It’s my first visit to Beirut, and though I’ve been in the region before, it’s my first time returning since the conflict in Syria. Hearing stories of displacement, violence, fear and destruction made for a good but heavy day. I was full of such thoughts, wondering how one could possibly offer any word of hope, encouragement, or life in the midst of so much that reeks of death and despair, when a bit of something resembling hope came from an unlikely encounter.
I had returned to the restaurant where we ate the night before – wanting to try the artichoke salad that I had turned down in favor of wild mushroom risotto (yes, I love my food). The same waiter was there – the same waiter I had asked the night before for his recommendation between the two. “I had to come back to try the artichoke salad,” I explained. “I knew you would,” was his response.
As I ate, I tried to sort through the many difficult stories we had heard during the day – stories much more complicated than what we seem to hear on American media sources. I wasn’t surprised by this, but I was troubled with all that we had learned in such a short time.
As I asked for the check I couldn’t help it – I needed to know. So, I asked my waiter what he thought of the situation in Syria. “Well, I’m not a political person,” he began – and then shared one of the more beautiful explanations I had heard yet.
“We Lebanese, we just want to dance and to love and to live our lives,” he began. “We don’t want war – we’ve had enough of that already,” he continued.
He explained to me that, though he was a Muslim, those people who were resorting to violence, hatred, and destruction did not speak for him. In fact, he wondered if they really were Muslims at all, since their actions and their stands are so counter to the Islam that he knows and follows. I knew what he meant immediately, as I realized how often I, a Christian, want to distance myself from those who call themselves Christians but whose actions of hatred, killing, and violence do not represent the Christ whose love I aim to bear witness to in the world.
But he also admitted that peace, in his estimation, would not come easily or quickly. Though he and those he knows prefer to live in peace – even with the state of Israel – a state which will not allow Lebanese to enter, and a state whose citizens cannot enter Lebanon – he realizes that not all Lebanese are ready to accept such a view.
I wish now I had recorded our conversation – his responses were beautiful and life giving in the midst of so much conflict, so much violence, so much fear and mistrust.
“We know that peace will not come soon,” he continued. “Maybe not for ten years or even ten years more – but there will be peace. And, in the meantime, we are the ones to work to build the peace in this world.”
Amen. May it be so. And thanks be to God for the gift of this chance conversation – a bit of unexpected grace.