Headlines like the the one I saw on BBC today…Beirut Blast Kills At Least Five…brings to mind the two wonderful weeks I spent in Beirut the summer of 2012, including in many of the neighborhoods labeled “Hizbollah strongholds.”
When I was there, it seemed folks were resigned that it was just a matter of time before the violence in Syria would spill across the border into Lebanon. And, shortly after I left, the first of what would be many Beirut car bombings occurred. Here’s what I wrote about that first bombing at the time. It’s as true today as it was a year and a half ago:
October 19, 2012
A few days ago, I walked down Platform #2 at the New Rochelle train station in Westchester, NY towards my two-year old friend, Joe, his parents, grandparents, and baby brother. I watched Joe’s face change from confusion to surprise to delight as he recognized me. Soon, we were singing the Moose Song together, as we regularly did when I visited him this summer in Achrafiyeh, Beirut, Lebanon, pushing his stroller around the very same streets—some days the very same actual street—where a car bomb exploded today, killing at least eight and wounding dozens of others.
“Hi, Joe!” each shopkeeper would call out to the blond toddler, who smiled and waved in turn, whipping “Ba” (his pacifier) out of his mouth when he neared Abed’s store, knowing that Abed would scold him, a big boy of two, for still sucking a pacifier. All of Beirut, it seemed, was in love with Joe.
It was Joe that I thought of first when I saw facebook postings that hospitals in Achrafiyeh needed blood donations, prompting me to immediately log onto AJE to see the chilling headline Deadly blast strikes Lebanon’s capital, and it was Joe that I continued to think of as I stared at the photos of the grisly aftermath of the attack, though I knew my friends had left Lebanon just over a week ago, and that they are nowhere near the cars and buildings which were transformed into twisted metal and rubble and were not among the blood-soaked, shocked men and women who searched frantically for their loved ones in the streets.
The instinct is familiar, though always troubling: think first of whether those you care for are safe, and feel the tremendous relief when you get confirmation that they are. Only then, while tasting that relief, is there room for the sickening realization of what the tragedy means for those not lucky enough to have averted it. Only then, does the anxious knowledge penetrate that this bombing is likely a harbinger of far worse violence to come.
It goes without saying, yet still should be said: the children who were killed or maimed or lost parents in today’s bombing are no less precious to their loved ones than Joe is to his.
It goes without saying, yet still should be said: the lives of the Lebanese are no less important than the lives of ex-pats who can choose whether to come to Lebanon, how long to stay, and whether it seems prudent to get out before the shit hits the fan.
I am beyond relieved that my beloved toddler friend Joe, his parents and his baby brother are safe, out of Beirut, and preparing to move to Central America where Joe’s father received a new job posting.
But I am grieving for those caught in the horror of today’s attack—and terrified of what it signals for all the Lebanese that Joe and his family so recently left behind.