If, by any chance, you and I happened to know each other few years ago and we dialogued on the concept of belonging, I would argue that human beings cannot live happily without belonging to something. And by “something” I would be either referring to a place or to a group of people.
This has changed entirely! And I am still reconciling with this change.
During the time I spent in Beirut between 2015 and 2017, if anyone asked me where I am from, my straight answer would be “from Aleppo”, not from Syria. It wasn’t about the geography or the culture (though the Aleppian cuisine was and still my favourite). It was simply about my identity. My WhatsApp status sounded more like a motto: “From Aleppo with love”. Yes, I know, I took the idea of a personal status too personally.
My sense of belonging to my city was overwhelming. Therefor, all my attempts to replicate my Aleppo life in Beirut were in vain. I hung out with the same Aleppian group with whom I spent my last couple of years in Aleppo; we occupied a cafe shop run by an Aleppian guy in the Hamra district in Beirut; talked about the day we will all return to Aleppo and so on so forth. All that failed to reproduce the same old feelings.
There, there was a revelation! I don’t belong to the friends we used to live together in Aleppo. I only belong to Aleppo the city.
And then I visited Aleppo. That was in mid 2017. By then, the vast majority of my friends and family had left the city, and those who stayed were too distanced from themselves to relate to. They were living with no future at hand, and hence all their talk was about the past, which I was fleeing or contesting. Places have been changed, or destroyed. I was a stranger in what once used to be my hometown.
There, there was a new revelation! I don’t belong to Aleppo the city.
Then what! For me belonging is a condition to happiness. And honestly, I want to live my life happily. It took me few years to process all of this. I finally realised something interesting about myself.
I realised that I belonged to “the concept” that I am from Aleppo, and to “the concept” that I am from this or that group, rather than an actual belonging to a city, or to people.
This realisation explained a lot! When I have been recently expressing that I belong to “a community in Beirut”, I was in fact pointing at the values, the struggle, the fun, and the new “home” that I shared with my friends. Again, concepts! Concepts that are realised through people I love, or maybe hate.
I am not trying here to sound profound or sophisticated, but rather to be in touch with my own truth. The truth that sets me free.
Once I discovered that I belong to concept/s, I found a way to freedom. And with freedom, I found a way to unconditioned happiness. Today, I can say that I belong to no specific place, to no specific people. I belong to the values, to the purpose, to the interests that I can share with different people in a different places.
This current belief comforted me as my “belonging” to the people who already have special place in my life is liberated. It goes beyond space and time because the concepts that brought us together persist.
Although happiness away from my friends in Beirut and elsewhere is not easily foreseeable, I am eagerly waiting for Montreal to introduce me to new “concepts” that I would admire, and follow to find new pieces of myself.
And until further notice, Aleppo food remains the best.