It is not difficult to encounter or to imagine, nowadays, a love relationship to be born, to blossom, to survive and to finally end happily with the union between two persons from two different parts of the world. It is rather common to hear about this scenario recurring for reasons you and I are perfectly aware of: the ease, availability and speed of communication- let it be by air, by land, by water and by the most recent and widely used media: the Internet.
My story is not one of these stories. My characters never met. Their times did not offer them the privilege of the internet, let alone the other more primitive means of communication. And their relationship did not end with happily ever after. However, their relationship was not any less special.
Love at first read….literally!
This is the love story of Gibran Khalil Gibran and May Ziadeh. May Ziadeh was born in Palestine to a Lebanese father and to a Palestinian mother and moved to Egypt to write for Arab newspapers and periodicals. Gibran Khalil Gibran was born in Bechari village in Lebanon and immigrated to the United States to pursue his artistic studies and to take on his career as worldly renowned artist, poet, and writer. These two exceptional Arab identities share a unique love affair that has lasted till the end of their lives. They expressed their mutual admiration by words written down on and exchanged through letters.
The first contact was established by May Ziadeh in 1912 when she sent a letter to Khalil Gibran showing how deeply she was moved with Selma Karameh’s story in Gibran´s one and only novel, “The Broken Wings” (Al Ajniha Al Moutakassira). Although she found the novel too liberal for her liking, she shared and acknowledged Gibran´s passion on women’s rights. From that moment on, they became close correspondents and devoted pen pals. In 1921, Gibran received her picture.
May Ziadeh was a champion of Gibran’s writings. By critiquing Khalil Gibran’s books, she spread his works across the Arab world and enhanced her own reputation as a literary critic. Gibran always replied to her letters and articles with utmost elegance and delicacy. For example, after she interpreted the main character of Khalil Gibran’s “The Madman” (Al Majnoun), he declared to her that the thoughts and feelings of the madman were not his own. Yet, in another letter to her, he affirms, “The soul, May, does not see anything in life save that which is in the soul itself. It does not believe except in its own private events and when it experiences something, the outcome becomes a part of it.”
Khalil Gibran felt very close to and seemed to blindly trust May Ziadeh to reveal his deepest fears and emotions to her. To his pen pal, he admitted his fear of death, “I am, May, a small volcano whose opening has been closed.” Before his death, he wrote to her expressing his yearning to retreat back to his dearly beloved Lebanon, “My longing for my homeland almost destroys me.” In the early thirties, with the death of Gibran and her parents, May Ziadeh fell into a depression and was committed into a hospital for mental illnesses in Beirut.
Despite never meeting her, the Lebanese Khalil Gibran loved the Palestinian feminist writer for almost 20 years. And despite the rumors of May Ziadeh’s love affairs with other Arab artists and writers who attended her literary salon, she cherished and maintained an idealized love relationship with him by letters. Their letters bear witness to a profound and supportive relationship enduring and thriving across the oceans until the last days of their lives.
Where are you, my beloved? Do you hear my weeping
From beyond the ocean? Do you understand my need?
Do you know the greatness of my patience?
Where are you, me beloved?
Oh, how great is Love!
And how little am I!
- Excerpt from A Lover’s Call XXVII by Gibran Khalil Gibran