This is a post about reading and good friends. Or, at least, I think this is the aim of it. I can’t say yet. I am currently writing another book, and my good friend and colleague, Dr. Hend, is editing it. She will be writing the Editor’s note. So this has been an exciting project, but more about that later, or never.
Lately I have been immersed in deep thought, even more than my usual. As summer approaches, my energy levels tend to go down, the heat aggravates me, and my brain cells function slower than “normal.” With MS, we have a certain range of ability, and excessive fatigue tends to limit mobility even more. Naturally, this can be frustrating. And then there was the book. Not my book, which is still in its birthing process, but another book, a book that Hend gave me, after skimming through my poetry collection ‘On Love and Loss’ (available on Amazon) and the new book. Hend gave me an Arabic novel to read, and I remember carrying it around in my bag, buried amidst my exam papers, my Norton Anthology of American Literature, and green and red pens. The novel, which is called ‘Hepta’ or هيبتا has gained recognition and was a massive success upon its publication last year. Written by Egyptian author Mohammad Sadeq, Hepta revolves around a professor’s theory of love, love in its seven stages (which is what the word Hepta means in Ancient Greek, seven). The seven stages, as the professor Osama tells his students, are crucial for the lasting and evolving of a relationship. The stages include the beginning, the meeting, the relationship itself (honeymoon phase and madness phase), awareness phase, the truth/reality phase, the decision/judgement/choice phase, and finally Hepta, the ultimate fulfillment. I have translated the names of the stages, but I can’t do it justice.
Each chapter follows different protagonists’ and their choices, loves, and disappointments, disillusionment, and decisions. What touched me the most is one character’s journey, because I could relate to him. Like all great works of literature, the author managed to get me to say “hey, that’s just like me!” The character is unnamed, as all the characters are only given letters: A, B, C, D.
Basically, the character’s life changes immensely once he is diagnosed with a tumor at the age of 17, and he confesses his love to his high school classmate. She returns the “love” and quickly, the relationship becomes mixed with puppy love and pity love. He is left paralyzed, which changes the direction that the couple’s relationship takes. His girlfriend, being young, naive, and too innocent for a life-altering event, cannot handle it, and leaves. This is the “sad” part, but he soon realizes that love is not a need, and that people are not meant to be crutches. I won’t go into the interesting epiphanies he has, but the point is, as he evolves, so does his understanding of life and love. His disability features as part of the narrative, which was really nice to see, because most works of Arabic fiction are still hesitant to focus on a “disabled hero.” As a Disability Studies scholar, I was on the lookout for different ideas of shame, cultural stereotypes about disability and normalcy. The character attempts to hide his disability, and does not voice it to his subsequent lovers, out of a fear of being judged, left behind. And that I can also relate to. Sometimes, people stop seeing past the disability, once it’s put out there. There is a massive fear or a crippling worry about what this disability means, how it can affect me, and if it will affect THEM (which is the funny and ironic part). From my experience, people are usually uncomfortable with disability and lack because they are not sure how to react, what they are meant to say, do, and what this means when dealing with me intimately or in a professional work environment. Ironically, I end up taking care of their fears, their lack of comfort, and try to put them at ease.
The novel’s ending left me completely shocked, and I won’t ruin it, but I picked up the phone and told Hend how much I loved it, and how grateful I was that she pushed me to read it. It was written in Arabic and colloquial Egyptian, which was extremely difficult for me to read, and I ended up having to read it out loud. I carried it with me today to work, to give it back to Hend, because I know, like most book lovers, we make sure that the book is returned in one piece. But Hend wouldn’t have it, and asked me to keep her copy. Her copy, with its notes, its highlighted passages- evidence that this is a novel that has touched her, and now it has been passed on to me, I folded its pages, and I am writing this post about it. Sometimes it takes a friend (Dr. Hend) and another friend (Hepta) to make you think about how literature still saves lives. The book made me think there are still many undiscovered phases of life and love, and many different selves of mine that I haven’t found yet.