Lebanese village by Saadi Sinevi

by George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D.
This is part three 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. For part two click here.

September 1988
Monterey, CA
Third Letter

I plant you in my eyes, a song of virgin longing, and I draw your smile over my sails bound towards the future. I am longing for return, and you are my hope and the eternal truth. Your two hands, my little one, are the cradle of love, and I am but a Sufi drowning in the deluge of meditation. I wear the gown of pain, and my feet are rooted in the glowing clay of creativity. May peace be upon you the day you were born and the day you embraced me and I felt that I held a bouquet of innocence and embraced a flaming sword. Glory be to your miraculous childhood. You are the lamb of peace, the joy of life, the tear of yearning and the hope of resurrection.

My letters to you are but the embers of my burning thoughts, for you are the flame of prophecy and the wings of inspiration. You carry me to the world of the unknown and plant me in the fields of lilies and poems. You throw me on the sidewalks of the past and desert me on the shores of faraway islands. There, I metamorphose and transform into tropical plants, exploding with pleasure and burdened with forbidden fruits. I take off the tied gown of civilization and become naught but the flame of truth. I become one with the elements and melt like dew in the eyes of bereaving mothers.

My son, they need you in Lebanon today. They need you to wipe the tears of dejection and uproot the seeds of despair, for Lebanon is determined to commit suicide. She has lost her will to survive and is exhausted from her commitment to continue living in death and humility. Lebanon has left us and decided to depart. She has lifted her broken flute and thrown it to the mad wind of fury. Lebanon has allowed her threshing floors to hunger and her rivers to thirst. Lebanon has stabbed her own heart with the spear of ignorance, has buried her body in “The River of Ashes,” and has gone silent. Nothing is left except her immortal memory buried in our hearts. We are the tormented orphans. We, the poets, the ever present in the memory of history, reject the reality of her crucifixion and cling to a string of hope and deeply believe in the truth of her coming resurrection. We await Lebanon’s return.

Why have you frowned at my sincere prayers? The wrath of children is more powerful than that of the gods. Your two beautiful eyes have transformed into two islands of clouds and rain, and your eyelashes tremble. Did I wish for the impossible? Did I wound the virgin prophecy? Help me, my little one. I am drowning, and you stand on my shores holding the cross of salvation.

July 1998
Monterey, CA
Fourth Letter

And as I awake, ten years later, I feel exhausted. The dust of exile has stained my forehead, time has frozen, the minutes are impregnated and prolonged, and a “dark night engraved in stone” has foreshadowed a nightmare that soils my horizon.

Yet I arise with a twinkle of hope in my heart and a bouquet of flowers in my hand, for you and I are on our way, as is our custom every week, to visit your grandfather in his final resting place. His journey to our planet has come to an end, so we planted him here, a grain of wheat, a holy branch of Cedar, with the hope that we will transport his ashes to Lebanon where his dust will mix with that of his land, his family and his country.

Just one day before he left us – as if he realized that the dim light in his lantern was about to be extinguished – he held my hand, stared into my eyes, and said:

“My son, you know that I never wanted to desert my home and my village, but you did well when you brought me, your mother, your sister and your brother, here to America. We came to know Nicolas, my grandson, and we were also introduced to the goodness of this generous land. My son, may God bless you, but do not let me die here, for death in exile is a fate worse than death. If you bury me here, I will suffocate in loneliness and boredom. My bones will be eternally cold away from my family. Lebanon’s soil is warm and tender.”

As I listened, I closed my eyes to hide the forming clouds pregnant with rain that were gathering in my horizon. I embraced him and solemnly promised to take him back with me the day I return.

The day I return? When would this day come? You, my son, always ask me, “Dad, when shall we visit Lebanon?” And I pause and ponder. When will I return carrying your grandfather on my shoulder with my right hand and holding your little fingers with my left hand and behind us the ashes of our exile glowing in flames like the dust of burning Troy. To Lebanon we will march where I shall build an eternal city and all the roads shall lead to its open gate.

We shall return, my son. This is my promise to you and to your grandfather and his good memory. This is my hope. That will be the day of reckoning, the day when Lebanon will openly confess her sins. On that day, she will happily march to welcome us with all of her political parties, divisions, sects and politicians. On that day, all the colors, flags and political parties will unite in her horizon, forming one banner of love, unity, patriotism and sincerity.

When that day arrives, my little one, Lebanon will be ready for your visit. She would have returned to be, as she once was, a generous and forgiving land that glorifies the righteous and crowns the heroes with laurel instead of stoning and crucifying them. We shall return, my son, holding in our hands the epic of heroism and sacrifice, the Bible of Divine guidance and the Holy Qur’an of enlightenment.

We shall enter the great city of Beirut to destroy its idols, one by one. We shall stand facing each and every idol with the sword of the Prophet in our hand. We shall confront each idol that does not bear witness that there is one, and only one, Lebanon, unified and free in the shade of the Cedars and that only the children are symbols of peace and the basis for a prosperous future and that they are the hope for Lebanon’s resurrection. Every idol that does not testify to this truth, my son, strike it with the sword of the Prophet Muhammad, the blade of Imam Ali and the sword of Elijah and Fakhreddine after you inflame its body with the whip of Christ, the whip that He raised in the face of the merchants, the scribes, the Pharisees and the hypocrites when they transformed the House of God to a market for money changers and sellers of goods just like they changed our Beirut, our villages and towns from a peaceful temple to a den for thieves, mercenaries, and highway robbers.

Until that time dawns and the hour draws near, let us, my son, earn our daily bread with the sweat of our forehead and fulfill our obligation to this hospitable land that took us in and harbored us. It will not be for too long because that which is written is about to be fulfilled, and the hour is present and at hand as you sail with me on our historic journey toward the holy mountain of the Cedars, my son, my hope, my future, and my everlasting continuity.