the interrogations of shamshouma

delusional thoughts in sickness: remembering time in Proust and Jacques Brel


Sickness destroys my sense of time. My movements become stranded in space.

I am sick today. I woke up from what seemed to me an 11 hour long dream about a man who discovered a way to flow in space to escape from people on earth. Whenever they tried to catch him, he would escape into space and stay there, floating among darkness and silence. when he missed earth, he would come back, only to abruptly leave again.

Once you leave you can never return. No one warns you about this when you travel. once you depart from a place you have inhabited for so long and has become part of you, it disappears. When you return, all you would encounter is the uncanny resemblance between your inhabited home and place-as-you-see-it. And this resemblance grows more and more disturbing and foreign with time.

Those who travel may never return home.They remain stranded in space, in between home and the uncanny, desperately trying to remember, to evoke a clear memory of home. So place becomes a site for remembrance.

My mother comes into my room and I directly turn into a child again, sniffling, making baby-like noises. i am sick. Help me. Feed me. Give me water mommy.. A sick and helpless child. Through sickness, time twists and flows, speeds up and slows down in unfathomable ways. I return as a child (and i was a sickly one for most of my childhood), I reach for my childhood toy, I surround myself with books, things that make me feel less lonely.

I read Proust’s “a la recherche du temps perdu” (In search of lost time) as I doze off to dream about the man in space. I freeze at a passage and read it over and over again, where Proust describes how he unsuccessfully tries to remember the church bell of his childhood city, Combray:

“Et aujourd’hui encore si, dans une grande ville de province ou dans un quartier de Paris que je connais mal, un passant qui m’a« mis dans mon chemin » me montre au loin, comme un point de repère, tel beffroi d’hôpital, tel clocher de couvent levant la pointe de son bonnet ecclésiastique au coin d’une rue que je dois prendre, pour peu que ma mémoire puisse obscurément lui trouver quelque trait de ressemblance avec la figure chère et disparue, le passant, s’il se retourne pour s’assurer que je ne m’égare pas, peut, à son étonnement, m’apercevoir qui, oublieux de la promenade entreprise ou de la course obligée, reste là, devant le clocher, pendant des heures, immobile, essayant me souvenir, sentant au fond de moi des terres reconquises sur l’oubli qui s’assèchent et se rebâtissent; et sans doute alors, et plus anxieusement que tout à l’heure quand je lui demandais de me renseigner, je cherche encore mon chemin, je tourne une rue… mais… c’est dans mon cœur…”

I read and re-read this passage. I suddenly remember the day I went for a walk alone in Tyre. It must have been in the late 1980s, at the end of the civil war. I went alone, occupied by my thoughts about life. I stared at the beach for a while and as the waves crashed on the rocks, I made a very important decision about life. I know that I had a beautiful revelation that day, but I could never remember what it was.

What was revealed to me, as a 9 year old child, that is no longer for me to know, as a 30 year old woman? I have an overwhelming feeling that I have lost my way, that I have not been faithful to that 9 year old child. That I have forgotten myself.

My father comes in to check up at me. I discreetly wipe my Proust-inducing tears and assume the sick child role again. He holds his strong and big hand on my forehead and says his usual sentence in similar situations “you have a fever habibteh! layla, she has a fever!” I, very proud and happy for the attention, look at my parents, who are discussing my illness. Only through sickness may one really return momentarily as a child.

A song comes out on the radio, Jacque Brel’s “les vieux”

a song on growing old, dead dogs, the ticking clocks and death. I laugh loudly at the “le petit chien est mort” lyrics. Growing old seems so ridiculous and unjust that it deserves to be laughed at.

I laugh so much that I break in sweat. I regain my sense of time for a bit. I am sitting in my room. I am 30 years old. I am an adult. Tomorrow I have to go to work at the clinic.  My body is a distinct entity that is separate from other objects. My body ends in time and place. I slip in my bed further as I wait for the second round of fever to start.

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2 thoughts on “delusional thoughts in sickness: remembering time in Proust and Jacques Brel

  1. Grüezi wohl Shamshouma! May you soon regain your health! Inchallah! A sensitive individual such as yourself must take great care of one’s health. As I read your words, I can feel your state of being. When I read the descripion of yourself (about Shamshouma) and your interest, I see the hard path you have choosen for yourself. You may consider focusing on all the beauty offered in this world, in order to feel good about your life, so that you may regain your strength to follow your quest. Tschüss! Amagi

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