The Topography of Tears
Earlier this year I came across the micro-photography of Rose-Lynn Fisher, who started a project called The Topography of Tears. She photographed one hundred different tear samples beneath a microscope to see if different emotions produced different patterns. There are tears of loss, of reunion, of endings and beginnings, of hope, of despair. The results are strange and beautiful, you can follow the link to the project here.
Looking at Fisher's work, I wonder what the tears of someone crying for the loss of a stranger would look like. I don't cry often, I don't know why, perhaps because crying has always felt like something that might make others feel uncomfortable, best done privately, quietly. I try to avoid emotional writing, or "sensationalism", but this sensation of crying for strangers is new and strange to me. As the destruction in Gaza continues this weekend, it surprises me now how easily, regularly and publicly these tears fall, for people I have never met, whose lives have been deemed so valueless this summer. It's not the dead I cry for, though the images of the broken bodies of children are harrowing, but the lives that continue. When a ceasefire finally holds and another week-long, month-long, year-long war is over, the damage, the diaspora, and the poverty will last for generations.
There is a haunting line in the 2012 film, Shooting Dogs, a film that tells the story of the 1999 Rwandan genocide, where a British journalist confesses to a teacher that when she covered the 1994 Bosnian conflict, the women lying dead on the floor looked like her mother. In Rwanda they didn't, she said, so the conflict was easier to witness somehow.
After one month in Lebanon, the Palestinians in Gaza I see on the news look like the Palestinians I meet every day in Lebanon, who have lives, lovers, friends, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, plans, dreams. They look like the shy teenage boy in the vegetable shop I go to sometimes who is desperately trying to grow a patchy moustache and blushes when I ask keefak? How are you? They look like the elderly taxi drivers whose long, thin arms wrap around their big 1950's steering wheels as they move inch by inch through the congested city, chattering to their passengers about traffic, calling everyone habibi, which means my love. The people on the news look like the people who hug, cook, laugh, argue, smoke bubbling shishah pipes in the southern suburbs of Beirut. It has never been harder to witness the devaluation of human life in the Gaza Strip this summer.
There were some joyful tears this week too, when my Syrian friend Zaid wrote to congratulate me on passing my first term of Arabic. I visited him and his family in Italy earlier this year, you might have read about him in a previous post, A Syrian Kitchen in Italy. He wrote to congratulate me and tell me has now been granted a normal permit of stay in Germany. "I'm not a refugee anymore :)" he wrote. I cried with joy then. I wonder what those tears would look like too.
A wedding is prepared by the sea in Lebanon.