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Beyond past time


And we’re back! After two months without this “column”, we’re ready to move the clock forward.

It’s fascinating how time works; it’s an almost paradoxical concept, an invention of something that doesn’t exist, but at the same time is inevitable. Would you be able to explain to someone what time is, or how it works? I know too much time has passed and that I’m late in writing this post, but this is built on references and assumptions that were surely acquired by nurture, and not before.

Time Lost

Time is our most valuable resource.

Roughly two months ago, Ali Shaath’s clock stopped ticking. He had time, and then he lost it. We had him with us, and now he’s gone and not coming back. No matter how much time passes, we will not be able to interact with him beyond relived memories. There is absolutely nothing we can do to defy a specific moment in the past that has affected us all forever.

We all find ourselves in time that we’d like to think we’re in control of; limited hours and days that we choose to distribute between activities, people and places. But then with time, we find ourselves immersed in a sea of duties, responsibilities and actions that – if we were to step back for a moment – are obviously of very little significance. I know everyone at ThePlanet has been working day in, day out to meet deadlines and pull through. But then suddenly, when you least expect it, an inspirational, avant-garde friend and role model disappears. Gone. Just like that, and without a chance to go back in time a couple of hours, or even stop for a moment to let it sink in. Every single minute can only serve as a reminder that we waste our time doing things that just don’t matter that much.

In Y tu mamá también, the issue of time was an ongoing theme, depicted via the beginning and end of every single aspect of the film. And it seemed like the only way to be in control of time is to acknowledge that every thing you care about in life has its own time, and just like it was created, there will come a time when it is gone. Live with that, and you will be far better off. At the start of the film, protagonist Luisa’s answer to a questionnaire was that she preferred time over power and money. But as her character matured and progressed, she wrapped up her appearance with a powerful quote:

La vida es como la espuma, por eso hay que darse como el mar.

Life is like the foam (on the sea shore), and that’s why you have to keep going at it like the sea.

Once you acknowledge that everything comes to an end, and accept it, you can keep fighting to give new life to things and watch them sink into the sand and die, only to come back with a new life again. This beautiful illustration is an expression of our constant struggle against time.

Around Ali’s departure, revolutionary hero Alaa was taken from his home, beaten and thrown behind bars where we awaits the authorities’ decisions. Besides being stripped away of his freedom, Alaa is locked away from time. His time is in the hands of the regime that aspires to crush the masses. He has no access to his time, and he’s at the mercy of those in control.

In a letter written to his sisters Mona and Sanaa, Alaa expressed his isolation from the struggle outside, making the realization that that time goes on, but is inaccessible to him:

يعني الزمن يمكن يفضل واقف عندي وبيتحرك عندكم لسنين … يمكن هخرج بعد شهر أو شهرين، أو يمكن هخرج بعد ما يخلصوا خارطة الطريق الملعونة بتاعتهم. المسألة بمزاجهم والزمن والوقت تحت تحكمهم

It’s interesting that you come to understand what time means to you when you’re stripped of any sort of control of it. In the 1973 classic film El espíritu de la colmena that revisits the events of the Spanish civil war, a leftist activist was on the hide from the fascists threatening to kill him (and everyone else against the right-wing regime – sound familiar?) Throughout the film, a watch is tossed around the different characters of the story, and in one of the scenes, the little girl hands the fugitive her father’s watch, in a clear gesture of handing him time –  a reflection of the safe haven he finds himself in, a secure refuge where he actually regains time and wins back access to it.

On a more positive note, and also during the same week of the aforementioned incidents, our very own Bacary came out alive from a deadly car crash in Bangalore, India. He held strong and made it in one piece, and now it’s just a matter of time. With every passing day, there’s considerable improvement that will eventually see him back to his full pleasant self. With time, Bacary, and indeed all of us around him, are closer to making this car accident from a bygone era. It’s as if that it’s time that is healing him, not the dozens of pills he pops, and hours of physiotherapy he endures.

That’s why time doesn’t have to be an obstacle, on the contrary, it’s the wheel that pushes past problems we come up against. After all, the only reason why the authorities try to strip revolutionaries of time is because they are well aware of how powerful of a tool it can be. Even when Ali Shaath passed away, he distributed his clock to generations that grew up learning from him and aspiring to be like him. He died an activist striving to empower Arab youth through camps and open-source technology, but gave birth to hundreds to carry on the struggle to the very end.

Alaa might still be in prison and stripped of his time, but he’s well aware of what the future holds in stake for us:

لكن في الآخر أهي بتستمر مش معنى ان إرادتي وتحكمي في الوقت توقفوا أن الزمن نفسه توقف

I was late for Ali when I spent too much time doing things that are insignificant, but I’d like to think I learned my lesson. I was late in writing this post after a two-month hiatus, but you have my word I’m back on track (I promise all 4 of my readers!) I was also, admittedly, late in transferring your salaries this month, but I eventually got around to it 🙂

We can’t be free without time. We can’t be happy without coming to terms with how it works. We can’t succeed in any revolution until we have taken our time in our hands. It is our right, and no one can take that away from is.

4 comments on “Beyond past time

  1. Reader 1 of 4

    Beautifully written, zooming in and out of real life events to talk about a philosophical concept was quite interesting. I almost wanted the story to go on for a little bit more but I guess you ran out of time. A wonderful way to commemorate heroes as well.

    • Shalaby

      Thank you! I’m very proud of you and the rest of the 4 readers for your support, as always. I couldn’t have done it with you 🙂

      There are lots of heroes around us, and sometimes you don’t realize it until their time is stripped of them, or has come to an end altogether.

  2. Saytara

    عبقرية! طريقة العرض بأربع قصص مختلفة اديتنى إحساس انى بشوف نفس النقطة من أربع كاميرات، أقدر اقول بثقة ان سقف توقعات القراء بقى اعلى بنسبة كبيرة. 😀

    • Shalaby

      تلميذك يا سيطرة! شكرا على كلامك الجميل 🙂

      أتنمى دائما أبقى عند حسن ظنك..انت والثلاثة التانيين. شكرا 🙂

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