Flutes, Palestinians, and Blessings
I recently reviewed the blog I had in Beirut. It was pretty hysterical, mostly rants about traffic. PTSD from Beiruti traffic continues to this day. The entry below struck me differently, and it has me thinking about how living in Beirut and working with Palestinians touched some of the deep parts of my past. This is an incredibly personal blog entry with an epilogue containing thoughts five years later. Here it is untouched, grammatical errors and all, written bleary-eyed, at about midnight on October 14, 2008 in Mansourieh, Lebanon.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
“My life would have been better if I learned to play the flute.”
This afternoon, I took a friend's daughter to her horseback riding lesson. I sat there at around 5pm, just as the sun started its descent. I watched the longhaired beautiful girls as they rode these beautiful, powerful, and graceful animals. All this beauty surrounded me and all I could feel was jealousy. Then the thought flooded in...if only you would have played the flute.
I wanted to be the long-hair-flowing-in-the-breeze-beauty riding a beautiful horse through the mountains of Lebanon over-looking the sea. That is the life for some girls in Lebanon...I saw it with my own eyes today. It made me sad for two reasons. First of all, I could think about was the girls I work with and love dearly. This could have sent them over the edge, 45 minutes away from their lives in a refugee camp, longhaired beauties rode horses at sunset. It made me want to break down and cry for them.
Second, came the thought that I will never be what the world describes as a longhaired beauty. First and most important, these darn hairdressers keep cutting off my hair. Second of all, I'll never have the money or time to spend an afternoon riding a horse. I’ll never become rich working with Palestinians.
When I was in 5th grade, we were finally allowed to be in band. I remember the first day of band class; we were allowed to try out all of the instruments. Then the teacher asked all of us individually in front of the class which instrument we want to play. I remember my heart beating fast, knowing what I truly desired to play. It was the flute. It was so beautiful, so genteel....heck, I want to BE the flute. Imagine, an overweight, freckled face, gap in between her front teeth, awkward looking 11 year old girl wanting to BE that flute. Now this 11 year old, me, never spoke what was truly on my heart, what I really wanted. When it was my turn, the words fumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them, "the FLUTE, I want to play the flute!”. I remember the teacher looked at me and said, "you know, I think the clarinet would be a better instrument for you". I know he said more to me but cannot tell you in detail what it was. But what I can tell you is the message I heard loud and clear. YOU ARE NOT BEAUTIFUL OR DELICATE OR A LONG-HAIR-FLOWING-IN-THE-BREEZE-BEAUTY. Only those girls would get an instrument such as this. You are an UGLY-STURDY-AWKWARD-SUB-HUMAN whose only suitable instrument would be the clarinet. And I believed it. I didn't put up a fight but gave in to my fear, which was just confirmed in front of an entire group of kids. (Who made fun of me for being the fat ugly girl.) As I look back on it now, it was a defining moment of my life and it is how I have viewed myself for my entire life.
Side note-I remember my parents blowing a lot of money renting that instrument. I played it reluctantly for 6 months, I hated that thing, and I hated how it hurt my lips, how dry it made my mouth. How the only sounds I could get out of it was screeches and shrills. I was horrified during our first concert, embarrassed at the sounds coming out of that thing. All the while looking at the beautiful girls playing the flutes.
So, I sat there this afternoon and cried as I watched those girls. I cried for all those girls in the camp whose beautiful hair is tucked out of sight under a scarf. Who are thought to be sub-human because of their nationality and have such few possibilities for their lives. And I cried for myself. Still, even though in my head, I know it's a lie and I can see the root of the lie, that I am unlovely. But, deep down, after 28 years, I still believe it.
I sat there this afternoon vowing to change, vowing that I could view myself differently, even if the world tells me that I am that same-awkward-11-year-old. So what? I am still lovely and loved. And even as I write this the tears are coming with the pain of what I have lost as a young girl, what this lie has cost me as a young woman and the repercussions of that as an older woman. I wonder if I can help all those beautiful girls I work with to play the flute...even if I will never be able to get over not playing it myself.
September 25, 2013
What strikes me most after reading what I wrote five years ago is how I connected my past pain with the women I was serving. Why wouldn’t I relate my painful moments as a woman with other women? Even as culturally different as I was from my Palestinian friends, somehow pain, feelings of inadequacy, and the world’s way of confining us to less than who we are, transcend culture. It is the human condition.
I took it further last night, during Zumba (yeah, this is when I think about stuff…judge me not!). How do I confine people to playing the clarinet when they were meant to play the flute or drums or trumpet? (Don’t get me wrong, the clarinet is a fine instrument; just using it as a metaphor.) How do I hold people back from being all God created them to be? How do I consign ones I regard as unworthy or useless to hell? To curses? Do I deny them love? Good things? Help or charity? How do I withhold peace from people I deem undeserving?
A verse from the Bible came to me as I was thinking about this; I am a Christian, mind you.
“People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
True Wisdom Comes from God
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. Jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” -James 3:7-18
As a Christian I do not have the right to curse others made in the image of God. No matter who they are! I have been given the privilege of blessing others. What is true peacemaking? Having godly wisdom that is pure, full of mercy, shows no favoritism, and is sincere!
Imagine what this could mean to my Palestinian friends. Imagine what it could mean in whatever city or community you find yourself. Imagine what this could mean for the world.