Six years ago, as we were deciding where exactly we would live and work, the whole idea of living in a country where time is marked by the last explosion was really difficult for me. I honestly wasn’t sure if I could handle a life where assassination points and explosions were used in giving directions or recollecting whatever life event occurred at the same time.
I don’t know what it’s like in other places around the world, but I find that Beirutis have a very particular way of coping, if you will, with the car bombs and rocket attacks that seem to be getting more and more common these days.
First you make the phone calls, send the messages. Anyone who lives close or might possibly be in the area… “are you okay?” Once you’ve checked in with everyone you’ve ever met in your life, you start searching for a reason… was this an assassination? A political message? Aimed at a specific target or neighborhood?
Then the rationalization begins. Ohh, I never go to that part of town. That neighborhood isn’t like my neighborhood. I don’t live near any embassy/mosque with a well-known sheikh/fill-in-the-blanks. That would never happen to me.
And then life goes on. Maybe slower and a bit more quieter at first. But the malls and the bars are still full, as if the city is throwing out a collective “you can’t break us!” cry to the world.
This most recent explosion was different for me. For one, we heard and felt the blast and saw the smoke. I grabbed the girls and hid in the hallway while Caleb opened all the windows just in case there was another blast. Turned on the news and checked Twitter to confirm what we already knew – another bomb. Answered the calls from everyone who knew how close we were and sent messages to those we hadn’t heard from yet.
Once we got a bit more info, a sigh of relief that it was another assassination. That is going to sound strange to anyone outside of Lebanon, I think, but it’s part of the rationalization process. It wasn’t random, it was targeted. Somehow that makes it easier to move on from. The rationalization continues… at least they planted the bomb on a side street not a main street. It was a holiday so maybe it wasn’t as busy as a normal work day. Maybe those things aren’t actually true, but if it helps us cope, we’ll continue to use those lines.
This time was harder for me though. My mind wanders… if it had been a Tuesday morning instead of a Friday morning… I would have been walking by that exact street at that exact time.
Stop. I can’t think that. I have to force my thoughts in a different direction. And this is where I’m so grateful for my faith. I recently re-read the book The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, and a story she tells is playing over and over again in my mind. It’s the beginning of the war, and Corrie wakes up in the middle of the night and hears her sister in the kitchen making tea. She joins her for a cup and when she goes back to bed she finds a huge piece of shrapnel lodged in her pillow. She is horrified of course, but the wise words of her sister are a great comfort to me. “There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety – let us pray that we may always know it!”
Just as always, we continue on with life. We had lunch plans, so we chatted over pizza with friends while our kids played. The next day I took Isla to the movies with a friend. We moved on.
Or at least I thought I did.
On Sunday we traveled to Athens for a conference. We barely made our flight. Our taxi was late and by the time he got to us, all the roads had been closed because, according to our driver, “there’s a problem. People are shooting.”
To have people we know and love squeeze us tight, ask how we are really doing, and look us in the eye and say how grateful they are that we made it…. it broke down all my coping mechanisms and showed me how utterly fragile I was feeling.
Had we not left the country when we did, I wonder how much I would have processed… I suspect not much. Because life moves on and we move with it. But how long can we really do that? Just going from crisis to crisis without allowing ourselves to fully feel?
Obviously those who lived through the war here in Lebanon have figured out ways to cope, to survive. And I’m such a newbie to this life, I know I can never fully understand… but I do wonder what effect the constant rationalizing, stuffing and moving on without truly grieving will have on us…