Saturday, June 4, 2016

Peace from Within

By Mohammed Ghabriss

I was born in Lebanon and raised outside of it. Our visits as a family were during summer times only. It was great going back to one’s country, land and people. Being with my cousins, playing under the warmth of a summer time’s sun, eating from the berries and the figs from my grandmother’s tree, and swimming in the village’s fresh and cold river, was everything a kid would ask for. I remember that summer, before going through my mother’s village to visit our grandmother; we used to pass through checkpoints. And on these checkpoints were strange men dressed as soldiers with a blue star on the helmets and shoulder s. I used to stick my head from the window, smile at them and wave. At that time I never knew that my country was under an Israeli occupation, in particular the south where I come from. Until that day, we were gathered at my father’s aunt’s place in the evening, it was such a warm memory. I was drinking my juice sitting next to my grandmother holding her hand while I was listening to what the other adults had to say. As we were sitting, I started hearing sounds that went ‘pop, pop, pop’. I was confused, everybody went silent, my father rushed to the window and looked at my grandmother. I knew something was wrong. 

My mom rushed to me and held me, I started looking at them and how the scenery suddenly changed, everyone was on their feet not knowing what to do or how to react. My heart was heavy, and beating fast, tears started pouring on my face, as the ‘Pop, pop, pop, pop’ increased and increased they were endless and didn’t stop at all, they were getting louder, lasting even longer. They all rushed at me. My father said: “Hamode, don’t worry dear that’s a birthday party, these are just crackers, they’re celebrating”. “Really?” I replied in a shaky voice trying to restore my confidence, “Yes, Really” my father responded in a warm smile. As the ‘pops’ outside ceased, it was time for us to leave. As we drove in the car I remember sleeping n my mother’s lap, holding that necklace that she wore, as tight as I could. That necklace said “Allah”, God’s name. The nest day I realized that these popping sounds were nothing but shootings between the resistance and the Israeli forces. That was the turning point of awareness for me that my country is bleeding, and by time I got to know that it was torn by a civil war that lasted almost 10 years, and two Israeli occupations.

On the summer of 2006, we visited Lebanon as usual for our holidays. I was on the balcony with my brothers, playing on our bicycles, overlooking a beautiful vast green valley, with lots of trees and houses from far. The sky was so clear, birds were swarming the sky, and the clouds were gently passing by. All of the sudden, I saw the hill facing us from a not very far distance splattering in the air. As if part of it was thrown up in the air little pieces, and then few seconds later a huge wave of heat and vibration blew on us, as the curtains and the walls started to shake. My mom and dad rushed to us, hugged us and carried us in. We all stared in shock at the hill as smoke was floating up in the sky. We switched on the TV, and after of 6 years of freeing our land from the Israeli occupation, Israel went into clashes again with the resistance on the borders, and Israel was conducting a series of air-strikes on Lebanon targeting infrastructure, hospitals, gas stations, and any moving car on the road. It was war again.

After 10 days of living in fear, and sleeping all in one room, so that if an airstrike shelled our house we’ll then all die together at once. We drove from one place to another along with my grandmother, my aunt and her family from one place to another, heading to Mount Lebanon, since it was the safest, all the way to the Bekaa valley on the other side of the mountain and to Syria. Were we took refuge there. The war ended after lasting 33 days.

Days went by and passed, we travelled back to Lebanon after two years with intention of settling down there. I went to high school in Lebanon, and the two universities, graduating after 3-years. In my final semester, I remember I was at my grandmother’s place along with my brother, stuck because of a snow storm, and we couldn’t drive since the roads were slippery and risky. As I was surfing the internet I stumbled into an organization called ‘Initiatives of change’. That organization offered internships on personal development through the enhancement of leadership, and communication skills; its motto “Be the Change you want to see in the world”. It sounded very appealing to me, what a great experience it would be after graduation. At that day I applied for the internship in Switzerland, and later on to the one in India; One thing leading to the other. During my stay in India as an intern, it were my inner personal journey began. 

One of the things that we used to do were our quiet times, in which we used to sit down in silence, reflecting upon our own personal life’s, and writing down whatever thoughts and/or inspirations would come to our minds. During my quiet times, there was this thought that kept on coming to me, a very unsettling one, but I kept on pushing it down every time. During one of the workshops, we had to prepare our country presentations. During that time I wasn’t the only Lebanese intern there, I had my friend with me from university whom also applied for the internship. We prepared and thought of what to present on that day. We started by introducing our culture, and showing pictures of the beautiful landscapes and diversity that our country possesses, the food, the climate, the articheture and the ancient monuments. We soon started to talk about the history, and the wars that we went through. Sharing our personal experiences during the wars, and our will to survive, and our love and attachment to our land, I was emotional and couldn’t hold back my tears as I spoke with pride how we managed to defend our land, and protect it, and how we are now working on reconciliation, with the will and intention to create peace.

Days after as I went further more in my quiet times, that thought that I was trying to avoid the whole time kept of emerging again, and again. Until one day the center we were interning in hosted a conference. And in that conference we were divided into groups that we called family groups in which each person would share the life stories briefly with the intention to get to know each other more and connect on a deeper level.  In that group that I was part of, a man from a state called “Meghalaya” in Inia. That man spoke about his father, with a sharp burden that showed as he spoke. He said that during his as he was brought up, his father used to work hard to provide for him and him family, but he was so disrespectful and rude towards his father, he never had a good relationship with him as he grew up. As years passed that distance between him and his father maintained, and that anger and misunderstanding that he carried in his heart grew up with him. Until one day, his father was no more. That’s when he started crying uncontrollably, he said “I wish he was alive so that I could apologize to him, and tell him that I appreciate what you’ve done for us that I love you, and please forgive me for being Rude and disrespectful, but now I can’t it’s a pain that I have to live with for the rest of my life”.

During that day, my mind couldn’t stop thinking about what that man had to say. Days later I realized that that thought that kept in emerging during my quiet time was the thought of my own father.  Realized that what the guy expressed was exactly what I was still experiencing with my father. Since I was a kid I had constant clashes with my dad. We used to always fight especially during my teenage years. I used to be extremely ungrateful and disrespectful. My father is an electric engineer, a freelancer. He always worked with his dignity preserved, and hard work to pay for our pricey school fees, luxurious gadgets, and high end food. He works with his bare hands, I swear he used to come back home wet head to toe; and that was his own sweat, his black boots were shinny because of the heat he had to bear outside. And I used to welcome him with insults and constant fights, on various reasons. The school that I was in was a luxurious school that only wealthy people could comfortably afford. Therefore all of my friends had their fathers working in their fancy offices, and coming with their shiny and fancy cars to pick them up from school, or even having their drivers to do so. And I had to persuade my dad into parking far from my school’s gate so that my friends won’t see him in his working clothes, and with his old car. And he used to do so, so that I won’t feel embarrassed.

Time passed and the tension between me and my father decreased, but the tension remained. I used to avoid him, and reacted over the slightest interaction or approach he initiated to communicate with me. Even on the day I was leaving to India, I had a major fight with him over the phone, because I refused to leave early to the airport, since I didn’t want to wait there  I wanted to arrive on time and my dad insisted to leave early just in case; and that argument turned into a huge fight, in which I ended up hanging the phone on him telling him it’s not your business to worry about it’s mine.

Going back to the time I was India, I was aware that I want at peace at all. I felt that I was being a hypocrite, speaking of peace and bringing peace to my country, and wanting to be part of the reconciliation for my country. And then it hit me. Even if I was the next Mahatma Gandhi of Lebanon, and opened wide doors of peace and reconciliation, and even if miraculously my country was at peace, my heart will never be, and I’d never feel that external peace.

I had to do something, I wanted to free myself, I wanted to set my heart on peace instead of a fire of fear, anger and instability. Days later I wrote my father a letter. And in that letter I explained everything that I had to say to him. I started by expressing how much I appreciate what he’s doing to me and my brothers, and our family as a whole. Something that I never expressed to him before directly which was how much I loved him, and that he inspires me by his sacrifices and that I look up to him, and that he is indeed my hero.

I kept that letter in my drawer for 2 weeks, and my friends at that time knew that I wrote him a letter, and during that time they kept on checking and asking me if I did send that letter or not. Everyone was so interested to know his reaction, and would that affect me. Since each one of them had their own stories, and each one of them had their battles.

Finally after two weeks, it happened to be Eid Al-Ahda, which is a Muslim holiday, and on that day I thought to myself that it was the day that I should send my dad the letter. I borrowed my friend’s phone wrote texted him the letter and sent. Few minutes later, he called. My heart started beating, my friends looked at me with eyes I’ve never seen them sparkle as such ever before. I went to a private room called the mami room were we usually had our quiet times. I answered the phone, “Hello” I started. “Hay Hamode”, My dad replied, and he started talking to me and asking me, how’s India, how’s the food, are you sleeping well, are you eating well, how are your friends doing. And I interrupted, “Dad! Did you receive my text?”, he said yes, “Then?” I replied anxiously. “It’s just that that’s my duty son, to sacrifice, and I’m doing all of this for you, and now I know that my hard-work is paying off”, I expressed how much I loved him and he did the same. At that moment it was such a feeling that I never experienced before, I felt liberated. I felt a burning sensation on my chest that was relieving my heart was light, and I was free. With teary eyes, I opened the door and I saw all of my friends gathered at the door. “So? How did it go? What happened?”, and I told them what he said, they rushed at me and started hugging and one of my friends who had a similar issue with her father hugged me and started crying, saying that I will send my letter to him, I want to be free too.

At that day, it was only when I understood what “Be the change you want to see in the world” actually meant, and what it means to start with oneself. I mean I want to bring change to my country and to the world, what about my family? What about starting with changing myself. I wanted to be part of the reconciliation process in Lebanon, then what about reconciling with my own flesh and blood, my father.

Later than day, my mother called in the evening expressing how proud she is, and how that affected my father. After that day I felt like that wall that was built on my heart started cracking and collapsing, soon I apologized to my brother for hurting him and bullying, also from my ex-girlfriend for hurting her feelings, and I just felt like I wanted to be free of every burden, I wanted to set everything right in my life.

Nothing changed around, but my view on the world around me started changing, I realized that I’m equally part of the bigger problem, and that I had an equal responsibility no matter how small it is, to do things right and to fix what I’m capable of fixing.

Soon peace knocked the door of my heart and illuminated by being. Am I perfect now? Definitely not, but now I’m aware that peace and change starts from within, and in order to be an instrument to serve others and be guided by God, then this instrument should be clean and functioning gracefully without any burdens. Indeed, the first step to build peace and bring change to one’s country and to the world, is to simply start by oneself.