Prayer for the Fire Worshiper
For two voices and guitar, 2017
From LOVE and a Night of Infinite Resignation
Premiered by Anmol Gupta, Yonah Barany, and Luis Gonzalez on guitar
Duration: 4 min.
This piece was written on November 10, 2016, only a few days after the election and honestly the first day I started to recover from a destructive anxiety attack. The pain I shared with those close to me was visceral. Many now have been normalized to the mainstreaming of white supremacist violence and new found endorsement of fascism among the Republican party with the vote of Donald Trump, but we are quick to forget these moments of immediate transition. I recall telling a therapist it was like a death sentence.
This is not something many people understand, the collective trauma faced mainly among the LGBT+ community, PoC, and survivors. In one way we all understood that this monstrosity of human nature is a founding pillar of our society, built on the desecration of stolen land. But for me, and I think many others, that election caused us to lose hope.
Many of us have dug our heads into a willful delusion of normalcy in the past year. Children close to me are now bragging to me about their harassment of people lower than them. The teachings of my faith, to do as much good in this world while you can, was suddenly pushed away from my religious community in the U.S. towards and open embracement of the power one holds against others. Genocides seem popular now. Nazi’s are marching in the street. We were flung into the depths of the absurd, with all abandonment of empathy, coupled with the willful amnesia of a time when we were at least able to hide, only a little bit, the violence crucial to the identity of our country.
Abrahamic religions rely on stories to explain the spiritual behavior of humanity. Birth is painful because of Eve’s punishment for taking the fruit of knowledge for example. It is with that context I wrote Prayer for the Fire Worshiper, a death aria between two lovers. I wanted to express a metaphysical grounding for this ever-present wound inherited from birth that was so passionately made raw last November.
Dawid and Hasan are two unlikely lovers coming from completely different backgrounds. Their love for each other surpassed any social norms. They were two religious men of different faiths each being pressured into an arranged marriage. Love flourished in Al-Basra then, as it was well understood that Love is cosmic. But as outside agitators continued to press their influence on the city, a new face of greed and power was emerging among different political leaders of the city.
Dawid’s death marks the death of love itself. The empathy shared among others across different faiths, cultures, ethnicities is lost with Dawid. Under his dying breath, he says, “There is a disconnect in the world, Hasan. People are not listening to God. They listen to their Imams and their priests, who listen only to their greed for power.” It is not just a reflection of current political conditions, it is the source of that disconnect itself. Dawid’s pain is felt in the inter-generational trauma of all who were born as outcasts in a world against them. That horrible, raw pain I felt in my gut as the U.S. decided to officially endorse fascist white supremacy in a new-found openness is the same wound from the arrows shot at Dawid.
And for Hasan, he spends the rest of his life in inconsolable loneliness, and that void too is inherited. Just as we feel the pain of our ancestors, so too do we feel the desolation. They are two parts of us that exist simultaneously. We feel our own deaths inherited from our ancestors, and our eternal mourning as well.
In 2013, a study was published about mice. Researchers tortured mice as they were fed strawberries and studied their children. Not only did the original mice fear the smell of strawberries but their children and their children’s children did as well. Thus, we have confirmed the epigenetics of pain and that is where this story starts. Nebal has crafted this series of works to study radical trans-temporal queer pain.
Nebal asks his audience to answer questions that reach the core of what it means to be human; Where does pain come from? How are we to heal if we are historically and actively marginalized? When we meet Hasan and David, we are encapsulated by the way two men can suffer as they say goodbye. This moment, hundreds of years ago, mirrors the pain that Abdullah feels as he honors his lost son, Alan. Both moments echo the dichotomy of public versus private. Hasan and David’s secret relationship is hidden from their public lives; Abdullah, struggling with the appropriation of his son’s death on a Greek shoreline, takes a moment to grieve privately. These painful moments are tied together through Rabia al-Adawiyya whose soul in death, in Nebal’s words, shattered into a million pieces and lies within every queer body. I invite the audience to find the difference between suffering and love themselves and to take with them the interconnectedness of the world that Nebal has exemplified before them today.
Naomi Oster, Co-Director