be there to help keep their heads above the waters of loneliness.

So what is this love we are celebrating? Is it only the feelings of warmth engendered by the sight of a smile, the warmth of physical contact, the wish to spend more time together and perhaps marry? When thought of in this fashion, this love that we celebrate on Valentine's Day is not just romantic love ("Oh my, look at that gorgeous one! Wouldn't I love to be the number one for that!) but it is truly love in general.

We love many things and people. We love our husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, and children. We love our pets, our gardens, our neighbours (hopefully), our friends and so on as well. Are they truly different kinds of love? From the vantage point of my early 60's, I'm not really sure that they are. Truly, I'm not interested in marrying my terrier who might wake me at night with his barking, nor most of my friends. At the same time, my husband was both loved by me and was my best friend. I knew I could count on him when the chips were down and we shared many secrets that were known only to us. But just as chocolate comes in many flavours that appeal to many sorts of people, or even to any one person at different times, love also comes in many flavours.

Too often we look for love as if it were a beacon or spotlight that might shine on us through the eyes of a loved one. We think of it as a gift that another person or being might bestow upon us if we are worthy, and far too many people feel that they have no hope of being worthy of such a gift. Does love sail out of the moonlit sky like a flying saucer, does it suddenly drench us like an unforseen rainstorm, or fall splat on our forehead like the gift of a passing bird? It certainly feels like that sometimes.

When my husband died, I was devastated, bereft, lost in a number of worlds that seemed completely unfriendly to me. I went through my days in a haze, expecting to see him walk through the door just returned from a business trip that took too long, listening for the sound of him sneezing as he got up in the morning. It was a terrible period for me. One evening, I went out to the farm where I was boarding my horses and took my old mare out for a walk in the summer night. We were alone in the darkness listening to sleepy birds, hearing snatches of music from distant village weddings, noting our time by the call to prayer in the night. My mare walked along the darkened paths calmly, responding to my random comments with a flick of her ear, and I thought to myself how good it was to be alone with someone who cared about me and not about my late husband's businesses. I realised just how much I loved this creature who trusted me to guide her and who offered to guide me when the way was too dark for my feeble human vision. With this realisation, an extraordinary sense flooded through me of the warmth of my mare, the beauty of the trees against the night sky, the softness of the air moving slowly across the fields.

With the loss of my husband, I thought that I had also lost the love that we had shared and that lit our world and warmed our children. Alone with my mare in the night, I realised that nothing outside of us can either take or give us love. The love is within us waiting to come out to touch other living things, whether human, animal, or vegetable. As I passed a village home, a woman called out to me inviting me to tea. I wasn't willing to stop or break the spell, but I found myself able to smile with real warmth at her to thank her. Her answering smile washed over me, leaving me comforted again to the center of my soul. That night, I knew that I would survive my loss and that I would in fact thrive.

When we think of the holiday of love, we must remember this fact. Love is not given to us; we give it and then receive the warmth of our gift. When we cook with love, the food is more delicious and nourishing; when we care for our plants with love, they flourish; when we spread our love and joy among our friends and family, it shines back at us as the sun is reflected in the moonlight. And the more you give, the more you get.

copyright 2010 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Friday, February 11, 2011

Song For The New Egypt

The Sound of Freedom

This was posted on YouTube just last night. When I first saw it there had been about 300 viewers. Tonight there are over 33 thousand.

The words to the song are:

"I went down and I said I am not coming back, and I wrote on every street wall that I am not coming back.

"All barriers have been broken down, our weapon was our dream, and the future is crystal clear to us, we have been waiting for a long time, we are still searching for our place, we keep searching for a place we belong too, in every corner in our country.

"The sound of freedom is calling, in every street corner in our country, the sound of freedom is calling..

"We will re-write history, if you are one of us, join us and don't stop us from fulfilling our dream.

copyright 2011 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

I Trust 80 Million Egyptians!

Like everyone else in Egypt, I've been totally caught up in the amazing revolution in Egypt. I can only say that I have never been so impressed and proud in my life as I am right now at the patience, restraint and stubbornness of the Egyptian people. I've been out here in the countryside taking care of the farm, rather than in the direct orders of my children in New York. So I've been doing research on the news from here and forwarding it to friends abroad to publish to make sure that the world knew about what was happening here.

In 17 days I've seen the protesters pushed to defend themselves when attacked by the Mubarak thugs, but they have not initiated violence and they've done a brilliant job of running the tent city at Tahrir. I have seen so much strength, ingenuity, and humour that I have been in awe. For people who think that they need guns to defend themselves, this is a real lesson. The Egyptian people accomplished a miracle with only their strength of purpose and hope.

And one of the most impressive things I've seen in the aftermath was the interview with Wael Ghonim and CNN. When asked if he wanted a place in the new government, he laughed and said absolutely not...he wants to go back to his job. Asked later if he was worried that future politicians might not be up to standards, he said that while he didn't entirely trust politicians he knew that he could surely trust 80 million Egyptians. No one will ever be able to boss them around again...they've learned their power!

copyright 2011 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani