As tall as a cedar
The power of pushing yourself, and how I grew from doing so on life-changing trip
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 23:09
It was me against a herd of boars.
I was alone, in Northern Lebanon, jogging through the mountains as I did every day that month.
I usually took my run in the morning, and some of the locals warned me about the wild animals that come out at night. But I was busy that morning, and I was determined to get my dose of exercise for the day. It was only 6 p.m.; the sun was still shining. I was certain I’d be fine.
I was wrong.
As I finally found my pace up the mountain, about 20 minutes from my family’s home, I began to hear footsteps.
I refused to break out of my zone. My Nikes hit the ground at perfect stride – I was making great time, and will.i.am’s “That power” was blasting through my headphones.
Again, I heard footsteps, even with music blasting. I stopped and took out my earbuds.
To my left was the side of a giant mountain, and coming down that mountain were three small boars.
Oh my gosh. 30.
To my left? A cliff.
“Please, God, please,” I prayed in my head while standing on the narrow road. “Help me. Please. I don’t know how. But please stay with me.”
The road I was on was maybe 6 feet in width, and the boars were coming closer and closer.
I edged toward the cliff. Tears filled my eyes.
“God,” I asked. “Please stay with me.”
I was determined to go to Lebanon that summer. My mother and father were both born there – my mom came to America when she was 4, my dad when he was 17. We visited the beautiful country when I was 5, but I hadn’t been back since.
I told my dad this was my summer – I had to go. I convinced him and my cousin to come with me, and we left on July 15 – the summer before my senior year of college.
I expected to fit in with the community perfectly in my dad’s hometown village, Mazraat Al Toufah, where we stayed for four weeks. I thought it would be second nature.
I did, in fact, grow up very different from my American friends. My mom packed me spinach pies instead of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in elementary school, and my dad’s heavy accent made my friends laugh.
But I hated Lebanon.
That first week, I did nothing but fake a happy face. I was supposed to love it, wasn’t I?
But the truth is, I was ripped out of my comfort zone – 5,700 miles away, to be exact – and had none of my typical comforts to rely upon.
I usually rely on my extroverted friends to socialize for me. If I don’t feel like I look good, I just stay in on a Friday night and watch Netflix on my laptop. When I need to make a decision, I quickly call my sisters, and they make it for me.
I felt alone, desperate and sad. On July 21, a few days after I arrived, the entire town went to church for Eid Mar Charbel, the feast day of the Lebanese patron saint Charbel.
After evening mass, the whole village walked almost a mile to a small stone shrine, singing Arabic hymns the whole way. We arrived at the shrine, and I said a small prayer: I asked God to help strengthen my faith. I wanted to depend upon him alone, as St. Charbel did, for happiness – I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin.
From that day forward in Lebanon, I kept pushing myself; despite any discomfort or social hiccup, I kept going. And then I started to see clearly.
I was in the most beautiful country I’d ever seen, and my time was free, depleted of computers, TVs or a Facebook refresh button.
I began filling my time by reading a book about St. Charbel – a man who found faith through the beauty and nature of Lebanon. I woke up every morning, stepped out of my house and walked up the serene and strikingly beautiful mountains. I ran and sweat under the hot Mediterranean sun, motivated to keep going by the unbelievable view surrounding me.
I realized that in life, in order to learn or change or grow, you have to push yourself. Despite any discomfort, you must keep going.
And as I pushed myself, I found some pretty incredible things.
My friends in the town took me on ATVs, up to one of the highest points of Lebanon. From the top, the peaks were almost touching the clouds. I saw every valley and mountain, tree and house in all of Northern Lebanon. I felt on top of the world.
I went jet skiing in the Mediterranean, hiked in the mountainous terrain as my father did when he was young and jumped off a small cliff into the Mediterranean Sea at a local beach.
In our town, the Mazraat Al Toufah, I was around some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. The boys are endearing, perfect gentlemen. The girls are caring, kind and maternal – no matter how old.
I remember one day I had a stomach virus, and my good friend Issa who lived down the street heard I was sick. I texted her from my phone in Lebanon and let her know I was under the weather. Not even five minutes later, the 18-year-old girl who I’d met only three weeks earlier was in my room, nurturing me at bedside.