For Lebanon… again

I wrote about this once, years ago

Foolishly, perhaps youthfully, I thought I wouldn’t have to revisit the aching void,

The sorrow and hopelessness,

yet I find myself again trying to make beautiful devastation.

 

It is so much worse this time, no personal losses, no family in pain, but real, true terror,

walking hand in hand with surety that we will not come out on the other side of this stronger, better, healthier.

Death, destruction, calling back to HER tales of terror.

That’s what always haunts me,

with every bomb dropped and shot fired.

My dad says to remember that there are two sides to every story,

I’m only interested in the human.

 

We’re sitting in the garage,

The weather almost too perfect, Turkish coffee and cigarettes,

February in Miami is surreal in its beatitude.

I ask her if she lived in Lebanon during the war, she did.

Indeed, she was born into war.

She begins to share her story with me,

Her eyes, like that of every adult on that side of my family, takes on a haunted, far away look.

She has born witness to ravages that my privileged, American mind cannot fully fathom.

War, it seems, is nothing like the movies.

Very little ever is.

 

There was civil war in Lebanon, for many years,

In the most simplistic of views, it came down to Christian vs Non Christian.

No accounting for the people who didn’t fall under the category of Islam or Christian,

My stepmother’s family owns an apartment building in Beirut,

3 stories, 6 units, across the street from the American Embassy.

 

 

“It was a dirty war.”

That is the refrain of the elders,

Always whispered, rarely present.

“It was a dirty war.”

 

She tells me of a time when she was 16 years old,  1980 or 81, I’m not sure.

Her brothers, all older save for one, he is 5, she is in charge of his safe keeping.

There had been a raid on a village,

Men killed, women raped, mothers forced to watch their children raped, beaten, killed – to choose between their sons and daughters.

 

“It was a dirty war.”

 

There were survivors, taking refuge in her family’s building.

No power,

Crowded together on the third floor,

Her older brothers come to her, tell her that “they” are coming.

I’m not even sure who “they” are, I don’t think anyone on the ground ever really is.

Her brothers, 17-24 in age themselves,  tell her that there will be fighting downstairs,

Do not leave this floor, no matter what you hear.

They place 2 grenades, one in each hand, and pull the pins.

“Hold these,” they tell her, “If you hear anyone coming up the stairs, anyone who isn’t us, you throw one down the stairwell,

you throw the other in this room.”

 

16 years old, and it would be better to die than get caught in the hands of the enemy.

 

“It was a dirty war.”

 

She would sit on the floor of this landing-

her 5 year old brother in her lap,

Injured women and children surrounding her,

smelling of death and ruination-

Two live grenades in her hands,

for FOUR hours,

Amidst the sounds of rifle fire, gunshots ricocheting in the lobby of her family home,

not knowing who lived, who died,

grasping  death in her hands.

 

As the hostilities wound down, quiet descended upon the building.

No knowledge of what had transpired below,

Still holding her baby brother,

Fists clenched so tightly, knuckles white, fear coursing through her.

 

The doors open downstairs,

“Sister, it is us!”

“Sister, don’t throw it!”

“Sister, it is done!”

“Sister, we are coming!”

Chanting the ritornelle, desperation in their voices.

So young, they were all so young.

Her eldest brother opens the door

And all she can do is sob.

Soul-wrenching terror,  the fear of a young girl forced far too soon to stare death in the face,

wrung from her core, she sobs into the arms of her brother.

 

It takes 4 grown men to pry the grenades from her hands.

They could replace one of the pins, the live round tossed into the alley,

discarded like so much death and destruction.

 

“It was a dirty war.”

 

I hear it all the time,

I’ll never really understand it,

Blessed as I am to be born where I was.

 

As Beirut lays in ruins tonight,

As France is cloaked in grief,

As Kenya weeps for her children,

I think back to my father’s words.

There ARE two sides to every tale,

But please remember,

The only thing of any import,

Is the human.

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