I had a dream last night, and I remember it. It is a rare occurrence that I would remember that I actually dreamt, let alone remember the dream. Yet this once was important enough that I remembered it.
We were looking at something, my father and I, along with some other people. I don't remember what exactly, a book, a poem, pictures, a film, a song. I know we were closely looking into some old images or words describing images, and maybe listening to a song. Then my father did something that surprised me; he started speaking fondly and in detail about those lost days of his youth. (My 73 year old father hardly speaks with nostalgia about the past, although I know he holds it dearly in his heart.) He approached the images closer (a television screen or a collection of pictures in someone's hands?) and pointed into them as if to enter them, and began to recount those days of populist aspirations, of national struggle, of hardships and glory, of simple dreams on a grand scale. I don't remember if he spoke of disappointment, but I do remember that he continued to passionately gesture into the images and eloquently say,
"Every single day, I look back on those old times. Not a day goes by in this old age that I do not ponder how it was back then; we lived joyfully and with dignity, even though we struggled against great odds. We looked upon the future with a confident hope that the people would soon triumph against all their tyrants through their hard work, and that Palestine would soon see its liberation, and a new age of glory and tranquility would follow our toil. Every day of my life now, I cannot help but remember and think about those days -- images and events etched into my conscience."In our waking life, he does not engage us much in such conversation, although I do know that he has much criticism concerning the faults, shortcomings and disappointments of those secular Pan-Arab Nationalist times. In the dream, I was taken by his speech; I told him with much enthusiasm that I have many more books, poetry, images, songs and films that document those times. I tried to get him interested by promising him books about Gamal Abdel-Nasser, archives of pictures from the struggles of the 50's and 60's, and long-forgotten nationalist songs that he and my mother would have heard sung over radio airwaves during Beirut's glorious renaissance, when they were both idealistic 20-something school teachers who had migrated to Beirut to teach the poor illiterate Southern refugees. I ran to my house and fumbled through my library -- but alas, I could not find what I was looking for; I quickly turned the pages of an old book that I was sure contained an archive of Nasser's revolution and his many trips to Arab countries, showing throngs of millions of simple folk flooding the streets in fervent adoration, but found that the book was actually about abstract art from 1917 Russia. I nervously ran through an antique picture-book that I thought depicted Beirut's seashore and its old fishermen, but it turned out the pictures were of old Paris streets. I tore up my library: a VHS cassette that I was almost certain contained footage of Um Kalthoom singing nationalist songs during the '56 Suez crisis, instead showed "The Police" in 1980 singing "Message in a Bottle" and "Walking on the Moon." I knew I owned a 40-year old magazine, printed in Baghdad or Damascus or Cairo or Sanaa or somewhere, that had pictures and articles reporting on the countless Palestinian refugees that had just escaped the '67 war, as well as poems and expressionist line drawings that I clearly remembered where quite strong artistically speaking; I found the magazine -- I recognized its worn, semi-glossy red-green-black cover -- but alas, the magazine turned out to be a 1984 issue of an American magazine featuring a full color spread of the championship Detroit Tigers. I popped an old decrepit audio cassette - the worn hand-written ink script on it may have read, in Arabic, "Palestine Villages - Oral Narrations", I couldn't quite make out the faded writing. All I got was a little bit of white noise and a little bit of laughter from an unknown voice that quickly faded into inaudible whispers of children. Needless to say, I did not go back to my father in the dream, because I was empty-handed of the promised treasures that would bring the past back to life.
When I awoke this morning, my first thought was to go through my library to see which books, old magazines and music I actually own, because the dream confused my memory of what was real and what was imagined. It's been hours, and I've yet to muster enough courage to actually approach those shelves of waiting books.