To be willing

I sat down at my desk, last Friday afternoon to relax at the end of a hectic week and enjoy a few moments of web browsing in solitude. To get my weekly dose of Iranian-ness, I went to the website, and there were those ghastly three words, on the small link on the top of the page. .

I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. I sat there for a long time, hand over my mouth in horror, tears welling in my eyes, and felt myself go numb. It took me a long time to click on the link, and a week later, I'm still waiting to feel the full effect of this news.

I met Edward Said, about ten years ago when he came to Madison to give a lecture. I had been cajoled by my Arab boyfriend H to attend his lecture that night. Back then, I had never heard of Said and wasn't quite thrilled about having to go to a long lecture at the end of an already long day.

Looking back, although H hasn't been a part of my life for 8 years, I have been and will be forever grateful to him for making me go. I sat on a hard wooden seat in a large lecture hall, at 8 pm, quite cold, slightly hungry, and a bit tired, waiting for Prof. Said. He strode into the hall, took his place at the podium, and changed my life forever.

I sat there, throughout his entire lecture, with my heart pounding and my brain reeling, listening in awe to the words of this great man. It was as if the light had been turned on and the world finally made sense. This elegant, passionate, eloquent, charming man was able to invoke a thirst for knowledge, for justice and for humanity in me, which I hope will never be fully quenched.

Over the years, I tried to read as many articles and books by him as possible. The more I read, the more enamored I became of this great man, and the more I wished to be like him. To be willing to fight so passionately for justice, to convey your message with so much grace and eloquence and wit, to be so human and fragile and yet such a tower of strength, was truly captivating.

For ten years, Edward Said set the path, and I tried to follow in my flawed and somewhat unsuccessful way. His compassion helped me develop mine, his courage made me feel less afraid, and his insight helped me through the rough patches of life. It's easy to fight when you have nothing to lose.

It's easy to struggle when there's no way out. To fight, to struggle, to stand up when you have everything to lose is the ultimate humanity. To be willing to stand up for the oppressed, when you yourself come from a world of privilege is a mark of a great human. To be willing to put yourself and your reputation on the line, to be willing to stand up for an unpopular cause, to become the target of hateful ignorance, and still stand tall and be a warrior for justice is most admirable. To be willing to look within yourself, your cause, your comrades and be willing to scrutinize and criticize internal weaknesses as well as external ones, can only show the deep commitment to truth.

Edward Said was once described as the 'Conscience of Palestine'. To me, it seems that he was the conscience of all humanity. He was the ultimate champion for truth, justice, humanity and peace. There has been much written about him in the last week, thousands of eulogies, remembrances, and expressions of grief. No one seems to be able to fully express the sense of loneliness, emptiness, and grief that his death has left behind. However, maybe the words Ahdaf Soueif, come close to describing the feeling. 'We are orphaned.'

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