I like to start with telling some of my deepest feelings this way, that I have a confession to make, and this is a confession of an aversion or uneasiness that I don’t have actual evidence as to why I feel this way. I am not trying to solve a mystery, I know that’s not the way with them, but to tell of it.
When I was finding the first poets on my own to read and had continued writing my own again long ago, I found Kahlil Gibran and had read some of his quotes and poetry. I know there were words of his I loved and understood deeply, but I remember feeling instinctively that I would want to close them and read more of the other poets instead. This was way before I knew of the story between Kahlil Gibran and May Ziadeh or knew of her at all. No other author that I can think of I felt noticeable personal uneasiness towards, sure a disliked book or writing style I’ve felt towards many other writers, but not personal or with an author whose work I appreciated. I’m not judgmental naturally in my thoughts and it never actually changed: something about him had brought me pain.
I tried to see if I could find out recently why he didn’t meet May Ziadeh once I’d learned of her as he is described as having been very close to her in his letters. I know a published book I don’t really wish to read includes his letters to her (but not hers; those may be lost or hidden by people who felt that was the way to protect her reputation; I’m not completely sure.)
I’d read Kahlil would write to her about how he wished to return to Lebanon and was homesick for it. His peers tried to get him to return to make a change there but he didn’t want to do that as he felt he was a writer and not a politician. I understand the difference.
I felt so sad for the later years of May’s life, it was deeply painful to me at some time; I will feel compassion for different people at a time and usually a certain person or incident’s pain will be strong with me at a certain time and more sad to me than anything I’d gone through myself.
I’d wondered then if part of the deep depression she had in the 1930s was because Kahlil didn’t come to meet her eventually and I wondered if she doubted his love for her, feeling her love for him wasn’t reciprocated, and that idea was worse than physically losing him. She was also a poet who wrote about spirituality and heaven in her writing.
She’d written these words to him at some point during their correspondence:
What is the meaning of this that I am writing? I do not know what I mean by it. But I know that you are my beloved and I fear love. I expect love so much and am afraid that it will not bring me everything I am waiting. I say this while I know that little there is a lot of love, but a little love does not satisfy me. Drought and drought and nothing is better than a little.
—May Ziadeh to Kahlil Gibran
I have felt that.
I can’t prove this with the scientific method—but the great pain of compassion will fall away from me enough to reveal that she is so very happy now. Life matters now and it also matters to me that people in heaven are no longer hurting. And she held on through her struggle. The last main trip she took was to Italy as she had learned Italian awhile ago and was interested in the culture. While she was there, she suffered fatigue and went into ‘hysteria’, and the suffering from it made her think of ending her life but she didn’t.
After the death of her parents and Kahlil Gibran, her relatives put her in a mental hospital in Lebanon and she couldn’t just leave, as I have known, and they took over her estate. They diagnosed her with ‘schizophrenia’ and when she was finally able to have a fellow writer help her to be signed out so she could leave and the hospital had declared her to be of sound mind, most of the friends she’d known from her time as a writer and literary host had lost ties with her because of this unacceptable (and also broad) diagnosis people didn’t want any part in. I can relate to the feeling and yet am living in a newer time where a broad term like that is being understood more precisely. It probably wasn’t the accurate diagnosis for many people or me or her, when it had been broadly given. A name may be a name, but the wrong treatment won’t allow a person to live as their true potential and a broad misunderstanding of a diagnosis can’t fully help someone because not all treatments work the same. And yet I know this, too, is a real conflict for people, that the social contempt and associations with a diagnosis can hurt the person more than symptoms of the illness, and I am grateful that the mental health field is moving forward to work towards greater understanding and acceptance of all types of conditions in people and just people as humanity, and also that people outside the field in the world are doing the same.
I remind myself that as we are moving closer to the ideals in our time, I also know that May is happy and a person in heaven cannot be hurt, whether you don’t intend it or you do. I know people who are happy and love to give also wish to share their happiness with others and she has shared hers with me; it doesn’t matter now if love on earth was returned, she is happy; my heart wishes to return it and to share this happiness with whomever I can.
Earlier: A Literary Salon