CPPNJ - The Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy of New Jersey

Monday, February 14, 2011

From Egypt: A triumph of the human spirit

Friday evening, I watched the news from Egypt and cried.

I sat in my expensive leather chair enraptured by the site of hundreds of thousands of people -- many of them young and poor -- as they erupted in ecstasy.

The reporter from Tahrir Square had to shout above the delirium. At times, he was literally swept up, pulled into the undulating masses around him. Tears rolled down the cheeks of some of the men and women in the crowd. Others shouted with unbridled pleasure. It was all so sudden. So unexpected. Surreal.

A man older than many around him suddenly walked up to the reporter and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you!," shouted the elated older man. "Thank you to everyone! Thank you to the world!"

The reporter tried to maintain his composure and his footing. Within seconds, a woman held up her baby so that the infant, too, could offer a tiny kiss to the journalist. This time, the reporter lost his composure. He turned toward the baby thrust in front of him and planted a kiss on her lips. It was impossible to hear over the bedlam, but I imagined that the baby, like her mother, was squealing with joy. Surrendering to the moment, the reporter smiled broadly.

A young woman in a head shawl was next to be interviewed. The shawl highlighted her face and drew attention to its glowing features. Her dark eyes shone, her smile pure rapture. Her accented English was excellent. "I never thought I would live to see this day," she said. "I cannot tell you the pleasure I am feeling." She didn't need to; I could feel it myself.

It was at that moment -- watching the serene joy on the woman's face as delirium engulfed her -- that tears began to roll down my own cheeks. I remembered the ecstasy I felt at a party on election night, 2008, in front of the TV in somebody else's comfortable living room. The several-dozen people assembled erupted as the television announced that Barack Hussein Obama had been elected the first African-American president of the United States -- an event I had never expected in my lifetime. The feeling of accomplishment, pride and hope was palpable, just as it was in Egypt.

I thought back more than two decades, when I was a reporter myself and spent a week in Egypt on vacation. I had not expected to confront such poverty. The horses were so emaciated, they were too weak (or defeated) to swat flies that swarmed around them. Wherever I went, gaunt children tugged at my clothes, their fingers to their mouths in a gesture for food. I was appalled that a fellow tourist threw a cheap Bic pen at them, entertained by the sight of famished children diving for a trifle they might be able to sell.

In Cairo, I had been affronted by the noise and the mass of people, some hanging on the outside of packed, filthy buses, their faces grim. As a taxi drove me back to my hotel -- luxurious by Egyptian standards -- I passed military guards stationed on street corners, threatening machine guns in their hands. (My reaction to them would be recalled in the days after 9/11, as I walked uneasily by soldiers in camouflage and threatening machine guns in New York's Port Authority.)

My memory of the squalor and military presence made it all the more powerful to see unarmed Egyptians -- perhaps some the begging children I had seen when I visited -- rise up and do the impossible. And now there was a feeling of hope, a sense that destiny had played its hand.

And so I cried, like I do when I work with people who have been beaten down -- sometimes literally, more often psychologically by traumatic experiences beyond their control. I am moved by their strength and persistence. I am moved by the human spirit.

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