What I Learned Growing Up in a War Zone
My father, who is Lebanese, came to the US in the 1950s to study, and met my mother while he was in graduate school in New Jersey. Soon after they married, they moved to Lebanon for his work.
I grew up in Lebanon in the 1970s during the civil war. At the peak of the war, when I was 11, schools and homes were being bombed and snipers were shooting at anyone.
Now I live in Cary, North Carolina, and I'm able to look back on my childhood and realize that my experiences are so different from what I consider normal today. But they shaped me in many ways, and here are some things I've learned. I hope that you resonate with these as well.
We each have a purpose.
I remember the day when rockets landed in the yard next to our home. I was about 8 at that time, and as I heard each bomb explode, I wondered who had just gotten killed, what innocent child, mother, father, or friend had just died?
Was it someone I knew? Would my family and I be the next victims? Who would be missing from school the next day?
I noticed how my classmates would come to me and share their stories because I would listen to them. I realized then that I wanted to help people with their emotions, to comfort them while they were in pain, to listen to their stories.
Since we all have our own story, it's up to us to explore what that is for us. I decided at a young age to become a healer. That may have been my purpose in life as my experiences molded me to become empathic and compassionate.
It's never too late to have a happy childhood.
Since I was evacuated because of my American citizenship, I often felt guilty about having fun. I worried I was disrespecting my family who was still in Lebanon and experiencing the terrors of war. It took me years to realize that it was OK to laugh and to enjoy life.
Years later, I've connected with my extended family through Facebook, and have observed how much fun and happiness they managed to have despite the turmoil. Worrying about them and avoiding my own happiness did not change anything for them.
The only thing in life that is permanent is change.
Growing up in a war zone, I learned to adjust to whatever was going on at the time. When my school was destroyed, I came to the US with my mother and brother to finish the school year while my father worked in Lebanon. Then we went back to Lebanon and attended another school until we were evacuated a year later, coming back to a different part of the US and a new school.
These experiences gave me skills to adjust to constant change and to focus on what I need to do to move forward instead of spending a lot of energy resisting change.
I am grateful for everything I have and everyone in my life.
I now practice daily words of gratitude: I'm thankful for my family’s health, a home in a safe neighborhood, and a reliable car that takes me to a job I love. With food and water shortages that occurred during the war, I am grateful for warm showers and for the abundance of nutritious foods available to me. I keep my memories alive by making Lebanese dishes like hummus (chick pea dip) and tabouli (salad) and majadera (lentils and rice).
Resilience helps me thrive, despite adversity.
I made a choice to focus on the beauty around me, not the destruction that war creates. Even though I noticed the bullet holes and rocket shells and the sounds of bombs going off nearby, I chose to focus on the love that was around me instead, and all of the supportive people making my life as comfortable as possible. Focusing on positive thoughts and adjusting to change well, I became resilient to my surroundings, not allowing the war to control me. Having high resilience allows me to manage my stress and overlook negative events and people in my life.
I choose my words mindfully.
I will always remember a gentleman who worked with my father. In order for us to get to the airport to come to the US, we had to pass both Moslem and Christian roadblocks. We were stopped by both types of roadblocks and my father showed his ID to the Christian soldiers to keep our Moslem friend unharmed, and our Moslem friend showed the Moslem soldiers his ID to keep us safe. It wasn’t until years later that I realized he didn’t have anyone to protect him on his way back home after he dropped us off at the airport. He was a friend and risked his life for all of us. I will always be grateful for this friend and will cherish his sacrifice for us, and I don’t describe him as "just a friend," which seems to minimize the depth of the friendship.
I put materialistic things in perspective.
During the evacuation, we had to leave my mother’s antique organ in Lebanon, something she had as a child growing up in the Great Depression. All we could take with us were the memories we had. I also discovered that my aunts and uncles and grandfather’s homes became occupied and later destroyed by soldiers. It became clear to me at a young age that material things can depart as quickly as they were acquired.
Even though I am grateful for having access to things like fitness centers and malls, a variety of clothes, my own car, and even my own yoga mat, which create a sense of prosperity and comfort to me, I remind myself that they do not control me.