This weekend marks the start of May - the month of Mother Mary - the month that will see many Christian Lebanese taking to the roads by foot, walking all the way up one of Lebanon's mountains to the towering statue of the Virgin Mary at Harissa. Some will be walking all the way from Beirut (a 45-minute trip by car - and all uphill!).
I thought it a good time to conduct a pilgrimage of my own; one that would take me to the site where it all began... the place where the love that created me was sealed, where a lifelong bond was formed, where the Lebaneseness of me could start to be conceived...
Jumping off the autobus on my return from Beirut yesterday afternoon, I decided against catching a service up the mountainside to tall uncle's house, and rather put my two capable feet into action. After a gruelingly steep 15-minute walk (come on, I'm not exactly Miss Exercise!), I reached the end of my pilgrimage. Before me stood a massive white-stone building and dominating my upward gaze was a beautiful stone carving of Jesus Christ. I had reached the church of Jesu Al Malak (Christ Roi or Christ the King). This church, which can be seen from far way on the autostraat, is where my mom and dad said 'I do'. (Well, my dad contests that he's actually legally married, as he never understood a word of the nuptials!). I had only ever looked up and pointed the church out to others as we drove by far beyond on the road, saying that that's where my parents were wed, but I had never actually visited it.
Seeing the enormous staircase that I had only ever seen in Mom and Dad's photo album, I could just picture my smiling godfather uncle standing there, trying to avoid one of the women his cousin was trying to set him up with. I had to chuckle while photographing the steps. Inside looked much plainer than I remember from the albums, but in my heart it was even more wonderful than the magnificently frescoed Greek Orthodox church I had just visited in Beirut. As I walked closer to the alter, I could feel the butterflies flapping away in Mom's stomach as she neared the South African man she was about to be whisked away by; I could just imagine Dad standing there thinking how lucky he was to have met this Lebanese beauty a year previously while on vacation. And then I imagined the random thoughts that must have popped into his head while crowns were being swapped over his and Mom's heads - him not having a clue what was going on at his own wedding! I thought of Mom in the wedding dress that she hated - that had to be changed to look less frilly the day before the wedding - getting emotional when her cousin sang Ave Maria during the service.
And then I said a prayer. One of thanks for everything that resulted because of that day. For the love that has grown between two people. For the appreciation they have of each other and the way they care, love and accept. For the life they have given me, and the special siblings they provided me with. For the example they continue to set - in their faith and love of God, their long-lasting friendships, their emphasis on family, their help in their communities, their honesty, their integrity, their love for life.
I prayed that the love that bound them together that August day in 1978 will continue making them happy and growing together in peace, compassion and friendship. And I prayed that the sound of each one's laughter will always make the other one smile.
PS. Bhebkon KTIER!
From the autostraat
How much fun it must be to walk down all those stairs in your bridal gown.
Where rings were exchanged and the love was sealed.