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Lighting the way back home

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A week before I boarded my flight to Stanford University for my freshman year of college, I made my way to the Rafic Hariri Airport in Beirut to see my friends off, stumbling through the long goodbyes. My friends were also leaving me and the city to study abroad, the same way the city left us all — with broken hearts and open wounds. We were all about to find ourselves in different places, but we knew we wouldn’t find a home — for our home was a place that only existed before 6:07 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2020, the day of the Beirut blast. By moving to another country, we wanted to reclaim our right to hope, to dream and to look forward to something real. My worry, though, was losing the most real thing I have ever had: friendships.

Back in Lebanon, I didn’t have much trouble making friends. My friendships were built on getting breakfast with classmates at local coffee shops like Blend or Greens, on last-minute trips to Beirut, on spontaneous phone calls, on going to clubs or house parties. I remember going to one of my closest friends’ house at 7 a.m. in the morning and jumping on her bed to wake her up to start off the day. I had made sure to steal one of her hoodies, that she would later see me wear in one of my Instagram stories. Friendships were built on creating something precious to look back on. I still remember everything we shared and the dreams we hoped to achieve.

Many people want to get rid of unwanted memories, but it is what connects me to my people. I want to remember. However, there is a fine line between remembering and clinging to memories. If the only thing that ties you to a person is a memory, then it is safe to say you are holding on to nothing. It would be better to allow them to turn into a vague image that was once beautiful. It is in honor of that memory that walking away seems like the right thing to do.

I’ve made amazing friendships in Lebanon, but I’ve also lost many friends after getting into Stanford as some of them continuously threw bricks at me, never supported me and expressed pure jealousy towards me because I was successful. If my success is threatening to my friends, then I can’t consider them friends anymore. Some of them were nowhere to be found when I was at my highest point or at my lowest. I didn’t find them attending the talks I delivered for local outreach, or congratulating me when I got into Stanford. Likewise, I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole countless times, dealing with my own demons or inner conflicts, perplexed as to who I was and who I wanted to become, and regretting certain decisions when reflecting on my past. They weren’t there to listen even though I was, when they needed me the most.

To add to my pain, I didn’t want to let go of some people, no matter how much they have hurt me, no matter how much I hated myself when I was around them and what I had to go through because of them. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that just because they brought out the worst in me, doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad people. Maybe our paths were meant to cross some other time.

Imagine autumn leaves falling near your feet, as you feel the pieces of your own being falling and shattering next to them, with no one to pick them up, no one to look at them… I deserve to befriend the people who would stop mid-stride to hold my pieces instead of stepping on them.

Nevertheless, I’ve made groups of friends back home who keep me feeling warm despite any swirling rumors and war zones around us. I belong next to them and always will do. But now that we can’t walk from ABC Verdun to Zaituna Bay, hand in hand, because of the distance between us, how do we maintain these friendships? Or more importantly, how do we make sure the friendship is worth being maintained?

In order for long-distance relationships to work, people have to find the right balance of giving each other space but also communicating enough to preserve the bond. My friends are miles away from me, with a time difference that goes up to eleven hours. As much as I’d like to say things haven’t changed, these words can’t get past my lips. 

We can’t call each other at random times anymore. We have to wait to fill each other in on our latest drama, which sometimes means that we may have to postpone the talk way too many times so that it becomes irrelevant. So, it’s important to dedicate time to call each other and hold conversations that go from sharing our breakfast meals to how our emotional well-being is evolving as college life progresses. 

However, the effort isn’t meant to be a stumbling block: effort can be motivational when the end goal looks as magical as a dream. Time and space were malleable. We would travel in time and space for all we had given each other and received from each other. I would stay up until 3 a.m. to video call the people who know which smiles I am faking. In fact, I would be motivated to finish all my work during the day, so I could treat this call as a reward. 3 a.m. was just a number on the clock. 

The genuine effort, though, is what I value the most. When I write a new article, succeed in a certain field or achieve a new milestone, I want my friends to be happy for me, be proud of me and be able to push me harder towards my best self.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that friendships shouldn’t complete you. You are your own whole person. I am not the expert who is qualified to tell you how to live your life, but I’ve learned a lot about friendships and relationships and still am learning a lot.

As a person who watched her city fall apart before her eyes, I am still learning to navigate Stanford, the thoughts and people that come along the way. There is nothing more reassuring than knowing that no matter how many times I fall, how hard I fall and on what I fall, there are people who will catch me, hold me and walk with me until I get back safe, wherever I go. Moments, hours, days and weeks later, they ask me how I’ve been and how I feel. If I can’t speak, they know how to read my silence’s alphabet. They know how to say and do the right things. 

As I lost bonds I thought were meant to last forever, I also reconnected with friends back home to whom I haven’t talked in a long time. Connecting and reconnecting are healing to my heart. I gave myself some time and space to understand that losing and gaining friends was normal. I had the right to begin meeting new people who would be evergreen and leave them as soon as their colors fade.

This morning, I just called one of my best friends, talked to her in Arabic about Lebanon and the hope of coming back. For a moment, it felt like we were together inhaling the air in our city, Saida. She misses it, too.

There is nothing more beautiful than friendships that last for growing seasons, lighting up my way back to the place where I belong… home.

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Contact Gheed at grind 'at' stanforddaily.com.