A Fragment of Memory about Harm

Recently, while reading A Border Passage, an autobiography written by a contemporary Egyptian woman writer Leila Ahmed,  I found many pieces of her delicate reflections and sayings resonate deeply with me. Born in 1940 and having lived through an age of decolonization, dictatorship and pan-Arab nationalism in Egypt as well as implicit racism in England in the last century, Leila Ahmed incisively reveals in her autobiography that “we always embody in our multiple shifting consciousnesses a convergence of traditions, cultures, histories coming together in this time and this place and moving like rivers though us” (25). Among the multiple “rivers” of consciousnesses, Ahmed’s reflections on her mother’s principle of no harm draw me back to certain memory and consciousness…

If you harm someone else you will have to live all your life with the knowledge that you have done that, and nothing that happens to oneself is worse than that” (75-76).

It reminded me of several fragments that I had forgotten but I carried through my childhood——the first time in my life that I hurt someone physically.

That day in Grade 2, I accidentally hurt Ye’s finger when we were playing on the school playground. Her finger bled. Timid, frightened, I didn’t dare to say anything, not even a “sorry.” The only thing I murmured was, “Are you okay?” When I came back home that day, I was silent all night with the scene hanging in my mind. The next morning, I was so frightened how Ye would see me differently and our friendship would break up that I did not want to go to school any more. I ran into my dad’s bed. I shook him awake and I began to cry, for the first time to confide my fear and worries to Dad. I have forgotten  what Dad said to me, but he persuaded me to go to school and ask for forgiveness. That day, Ye came very late to school, accompanied by her granny. I must have done great harm to Ye. There would be no way to escape, I thought. Instead, later that day, Ye came to me with same bright smiles, as if nothing had ever happened. And I remained silent. She might have never blamed me. Or she might have forgot about yesterday.

Thus neither of us ever brought up the topic again. Our friendship remained the same. Yet Ye’s bleeding finger, my silence, my fear, Dad and Ye’s smiles circulated again and again in my head for years, until these images gradually faded in middle school.

As I am now years older and pondering again on this segment of life, I think Leila Ahmed’s reflections of her mother’s principle of “harm” has in some way opened up my understanding (and wiring) of my own relevant experiences as well.

“He who kills one being kills all of humanity, and he who revives, or gives life to, one being revives all of humanity” (75). In Ahmed’s understanding of her mother’s principle, harm to others is the worst thing one can do because harming to someone else is directly equivalent to losing humanity, which is not only against the “mercy, justice, peace, compassion, humanity, fairness, kindness, truthfulness, charity” (126) her mother lived with the oral and aural Islam, but also essentially traumatic for both the self and the victim(s). Therefore, if she had to choose between harming herself and harming someone else, she would always choose to harm herself so that she would not violate her own principles of Islam and leave trauma to anyone, including to herself. Was it why I was so frightened when I hurt Ye? Was it why the memory hanged in my head for years?

Now, when this piece of memory comes back to me, I was unsettled, but also grateful to the new consciousness aroused.

Shiqi Lin

Shiqi Lin

You can contact Shiqi Lin at linshiqi2017@gmail.com.