As the US requests that American citizens leave Lebanon, Elizabeth Stephens says an emotional farewell to Beirut.
Despite everything, I’m going to miss you. Driving down the streets and zipping past all the luxury in the world juxtaposed against shell-shocked, bullet-strewn, rocket-washed buildings in varying states of inorganic demolition is somehow so quintessentially YOU and somehow so compelling, and riveting, and humbling and yes, beautiful too.
“Ma fii wasit,” a taxi driver said to me today; “there lacks a center”, an American tourist at one point repeated; “there is no soul”, I said myself just days ago. And yes, all of these things are true.
You hang on by a hair to this delicate balance of forgery and loss, trying to be better than the battery that so many years of turmoil and destruction left in their wake. And yet this is what defines you.
You are not defined precisely, nor are you defined by anything that I have the human vocabulary to name. You are defined by YOU. There is nothing like you, nor will there ever be again. You humble those that approach you and you dare newcomers to enter – beckoning, and provoking them almost, with a sense of superficial glory. But this is not you.
You are constant indecision. As indecisive about your identity as a young creature, newly born. As indecisive as the rain. And this is what you do; you are undone and born again each and every day as I am undone and born again by you and all of your dilapidated enchantments.
You are a city that reason forgot. Words like “allegiance” and “oneness” and “togetherness” don’t exist here. Instead you are a beautiful disaster, for want of a more elegant cliché. You are a monster in a dress, ceaselessly seeking redemption, or at least that is what you have made me. And as I aspire to you, I am left humbled in the end.
You are not a city easily destroyed – rather you are eternal and unflinching, forged from the fires of such endless cacophony. You bear with you countless battle scars from wars raged over you and with you and in your name. You are indestructible and I like to imagine that, from your high perch, you watch the madness with a cunning grin.
For this is what you are. Fire and ice and violence and inescapable wealth. You have lived one million lifetimes and you are reborn again and again and again. Like a desert flower – tough, strong to a fault and somehow also, like the desert flower, so delicate and disastrously complete.
You are ornate in your bullet-riddled throne and you are lavish and you are a tiger and fire and a hot desert sun and a gentle moonflower, forever in bloom. You will never be more intolerable than you are now, nor more intricately woven. You are a magic carpet of horrors and wonders and what you lack in “center” you make up for in your thick outer-skin.