Strong Enough to be Gentle: Hasib (Four Weeks of Fine Men #6)

Strong Enough to be Gentle: Hasib (Four Weeks of Fine Men #6) May 29, 2018

When I chose the tag #tonicmasculinity for this story, I was pleased with the wordplay in replacing “toxic” with “tonic,” and liked the implication of something restorative and rejuvenating.

Today’s story fits that label better than most.

This is Hasib.

Old, sepia-toned photo of a man with glasses holding a little girl
Photo provided by Stasa Travers and used with permission.

Hasib was my friend Stasa’s grandfather, a Muslim man who lived in what was then Yugoslavia.

Describing him to me, Stasa wrote, “he passed away when I was six. I remember the last time I saw him he stopped by our house to drop off a pair of white stockings for me. I was starting school that year and he wanted to buy something for me. He was checked into the hospital the next day.”

Despite losing him at such an early age, Stasa calls Hasib, “my hero.” Not because he fought in WWII with the Yugoslav Partisans–there were no medals or special recognition of his military service–but because of the life he chose to live afterwards, a life that repudiated violence and brutality to embrace humility and gentleness.

I’ve never heard him raise his voice. He worked in a small booth selling lottery tickets. He refused benefits for veterans, he said, “someone else needs it more than me”. He raised three children with my grandma. No medals, no big recognition, just a quiet hard working man.

How did Hasib come out of a youth dominated by war such a gentle, unprepossessing man?
While Hasib was in military service, the woman he eventually married, Stasa’s grandmother, was experiencing the horrors of war on a different front. Armed soldiers brutally killed her father and brother before her eyes.
Afterwards, they raped her.
This is the woman Hasib was to fall in love with.
I don’t know how much of this history he heard when they were courting. He would have known about her father and brothers. Even if he wasn’t told, he could probably guess the rest–rape was a horrifically common tool of war, one used by many sides in the mess of civil and external conflicts that plagued Yugoslavia over the twentieth century.
We don’t know what Hasib saw firsthand, fighting as a Partisan. We don’t know what he did or what he thought as a very young man, what sins of commission or omission he might have regretted, looking back.
What we know is that he married a survivor of traumatic violence, and led a life with her that was marked by quiet gentleness. We know Hasib became known as a patient, quiet man who never raised his hand or his voice. We know that his granddaughter remembers Hasib as,
“…quiet and patient, telling me the same story over and over again because I demanded. My mom also confirmed that the only time she saw him angry was when she raised her voice at me. He told her never to yell at me again.”
We don’t get to choose what kind of world we are born into.
We do get to choose how we respond to the darkness in it.

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