My life was changed for eternity. It was around 2 p.m. on the afternoon of August 4, as I was washing dishes in the kitchen of my new apartment, when I heard CNN, playing live in my living room behind me, report, “explosion in Beirut!” Just beginning to type this piece makes my heart race, as I fight the tears, in recalling how terrible it was to watch my home disappear in that explosion.
I jumped away from the sink and marched into the living room, thinking, “It’s just another car bomb, maybe a dozen-or-so deaths. There’s no chance my family was anywhere near such a thing in a huge city like Beirut.” Then I saw the screen, showing my home—what actually happened, in words I cannot describe. I covered my mouth with terrifying surprise. I was literally in shock, denial.
I saw history’s third most powerful explosion ever unleashed on a human population, with the force of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate irresponsibly stored and ignored for over six years, killing over 180 people, injuring over 6,000, displacing over 300,000 and devastating all 15 million of us Lebanese who live around the world and who call Beirut our home.
I started denying that it was really happening; I denied that the place I was seeing was my home; I denied that almost my entire family, and several people I love, were actually there.
Once I started to realize the possibility that it could actually be happening, the panic set in. I drew my iPhone from my pocket, hands shaking, and started to dial my family. The phone stayed quiet, not even a ring. Then I tried again. Nothing.
After three attempted calls and a few sent messages, I started nervously pacing the floor. I started imagining what it might be like to see my cousins again—to laugh and have fun
together—denying that they would ever get hurt, after all they have survived already. With a
terrible urge to see them right away, I started to sob uncontrollably. I had to see them. I had to
know that they were okay.
To my relief, I finally got a reply from one cousin—then another—that they and the family were all okay. As relieved as I was, I was—and still am—shattered and forever transformed.
This was the most terrifying and revolutionary moment of my life. Here is what that means, so far.
Transformed, I have been forced to face all I have ever believed. Most of which I still have not fully resolved, but here is a start. Believing that America is a beacon of hope isn’t just a political statement for me. It is literally the reason I have begged my family to come and stay here, in the United States, ever since I was a child.
When I went to study at the Ronald Reagan Institute in Washington, DC, my mentor wrote in a letter of recommendation that I am “devoted to ensuring that America remains a beacon of hope to the world.” It was the first time I had heard America described in such terms, and it answered why I have wanted my family to come here for so long, since I was a kid.
Since I was little, in every phone call to my family in Lebanon, I knew it was true—America is the world’s beacon of hope. It is why I cried every time in begging them to come here, where I knew they would always be okay.
But every time I begged them, they would tell me in some optimistic way how they only belong in Lebanon—that it is who they are, and they belong nowhere else.
For much of my life, I have lived with the fears of my family’s suffering. Do they have enough food and money? Can they stay in their concrete homes despite a collapsing economy, now already tarnished? Will they survive the next famine, act of terror, invasion or civil war?
I remember, when I was 10-years-old, and I had to let go of my Jeddo—“grandfather,” in Arabic—at the airport before he left for Beirut.
I sobbed, clenching on to him, “Please, Jeddo!” I was begging him to stay. Looking back, I know what I meant. “Please! Stay here! Where you don’t have to worry anymore! Where I don’t have to worry anymore!”
My whole life I have wanted my family to breathe free. Can they ever in Lebanon? That is the hope of our revolution—the people’s rise, the resignation of the entire government. But now, still, much stands in our way. Hezbollah, a notorious Iranian proxy and terror group that controls the levers of power, is our greatest tangible obstacle.
Another great and intangible obstacle (still among many) is the hopelessness of our collapsed economy, that it will never recover. The already persistent suffering is now permanent suffering.
Just as my Teta—“grandmother,” in Arabic—said in her BBC interview, “There is no hope.”
What is it like to have a family you can see every day and not worry if they are okay? I can finally say, a while after coming to AU to play soccer, that I have some idea. Unable to play the sport I love, I found a place in Coach Jennifer Myhre’s soccer program—whose mantra is Family Strong—where I am still learning what their mantra means.
After beginning to work for the Anderson University Women’s Soccer program, I feel more what it’s like to have a family you don’t have to worry about. But having a family to worry about in Lebanon is what gives me the strength to do my best here, in America, for all whom I serve.
I am strong because my family, in Lebanon, is strong—strong enough to survive all they have suffered and continue to suffer. But surviving is no way of living.
Nouhad Melki II is a senior political science, national security and journalism major from Beirut, Lebanon.