I've thought a lot in the past few weeks about why I wanted to, felt the need to, the intense desire to, the courage to, and the confidence in myself to take on humanitarian work here in Lebanon. Was it a selfish desire? a selfless desire? I truly wasn't sure. I mean, who am I to take on such a task as caring for and teaching refugee children? Who am I to empower and educate women who have lost their homes, husbands, and watched their worlds crumble before them?
After thinking about these questions for a bit now, I don't know that I have found many answers, but I do know there are two people who I would readily point my finger at for assisting me in ever even having a chance at becoming the kind of person who would consider signing up for such an adventure.
I grew up with an extraordinary mother, she taught me everything; from the big things, like how to not pee my pants . . . to the bigger things, like how to care for people and our planet. She taught me to respect everyone, every religion, every gender, every race, every species. She taught me that the biggest and brightest religion is that of love, understanding, compassion, and respect. She taught me that all people really are created equally, and led me to ask me myself, "are not all forms of life created equally?" . . . "Is mankind inherently more important than the animals, plants, and trees? and if so, why?" She taught me if I found the answer to be yes, yes I believe my life is worth more than that of the bears, the flowers, the bees, and the trees . . . if I deem my life so valuable, I should use it in a way that makes me worthy. And in so far as what "worthy" meant - she taught me keeping a rose garden that brings beauty and joy to the lives of people passing by was as worthy as that of the President of the United States. She taught me that if I was able to make as much impact as a pebble in the in the water, creating small ripples whose furthest reaches are unknown, that, my dear, would certainly be enough.
She taught me to question things like, What makes a country a country? What makes a citizen a citizen? Are we not all, in our most human form, just a species co-existing with each other and all the other living creatures in this universe?
She decorated our home and my heart with quotes that live in me and with me every moment of every day. They, after thinking about it, have seemed to shape the person I am, or at least, the person I want to become. The ones I remember most clearly come from people like Gandhi, famously quoted as saying "Be the change you wish to see in the world" or from the anthropologist, author, and speaker Margaret Mead saying, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." or one of the slightly sillier ones being Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's writing stating that "Well behaved women rarely make history."
But perhaps the most important of all, and the one still printed on a magnet on our refrigerator at home, comes from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, it goes . . .
" . . . Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
So, Mom . . . Thank you for this life and for your love and for your immense support. You are my hero. I am beyond grateful and proud to be your daughter.
. . . But it is true that I am not just my mother's daughter. I am, as well, my brother's little sister. But the thing is, my brother never made me feel like a "sister", he never made me feel like a "girl" (as in, you run like a girl, etc.) the way some brothers seem to. Actually, he never really seemed to see my gender. In fact, just a few weeks ago, over the Christmas holiday, I walked into the kitchen where both my mother and brother were, I had a red beret on my head and a toy machine gun strapped across my chest and loudly said "Guess who I am!!" (Of course the as the younger sibling I'm always trying to get all the attention ;) My mom looked at me for a moment and said "Hmm, I don't know" . . . but my brother said confidently, "You're Che Guevara, duh." . . . then my mom said "Oh,well, I was thinking of women." But that's just it - with my brother I got to be "dude" and "fool", I got to hang out with him and his friends, I got to go out with "the boys" and party, I got shuffled a hand on poker night, and handed a beer and told to chug it while bent down on one knee. When we were kids he would send me up the stairs first if it were dark and he was afraid, he would body slam down me on the trampoline, he would take my report card and turn my A's to F's . . . and yes, maybe this doesn't sound "nice" - it wasn't supposed to be. He didn't make me "nice" (that was my mother's effort). He made me strong, he made me fight to be equal, he made me courageous and brave. He made me competitive and I don't think he ever even meant to, actually I am willing to bet, he really never meant to.
As he got older he continued to challenge me, but in different ways this time. When he decided to study Philosophy he would come to me year after year and ask me questions like, "What does being mean?" He told me to ask Why and How and Who about anything and everything. He taught me to find out more, to go deeper, to look harder. He eventually asked me so many questions that I was never able to even begin to answer that I finally said "Fuck it, fine, I will find out" and decided to attend graduate school.
In my first semester of grad school I came across a poem/prayer at the end of one of my first readings (Plato's, Phaedrus) it has become as dear to me as the quotes that adorned my mothers house while growing up. It, perhaps, is the closest thing to an answer I can find about why I am here in Lebanon, trying to educate, empower, and love these incredible women and children.
For this one I thank my brother. . .
"O beloved Pan and all ye other gods of this place, grant to me that I be made beautiful in my soul within, that all external possessions be in harmony with my inner man. May I consider the wise man rich; and may I only have such wealth as the self-restrained man can bear or endure."
So thank you, big brother, for being my Batman, and thank you for making me be your Robin.