‘We will keep walking!’ Fragments from the other day

by thelifesavour

Almost half my life ago, I submitted a college essay in an envelope, seven or eight scraps of paper, paragraphs, that I had spent the night arranging and rearranging, cut-and-pasting, trying and failing to organise into an obedient beginning-to-middle-to-end order. But everything connected to everything else. The Earth isn’t flat. And neither are essays. I felt like saying. I wanted to write it on a globe, but I didn’t have one so I used an envelope instead, and left it to my fortunately very patient and eccentric professor to make his own meaning from the fragments of mine.

This blog post is like that. I’m still trying to work out how it put it together, how the pieces of what happened here the other day fit and what it means for life in Lebanon, mine and everyone else’s. I still don’t have a globe. Or even an envelope. But I don’t want to wait any more so I am hoping you will accept these fragments anyway, cut along the dotted lines and make your own meaning as you see fit.

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The story so far…

At around the end of September, America decided not to strike Syria, and Lebanon, who had been holding its breath, let out a long sigh of relief, that lasted all the way to the end of October, and a little bit more.

October in Beirut was beautiful. An easy month full of end-of-season beach days and babies’ first birthdays. It was soft like a pale rose petal, like the late summer light, like a stray cat that wraps itself around your legs and says love me. And I did. I walked along the Corniche one morning, and realised that I was well and truly back in love with Lebanon.

But with such softness comes vulnerability. That same morning I remember saying to a friend how all this ease made me uneasy. How it was only a matter of time before something happened. I’m neither a cynic nor a psychic. But somehow this city has got under my skin, and I can’t quite shake the feeling that there is always something just around the corner, just around the soft bend in the Corniche.

Only last week I wrote a memo to myself, reminding me where I lived. I was talking about everyday things like electricity and water, but in the back of my mind, thought but not written, there was something else, a bomb waiting to go off.

I wish I had been wrong.

But this time I wasn’t, and now Lebanon is holding its breath again.

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In the morning, just as we are about to set off for music group, my husband calls to know where I am.

Why?

There may have been an explosion.We heard something.

He means they heard rumours rumbling through the office but he also means that they heard the sound itself. Very close, just a few kilometres from where he works. We hang up and he says he’ll call me back with more news. For a moment, everything is still normal. I am standing on my street in the sunshine with my friends, waiting for our taxi driver, who is also a friend. Nobody else knows anything. Was that a flash of lightning or not? But then, there is the sound of the thunder, or rather of mobile phones, reverberating around the taxi and text messages from husbands, from the UN,  confirm the earlier newsflash.

Are you scared? someone asks.

This is normal says the taxi driver, in response to a request for reassurance.

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On the way home again after the music group, which takes place in a room from where you could see the smoke but not hear the bang, our taxi driver friend, says:

It doesn’t matter where you are, if today is your day [to die], it does’t matter, even if you are asleep in your bed.

He is right of course, and this idea, that really anything can happen anywhere and anytime, is brought home to me when I check the BBC news headlines later. The top story is about the bombing in Beirut. No surprises. But the second story is about a cyclone in Sardinia, another place where my heart lives, where I always think I will be safe. The tutto ok? emails with family and friends who live there cross in midair. We are all OK. Today wasn’t our day.

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When I’m home my husband says I should stay there. Just in case. But he thinks it’ll be OK if I go to the bakery at the end of the street. As I buy my comfort cakes, to take to a usually unafraid friend later, I want to ask the baker if what happened is a big thing or a small thing, like my husband did many months ago. But I am afraid of his answer.

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On his way home from work (normal time, normal taxi despite what happened in the morning) my husband meets our neighbour outside the building.

We are sad today, he says. We are living by chance. Maybe I will move to Canada.

I am sad too. But I am not shocked. And that fact saddens me even more. Has it only taken two short years of living in Lebanon for this to become a strange kind of ‘normal’?  

What does shock me though, and sicken me to my stomach, are some of the comments people post at the end of articles on Lebanese news sites. It is as though they are living in some warped video game where ‘terrorist scum’ attempt to wipe each other out.  It seems they have lost the ability to be horrified. To be humane. But then, maybe that is what happens after living in Lebanon for a long time, for the length of a civil war and more.

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The title of this post, arrived in my inbox when I was about to go to bed, heavy and numb after reading too much bad news. I got an email from one of the tour groups we used to go hiking with last year. In the subject line was the name of the destination for the weekend and then the words

‘We will keep walking!’

It made me smile and remember my sweet girl who also had a momentous day, standing unsupported and stepping side to side in time to the music, which she’s never done before. Her life seems to be inextricably linked to the life of Beirut, her birth city, and she too will keep walking, or learning to, putting one dancing foot delicately, purposefully in front of the other.

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