There are very few privileges one can claim while living in Lebanon. Until 6:07 pm on the 4th of August, I counted myself as one of the privileged few, unlike my parents and their parents, who had not experienced years of civil war, bombing and routine racing to underground shelters for protection.
Until the 4th of August, I counted myself as privileged for having been too young and too sheltered by my protective parents to vividly remember the string of assassinations in 2005 or the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel War. They only minutely affected my life as an eleven-year old who, living outside of Beirut, was rarely allowed to watch the news.
I had been back in Lebanon for 5 days when the devastating set of explosions destroyed Beirut and surrounding areas over a 10 km radius. After days of being in total lockdown, many people were out on the busy streets, finishing up errands or taking advantage of the open cafés, restaurants and shops. My mother, sister and I had just left Gemmayze and were walking through Arax, a hectic shopping street in Bourj Hammoud, when we heard a loud noise shattering the sky above us—it sounded like a sonic boom, something we all associate with the sound of Israeli jets flying low above Lebanon.
While some place hope in the longstanding resilience of the Lebanese people, this national catastrophe calls for resistance and for anger. Resilience can only extend people’s suffering under the same ruling class, but it cannot change their fate
“Dear God, we’re being bombed by Israel,” one woman yelled. Rolling my eyes sarcastically, I barely managed to finish a retort when the deafening sound of an explosion hit us. All of a sudden, glass was everywhere. I could feel the shards cutting my legs and feet. Gripping my sister, I tried to ignore the look of panic in her eyes and the blood dripping from her back. We found our mother, who had tripped and fell while trying to get us inside a nearby shop, and the three of us huddled in the back along with six other women. I remember standing between my mother and sister, holding each of them tightly, and, like a machine stuck in a loop, repeating the phrases “We’re okay, we’re fine. Don’t worry. We’re fine.”
I cannot describe the feeling of having to consider, with overwhelming reality, the possibility of losing your life over the next minutes, seconds. Fear, for my own life and for that of my sister and mother, became the traumatizing realization that I didn’t want any of us to die yet. This cannot be it.
And a woman spoke, saying: Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding
I remember thinking that I have finally joined the ranks of countless people who had experienced those same feelings during Lebanon’s long and turbulent years of war. Perhaps, years ago, someone was standing in the exact place I was in when they were forced to consider their own abrupt demise. I hope they survived.
Running towards our car, my mother panting while talking on the phone with various family members, we didn’t know if we were being bombed or if this were an accident. We didn’t know if another explosion would follow to finish off what the previous two didn’t. Maybe it was safer to stay in the shop?
I couldn’t sleep that night. Pushing our beds together, my sister and I huddled under the covers and held hands. I couldn’t stop thinking of the man I saw, running with a child draped across his arms. I tried to hide the fact that I was shivering even though the room wasn’t cold.
Over the course of the following days, it became clear how lucky we were. Apart from the mental trauma, we were physically unscathed. Unlike the 300,000 people who had lost their homes all of a sudden, we still had the safety and security of our house in Mansourieh. We are lucky. That’s what people with varying degrees of physical and material injuries have been repeating for the last 20 days and counting.
No amount of explanations, apologies or compensation can return what we have lost. And while some place hope in the longstanding resilience of the Lebanese people, this national catastrophe calls for resistance and for anger. Resilience can only extend people’s suffering under the same ruling class, but it cannot change their fate.
We have cried for the 181 people lost because of this blast. While we mourn, our government continues to take advantage of us and to pile abuse on us. The heart wrenching cries of our people are falling on deaf ears as the ruling class tighten their power grip around our throats. We are left with no room to breathe. The ageless question that has defined the notion of Lebanese resilience makes its memorized way to our lips, all on its own this time, “Where do we go from here?”
In search for an answer, I find myself returning continuously to Khalil Gebran’s The Prophet. Could there be an explanation for this devastation hidden in the wisdom of his words? I doubt that we will be able to understand this sorrow any time soon, and our wounds, though they may close over the years, will never permanently seal, but perhaps we may find some clarity in Khalil Gebran’s words on Pain:
And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.