Magnificence

Coming (back) into my own.

This is a response to Litebeing’s Magnificent Challenge posted by Ra.

magnificent-challenge-badge

I have written sparsely over the years about my family of origin. My favorite piece was part of a fictional tale crafted from the story retold every Christmas of how my grandfather came to America. The vast majority of the rest of my family posts relate in some way to my sister, who passed in December, 2013. During the year and a half following her death, writing was my way of grieving that loss. I have not, however, devoted any time to writing about myself as I stand within my family of origin.

How appropriate that I should run across this writing challenge. My family is where I learned of my own magnificence, and it is what brought me home to it at last.

My father is the youngest of eight siblings, and I am the youngest of four – by eight years (I do have a cousin a mere four years my senior). Being the last offspring of a large Lebanese-American family makes a person a lot of things: privileged and spoiled for sure, but also very much loved. Being my Fambly’s version of Lebanese makes a person an entirely different list of things: bold, hard working, loud, extravagant, and fiercely loyal. No, we are not all extroverts, but growing up, it certainly sounded like it – thanks for all the memories Uncle Saiad and Uncle George (by far, the loudest of the lot).

My family excelled at many things: tennis and hearts, laughter, good food, affection (Aunt Evelyn always kissed you three times, be you friend or total stranger), playacting (costumes and props included!), great food (did I mention food already?), telling the story, criticizing outsiders, teaching the importance of having a close-knit family, and gathering together around amazing food. My daughter and I often joke that with my Fambly, it really is all about the food, but the truth is, food was just a very large part of the love; and if this Fambly did anything truly well, it was love.

As is typical of immigrants of every race, my family looked within to find its identity. Sure, my father and uncles served in the military and all of them worked hard at their jobs and hobbies, their wives had friends and sometimes jobs, but when it came to who we were, our core values and beliefs, it was the Fambly that defined us. It was there that we turned for guidance toward our goals and the support we needed to reach them, but, above all, we discovered who we were in a deep well of unconditional love. I was far too young to have been a part of my siblings’ and nearby cousins’ lives, and now see myself as the last and arguably least of my clan. Yet, somehow, I always felt magnificent.

One brother holds me firmly, while the elder basks in my presence. (bottom left) Look how I magnetize all of my mother's attention! (upper right)
One brother holds me firmly, while the elder basks in my presence. (bottom left) Look how I, the smallest in the group, manage to capture all of my mother’s attention! (upper right) Even Uncle Saiad (top left) looks to be enjoying the exchange between mother and child.

I am not sure what to make of my own feeling of magnificence or why it was given me. It was simply an unspoken truth that I was special (the cousins still joke about it today at family reunions, so this year I reminded them to never forget it!). Perhaps it can be attributed to the years of space preceding my arrival (I was a ‘surprise’ after all), or that I was the baby of the baby, or maybe my parents just told me of my own magnificence in enough ways that it became true for me. No matter the cause, the fact remains that I grew up believing that I shone brightest.

I was the most magnificent of all.

On paper that line reads as egotistical, but I am speaking with the voice of a child the emotions of a child. A child filled with wonder and at times quite overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of a Fambly able to loom so high above her. I wonder sometimes if I did not make myself magnificent just to be heard over the booming voices of my Uncles when they were arguing over the cards, the clattering noise of my Aunts as they busily prepared enough food for armies, and the uninhibited din of my cousin’s reunited horseplay. Other than age and my much-indulged precociousness, I cannot remember any clear distinction between myself and my same-generation family members. If anything, they outshone me in a hundred myriad ways (actors and artists, doctors and lawyers, musicians and teachers…the list goes on). Yet, astoundingly, while everyone in the Fambly knew I believed myself to be the brightest star, for some reason they encouraged that belief – or I simply convinced myself that they did!

After years of hearing about my own magnificence, other voices entered my life. Many disparaged and criticized my origins, or mocked the qualities that made me ‘me’. Some even urged me to put out the light that used to shine so brightly. Under the constant drone, I forgot my place. For a time, I could not remember who I was, where I came from, and how truly bright I once was allowed to shine. But the Fambly that indulged my youthful aspiration to be most magnificent of all reminded me that I am magnificent because I belong to each and every one of them, and they to me. We make one another magnificent.

Unconditional love taught me that I do not have to shine the brightest, but I do have to know my own magnificence if I want to bask in the love of such a Fambly. This kind of love will not settle for less in the beloved.

when-the-roots-are-deep

Slowly I remember. I begin to see glimpses of the star-child of my youth in the reflected gaze of my Fambly – and, even occasionally, the mirror. May I never forget my roots again. They are strong supports and the stuff from which I am made, and remind me that no matter what I do or where I go, I am a part of them and they of me.

My roots remind me that I am magnificent.

I hope you will take the time to visit Litebeing’s site and read what some others have written about their own magnificence. If you are so inclined, join the challenge and put a link to your post in the comments below.

Winging It

For my Sister, who I will always remember as Peter Pan.

From my window seat I gazed out at rivers and roads as they wound their ways over the landscape below, occasionally dimmed by my tears.
From my window seat I gazed out at rivers and roads as they wound along over the landscape, occasionally blurred by tears.

 

Two winding roads brought us here

with twists and turns

unexpected

 

Like ribbons intertwined

our paths would cross

until

 

Separately we traveled

each path’s distance

unknown

 

One winding road leads me on

with bends and forks

unforeseen

 

My path’s sharp angles

obscure choices ahead

unwritten

 

Always looking, searching

plagued with questions

unanswered

 

Looking through your eyes

or you through mine

unblinking

 

Flight impossible for fear

now you soar with me

untethered

My Sister as Peter Pan circa 1968
My Sister as Peter Pan circa 1968

Tales from the Old Country – Part 3

Every year when I was a child my Father’s family of origin would gather together on Christmas Day to celebrate. Part of our celebration always included a retelling of Papa’s (my paternal grandfather) coming to America. As a child, my *Fambly’s Story made its mark on me, especially since I never knew any of my grandparents – all I had of them were the stories. 

This is the final part of the series. You can read the other two here and here.

*FamblyThe First Generation’s distinctive name for themselves and their progeny is believed to have originated as a typo in a letter passed around between the siblings (true story). To this day, ‘Fambly’ embodies the closeness, love, and commitment to one another we all share.

The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.

 ~   ~   ~

“It is well past your bedtime, Saiad, we can talk more about this tomorrow,” I said. The evening air had cooled along with my temper.  As Saiad gathered together his paper and pencils, Watfy looked at me questioningly. Your shame shames us all, her eyes seemed to accuse. She only said, “You know I am proud of you, don’t you, Ahmed? The whole Fambly is proud of you!”

 

You don’t understand; how could you? I thought. The kitchen seemed to fall away as the memories took hold.

 ~   ~   ~

I knew every mark on every wall of my prison cell by heart. My life had been reduced to nothing more than the surrounding stone and the memory of what I had done. Even if I had the will to forget, Malik’s family would not let me – each year on the anniversary of his murder, I was taken to an open area of the prison and beaten while they watched and mourned. The next day my mother and brother were allowed in for their yearly visit to bring me news, fresh clothing, and to dress my wounds.


As a kind of self-made penance, it became my habit to spend the days before my beating remembering the deeds that ended my freedom, all the while asking Allah for forgiveness. I knew Malik’s family would never forgive or forget. So, I remembered everything, beginning with the look of contempt on Malik’s face when he saw me in the grove. He knew what I had been sent there to do. “Malik,” I began, “this night need not end in death. It must look like I tried to kill you, but I do not want to do that.”

 

“Sure you don’t,” Malik sneered. “Since when can the word of a Fakhr-al-din be trusted? Come on, Ahmed, I am not afraid of you. Tonight will be your end, not mine!Despite his smaller stature, Malik had proven stronger and more resourceful than I planned, but he made the mistake of carrying a weapon. By the time I wrested the mallet from him, I was bruised and bloody enough to know that I needed to make the next swing count. I aimed for his already-injured left shoulder hoping to take the fight out of him. Expecting a blow to the head, Malik ducked. A sickening crunch accompanied the impact, and suddenly blood was everywhere. Malik’s still body lay before me and I knew it was really over.

 

My flight through the mountain village was even shorter than the fight had been. Malik’s brother discovered me as I crawled between the needles of my cedar grove hiding place. The trial had been a sham. Families for miles around had known what Malik had done to my cousin, Youssef. No witnesses were needed to convict me of a crime everyone had expected me to commit, the bloody mallet was evidence enough. My mother had cried, but my father’s smiling face I would never forget. His pride in my actions haunts my dreams.

 

Today was the day. It would be the 4th beating in as many years. Each year before, the guards arrived before sunrise; none offered me food or water, only pain. Today my captors were late – hours late. Just as I began to hope I might be overlooked this year – perhaps Allah had forgiven me at last – I heard footsteps approaching my cell. Someone was calling my name. At first, I didn’t recognize the voice. Had they changed my guards again? Wait, was that – ? Could it possibly be my brother’s voice I heard?

 

“George! Is that you?” I whispered as loud as I dared through the small hole in the door to my cell. “What are you doing here?” The next thing I knew someone jimmied the lock and the door to my cell swung open. There before me stood George with Papa and my Uncle.

 

“You are free,” Papa simply said.

 

“What?!” I shouted. “That’s not possible, the guards -“

 

“The guards are gone, vanished into the night,” Papa assured me. “There has been a coup. Chouff is ours once more.”

 ~   ~   ~



Saiad shook his head, eyes wide in disbelief. “They let you go, just like that?” he said.

 

“Not ‘just like that’,” I began, “but yes, I was free … for the moment.” 

 

Watfy tried then, “It is hard for you to understand, Saiad. You did not grow up in Lebanon. It is a different world, not like America. 2 or 3 families fight over who will run an entire region. When they fight, people die. When people die, others take revenge. It is all we have ever known,” she said with a sigh.

 

“What about the police, the government? Congress?” Saiad asked. I shook my head. “Well, if people always take revenge, how did you survive, Papa?”

 

“I would not had I stayed,” I said. “That is why I came to America. It took about a year to make arrangements to leave, and going was hard, but I did not want to live my whole life looking over my shoulder for an assassin who would one day come. I was safe as long as I was in prison; once they could not hold me, my life was forfeit.”

 

“Mama, did you come to America with Papa? What was it like riding a boat all the way across the Atlantic Ocean?” Saiad asked, looking at Watfy in expectation of another long, interesting story.

 

“No, Saiad, I met your father many years after he left Lebanon, but I knew the stories about him since I was a young child. I told you, where I come from, your papa is a hero! But he is right, it is late. I think the story of how we met will keep for another day.”

 

“But, Mama!”

 

Giving Saiad my sternest look, I took a breath to scold him, then stopped. I suddenly realized how quiet the house had become. “Children, where are you hiding?” I said softly.

 

Slowly, one by one, 6 children filed into the kitchen. Watfy smiled as she stood, hands on hips. “And what are you all doing down here? Evelyn, everyone was to be in bed one hour ago,” she scolded playfully.

 

“I know, Mama. Everyone’s ready for bed. We just couldn’t help listening to Papa’s story. He tells tales of such adventure!” Evelyn exclaimed.

 

Reaching my arms out to pull Idell and Fred onto my lap, I asked, “Do you want to know the greatest adventure of my life?” I waited until I saw 6 little heads nod. “You!” And planting a kiss on each one, I ordered, “Now off to bed!”

Front: Saiad, Evelyn, Fred; Back: Aunt Lufta “Sissy”, Idell, Watfy (Mama)

 ~   ~   ~


rtt-new 

Click here:        to see other blogs folks have written from inside someone else’s shoes.

50th Birthday

I turned 50 last week. For many, this event would mark an important milestone. For me it passed by virtually unnoticed. The suitcase I carried to my sister’s funeral still sits in a corner of my bedroom. I have thought about putting it away a hundred times. But putting it away would mean unpacking, and what would be the point? You see, after my sister’s funeral service, my brother-in-law encouraged me to pick out some of her clothes to take with me. I knew it was silly. She and I could not have been built any differently. My sister was a wisp, and me? Well, let’s just say I have always been “solid”. I don’t mind my size (anymore), but the reality is that everything in the suitcase is too small to fit.

Ironically, all of the shoes are too big.

The point of unpacking would be to actually wear the clothes in the suitcase. Instead I am holding onto the items that I hope will fit my daughter. One thing I plan to keep is my sister’s black down vest. I wore it for about a week, but I could not zip it up if I had on more than a lightweight blouse. The Polar Vortex of 2014 made such clothing untenable, so the vest is now on top of the suitcase where my cat, Ian, has taken to sleeping. Looks to me like he found just the right combination of soft and warm.

My kitty at peace ... with my sister's memory.
I get it, buddy.
I want to get as close to her as I can, too.

Grief makes a strange companion for me. Sanguines are not usually given to bouts of depression or morose thoughts. I am not sure what to make of the gentle waves of sadness that roll over me when I least expect it. Other times the pain comes as a swift punch in the gut, knocking the wind right out of me. In those moments it feels like she just died all over again.

Supposedly grief comes in stages but I cannot remember what they are. I only know that last week my 50th birthday came and went without a card or call from my Big Sis. In fact, I could not remember the last time she had been able to send a card or call me on my birthday. This year I had to face the hardest truth: I would never receive a birthday card or call from her again.

Probably the best birthday ever was the year that we gave one other the same card!! My sister and I were both in the habit of purchasing birthday cards and gifts way early. Her birthday was in January and mine is in March. That year I had found her card in probably June. It was such an incredibly funny and appropriate card that I could not resist the urge to tell her how perfect her next birthday card would be. She did not hesitate to inform me that she too had found the perfect card for my birthday. One of us joked about how funny it would be if we had bought each other the same card! She kept the secret for 2 whole months but we laughed about it for years to come. You’ve heard the saying, “Great minds think alike”? Well, that was a case of kindred hearts.

What do you do when a piece of your heart gets ripped out? I find it difficult at times to gather my thoughts together enough to write about anything. I often find myself thinking about my own death. I think about where she is now, too, and what she might be doing. I think about that a lot. My sister was a brilliant artist. Everything in her life was a work of art. From a prepared meal to a painting to her garden, she sought beauty in everything she put her hand to. I remember once hearing her talk about the importance of color to an artist. Her wonder at color was fascinating! As she spoke, I knew that a mystery was being revealed to me but despite her words, understanding remained beyond my grasp. I like to imagine that now she is experiencing color like never before.

In “What Dreams May Come” Robin Williams’ character literally swam in the colors around him.

During one of my last visits with her she could no longer speak in complete sentences. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation I was having with her husband, she mumbled something. Neither of us could understand what she was trying to say. Frustrated, she left the room. We looked at one another, shrugging. When she returned, there was a small picture frame in her hands.  She pointed to it over and over saying, “This.” I did not have a clue what she meant. In response to her growing agitation, I stood and followed her through the house saying. “This, this,” she repeated, over and over.

We finally ended up in the room that would have been her studio. Satisfied at last, she pointed to the pictures on the dresser and breathed, “this” one last time. She relaxed. She had found what she was looking for. What I saw broke my heart. On the dresser were six unfinished Botanicals – dried flower arrangements in frames. None of the pieces looked anything like her work. They were thin shadows of the depth of her talent. But even with a mind being slowly eaten away by dementia, more artistic ability dwelled in her pinky finger than I would ever possess in my whole body. Even then, my sister’s talent was beyond me.

I envy my cat. I would like to be able to curl up and fit on the back of a down vest sitting on the top of my small red suitcase. I am certain it would be just the right combination of soft and warm.

Tales from the Old Country – Part 2

Family PrinceMy Family’s Ancestry:

    Emir Fakhr-al-Din (1572–April 13, 1635): a Druze prince and an early leader of the Emirate of Chouf, a self-governed area under the Ottoman Empire between the 17th and 19th centuries. His period was characterized by economic and cultural prosperity, and he fought other Lebanese families to unite the people of Lebanon and seek independence from the Ottoman Empire. He is considered by some to be the first “Man of Lebanon” to seek the sovereignty of modern-day Lebanon.

Source

The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.

(If you missed it, click here for Part 1)

“Papa, how do you spell ‘puhlitikul priz’ner?” Saiad asked, his pencil poised in the air above the paper. The once-clean page was now filled with words intermingled with smudges of lead matching the black spots on my son’s hand. After writing furiously for a time, he now sat breathless in anticipation. Saiad always had loved a good story.

“And why would you need to know something like that? Are you hoping to become one?” Watfy asked, as she stepped into the kitchen. She looked down at Saiad with raised eyebrows, awaiting his answer. The twinkle in her eye betrayed her delight in her eldest son, undermining her effort to look stern. Saiad looked up, and furrowing his brow in mock suspicion said, “Were you spying on us, Mama?” Laughter broke out of both of them then.

As always, my wife’s black hair was pulled back into a tight bun, accentuating her high cheekbones and large, round eyes. With a wave I motioned her to me, and, placing my hand on her extended abdomen, said, “Any day now, yes?” I flashed her a boyish grin and the weight of 51 years seemed to fall away from me. What man would not be proud to bear 7 children, and with such a beautiful wife? Shaking her head, she batted my hand away, stepped over to the stove and began cooking the thick, dark brew that made American coffee taste thin. How did she do it? Nine months pregnant, with 6 children already to care for, yet she never seemed tired.

I looked at her straight back, strong shoulders, and delicate neckline and wondered again how such a lovely girl had willingly left her home – at 16! – to marry someone more than twice her age whom she’d never even met. “Saiad wants to know why I left Lebanon,” I said, shrugging. “Maybe you should tell him why you left, too.”

“Well, now, that’s a tale worth telling,” she said, turning to Saiad with a grin of her own. “But where to start?”

“At the beginning, Mama,” Saiad exclaimed. “I want to know everything!

Watfy’s accent was even thicker than mine. After 15 years in America, she still had not mastered the English language. I had begun to think she didn’t mean to. In some way I did not understand she used the language of her homeland to stay connected to the roots she had left behind. It was a stubborn defiance so characteristic of her, almost as if to say, “I left my home to be with you, but I will not abandon what I was or who I am.” Her defiance carried with it implications about what I had abandoned in the quest to leave my past behind. At least, in her mind, too much of the man she had heard about in stories at home did not seem to live in reality here.

I married a proud woman, no doubt about that. Watfy never let me forget that she had the good sense to marry into a royal line. She didn’t seem to understand that no matter how ancient or powerful my lineage had been in Lebanon, it meant little to nothing today, here in small-town Virginia.

~   ~   ~

The news hit hard. “You mean he’s dead?” Papa asked. His deep voice carried an angry undertone as dark emotions boiled up to the surface. The messenger only looked down at the floor and nodded faintly, fearful to be the bearer of such news. “My nephew, dead?! Who do these people think they are?!” Papa roared.

The setting sun sent streams of light through the narrow window slits, casting long, broken shadows of my father’s sharp features onto the wall behind him. His prominent nose only seemed to grow larger when he was angry. The inevitable had happened. My cousin’s recklessness had finally been rewarded with his death. Despite Papa’s display of anger, everyone had known this day would come. The cycle of vengeance between the clans vying for power had been carried on for centuries. There was no way to stop it now … or was there?

“Papa,” I began, tentatively, “what if we make a show of outrage, then demand restitution of some kind? Perhaps a piece of fertile land? What better way to display our right to rule than to put an end to this senseless violence? Besides, imagine what the clans could do united rather than divided.

“What are you talking about, Ahmed? You know how this works, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!’ There is no other way. Find out who did this and kill him.” Papa waved us away dismissively. You always knew when a conversation with my father was over. Papa never questioned the obedience of his sons; he didn’t even look up to see if I left when dismissed. It was assumed that as head of the Family his every command would be obeyed, and even at 25 I would not have dared to defy him openly. “But I am not a killer,” I thought. “There has to be another way, and I will find it.”

The chosen day was hot, almost stifling. Even in the shade I was sweating under my silk robes. I likely would have been sweating even had there been a cool breeze. My heart was racing. The plan was in place, and I knew it was a good one. Still, I could not stop myself from going over and over it in my mind. 

Malik spent every Saturday in his parents’ home and left just after evening prayers. An ambush would be simple. I would follow him until we were out of earshot of the neighbors; his path always took him through the small olive grove on the eastern side of the village. The grove would be deserted on a Saturday night.

Blushing, I remembered the last time I had met Lutfiyah there. Almost 3 months ago, yet it seemed like yesterday. I could still smell the spiced oils she had combed through her hair. I wonder what she would say if she knew I was going to our little grove for revenge instead of love.

Focus! I chided myself back to the present. Once I had given Malik a good beating, I could make my way through the little village of Barouk and be back home before dawn. I would have to deal with Papa, then, of course. Maybe he will believe that I left Malik for dead; surely Malik’s family would know I spared his life. Perhaps we would be able to negotiate a truce, in time. But I had already made up my mind. I would not become a murderer, not even for my family’s honor.

~   ~   ~

“Did you know your papa is a famous man in Lebanon? Where I come from, his name is known in every village for miles around,” my wife declared.

“Really? What did you do, Papa? Were you an explorer? An inventor? Maybe you had riches like a Sultan!” Saiad turned to look at me, dark eyes alight with dreams of the great person he imagined he was seeing for the first time.

The shame in my eyes as I turned away from him was not lost on Watfy. “How can you feel shame for defending your family’s honor? Only a coward would have run from his duty, Ahmed. You did not run,” she said quietly in her native tongue, so that Saiad had to struggle to hear and keep up. “Didn’t run? Run from what, Papa?” he said.

“Your papa would have you believe that he acted dishonorably,” she said, speaking in heavily-accented English once again. “But in the region where we grew up, he is a legend. His family displays a mallet on the wall in their home to proclaim your Papa’s commitment to justice,” she said with obvious pride.

Finding it easier to argue with her in my native Arabic, I said, “What kind of justice does it proclaim, Watfy? Did Malik’s death bring my cousin back to life – NO! Vengeance has no power to restore. ‘An eye for an eye’ only leaves two men blind!” The scraping of the chair legs as I rose from the table could not cover the frustration in my voice. “I want to celebrate life in this family, not death. And where would you be today if I had suffered the same fate and met my end at the hands of Malik’s family champion – ‘a tooth for a tooth’?” The screen door slammed for the second time that night as I stalked out into the darkness.

Taking a deep breath, I looked up and watched the moon slowly rise over the little brick home sheltering my beloved family. What would I do if someone ever took the life of one of my children? My wife? I know what I would do – I had done it before. And my fierce protectiveness had absolutely nothing to do with ‘family honor’. 


Papa circa 1930
Papa circa 1930
Mama circa 1930
Mama circa 1930

 

As part of Emily’s Remember the Time Blog Hop (also credit: Rarasaur) I have here recorded my memory of Papa’s Story from his perspective.

rtt-new 

Click here:        to see other blogs folks have written a memory from inside someone else’s shoes.

Tales from the Old Country – Part 1

Every year when I was a child my Father’s family of origin would gather together on Christmas Day to celebrate. Part of our celebration always included a retelling of Papa’s (my paternal grandfather) coming to America. As a child, my *Fambly’s Story made its mark on me, especially since I never knew any of my grandparents – all I had of them were the stories. 

As part of Emily’s Remember the Time Blog Hop (also credit: Rarasaur) I have here recorded the Story from Papa’s perspective.

*FamblyThe First Generation’s (photo at end) distinctive name for themselves and their progeny is believed to have originated as a typo in a letter passed around between the siblings (true story). To this day, ‘Fambly’ embodies the closeness, love, and commitment to one another we all share.

The following work of fiction is based on the true story of why my Grandfather emigrated to America.

Small-Town Virginia

Saiad looked up from his paper. I could just make out the words “My Family” scrawled across the top of the otherwise blank page. Nice to see his penmanship was improving.

 

“Why did you decide to come to America, Papa? What was it like riding a boat all the way across the Atlantic Ocean? You had to come through New York, right? Why didn’t we stay in New York? They say that New York City’s gonna have the tallest building in the world! They’re calling it the Empire State Building. Why did they make you change your name, I forget? Papa, please, tell me!”

 

The barrage of questions left my mind struggling to focus as I met Saiad’s gaze. English would always be a second language to me. My eldest son’s 10-yr. old eyes glittered with expectation in the reflected light of our kitchen while my brain struggled to comprehend the meaning behind his rapid-fire questions.

 

“The tallest building in the world? Taller even than the Pyramids of Egypt?” I asked with a smile in my voice. After almost 20 years, my thick accent identified me as an immigrant, just in case my Middle-Eastern features and olive skin-tone failed to do so.

 

“Papa, buildings aren’t the same as pyramids!” his exasperation evident in his sigh.

 

It slowly began to dawn on me what he was asking. How could I ever tell him the truth? Should I tell him the truth – all of it? I certainly couldn’t risk having him write it down for his teacher to see. What would happen to our little *Fambly if this growing community ever found out what I was … what I’d done?

 

“I’m going for a walk,” I said as I stepped out into the cool evening. “I’ll be back in a little while and we’ll talk more about the difference between buildings and pyramids.”

 

“But, Papa—“ Saiad’s protest was cut short by the slamming of the screen door. I really need to fix that, I thought.

 

The last of the summer fireflies, dim in the twilight, flitted amidst the fig-laden branches in the back yard. Like miniature lanterns the tiny insects etched blinking, broad-leafed shadows onto the ground surrounding my homeland’s favored tree. I could hear the faint voices of children coming from inside the house. The voices grew louder, shriller; yet another argument had broken out between the girls. One calm voice cut through the chaos. I shook my head and smiled, thankful for Evelyn’s seemingly miraculous ability to restore order amongst her high-spirited younger sisters.

 

Saiad’s questions crowded back into my thoughts and my smile faded. Sighing, I wondered for the hundredth time at the wisdom of my decisions. Were my children ready to hear my story, to know me for what I was? The memories began to flood my mind, vivid and uncontrollable, like a nightmare from which I could never wake.

 ~   ~   ~

Sultry air matted thick, black hair to my face as I picked my way through the Syrian foothills. It was well past midnight. The little community slept, leaving the narrow streets deserted. A waning moon peeked out from behind threatening rainclouds. The dim light was all I had to help me avoid rocks and pitfalls in the packed dirt. For this reason I traveled at a snail’s pace when everything inside screamed at me to run.

 

Had I really done it? The scene played over and over in my mind as I tried to understand what had happened. How could my plans have gone so wrong? No one was supposed to die!

 

I heard them then. Shouts and screams began to bounce across the rocks, echoing between the stone houses nestled in the hills. They followed me down steep pathways like the sure-footed goats who called this region home.

 

Someone had found the body.

 

I picked up my pace as best I could on the uneven terrain. I had to get out of there before anyone saw – too late! The light of a lantern cast my silhouette back and forth on the packed ground ahead of me as it swung from the hand of one of my pursuers. Quickly I dodged into a copse of cedars and crouched, catching my breath. Maybe I could blend in with its thick branches.

 

The shouts came closer now, accompanied by more lantern-light. Angry voices began calling to one another, organizing a search of the dark doorways. I recognized many of those voices from the marketplace. I knew these people, and they knew me. I also knew if I didn’t get out of there soon I would be surrounded. But wasn’t I already surrounded – trapped by years of feuding resulting in blood I hadn’t meant to shed?

 

It was only supposed to be a beating, I chastised myself. “You let it go too far,” my whispered accusation fell dead on the thick, humid air, heard only by the branches enveloping me. My family had never understood my distaste for vengeance. “How can murder restore a family’s honor?” I had asked again and again. No one ever listened to my objections.”This is the way it has always been” was the only answer my father would give.

 

Of all people, how had this task fallen to me? Yes, I was tall and strong; as the eldest it made sense for the family to name me Champion. But I wanted the cycle of vengeance to end. Tonight I had proven I was no better than my Fathers. I had guaranteed the cycle would go on unchecked, perhaps for generations to come.

 

Branches around me began to move. Someone had decided to search the little cedar grove where I hid! A lantern fought its way through heavy limbs. In seconds I would be discovered. What can I do? I asked myself. I knew there was only one thing to do: RUN!

 ~   ~   ~

Back inside the brick house the cool tiles against my bare feet helped calm my thoughts. I turned to Saiad, resigned at least to make a beginning to my story. After all, my history was the heritage of all my children and their children after them. Surely the meaning of my name – honesty – held weight, even if it wasn’t enough to counterbalance my fear of uncovering old secrets.

 

“What do you want to know, son?” I asked. Before he could take a breath and renew the onslaught of questions, I added, “But, I’ll thank you to ask one question at a time!” I looked pointedly at Saiad behind a raised index finger. Then, shooting him a half-smile, I took my seat across the table.

 

At that moment I wasn’t sure I was prepared to relive those difficult years, but I felt as if a weight had been lifted. I knew I had to find a way to help my *Fambly understand why I chose to leave my homeland to make a new life – for me and for them – in America.

Our Family Tree from Lebanon, early 1900's. The third branch up on the right represents the first generation seen below.
Our Family Tree from Lebanon, early 1900’s. The 4th branch up on the right (last 4 leaves) represents the first generation (men only) seen below.
 *I chose to make “Fambly” part of Papa’s vocabulary because, although he was not alive when the name was born, it was his dedication to and love for his future generations that made the name possible to begin with.
The eight siblings which comprised the second-generation standing in birth order. My dad (far right) is the only one still living at the time of this writing (2/2014).
The 8 First Generation Siblings standing in birth order. My Dad (the youngest, far right) is the only one still living at the time of this writing. He will be 86 years young in March, 2014.

 Tales from the Old Country, Part 2

rtt-new 

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Back to the Psalms…

It’s funny how life works sometimes. Almost 5 years ago I got “stuck” in the Psalms of Ascent. As time went by I managed to get “unstuck”, but before I could finish the series.

From time to time I revisited the section of the Psalms known as The Ascents, but always came away with, “I got nothin’.” Then life hit me – again. Now I can say, “I got somethin'”; what that something is has yet to be determined.

After a much-needed rest, I’m ready to get climbing again. How about you? Are you ready to go up to worship?

Blessing, They are Blessed – Psalm 128

The Power of Remembrance

I hate New Year’s Resolutions. Always have, always will. I heard on the news the other day that most people abandon their Resolutions by January 17 or something like that (only 10 days to go!). Let’s just say that human beings have little staying power when it comes to resolutions … sounds a lot like law-making/breaking to me. For these and many other reasons (maybe my penchant for rebelliousness?) I never make them. But today I read an amazing guest blog over at The Waiting and it got me thinking that a “2014 Remembrance List” might not be a bad idea.

Happy Tennis-Filled 2014!

You may wonder why I feel the need to make a list of things I want to remember this year. If you read my last post or connect with me on FB, you know how much the end of 2013 devastated me, decimated me, even. I haven’t been able to write anything since the account of my last days with my Sister back on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I’ve been stymied by loss, heartache, and grief to the point where I began to doubt even my own thoughts! Gathering them together in one place has been almost impossible. I realized today that recent circumstances have robbed me of some things that are crucial for me to remember.

It’s time to banish forgetfulness. It’s time to say, “enough!” to the painful distractions which have weakened my ability to remember important, life-giving things I’m learning along the way. It’s time SOMEONE (and since no one else is going to do it for me, that someone has got to be ME) reminded me of some things I have allowed pain and loss to steal.

1. There is a sense in which we all die alone, but I don’t have to grieve that way.

This process called grief is completely new to me (despite losing a close cousin 4 years ago). I remember thinking in early December that it’s odd someone my age has not lost at least one parent, but instead is first grieving a Sister. I have found myself floundering in uncertainty, wondering if I’m grieving “right” or some such nonsense. It’s been very difficult letting go of the better half of my family’s female self. I have not come to the place where I can imagine half a lifetime without my Sister beside me.

Ever since her passing, I have experienced an almost uncontrollable urge to go into seclusion. Maybe it’s because when I’m with other people, I can’t stop myself from rehashing the entire painful ordeal over and over again. I end up feeling bad for the folks listening to me as they quietly say, “I am so sorry for your loss. I don’t know what to say.” Don’t worry, I already said it all – and more. And it’s okay. For a person who almost exclusively processes thoughts aloud, there is no other sane way for me to grieve. It’s who I am. It’s where I am. And. It’s. O. K. I cannot grieve alone. Thankfully, I don’t have to. Which brings me to my next point.

2. In the middle of grieving your losses, remember to be thankful.

No doubt, the biggest obstacle to gratitude of late was the barrage of painful circumstances inundating the last half of 2013, beginning with my father’s face-crushing fall in June, culminating with my mother’s femur-shattering misstep on the day of my sister’s funeral in December, and all of the heartache in between! Sometimes when I think back on the overwhelming sorrows of the last 6 months I lose the ability to breathe. But what would really cripple me would be an inability to give thanks! So here is today’s short list of thankfulness:

– In August of 2013 my eldest Daughter was set free from a 5-year-long devastating relationship!

As incredible as it may sound, by the end of 2013, so much “bad” had happened that I was finding it hard to remember that a nightmare relationship of control, manipulation, fear, and pain had ended for my precious daughter! Now she stands FREE and in relationship with a wonderful, loving, person who has no need to control or wound her. The magnitude of my gratitude for this one blessing cannot be expressed – but it ABSOLUTELY must not be forgotten!

– My Parents and 2 Brothers are still with me … grieving with me.

They knew my Sister like I did and together we know her better. We have the shared experience of her life and, now, her death. I am thankful that we can grieve side-by-side.

– My Sister gave me so many wonderful gifts that live on beyond her life here on earth.

Precious memories of a deep friendship, beautiful examples of what love looks like, parenting insights, a commitment to excellence and beauty in everything she did filled with the power to inspire, artistic ideals along with encouragement to explore my own untapped depths, laughter and songs, never mind the countless pieces of art in my house (and out) bearing her signature. I will grieve losing you … in my grief I promise not to forget the gifts you have given.

 – My life is filled to overflowing with wonderful people who love me …

… who listen to me, put up with me, eat and drink with me, laugh with me … WITH me. And yes, even grieve with me. I am not alone. Not by a long shot.

– One of my favorite Bible verses: “It came to pass …”

Almost 50 years into this gig, I have figured out that everything comes to pass, even grief. I have this hope.

– Finally, a heart that feels pain.

This may sound odd to you, but the ability to feel pain is a blessing. I spent a lot of years shut off from my own feelings, unable to connect to my heart. Maybe the feelings were too overwhelming, maybe it was a mechanism of self-protection; no matter the reason, I was good at shutting down – too good. And I learned (the hard way) that severing the connection with one’s emotions is indiscriminate: You either feel or you don’t. Shutting out pain = shutting out joy. Unfortunately, it’s an addiction (connected to control) with a long road home. That’s a road I hope to never travel again. So I will embrace the pain and walk through it with gratitude to new joys.

And the final thing I need to remember at this juncture of my life:

3. Don’t believe the ‘press’ that comes from 14 or 22 yr.-olds you raised.

In fact, trust your instincts and don’t listen to the ‘press’ from any corner. When I read the above-mentioned blog post, The Waiting it turns out is Indeed the Hardest Part, one of the lines jolted me into wakefulness. It felt like coming out of a nightmare.

I can’t speak to being a father; so I’ll stick to what I know best: I am a mother, a good mother.

My first thought was, “I’m not.” Huh? What was that? I’m not a good mother?? Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute, hold the phone, stop the presses, rewind even! Who says I’m not a good mother? Oh, right, lots of people. Let’s see, some of my Christian friends think that because I don’t drag my kids to Sunday school anymore, that makes me a bad mother. My Atheist friends condemn me for telling my children that Jesus loves them so much He’d rather die than live without them – and I actually believe it, too. The media tells me I’m spending too much time at work; those same talking heads then turn around and tell me I’m not focusing enough on my own actualization through a rewarding career (the-kids-be-damned!). My 14-yr. old thinks I’m out of touch with today’s pop culture (AMEN to that, Buddy!) and my 22-yr. old thinks my zeal for archaic moral ideals means I’m judging her = unloving mother.

Bad press. All untrue. I continue to dedicate the majority of my time, resources, thoughts, energy, love, frustration, determination, and actions to raising my children. I have been available at any and every hour of the day or night to bandage, listen, teach, scold, feed, clean up after, laugh with, and love my kids for the past 24+ years. This will never change.

That blog was a resounding”Aha” moment in my journey right here, right now. Dawn showed me that my 2 youngest kids have an interpretation of their growing up years which I was unprepared for; but their reinterpretation of events will never nullify the truth: that God gave me to them as a Mom and them to me as my Kids; in the end, I always only sought to raise them with nurturing love and support, and will continue to do so even as I am challenged to find new ways to walk in relationship with them as (almost) adults.

This is my 2014 Remembrance List. May it be etched on my soul in such a way that my future is transformed into loving community, acceptance of what is, and the strength to move forward with confidence.

Thanks for reading, and May God bless you all with a Happy, Healthy, Joy-and Tennis!-Filled 2014!!

Words Fail

Returning from Thanksgiving break, I saw that Emily over at The Waiting had added a new writing challenge in her Remember the Time Blog Hop series.  I had missed it due to my trip East. The theme, ‘last days’ caught my eye. It was a bit uncanny, for I had just finished spending my last days with my sister. Emily’s blog about her father’s death is heart-wrenching, but it hit even harder after the week I had had. I commented that I was not yet ready to write about my own last days, but then I ran into this:

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.

– William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Shakespeare convinced me that I had to at least try to write about the last week while it was fresh. Even though I am too late to make it into the hop, I am very thankful to Emily for pushing me to begin the process. I hope my dear friend Sunny will not mind me stealing her amazing perspective on my words. Hers fit perfectly at the front of what comes next.

Even in such times that you noted below, those memories of times past that are filled with such wonder, laughter and love, I find myself thinking that even they are part of our  “..seeing in the mirror dimly..”; just a mere spark of the future sight, when what we now see seems more like we’re viewing through waxed paper and then face to face, we will have the gift of clarity and then see clearly (paraphrase).  What a blessing to have hope of the fullness when skin is no longer needed and clay makes no claims.  What clarity will be present in the Presence, even in the shadows with He Who Knows No Limits, yet chose to take on skin. On our behalf.

Sunny. Thank you for this hope that passes understanding.

May God bless you all as you share with me my last days. Note: The following is an account of my last days with my sister, not her last days on earth. She is now free from the pain and suffering of this life. Sometime around Midday EST on Thursday, December 19, she gave up the fight and began to experience what we can now only imagine: a face-to-face encounter with the Source of all life. Pure love, pure light. Boundless positive energy. I miss you, Ditty, more than I can ever express! I look forward to hearing about your adventures when next we meet.

~  ~  ~

November 25, 2013, Day 1

I had expected the smell. You know it: the familiar musty odor that pervades medical care facilities. But an unexpected sight met my eyes as my mother and I stepped into the room. My sister sat slouched in a lounge chair, head cocked to one side as if permanently askew. Her arms and legs twitched or shook uncontrollably, something I later understood was the involuntary response to the pain she was experiencing. I tentatively moved closer and spoke her name. She looked up at me sideways. I thought I detected recognition in her eyes, but her gaze immediately gave way to tears, then sobs.

If she understood our words of encouragement and comfort, she was unable to communicate it. We sat on either side of her, aching for some way to penetrate her heart with our love, even if her mind was out of reach. The occasional twitch of an arm or grimace that crossed her features unsettled me, as did the unintelligible words escaping her lips at odd moments.

Lunch arrived. Reticent to be the one holding the fork, I realized how unprepared I had been for this. I knew it was bad … I didn’t know it was this bad. Less than 5 months ago we had visited her home. Wordlessly she had taken me to the bedroom where her art supplies were stored. Several framed botanicals lay atop of the dresser. The work in those frames was but a shadow of her former talents. The tears I watched slipping down my Mother’s cheeks echoed the ones staining my heart.

November 26, 2013, Day 2

Tuesday the whole family came to visit. My sister’s tears appeared again, then ended as abruptly as they had begun. It dawned on me that seeing my once-vibrant sister in this condition was worse than heartbreaking. It just didn’t make any sense! She looked like a person who had been in a debilitating car accident involving a head injury.

How had her 57-yr. young mind & body been so completely decimated?

As we sat and talked to one another, we looked for ways to include her in the conversation. I could not stop thinking about the past 5 years of decline. It occurred to me to blame the last 18 months of cancer treatments for pushing my sister’s mind farther and farther from us. That day, leaving was harder than it had been the day before. When I had planned the trip, I had secretly hoped to find her already in God’s arms, free from suffering. Looking at her on Tuesday, I understood the prospect could take weeks – perhaps months – rather than days.

November 27, 2013, Day 3

Wednesday I tried to lighten the mood. I felt more comfortable with the situation and was encouraged by her lack of tears when we arrived. Her husband and I joked a bit and coaxed a familiar “Shu-up” from my sister’s chapped lips. How much of what we said did she understand? I doubted she remembered either of my previous visits. With her head still cocked to one side, she suddenly fixed me with a side-wise glance, and pronounced my name. My breath caught in my throat. Yes, it’s me. How can I help you? How can I reach you?? “That’s right, I’m here,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere.” But of course, I was going. Somewhere. Again I was reticent to feed her, but when I left that day, I promised myself I would sing to her before I went back home.

November 28, 2013, Day 4

On Thanksgiving Day we found her sleeping. Her previous two afternoons had been difficult, so we let her rest. God, please, let her rest, I thought.

November 29, 2013, Day 5

Things never seem to go as planned. And yet… even though I arrived a few minutes later than I had hoped, she greeted me with one of her most beautiful smiles. Alone for the first that week, I held her hand and whispered prayers against the pain. I begged for a peaceful end to her suffering. Then I turned off the television, pulled my guitar from its case, and tuned the strings. I didn’t hurry. There was no need. What place could impatience have in one so oblivious of time itself. My sister smiled contentedly, and murmured, “Yeah, yeah”.

For the next hour I sang the songs I love, while I watched her eyes shine with delight. I stared at her, hardly looking at the lead sheets I usually depended upon. I refused to miss a second of my time with her. I knew it would be gone in a blink, never to return.

My memory drifted back to days long gone … Christmas 4 years ago, surrounded by the family singing carols, while her grandchildren toddled to the music. When we struck up a lively worship tune, djembe and all, the adults began to dance too. I watched with delight as my 81-yr. old Father took my sister’s hand. They danced until they were breathless to a song neither of them knew.

Rewind further back to another Christmas … my sister distributing her intricate hand-made ornaments. Further still … my sister making perfect spoon bread. Further … a late-night excursion to a bar where she brandished her custom-made pool stick and proceeded to trounce us all. Yet further … my daughters prancing about in ballet costumes my sister had made especially for them. All the way to one of my earliest memories … my sister, seated at a drafting table, creating a pen and ink landscape using a technique called stippling. The breadth of her artistic talents will never cease to astound me! Suddenly my mind snapped back to the present. I found myself unable to reconcile the person before me with the one who lived in my memory.

On Friday I wielded the fork, the spoon, and the napkin. In that one small gesture of love for my sister I felt connected with her on a fundamental level that transcended the familiar banter that had characterized our relationship for almost as long as I could remember.

My sister’s youthful brokenness shattered my heart. I simply cannot understand it. But I know it enough to hate it. I hate that my Matron of Honor will never see any of my children walk the aisle; I hate that she will not hold her great-nieces & nephews in her arms the way that I held her infant sons; I hate that the spark in her, once blazing with creativity has gone out. I ache to talk with her about the turn my own talent has taken.

But Friday was our last day.

I miss you more than I can tell. Soon over – we will be together again!

Since I cannot reach you now and I will not be able to see you when you go, I am making you a promise: One day soon I will stop talking and even thinking about our last days together. I swear that I will not remember you this way. Instead I choose to remember the vibrant loving person, the brilliant artist, and the caring wise older sister you are.

I promise never to forget the inspiration you have been in my life.

X X X O (kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!)

I love you bunches and bunches and tons and tons!

Your Little Sister,

C

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

2 Corinthians 4:6-10