Lebanese triptych by Joseph Matta

by George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D.
This is part two of a series from my book: The Return of the Hero and the Resurrection of the City, originally written in Arabic and translated by George N. El-Hage and edited by MaryAnn Del Vecchio, Ph.D. For part one, click here.

July 1988
Monterey, CA
First Letter

In the name of God, I preface my first letter to you, my son. You are the stream of tenderness that flows in my heart and fills my cup. You are my provisions for the coming years and the lantern of my future. You are the most precious possession that I have in this world. You were gifted to me at my most blessed moment of contentment and peace. That day, you were formed in my conscience, a graceful thought, and in your mother’s womb, a clot of blood. That day, I was very conscious of what I was doing. To your mother, I said: “Come, my love, let us create a son, and his name shall be Nicolas.” I knew that the newcomer will be you. An inner feeling and a sense of the mystical awakened inside of me an unmistakable realization of your arrival, my joy, my boy, whose playground is the wide world while you remain ever present with me and within me.

Your wide open eyes are two lakes of emeralds. You are not of flesh and blood. You are the essence of love, the expanse of light, a river of warmth and the glimmer of hope. Let time stand behind us because we existed before time. As for me, you are my whole existence. Your smile permeates the world with joy. Your little hands are the perfumed lilies of the fields and your face the shining sun of light and truth. As you embrace me, time stops, and within me, the glory of the Lord shines bright. I declare to you our eternal relationship: You, me and your mother. Let all others who have populated my books come out. They are naught but a mob of “unnecessary duplicates.” You are not alone. I am with you forever. I give you more soul from mine, more love from my love and more heart from my heart. Your presence overfills my existence and leaves no space for any other. You, alone, are my preoccupation, and at your feet, time stops. You are ever-present in my memory. You are my fruit, my roots and my future. You are my glorious history.

You, who are perpetually preoccupied with yourself, eternally preoccupy me, intentionally or unintentionally. Your childhood is the boundary of my imagination, the myth of eternal return and the enchanted forest of beauty and mystery. Your childhood is the manna, the elixir and the ambrosia of the gods, the mist of the River Jordan and the wisdom of Genesis. You are my rock, and on this rock, I shall build my future. Let destiny witness my love and endurance.

August 1988
Monterey, CA
Second Letter

The day that I decided to write to you, my love, I simply wanted to record my stories that I relayed to you during our intimate moments together. I wanted you to know who you are and where you came from. An urgent desire compelled me to bring you into my private world so you can, consciously and willingly, relate to my history and my background. I was actually attempting to uproot you from a lonely, foreign present, and plant you in a past filled with family, relatives and friends. Perhaps my desperate attempt was in reality my personal escape from my own exile, so I could sail in my memory to my own roots, my beginnings, the warm womb of my motherland, and my home country. Inadvertently, I have bestowed on you my own fears and loneliness. I have burdened you with my own yearning even though I wanted to protect you from the barrenness of my own exile and longing.

Actually, who claimed that you are a stranger in America? You were born here. You live your childhood here. This is your world, your continent and your life. What have you to do with Lebanon, with Mansourieh and even with the Arabic Language? Yours is my present, and here, now, is my present, and perhaps, my future. What is wrong with me that I continue to pull you back to a past that is dead and to long gone memories? To a Lebanon that has already expired and to Beirut, a damaged city in whose heart the song of love and compassion has long died. But be patient, my child. I still fear for you to grow up here in a land where you have no past, no deep roots and no history.

Both your grandparents are back there and their roots are deeply entrenched in that land. As for your father, he is tormented and beaten daily by his painful longing for his suffering country. You are mine, created after my own image, and I wanted you to go back with me. As for your mother, she was a lone flower and I plucked her, and we departed on our blessed journey together. My tragedy is that I wanted you to live my own childhood because it was beautiful, peaceful and safe, filled with family and neighbors, and on the expanse of its boundaries, there grew flowers of love and trees of friendship, and the birds of contentment sang their most beautiful hymns.

Have I been daydreaming, my little one? How dare I compare the Lebanon of today with that of yesterday? And to which Lebanon do we return? My Lebanon has been erased and theirs, as it is today, is not worthy to even wear the shoes of my Lebanon. Please forgive me. Your present in this diaspora is much better than their present in their tormented country.

We, poets, are like the birds of the sky. Our universe is endless. We are global beings capable of acclimating wherever we live. So, why do we need a Lebanon? My country is my paper, my inkpot and my plume, and the whole world is my extended family. So, why do I dwell on lamenting my Lebanon?

This new land was, and still is, generous. It hosted me the day I left my country. It offered me an education, a job, money and a home. It offered me an address, a citizenship, and my wife, the love of my life. It offered me a future when Lebanon refused to give me even a present and when Lebanon told me that all that was sacred and beautiful on its land was naught but lies and dark ashes. Blessed be this new found land that gave me your precious life and your angelic face. You were born an American citizen. This is your identity, and here is your address and country. You shall grow up and be raised according to the laws and norms of this great country. You shall not be a stranger and an immigrant like me. You shall not suffer from a schizophrenic personality like me. You shall not worship two gods like me. You shall not suffer a marginal existence like me. You and your mother are immune to such feelings and nightmares. This is my cross that I alone shall bare. Why would I carry you to my country? Why would I uproot you and carry you away from the truth of your birth, from the realities of your childhood and plant you in an evil world that even I refuse to belong to now?

Forgive me, my little one. Let destiny chart a path for us, and we will surely walk that path, and in God will be our faith and trust.

September 1988
Monterey, CA