Left behind in war-torn Syria

My friends can afford to leave. I can’t. How will I cope with the loneliness after they’ve gone? Keep forming friendships while you can, says our elder. And you have a gift for writing — why not use it?

Dear EWC

It is claimed that war in my country is almost over, with only one or two cities left in anarchy. Nevertheless, my country’s dead and cannot be redeemed. People — not only the ones who have witnessed the actual war — don’t hesitate to migrate when they can afford to, seeking decent lives, or, more importantly, evading military service, which has become perilous and protracted since the war broke out. Many young men (have) spent up to 10 years in military service. Many others died. They died fighting in a war that wasn’t for them, defending a land on which they could never live gracefully.

The mere act of writing about this infuriates me, so I’ll just get into the problem. I’m a college student and not one of those who can handle the cost of migration. However, I try not to make a big deal of it and do my best to make the most of my life here, especially that I’m absolved from military service (the service is mandatory only for men with male siblings, which I’m not). However, all of my close friends are not. They’re planning to leave the country whenever possible. One of them has left a month ago to study at the American University of Beirut, and I was so happy for him. But the separation was very painful for both of us. On that day, after he left, I was thinking about the future of my relationships: all my friends are eventually leaving. All these sweet memories will turn into painful ones. And I’m gonna stay alone. Every time I hang out with one of them, I can’t help thinking about the moment when they’ll leave. It just can’t escape my mind. I’ll lose them one after one. And although I wish the best for my friends and would be genuinely happy for them if they could make it out of this abyss called Syria, I can’t resist the grief I’ll go through when we’ll separate.

Each one of those guys is so special and unique to me. We’re all a bunch of outsiders, and we spend a lot of good time together — despite my solitary nature. Not every day you find people like them, and I’m very picky when it comes to friendships. I know I’m being unreasonable by worrying about things that haven’t happened yet, but I can’t help it. I sometimes even think, at moments of total irrationality, to gradually disconnect from them so I don’t get attached more! But I don’t know if that’s even an option. Above all what I have to go through just because I was born in Syria, I have to lose my friends, too. I’ve never believed in communicating online, as I see it’s equivalent to the absence of the other person, or even a painful reminder they’re not around anymore. I feel stupid and immature saying the following, but it seems to me that I’ll have to rehearse reconciling myself with solitude, but I want to know-how. I think I’ll also avoid meeting people who are potentially leaving (although the majority are!). Am I not making sense? And is there anything I should know about this? How I’m gonna cope with being lonely?

Nick replies

I have read over 2,500 letters in my last five years volunteering at EWC. None has struck the chord you have struck in writing yours. I want to say, straight up, you have a tremendous gift when it comes to writing. I re-read your letter twice and could feel ache and see hope as if I were standing right next to you. A good writer draws in his reader and you surely have.
So I began thinking overnight how this gift of yours might be used to alleviate your ache and keep you from slipping into darkness within yourself which could consume you. I came up with the idea that you could be a chronicler of all that is going on around you and serve as the sinew which binds you and your ‘bunch of outsiders’ [your description, not mine] together while feeding your desire to avoid loneliness in a productive — rather than destructive — way.

Here’s what I mean: you know these guys very well. They stir good feelings within you. This is why you want to back off from deepening your friendships because their inevitable leaving hurts. But what if you did chronicle your time together from the perspective of good guys coming to age in a war-torn era and then chronicled their journeys as they each go their own ways and make their own lives? It would be compelling reading. It also would give you a journalist’s purpose for staying in touch and not focusing on their absence but on how your togetherness right now is carried with them into their futures.
In doing this you also would be reflecting on your own journey as the one who continues to bear witness to the atrocities, destruction and (eventual) recovery. In doing so, you will begin to see hope in what right now seems hopeless. Your journaling could be the springboard for a book, published articles in the west or even as a correspondent someday. You could be the voice of witness and end up moving the world in ways you can’t even fathom right now.

Meanwhile, in doing so, you would experience the difference between being alone and being lonely.
You do not want to forego forming good, solid, close and deep friendships while you can. None of us can predict what will happen next. I’ve read a lot of documentation of Holocaust survivors in Nazi Germany. They knew their predicted fate but held tightly to hope nonetheless because they simply didn’t know if a slight twist or turn might alter their own march to the gas chambers. So they allowed themselves moments of joy. They fell in love and made love even though they felt a long lifetime of love was not in their futures. They made little gifts for one another. They smuggled messages to friends being housed elsewhere. And when these chroniclers did miraculously survive, they bore witness and gave the world hope that even in the bleakest of moments, there’s a reason to do so as well as to love, to hug friends, to find lovers and to live again.
Along with my suggestion that you chronicle your life’s journey which is woven through that of your friends, you will find a reason to hug them, to cherish them, to enjoy them while you are together and to write about how they turn out when you are not. You will find a reason to fall in love and have some lucky girl or guy know you intimately, and that will awaken a cascade of feelings that deepen your connectedness and banishes your loneliness.

Each of us is here for a very brief time. None of us knows if we will be here tomorrow or next year or in 5 years. We do know we are here now and we can’t allow what might happen ‘then’ dissuade us from attaching ourselves to those who are present at the moment. You have a story to live and a story to tell. In living it fully and telling it well, your life has a purpose, you will no longer fear to connect and disconnecting from people you value and you will be spurred on to connect with every new casts of characters who pass in and out of your life.

I hope this makes some sense to you. If I’ve confused you, missed the mark or you have any additional questions on this, send me a follow-up. If you come upon future hard times or have questions on anything else, please use EWC whenever you wish. You can request a specific Elder or simply send a general letter for any one of our fine volunteers to answer. We are here to be of help to you. We cannot do so unless you reach out to us. And who knows? Someday you may find yourself at the University of Beirut or at a Canadian or a US University lecturing on the chronicle you write!

Letter #: 448504
Category: Friendship

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