It’s Summertime and the Living Should Be Easy

Friday 29 May 202007:18 pm

I am referring to the aria in “Porgy and Bess, with words written by author DuBose Heyward and lyricist Ira Gershwin in 1935 and music composed by the inimitable George Gershwin. May is folding into June and for most New Yorkers Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of summer and barbeques, yet the coronavirus has cast a huge shadow across the globe which has put so many lives in limbo. We are now in our tenth week of lockdown or sheltering in place. I have since gone through two tubes of toothpaste and three boxes of bakhour, the sandalwood incense which I burn liberally twice daily to purify my home. Every morning, the mundane ritual of brushing my teeth reminds me that another day of relative isolation is prescribed. How I wish that it wasn’t so. Especially as we end the holy month of Ramadan and Eid is upon us.

A Turkish friend called me the other day and told me that a four-day mandated total lockdown would be in effect for the whole country. No celebrations in Turkey are allowed this year. Eid is a time when families and friends gather together and feast. When I was growing up in Beirut, Eid lunch would take place at my grandparents’ home. I would wear new clothes for the occasion which made things appear even more special. My grandfather would distribute the Eidiya, the money gifted to the younger generation and the needy, and the grandchildren would fantasize amongst themselves about what they would buy with it.

The (sacrificial) lamb would take pride of place on the dining table, covered by a floral Aghabani tablecloth (unique to Damascus) embroidered with gold thread in various colors. My grandmother made sure that I had warak enab which always made me smile

The (sacrificial) lamb would take pride of place on the dining table, which would be covered by a floral Aghabani tablecloth (unique to Damascus) embroidered with gold thread in various colors. My grandmother made sure that I had warak enab which always made me smile.

Although fear is still pervasive, I have adapted to my new life by connecting virtually. Last Sunday, I watched Yo-Yo Ma give a short concert on Zoom in aid of Jusoor, a charity helping Syrian youth through programs in education, career development and global community engagement. A community came together to raise funds and everybody had a wonderful time doing so. For a brief moment, life felt normal and beautiful again. I honored my grandfather and made a donation in his memory. He always took great pleasure in classical music and opera, something we had in common, although he wouldn’t have agreed with my love of jazz. The pandemic has dramatically changed our lives. Economists, doctors and politicians continue to be perplexed by the changes this has effectuated across different areas. This will be something talked about for decades to come by social scientists, although I doubt any will agree on their reasons or their significance. One thing I believe we can agree on is that we are better as humans when we act for the greater good. That is a fundamental lesson we are meant to learn during Ramadan.

As we slowly slide into summer, the living will get easier. The sun will purify – medically, psychologically – while we remain vigilant. Nature has dictated a new façon de vivre. Eid provided a temporary reprieve with celebrations taking place in a careful fashion.

The fish will be jumping and the cotton will be high, as the song goes.

I cannot think of a more apt metaphor for this year. Thank you DuBose, and thank you Ira and George. I belatedly wish you all a happy and healthy Eid.

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