How will the wheels turn without his touch?

 

How will the wheels turn without his touch?
Rafiq Al-Hariri

Disbelief; a complete inability to come to terms with your loss; the sense that you’d lost a family member: these were my feelings on hearing of Rafiq Al-Hariri’s death. Randa, a colleague whose office is next to mine on the fourth floor, told me she couldn’t imagine Beirut without him. As she was telling me this, the bright, clear sunlight streaming in through her window seemed somehow paler. An inability to grasp what’s happened to us is called shock. It’s like what geologists tell us about earthquakes: they emit sounds beyond the range of human hearing. I’m not talking politics here, or posing the inevitable question: “what are our options now Hariri’s gone?” This is a personal, instinctive response, but one that I share with all those who have called me on the phone, visited me at home, bumped into me as I’ve waited for lifts, bought newspapers in the street and made my way back to the office.
I came across Hagg Nasir, crying on the stairs. A friend was holding him tight and helping him descend. When he saw me he said, “he was a mountain, and they leveled him.” I started to mumble back the words of comfort we’d all started using once we knew that the convoy had been bombed and Al-Hariri killed. Yet as I spoke, it struck me that Hagg Nasir’s words had a brevity and precision that would be hard to match. He had conjured up an image of Al-Hariri as a mountain, calling to mind his bearing and his walk, moving with his hands thrust down as if pinning something to the ground. With repetition, the word ‘mountain’ took on an almost mystical dimension, no longer referring to his body alone, but to everything he ever touched.
Or perhaps the kind of tribute paid by Hagg Nasir was what made Al-Hariri so acceptable to them. In other words, Al-Hariri was close to the common people and those he spoke to, as opposed to those who saw a chance to realize their ambitions by distancing themselves from the man on the street. Those at the top of the ladder forget where they came from, and forge ahead only to happy to leave their past behind them. One of Rafiq Al-Hariri’s qualities was that he brought his past with him. When we heard that he’d remembered his old teacher from Sidon and gone to pay him a visit, when we used to see him kissing his mother’s hand or when he would talk to people in their own language, we’d say here’s a man that knows what loyalty means. He asked us to perform an almost impossible feat: to imagine a man who was at once local and international in stature, moving with ease between the ordinary Lebanese and presidents and kings. There is a yawning gulf between these two sides of Al-Hariri, yet he managed to traverse them. It was a feat that required not just politics but action, not just power, but wealth as well. It was this diversity that created Hagg Nasir’s “mountain”.
Often, he seemed to contradict himself, as if he represented all the different stages of his life at once. We know how rare this is. Something in him pushed him to listen to what people said about him and to him. He was there for people, people who know how deafness can be a consequence of success.
Perhaps he had found a way to talk to us individually, even as he addressed us all. As we watched images of the bombed out wreckage of his convoy, the entrance to the hospital’s emergency ward and his house we saw women weeping in distress, as if they had lost their sons and relatives in the explosion. Did it occur to us that they might indeed be his relatives? The cameras showed them cutting their way through the throng, making their way to the hospital and to his house.
Yet we have experience of this kind of unexpected intimacy: in 1970 we saw the impact of Gamal Abd Al-Nasir’s death on Egyptians. We knew it when we gathered to mourn in Beirut. At the funeral’s periphery a middle-aged man cried, alone. In scattered groups on either side of the funeral cortege, women cried out as if for a beloved relative. On the 14th February we did it again.
It was an intimacy that brought the poor and the rich together in their grief, overriding the social instincts that usually set them against one another.
“How can we imagine Beirut without him?” Randa asked, looking as if she would start crying again. I, too, have trouble imaging how a single wheel in this city could ever turn without his touch. Hassan Daoud

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