Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Walking on Diamonds

38.Walking on Diamonds (23 September 2020)
A ruined building not far from the destroyed grain silos
at the Beirut port (31 Aug. 2020 - Karantina, Beirut)

When walking around the nearby streets in our still sunny weather of the past weeks, glints and glimmers from the ground invariably would catch my eye, and prompt me to go over to investigate the reason for the unusual reflection of sunlight. Might it be something valuable? Some lost treasure? The sensation, especially when the sun is at a low angle, is that I am walking on cut diamonds, treading on treasure. And my reflexes would tell me to stop and pick them up. 

Broken glass gathered together to state clearly,
"We are still here" (31 Aug. 2020 - Mar Mikhael)
            Yet nowadays, in post-post-blast Beirut, the phenomenon of glittering asphalt and pavement has become so common that I hardly notice it. So much broken glass, so many tiny shards have been scattered everywhere that I no longer have that same reaction of walking on jewels, as in the days immediately following August 4. The glass has not decreased (because the winter rains have not yet washed them away); rather, my perception has adjusted to this reality, and I tune it out.

Flying glass daggers - now there's a gaming
challenge (8 Sept. 2020 - Geitawi, Beirut)

             Much as the windowpanes of some 300,000 homes in a 2 km radius were shattered that Tuesday evening, something else very important was shattered and scattered on the ground: the ability for people to see far, to envision, to dream, and to trust. They have eyes, but struggle to see; minds, but only partially perceive; hearts, but are afraid to hope. But unlike those glass shards in every crack and crevice of these streets, those battered thoughts and dreams are still diamonds, still of immense worth. And unless all of us move carefully, we will continue to treat those diamonds within peoples’ hearts as merely collateral damage, and carelessly tread them into the dirt of despair.

The view from our balcony after (another)
huge post-blast fire broke out at the port
(10 Sept. 2020 - Geitawi, Beirut)

            My outlook may not be a majority view. In fact, as the vehicle called “the Lebanese State” continues to happily barrel off the roadway toward ditches and cliffs, my outlook may well have sunk yet farther into the minority. Nonetheless, I consider the people of Lebanon, as well as the Armenian population here and across the Middle East, as diamonds. There is little regard for what has fallen to the ground. We hear energetic defenses of this or that community, for the ultimate good of their politico-religious or religio-political followings, and not for the reviving of the country as a whole.

             The Bible urges believers in God to pray for their leaders regardless of what country in which they reside (I Timothy 2.1-2). Interestingly, the prayers are not supposed to be for long life or extended terms for the ruling class, but for a peaceful, dignified and godly life for the people. With a thick wall insulating leaders of every land from the people in that land, I am not sure how easily those in authority can grasp that sacred task of serving their people. It’s what we prayed for two days ago (Republic of Armenia’s 29th Independence Day), and it most definitely is what we continually pray for Lebanon.

A sidewalk prayer station outreach from a
nearby church (4 Sept. 2020 - Mar Mikhael)

            The true diamonds of Lebanon, the people you love to meet and talk to, in villages and cities, have simple needs, needs that those in authority find hard to grasp: the simple desire to live in some semblance of dignity and peace. That sort of environment would reawaken a drive to create and flourish in this land. It would remove the desire to flee halfway across the world to find some soil, somewhere, in which to place undisturbed roots and yield fruits.

Homeowners and shopkeepers are determined not to
be driven out (14 Aug. 2020 - Mar Mikhael, Beirut)

            But the drive to create and flourish has not vanished, as others (some inside, some outside Lebanon) have pointed out to me. It has helped me clear some of the funk enveloping my brain. There are some who are using their media platforms to share individual stories of hope and despair, showcasing the determination of some to rebuild and the needs of others for loving hands to support them. The beautifully-restored Sursock Museum with its delicate stained glass and hand-crafted interior, which was turned into splinters and glass powder, hosted a fund-raising concert in its gardens as an act of defiance, declaring, “I’ll be back!” The innovative Armenian band Garabala, which has been losing its members to emigration, one by one, prepared a most tender and even rejuvenating music video for the “For You, Beirut” online event. Friends who left Lebanon early in the year recently chose to return, knowing full well that they would be facing formidable challenges in their everyday lives. The middle-aged owner of what is arguably the best Arabic ice cream in Beirut, leaving his blast-damaged store of 71 years (it was his father’s before he took over) in an

Our living room/dining room, almost ready to move
back into (23 Sept. 2020 - Geitawi, Beirut)

already crumbling house, has decided to open at a new location and keep innovating. A young couple realized that if they wait for the “right time” to have their wedding, set for 2021, it might never happen, so they held a simple and elegant church service and reception this month. So many diamonds, here and there, and I’m training myself to see them, hold them up to the light, and rejoice in the hope that each one represents. This does not minimize the pain of saying goodbyes on a regular basis to people we treasure. Nor will it necessarily alter the plans of those who have decided to seek their fortunes elsewhere. But it reminds us of our calling to care for those right around us.

            For the past three weeks we’ve been living/eating/working in a single room, the bedroom Sevag occupies when he’s here with us. We’ve been sleeping in our own bed, or at least we will until its time to repair the bedrooms. Renovations to our apartment are ongoing, and with any luck it will be completed in a week or two, along with the renovation of the Union offices (including mine) and the entire building.

LebCat 38: Is it safe to come out yet?
(9 Sept. 2020 - Geitawi, Beirut)

            Walking around the city one notices not only the proliferation of scaffolding and the constant activity of construction workers, but a fair amount of homes and businesses that have been left undisturbed since the explosion. We know it will be years before they are touched, if ever. Yet we have chosen to focus on that which is changing, and to harken to the voices of those who openly declare, “Lebanon belongs to me, and not to the criminals who allowed this to happen.” There is still a long road ahead. Rebuilding will not fix all that needs fixing here. But it’s a start.  [LNB]

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