Beirut was the first city I loved


Beirut was the first city I loved.

I was four when my family moved to Lebanon; six when we left. And though I have never been back, neither have I forgotten.

When we arrived in Beirut, I was just old enough to engage with the larger world around me, and suddenly the very air was charged with newness. Mediterranean Sea breezes teased my hair. The aroma of fresh baked pita bread wafted out from the corner store. Arabic and French words danced to my ears from pedestrians on busy sidewalks.

In Beirut, I went to kindergarten. In Beirut, I visited Dad in his embassy office. In Beirut, I walked along the Corniche with Mom and my little brother while Dad flew to nearby countries to report on Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy.

I ate peanut butter and jelly on pita bread for lunch. I snacked on hummus long before it populated American supermarket shelves. I dipped torn off pita triangles into baba ghannouj.

I learned Arabic greetings. I recognized the cedar tree on the flag. I read books and looked out our living room window to the Mediterranean. I made friends.

Then, in the spring of 1975, the air changed. From our apartment, we heard bombs exploding in the hills. My sixth birthday party was postponed for two weeks because of bombings.

Because of civil war.

Still, I loved Beirut. I played my way through the summer, and looked forward to first grade. (I would begin learning French!)

But two weeks into the school year, I woke to find an evacuation ordered and suitcases packed. Mom, my brother, and I were loaded into a convoy of cars, driven to the airport with an escort of armed guards. We were flown to Athens, and some weeks later, to the States.

My leaving Beirut was not so much a goodbye as an excision. And the scar of it still sometimes aches. It throbs now, as if it can feel from here the concussive shocks of this latest explosion.

Beirut taught me—taught me early—that I cannot control what bombs will go off in the hills surrounding my life. I cannot predict what events will turn my days upside down or thrust me from a landscape I’ve loved into an entirely new one. I cannot divine the moment when an explosion will tear things apart.

(Nor can you.)

And nor can you, dear Beirut, city of my childhood heart. You are not forgotten. My soul aches for the destruction you face. And I pray, remembering the city you were (and the girl I was) before all the explosions began. May you (and I) find the path back to hope and healing and joy.

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