Mirene Arsanios


Writing in Crisis

A Conversation Between Beirut and New York

Good morning Lina,

There’s a seven-hour lag between me in New York and you in Beirut but it feels like we are worlds apart. I wouldn’t know how to describe the distance between us, or if “worlds” accurately conveys the difference in how we might both be feeling. On August 4th, when the explosion happened, I was in Brooklyn, in my ground floor apartment. A few minutes prior to the blast, I had been chatting with my tenant in Beirut about renewing his contract for another five months. My partner, who is very plugged in on social media, asked me if I had heard about the explosion. He showed me the infamous video of the blast, which was already circulating on Twitter. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing so—in true 2020 fashion—I decided not to believe it. I thought it was fake news, simulated footage. I then received a text message from my friend Amal asking whether my loved ones were fine. The few seconds between knowing that something really bad had happened and hearing my brother’s voice were horrendous; I rushed out of the apartment as if to flee from fire, my heart pounding in my throat.

Thankfully my brother (the only close family member I have left) took my call immediately, “I’m fine,” he said, “I’ll call you back.” Since then, I’ve been calling him every day. I want him to know that I’m “there” for him but where exactly am I, and where is he? There’s always been a rift between those living in Beirut and those living abroad. That relationship, like all diasporic ones, is complicated, melancholic, and at times contentious. That rift seems to have widened, as if Beirut was set loose from any form or acceptable reality and was now drifting in some dark ether. Perhaps I should just accept that I’m far away and that I will never be able to understand what it was like to be there. Writing you a letter honors that distance, the epistolary being a genre built around separation. Surrendering to that distance paradoxically draws me closer. I’m glad we’re having this conversation… How are you? Are you able to sleep?