Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ask not what your country can do for you…

Today is my country’s independence day, but I have given it another name in recent years. A play on words in Arabic allows me to exchange one letter and turn it to ‘exploitation day’, though there are frequently times when I feel that exploitation is not commemorated just that one day a year at all.  I love my country and would hope to always call myself a patriot.  I don’t think that has changed in the last twenty years when I chose to end my expatriation and return to live and build a career ‘at home’.  But something has changed in me, perhaps an outcome of maturing or of circumstance, but I now find I interpret my relationship with my country in more practical terms.

As everybody posts photos or statements commemorating the day and expressing their undying love for our country, another post has also come up, noting that the date coincides with the birthday of our most famous and beloved singer.  How ironic, I thought, that the date set to conjure up our sentiments of nationalism falls on her birthday, the singer whose songs defined that emotional attachment and lulled us into its romantic notions for years.  Growing up as an expat, the plays she sang in were my historical and social context, my cultural underpinning for the country I had fled that appeared on my passport, in my parents’ dialect, and in their reflective sighs and smiles upon hearing her songs.  Growing up in a foreign country where we were taught nothing of my country’s history or geography, it rested in those tunes and those stories. So I loved the songs and loved my country.

A line from one of those songs has hit the social media outlets today, for independence day. Above a waving flag and clear blue skies the statement is made: I love you no matter how you are. I translate it literally for effect – “no matter how you are”, no matter how you act, feel, grow, ‘behave’… no matter what you’ve become, I love you.

For the first time in my life, I could not agree.

Lebanon, I love you, I will always love you, but I don’t think I can love you the way you are any more.  There is a spot in the mountain that is carved out in my shape, there are roots to my family tree that run through your veins deeper than my little leaf on a branch, there is a part of you that will always be for me, and a me that will always be for you, but I don’t think I can love you the same, not any more.  The rest of you has tipped the balance… You have broken our hearts as a generation, have humiliated us as a people, have left us with so little to enjoy that we are constantly angry, frequently at each other.  You have shattered our dreams for you, for us with you, and beaten us down with our own hope and civil action, you have changed us, broken us, and left us lying in a pool of cynicism and despair.  We hold onto that last flicker of hope like a swimmer coming up for air – because there is nowhere else to go.

We are a bruised and broken people because of our love for you.  Candles melting at a restaurant table remind us of nights in the shelter, fireworks – which we can distinguish from bombing – have their own silent soundtrack, and bribing government officials to obtain what is rightfully ours has become the norm. We don’t even flinch.  You have broken us, and it takes every ounce of our will and energy to hold on to you, to hold on to our dream of you, as if saving you from drowning.  But you have developed a liking for those dark depths and are pulling us down with you.  What should we do then? Hold on and slip into the darkness?

I love you Lebanon, I will always love you, but I can no longer love you as you are, and I fear the day will come when I will let go – an act that will break me even more.  Happy birthday.

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