On This Day I Remember You
December 4, 1993. How can I forget the day when you departed from this world and I was so far away? No one in my dysfunctional family thought of picking up the phone to tell me you had gone in a coma a week earlier. People still look perplexed when I tell them I found out you were dying because I felt you. You were in Manassas, Virginian. I was in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. I was lying down for an afternoon nap on December 3rd. Suddenly I felt your presence within me. I felt you breathing with difficulty. I immediately reached for the phone and dialed your number. You didn't answer. It rang for a long time. My brother finally picked up. He said you were in a coma and he was at your house picking up a change of clothes for you. I screamed at him. How could the family not think of picking up the phone to tell me the news! I insisted he return to the hospice and call me from your bedside. I was adamant on speaking to you. He kept repeating that you're in a coma and cannot speak. I insisted that if I spoke to you, you would hear me.
One hour later, the phone rang. My brother placed the receiver next to your ear. I remember everything I said to you. I know you were waiting for me. Your only child who wasn't there present with you. I knew you were holding on to life because I was the only one who didn't say goodbye. A few hours after my call, you departed this world. Instead of burying you in Virginia where your two other children and your grand-children live, my uncle (your esteemed brother) decided to bury you in California. Your family owns a plot in a Christian cemetery in Cypres. Everyone in your family, except your children, have a burial space reserved. They excluded us because our father was Muslim. Mother! Can you believe they still haven't forgiven you for marrying someone outside your faith! After your death, your brother traveled to the West Bank with the sole purpose of obtaining some documents from the church that would exclude us, your children, from inheriting your share of your father's land. The idiots! You and grandfather live within me. You're in my veins. That's my inheritance.
Finally in 2002, I managed to visit your grave for the first time. I absolutely hated it. You don't belong in Cypress, CA. You have no roots there, no memories, no children or grand children who can come visit whenever they like. How I wish you had listened to me when you told me you had terminal cancer and I begged you to come to the West Bank so I could bury you next to your father. It's where you belong.
Before you went into a coma, you asked that I plant you a tree on the road between Beit Jala, where your father was born, and Jerusalem, where you were born. I called your aunt-in-law in Jerusalem to ask her if she could recommend a site. Her words will always burn in my ears, "we, my dear, don't do things like that. But if you like, I can take you over to the Jewish side [of Jerusalem] to plant your tree." Imagine that mother! Even in your death, they want to attack me for having married a Jew.
But I know you are happy now. I planted you a pine tree right next to your father's grave at the Lutheran Cemetery on the road between Beit Jala and Jerusalem. And thanks to you mother, and to the way you brought me up, I'm Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Baha'i, secular and every other religion in the world.
On this day, I remember you.
Muna Hamzeh, © 2006.
Muna Hamzeh is a Palestinian-American journalist who's been writing about Palestinian affairs since 1985. She is the author of Refugees in Our Own Land: Chronicles From a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Bethlehem (Pluto Press, September 2001) and a contributing writer in The New Intifada: Resisting Israel's Apartheid (Verso Books, September 2001). In the mid 1980s, Hamzeh wrote about the Palestinian issue from Washington, DC. At the end of 1988, she moved to Palestine, where she lived in Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem and continued her work as a journalist. Over the years, Hamzeh's articles on Palestinian affairs have appeared in Middle East International (London), the Jerusalem Quarterly File (Jerusalem), Palestine Report (Jerusalem), Ha'aretz (Tel Aviv), Jerusalem Star (Amman), The Economist (London), Ad-Dustour (Amman), al-Fajr English Weekly (Jerusalem), the Christian Science Monitor (Boston), Jerusalem Report (Jerusalem), the Muslim (Islamabad), The Saudi Gazette (Riyadh), New Outlook Magazine (Tel Aviv), The Link (Washington), The Austin Chronicle, BBC-Online and a score of other publications. She is a contributor to The Layers of Our Seeing, along with Susan Bright and Alan Pogue. The fourth edition will be available December 9, 2006.
*My mother, Wadia Abu Dayyeh, as a college student in Illinois in early 1950s
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