As I Sit Here Waiting For My Flight To Go Home

As I sit here waiting for my flight to board, a rush of thoughts storms my mind. I'm thinking how great it is to be heading “home,” my childhood home, the place where I grew up. It's been exactly a year and four months since I last visited, a year and four months that I haven't seen my two brothers, and thus this trip is a year and four months overdue. My parents spent a fair amount of time with me in Beirut last year, but they returned to Southern California a while back. I miss them, too.

It's no easy voyage: a 5.5-hour stretch to London Heathrow, a couple hours of layover, and then a connecting 11-hour flight to Los Angeles. Between baggage check-in, security checks, actual air time, customs, and baggage claim, it's a daylong exertion. 24 hours devoid of sleep and in its stead, back-to-back movies, less-than-mediocre flight meals, discomforted babies, and desiccating cabin pressure. But it's a small price to pay for what awaits me in the arrival hall of LAX.

I can't help but contemplate how three years of residence in Beirut have passed by in a blur. The dream of settling in Lebanon I'd nurtured since my adolescence, when I was old enough to appreciate extended family, the culture and language of my parents, and the chaleur of the people residing along these Mediterranean shores.

It was a dream I inherited from my mother, who 30 years ago made the same voyage I'm making today when she married my father and transplanted herself across the world to be with him. She and my father established a beautiful home where they brought us into this world and raised us with the utmost care and devotion. But my mother never did acclimate to the foreign lifestyle. To her, it was a temporary fix until the civil war subsided in Lebanon, when she could bundle us up and carry us back to the motherland. She suffered as months morphed into years, years into decades, still with her heart in a place where she was not, and only the summer months to provide some relief on annual trips to Beirut.

Yet that move never came. Lebanon never did return to its prewar condition. Relatives drifted apart; extended family disbanded into isolated nuclear units; and love seemed to harden in the space and time of my mother's absence. But those values never faded--she preserved them and passed them on to us. I clung to them fiercely and relentlessly, promising myself I'd realize what she had been unable to. In so doing, I would be the anchor that would pull my family back to Lebanon.

Over the past three years, my mother and father have made the exhausting trek back and forth, from homeland to motherland, motherland to homeland. They split their time between me and my brothers. In effect, we all continue to be suspended between two realities. You can never really shut out a part of who you are or were--I will always be the American to my Lebanese friends and colleagues, and I am forever Lebanese to my American compatriots. With my Californian accent long faded away, I am of the international English vernacular, and the unacquainted will have a ball trying to pin my origins.

At length, did I succeed in realizing my childhood reverie of living in Lebanon? Absolutely. Did I honor my mother's will to re-root the family in our country of heritage? Partially. Did this move bring closure and self-fulfillment? It never can. That is the bane--or blessing--of being a child of several cultures. Your identity is dynamic, forever transforming in unison with your surroundings. You have to learn to embrace it. You have to be where you are and nowhere else. Otherwise, living becomes insufferable.

And so here I am, sitting inside Beirut’s international terminal. These airport walls have seen my mother's streaming tears on countless occasions. But today, they witness my soft smile. And on my return, they will witness that smile again. Why do I smile? It’s because I have learned how to cope. I have learned how to straddle two cultures without feeling uprooted or displaced. Ultimately, you can say I have learned how to live.

Photo credit: http://flightaz.com

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