When the world is home
Leaving close friends and family is always difficult, especially when you are unsure when you’ll actually see them again. It seems like 2014, and now the first few weeks of 2015, have been a series of temporary farewells. But really, its the form my life has taken since I first left the United States for Lebanon back in September of 2012. As I was leaving only a few months following my graduation from university, I left with the realization that coming back to my home in Southwest Michigan would never quite be the same again.
The stores, restaurants and hang-out spots I knew so well would still be there, but the experiences and friendships I had made over the course of a lifetime would all be different. Post-graduation friends would scatter themselves around the world in search of their dreams, grad school, or perhaps just some steady income. I was the same, throwing myself into a new unknown, chasing some future that I didn’t quite understand.
And so as the months passed and as I found myself feeling incredibly comfortable in the beautiful country of Lebanon, as I developed serious friendships in a place so distant from what I formerly called home, I began to understand the transience of love and friendship. I began to see how these relationships we build over the course of years or lifetimes fade and grow, expand and deflate; some persevere and some dissipate into the greater void of our existence. Yet all of them are beautiful and formulating in their own unique ways. I have come to feel some sort of strange tenderness towards even the most problematic and hurtful of relationships from my past. Sometimes the burning fire melds us into the beautiful creations quicker than the cooler flames.
I built this life for myself in a new place with friends who had themselves been transplanted from all over the globe. Some left, some stayed, transitions took place. I found love. I lost love. I found it. I lost it. Friendships blossomed and wilted and some grew deep rooters, deeper than I had ever known before. Yet when you live in such a fragile state on the edge of everything and nothing, when everyone surrounding you becomes so transient and malleable, farewells are inevitable.
In May of 2014, I traveled for about three weeks. The first leg of my journey was with two close friends, both whom I had met in Lebanon, both who had vastly different backgrounds from mine own and from each other, both who hailed from different regions of the globe. We traveled to Egypt, met a friend there and enjoyed the time so much that I think honestly all of us were sad to leave. My friend and I even looked up opportunities to come back and spend more time in Cairo in the future. I know in my heart that I loved that place, a piece of my heart remained there, it felt like home. But we left.
My two friends traveled back to Beirut and I headed onward to France, to visit one of my best friends from University who had moved to Lyon after finishing his degree. He and I shared a bond in that we had both left our native lands, journeyed to a strange country, and started a new life for ourselves. I miss him and it was wonderful to spend those few days with him as he showed me the beauty of his city. We ate outside at a cafe, a wonderful amazing French meal with an exquisite glass of local wine. We walked along the river and visited the local farmer’s market. When I had to leave, all too soon, I knew in my heart that I loved that place, a piece of my heart remained there, it felt like home. But I left.
The next stop was Berlin, a place I had passed through in the previous autumn to meet my friend and travel to Copenhagen. I was meeting up with this friend again. We had met the first day I arrived in Lebanon, and somehow, despite our distinctive differences, we had become close friends in a way that I had never imagined. We called each other “khaye,” my brother in Arabic, and that is what he had become to me. We spent a long weekend staying in a nice affordable hostel in a remote part of Berlin. We slept late, woke up late, and drank too much beer. We met people on the streets and randomly ran into an old friend from Copenhagen. After the weekend we took the train to the university he was studying at, about two hours from Berlin. I spent the rest of my time there, in the country of Germany: relaxing, experiencing, enjoying. Of course I had to leave too soon but I knew in my heart that I loved that place, a piece of my heart remained there, it felt like home. But I returned home to Beirut.
And so my life marched on like that, up until the present moment, racking up a list of destinations and places, names, relationships, acquaintances and moments. That is the narrative since I moved to Lebanon, an endless series of farewells and homecomings, nostalgia and beauty always combined into one neat package. I visit California and I have this strong desire to stay forever and this equally strong pull to leave. I miss my friends in Lebanon and the life I have there. Yet I never want to be away from my childhood home in Southwest Michigan. I wish I could stop in at my friend’s new apartment in Lyon for dinner. And I wouldn’t mind heading to the beach in Southeast asia to see my friend there. Although it is easy to tell people that I stay in Lebanon because it has become home, I think the reality is much more complex and yet very simple. I’m home right now as I lay on my old bed in Michigan, but now I’m always home.
I can hardly wait to throw myself back into the madness of Beirut traffic and yet I’m sad to leave this place that I grew up. I’m sad that I left my friends in California. But I’m beyond excited to reunite with my friends in Lebanon. I tell people a lot these days that someday we will all live together, we will all live together in one big house and travel the world together. The location is always different, sometimes the mountains of Lebanon, sometimes the South of Argentina, sometimes Sri Lanka. I guess the location doesn’t really matter.
But what I’m realizing is that perhaps that home already exists inside my heart. Each of these people that I love, have loved, and will love live inside me, and we walk the halls of this home together. Its a dream and yet it’s a reality. This is the life that I know now, and I don’t think I would ever trade it for stability, comfort or money. Its like heaven without the eternity, but I never cared much for eternity anyway.