Surviving survivor’s guilt

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I am a daughter, a sister, a student, a friend, a classmate. However, before all, I am a citizen. A citizen with survivor guilt like most of the Lebanese population. Why are they gone and I am still here, on the face of the earth, enjoying the little and big pleasures of life? I am happy to be alive, but perplexed, puzzled and peaceless all at once. All these feelings hit to the core, like darts aiming at the red center of the board, and as I keep my calm, my inner voice cries, from this seemingly undefeatable question: “Why am I alive?” Alive when the three-year-old girl closed her eyes for the last time. Alive when the 15-year-old teenager fights for two weeks for his clinging life, hanging by the frail thread of hope. Alive when the twins lost their mother’s embrace forever on a Tuesday afternoon. Alive when my loved ones were stitched as their houses collapsed until nothing was left to be lived in. Alive when I’m feeling death creeping into the cracks of my emotional wounds. 

Coming to Stanford, I was certain that it was the first step to the journey of pursuing healing and resilience, and as the time passed, I feel like this place has been a therapeutic cocoon for an aching soul like mine. I was certain that the fear of another explosion and the splintering of glass would just become another event that drastically affected me in the past. I was wrong, tremendously wrong because I did not estimate the magnitude of living a near-death experience and not dying, at least not physically. 

On Nov. 4, I thought that the Beirut blast returned to haunt me, or it did haunt me all along as I unscrupulously attempted to ignore it. As my friends and I were driving on the freeway that leads to San Francisco from Palo Alto, I was seated in the left side of the backseat, as Stanford fatigue hit my body. Almost eight weeks out of 10 of intensive yet passionate work was nowhere near easy, but I was humbled to obtain such an education. My thoughts were drifting toward the research-based paper that I had submitted that morning which tackled the topic of finding happiness following the apocalyptic Beirut explosion, and precisely, how rebuilding broken homes and mending destruction would be a means to simultaneously rebuild happiness. The complexity and deepness of the topic distracted me. 

Suddenly, we heard an extremely lound sound, not as deafening as the explosion, but at that point, I would compare everything to that day. That’s when the window shattered into bits and pieces, under the impact of an unknown trigger. My head was laying on my friend’s knees as the glass made its way into my back, and on the inside of my shirt and my boots. At that moment, everything was blurry except for the sound of alarms that I recalled from the time of the explosion, as my mind took me back to the moment we ran on the splintered glass to find a ride, in the fear of another explosion. “It’s an explosion, please help” is the first sentence I cried as I was losing my breath, anxiously refreshing my phone for a news report on a certain incident. Nothing popped on my phone. 

The driver pulled up on the side of the road as I called my family to tell them what happened. I couldn’t speak properly, catching my breath every three seconds and failing to articulate my words that were engulfed by tears and sniffles. The window was long gone, but my trauma was not. It was still perfectly there, waiting for the perfect opportunity to remind me that you cannot bury your scars because they become part of the definition of your own self. As I came back to my senses and hid my head in my friend’s white jacket, the driver explained that it was only a big rock that fell from a transportation truck and punctured our car. Thankfully, my body was tilted to the opposite side, or else the glass would’ve showered my being from head to toe. 

As the car dropped us off at Pier 39, I couldn’t help but look at the beauty of the sea and think to myself: Why am I alive and living a dream when hundreds of people were innocently taken away? Why couldn’t they continue to live or keep pursuing their goal in life? Why did a ticking bomb save me, but not them? I didn’t have answers, except for the soothing sound of the waves, trying to tell me that it will be alright eventually. For a split second, Pier 39 was the old Beirut Port: energetic, radiant and sunny. I promised myself that I would make peace with my scars and learn to embrace their imperfection because these scars map our souls and label us as human. Staring at the horizon and standing on the dock, I could almost see the tip of the Port of Beirut, or at least, that is what I wanted to think. However, when I closed my eyes to feel its presence even more deeply, everything went dark … there was no port, no sight of life beneath the water, it felt empty, empty because everything was gone in a split second. I opened my eyes again as a boat was departing from the dock, basting a loud alarm that could remind me of the old port. Departing slowly but surely, the boat left a white foam behind, tracing its journey toward the sun, as if it was inviting me to follow the path to hope.


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Tiffany Saade is a staff writer in the news and The Grind sections. She is a freshman from Beirut, Lebanon and will probably major in Political Science in the Justice and Law main track with a double minor in Human Rights and Creative Writing. She enjoys riding her yellow bike and singing out loud on Stanford campus! Contact her at thegrind 'at' stanforddaily.com for additional optimistic conversations about the future, and for some much needed light!