You Make A Fool Of Death With Your Beauty-- Beirut Edition.
You make a fool of death with your beauty, Beirut.
There are some albums that forever remind me of a specific time in my life. For example, I will always associate Radiohead’s In Rainbows with riding public transportation in Beirut. Or, Depeche Mode’s Violator with road trips as a young adult, or U2’s Boy with my first high school dance. Isn’t it something that one song can bring so many happy memories back or remind you of a painful time? There is so much power in a sensory experience.
This month, I downloaded Florence + the Machine’s new album, High As Hope, from Beirut. (Which took several hours due to the SUPER crappy internet in Lebanon.) I have been listening to it every day as I walk the streets of Beirut to the gym in the wee early mornings. The smell of zaatar manoushe baking and Arabic coffee wafting through the air, watching the city become awake -- Syrian men heading off to be picked up for work, storekeepers sweeping sidewalks, and taxis speeding through the empty streets. This is before the heat sets in for the day, and I usually enjoy a cool breeze as I walk. All of this while Florence is singing in my ear. So, it seems this album will forever remind me of early mornings in Beirut.
It’s a beautiful album. But one line caused me to stop dead in my tracks. “You make a fool of death with your beauty” from the song “Hunger.” What a great lyric! It makes me think about what we are bringing into this world. Are we bringing life or death into with our actions and words? Hello, Social Media. I have been so discouraged every time I look at Facebook; don’t even get me started on Twitter. None of it is real life as I read this nonstop barrage of hate while I am immersed in really hard situations -- unfair, unjust, and unending. There are days of being so damn discouraged. Then there are days I am full of hope because of the people I see choosing another way --choosing to make a fool out of death with their beauty.
Here’s a sample of the beauty I have been immersed in:
Young Palestinian refugees, young men to be exact, in Wavel Palestinian Refugee Camp in Baalbek, Lebanon.
I had a group of young men in Wavel camp, community leaders, approach me with statistics about the camp. Later, when I was walking around the camp, they invited me in to their center where they would be hosting a meeting for the young adults in the camp. These young men are what most of the world would assume to be angry and hateful, and all militants. What I found was a group of young men who wanted to make a positive difference for their community. Do you know what they were doing in their community center? Making crafts -- using their artistic ability and whatever they could find -- stones, matches, garbage -- to make sculptures of mosques and homes and churches. Yes, churches. Young Palestinian men are making models of churches in a Palestinian refugee camp with whatever materials they can find, to try to sell them to make a living and improve their community.
A Palestinian refugee in Shatila Camp
I was supposed to have a leader from the camp with me one day this past month. There was a screw up, of course, and I came on the wrong day. So, one of my Palestinian friends from the camp dropped what she was doing and went with me. As we got closer to the camp, she wrapped her arm around mine and held my hand. She continued to hold my hand as we walked. It was a small gesture that was protective and gentle. It made us stand shoulder to shoulder and join in the work together.
10 Years Ago
Friends invited me for lunch in Bourj El Barajneh for my last Sunday in Beirut. I used to work with these two women, and have known them for 14 years. It’s been a treat to connect with them again. My friend, Huda, cooked a feast. Since she knows me, she made all my favorites. Fatteh, tabbouleh, batata harra, and much, much more. We had a great time.
Huda told me she saw one of the boys I taught in our Kids Club years ago and invited him to join us. This kid was a problem -- violent, sarcastic, disobedient, and abused. He would hang out on the streets of the Palestinian camp with militias and, as a seven year-old, had a mouth to match the toughest militant. He created many problems for us and I fought with our staff, including these two women, to keep him in our Kids Club. Because I saw something in him. He had a tender heart and would cuddle up with me when he wasn’t walloping the other little boys. Then he would turn around and harass me because I was an American; in general, he was just a pain in the ass.
I prayed for this kid -- for.years. I have told many stories about him. I worried about his life and his future. So, to sit across from him after 8 years was shocking to me. He was a polite, talkative young man. He is working as a hairdresser in a ritzy part of Beirut. NOT in a militia. NOT immersed in violence. NOT at all what I feared for him. He is living out that tender, artistic spark I saw in him years ago.
All this beauty in unexpected places fighting back death…making a fool of death with their beauty, and for a moment I forget to worry. For a moment, I stand in awe of beauty of love.