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
Despite feeling like an outsider at the beginning of my trip, I never felt so close to friends in my life. We could go out to a nightclub or stay in the village all night – either way, we shared a connection that was undeniable. Our parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on grew up together in that town. Our ancestors founded the village over 600 years ago. We had just met, but I felt like I had known them my whole life.
As I began every day outside, I saw more and more of what St. Charbel must have seen over 150 years ago. The gorgeous blue sky, shining sun, forests, valleys and stunning shorelines.
I also saw some disturbing things.
One day, my friends took me through one of the most dangerous cities of Lebanon – Tripoli – where I promised my father I’d never go.
The area is an unpredictable warzone home to many terrorists.
We only drove through it, and I observed mostly men, who were staring into our car, from my window.
“You’re naked, Lisa,” my friend said.
“What?” I responded.
“Look around you,” she said. “Women aren’t allowed to wear shorts here.”
In fact, there were barely any women outside at all. I spotted two, who were covered from head to toe in clothing. It was a scorching hot day, and I had just spent the day freely at the beach. Sun-kissed and tan in my shorts and tank top, I felt a surge of guilt. Freedom is an incredible thing.
In the past 20 years, the Lebanese government has been largely taken over by Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political group, and the country has experienced a lot of terrorism and violence – which juxtaposes the beautiful and pure Lebanon I know.
What’s worse is my smart and talented friends who are my age are struggling to get jobs. Political connections outweigh any college degree, and people aren’t making money as a result.
The Syrian War is also affecting the Lebanese economy. One in four people in Lebanon is Syrian; the country’s population of about 4 million increased by 25 percent in just two years, according to the Wall Street Journal. Syrians are fleeing the war and flooding the streets of Lebanon.
“Refugees have crowded many impoverished villages that dot the border between the two countries, while well-to-do Syrians have driven up apartment rental prices across Lebanon,” Nour Malas reported in the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 16. “And Syrians have become a major competitor in Lebanon’s medium-and-low-wage job market, creating rising resentment among locals struggling to find jobs themselves and make ends meet.”
I’ve never felt more blessed to be American.
I was overwhelmed with a new sense of gratitude, spirituality and joy. And I’m not the only person who’s been inspired by Lebanon before.
Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese artist, poet and writer, is the third-best-selling poet of all-time, according to The New Yorker. His philosophical poetry has spread wisdom to many readers.
Lebanon is even mentioned 71 times in the Bible. Psalm 92:12 in the Bible reads: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”
In my four weeks in Lebanon, I pushed myself to social, spiritual and emotional limits. I left the country on Aug. 15, the day before my 21st birthday, feeling like I had grown immensely – maybe even as tall as a cedar.
One of my last nights in Lebanon, I went with a few friends to a nightclub. There was a “one-man show” – a Lebanese singer who recites classic Arabic dance songs accompanied by a live keyboardist and drummer. The atmosphere was infectious; I didn’t even want my glass of cranberry-vodka.
I was surrounded by some of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, dancing to music that gave me chills, feeling as confident as I ever have and more appreciative of my life than I’ve ever been.
I was drunk off of Lebanon’s exquisiteness.
The boar that led the pack was only a couple feet from the road. I inched closer to the cliff.
“I’ll be fine,” I thought, looking down. “If I jump, maybe something will catch me.”
But nothing was going to catch me. Like every obstacle I faced in Lebanon, I had to figure out my way. There was no time to think; I had to keep going.
Out of nowhere, I saw a man about a quarter mile away from me, where I had just came from. He wasn’t there on my way up.
He was waving his arm toward the boars – he was a herder.
I waved to get his attention, but he didn’t notice. I wanted to run over to him or scream, but I couldn’t alarm the boars.
So I took huge, quiet walking steps toward him, the entire time asking God to help me make it to the man before the boars made it to me.
I had heard horror stories in Lebanon about people who got chased or attacked by the wild boars in the mountains.
Finally, I reached him.
Tears filled my eyes, and in Arabic I told him I was scared. I asked him for help.
“Don’t worry,” he told me in Arabic. “Just keep going.”