Night times are for falling. And damn once you let go of that lifeline that somehow got so tangled around you that it's not saving you, but holding you back, does that free fall give you butterflies. The past week(end) has been nothing short of immersive. On Wednesday I took 11 students with me to work the day at YouTube Space in NYC (post coming soon on that) and Friday I shot one of the best weddings I've ever done. The couple was just full of passion and kindness and after all these years of working those events I finally "got it". Strange huh? Normally I go eat afterwards and pass out, but that night I just threw caution to the wind and pulled an all-nighter with someone cool, running deep into the next morning. Night times are for falling.
Somehow it went away. It was like the Cheshire Cat fading. To be completely honest I didn't realize it was happening, or happened.
Until recently I started hearing people comment to me about it again. One person who knew me from way back mentioned "Haven't seen 'that grin' in a long time". Newer people in my life also saw the difference and one dear student now has taken to calling me out in class whenever she spies my cheeks creasing back as I'm reading things on my phone. Apparently it's still infectious. The bride from Friday's event kept cracking up at how happy I was telling me "It's obvious you have a passion for life".
Wow, hello stranger who just read me like a seasoned writer perusing the back covers of books. Yes. You got me. And thank you because I somehow forgot me along the way.
"That grin" has a back story though. It's one I've been told by all the elders in my family since I was little. Basem is an arabic name that means "The guy who smiles". Before I was born my parents expected to have a daughter, because old wives tales said so. When I was in the delivery room, literally everything was going wrong. Initially I was coming out breach, no bueno. Then as they were trying to reposition me the doctor found out the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck. This was before c-sections were routine so the doctor did whatever he could do because I was going to die at delivery.
When I came out everyone in the room was silent. All these professionals were controlling their panic at the complications and waiting to see if I survived. I was delivered and there was still pin drop silence in the room. I had died it appeared. The doctors (there were multiple at this point because this turned into an emergency), just stood there silently staring at me.
I didn't cry when I was born, instead I was smiling a huge gummy grin, THAT GRIN. And everyone in the room just laughed and smiled.
Now the next dilemma was, surprise, I was a boy. And all those cloths my parents had in preparation for a girl eventually got put on me anyway (I digress). But now they needed to figure out a new name for me, on the spot. My grandmother stepped in and said "There's only one name he can possible have".
Basem - The Guy Who Smiles
Some things are so deeply burned into your identity that they define the core of who you are. For me it was this story of that grin, and how it chose my name for me. It was 'that grin' that carried me through all my innocence and goofy puberty photos and dancing and passion at living loud because I almost died right before I was born.
Realizing that the past several years dimmed that smile put things into sharp relief. Life can be rough and will try to choke the air out of me, or at least grind down the best parts of my identity. But I've done this before. And I made it out with a damn smile, that grin. And everyone just cracked up and life went on in drag until they could buy me boy clothes.
And now I'm remembering little Basem and knowing that he's always been a goddamn warrior who's smile is his best weapon for navigating being upside down with a noose around his neck. Life can be rough, but I won't allow it to rob me of me.
"Bae'sem, you're grinning". And everyone lit up laughing.....