This title phrase started out as a misunderstanding in a poetry class. One participant read his work and we all said we loved his line “the school for mourners.” Turns out that wasn’t what he said. I don’t remember the correction because “school for mourners” said enough for me.
I have never been to Lebanon which means I have never been to Beirut. One of my spouse’s colleagues had fled Lebanon with her family a while back when she was a teenager. She speaks French. She has been to Paris.
I never wanted to go to Beirut. I always wanted to go to Paris.
I devoured my French classes in college even though Spanish was the language in which I was most proficient. I studied German starting in the seventh grade. I don’t know why I didn’t choose French back then. I never really wanted to go to Germany in the first place. Maybe it was the only language class that fit my schedule?
My grandfather yelled at me for the first time when he found out about the German class. A German soldier had shot him through his abdomen somewhere in Belgium during the first World War. The Great War. He was suppose to die, but he didn’t. I had never heard that story, or at least I had never heard that story with almost adult ears. The fact that he hated Germans was new to me. I didn’t like it that he hated Germans. He had walked me to school every day until I moved away during the fourth grade. He loved me fiercely, but all the while he was hating Germans.
I continued to study German all through high school until we moved again and I was forced to study Spanish. I studied and studied that language for years when it was all that was offered and then one thing lead to another and I went to Mexico decades before I ever made it to France.
Then I met a young man in Mexico and began to think my life would end up being lived in Mexico. He remembers that I always talked about going to Paris. I had studied French after all. He says that I was so obsessed that a few years after we broke up and when he himself finally made it to Paris, he took a picture of the Eiffel Tower while thinking of me. He was there with a new love, but for a brief moment we were in Paris together.
I did finally make it in body to Paris. On the first night of my second visit to Paris, my former spouse delivered news painful enough that I couldn’t look at the Eiffel Tower as my bus passed by during my third trip to France. For that third trip to France, I went alone and made sure that Paris was not on the itinerary except to pass through it on my way to somewhere else. Paris was officially ruined for me.
There are so many places I have never thought of going. There are many places I never want to go. These are then probably the places I will land instead of the ones I dream of. That is what we learn at the School of Mourners. Well, that’s what I think anyway.
I never thought my first spouse would die suddenly. That we wouldn’t have a chance to say good-bye after months of misunderstandings and harsh words. My mother is failing yet I only have more harsh words for her because she is succumbing to a disease that I wish she could will herself out of. But, she can’t. I must not let her go with my accusations and angry pleadings still stinging. My father fades as I write this. He just broke his ankle and his heart is saying a long and painful farewell.
Those people out for a night in Paris. Those people near the market in Beirut. It is hard to shut out their calls for mercy and shouts of love for the ones they would leave behind to grieve. We are learning to mourn for lives ended in a war they were not fighting. The only war they were fighting was the battle to live. My parents are fighting for that. I am. You are. My spouse was.
Lighting up things in red, white and blue to show that we feel a collective pain is nice. But, if I were to light up my world with the flag of Life (because life is the only country we can really call our own), what colors would I use?
To end, two Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) songs come to mind. “Peace Train” and “Hard-headed Woman.” I can’t really explain the last selection, but it seems right to me. (I don’t know if I should link to the songs. I’m so new to this. Please listen to them.)