Live from Cairoston

The Outsider

A few years back a friend “diagnosed” me as an Outsider. He used the Arabic translation “la muntami” and told me about Colin Wilson’s book. Since then, I would usually look it up at bookstores, browse a few pages and then decide to save the fifteen bucks for something else. Last weekend I found an urge to read it and borrowed it from the library. I finished it in less than two days. Profound relief!

From the very first page there was resonance. He starts by citing the hero in Barbusse’s novel L’Enfer as he observes Parisian women ‘moving in both directions, the street is full of dresses which sway, offering themselves airily, the skirts lifting; dresses that lift and yet do not lift’. Immediately Waleed’s confession in Ground Zero Mosque comes to mind, ‘As I walk down the street and seek to indulge in the curves and cleavages of by passing women, I am ultra-cautious that no one notices. As I scavenge through shirts, under skirts and between thighs, I quickly scan the eyes in my proximity.’ And in this manner, I felt that I was amongst my kin.

Not only did I feel at home, but the Outsider gave me confidence that I am at the cutting edge exploring new resolutions to the ordeal. As the book progresses, it examines how different Outsiders dealt with their predicament. A few such passages have become my favorites:

‘Now Dostoevsky has brought us to the threshold of new developments, and he has helped to summarize most of the themes of previous chapters. What we cannot have failed to notice, as the analysis has taken us from Barbusse, Sartre, Hesse, towards Raskolnikov, Ivan Karamazov, is that the greatest men have been those who were most intensely concerned about the Outsider’s problems, and the question of how not to wreck. The Outsider must keep asking the question Why? Why are most men failures? Why do Outsiders tend to wreck?

Astonishing! that is the very preoccupation of Uhmud in al-Rabwa (in progress … part two of my trilogy).

Another gem: ‘They will realize that there is no danger to self-knowledge so great as being universally accepted as a spiritual leader.’

Then there was Blake’s contentment:

I have mental joy and mental health
And mental friends and mental wealth
I’ve a wife I love and that loves me
I’ve all but riches bodily.

These are things that really do count. I can especially vouch for the importance of a wife who helps one live abundantly in a variety of ways including aiding in the production of healthy and wholesome progeny; an extension of ones life.

‘Blake at all events, was lucky in having a wife to share his struggle, a completely docile girl who always regarded her husband as a great man. Such a wife might have saved Nietzsche sanity.

Ah … how fortunate I am, and how I miss Nietzsche. Marriage, and fatherhood, has proven to be a far-sighted act of Providence that I am only starting to fully appreciate. I am continuously reminded of Rabbi Aharon’s words to Waleed:

‘He then told me of a famous rabbi who lived in Boston, Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik, and recommended that I read his book, “The Lonely Man of Faith.” With that, we ended our meeting, but after one last prayer, that I would always find life’s greatest joy and depth of meaning in my beautiful family.’ (Ground Zero Mosque)

The meaning of that prayer continues to unfold to me.

The last piece I’d like to pen here is Yeats moment of ‘harmony’.

My fiftieth year had come and gone
I sat, a solitary man
In a crowded London shop
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top

While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed
And twenty minuets more of less
It seemed, so great my happiness
That I as blessed, and could bless.

I’m glad I finally read the book, in my thirtieth year (plus one). It gives me a confidence to share some of my self-expressions from the past few years and further develop the ones still in the works. I believe that, in the process of trying not to be a wreck, I have found a few tips that may be of help to other Outsiders. These will be incorporated in an upcoming essay titled “On Acknowledgment” (in English) and the novel  “al-Rabwa” (in Arabic). So stay tuned!

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