A Century of Grace

by Amy Hamar

Amy teaches English Composition in Doha, Qatar. She is interested in how holding on to cultural identity can help people remain sane throughout, as well as recover after, conflict situations. Her favorite part of teaching is helping students learn what it means to learn, and what being critical actually means….in other words, critical thinking.

When I was asked to write a small segment of the newsletter, I had no idea what I could, or would, write about. I could write about so many different topics related to dialogue, conflict, language, communication, education, and so forth. In the end, I’ve decided to tell the story of my husband’s grandmother in Palestine who is somewhere between 105-107 years old. She has seen more than most people alive, and has endured more emotional pain than most, especially when her son was accidentally killed by a neighbor at the age of 14. Amazingly, she bears it without the bitterness that usually accompanies catastrophic realities.

She has lived through the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire,

She has seen more than most people alive.

World Wars I and II, the creation of Israel, the displacement of her and her family before and after this time, known to Palestinians as al-nakba (the Catastrophe), as well as the ensuing effects of the occupation on her life. Just looking at her, one can feel history living in the room. She wears traditional Palestinian dress, and bears tribal tattoos on her hands and face. We don’t know the origins of these tattoos, but it seems they are from a time when Bedouins would travel through the villages of Palestine, giving the women these tattoos to signify beauty. She is a wealthy woman in terms of land, and she was a shrewd business woman, looking out for herself and those around her. Prior to meeting her, I knew she had suffered a stroke in 1996, losing mobility of her legs and going blind in one eye. I knew she wasn’t mobile, but didn’t realize there was no furniture. Therefore, I didn’t expect my meeting her to go quite as it had (traditional Palestinian homes do not have furniture apart from stuffed cushions on the ground).

We walked into her room, watching her, wondering what she thinks of this American wife, coming into her room. My mind was flooded with thoughts about measuring up to what they all thought I should be, especially as many were not for our marriage, labeling it a mistake, telling him to just come home and marry a good Palestinian wife. Once our eyes met, however, there was a moment of unspoken kinship between us. I knelt down to kiss her hands and the top of her head, and she started crying, pulling me to her, saying “habibti, ya habibti” (my beloved, oh my beloved). All of the thoughts I had about being inadequate, or not enough for them to accept melted away with the touch of her hand and the sight of her tears. Everyone else was crying and happy to see us, but for some reason, it was her unspoken acceptance that meant the most.

When I look back on sitting with her that first time,

We don't know the origins of these tattoos.

I think of her reaction not only to me, but to that of my husband’s absence at the time. Unfortunately, the Israelis had stopped my husband at the border, so my step-daughter and I had arrived alone for our first visit. I know she was deeply saddened by this, but she welcomed us with no irritation to her voice. No cursing out of anyone. No complaining of any kind. It was as if she was content to finally meet me, and see her granddaughter after 8 long years. It was as if she had pushed the sadness and anger to the side, and focused on the joy and happiness that were equally present. I wish. I hope. I pray that one day I can be like her. That if I had to suffer and endure all that she has been through in life, I could still focus on the sliver of happiness being offered to her. Our lives could not be any different, her and I, but it is as if there is a tiny string connecting us. Every time I leave her, I don’t know if will see her again, nor does she know if she’ll see me, but we always say goodbye the same way we say hello. Our faces become streaked with tears, but we’re smiling the whole time through.

Amy can be reached at amy (dot) hama “at” gmail (dot) com.

One Response to “A Century of Grace”

  1. Ibrahim A. El-Hussari Says:

    Thank you, Amy, for posting this touching story. In fact, many a personal experience, like yours, call for honest contemplation and reconsideration of the value of endurance and steadfastness. The story of your husband’s gradmother, who has outsmarted tragic turns in her life, is a truly telling example that unspoken and silent sentiments of this old woman are more expressive than all articles sketched in a hurry in the interest of what is virtually captioned as human rights. The international community, often used/misused to pass sanctions and overlook inhuman sieges imposed on civilians, must not keep seeing with one eye.

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