Last night I spent my evening in the company of a man who I would have once called a Terrorist. I found him the most charming of men, my conceptions and preconceptions of “the way things are” was once again blasted away.
I had been invited to a house warming party near to my home, I didn’t know the people, but a friend got me to tag along with her, she told me very cautiously that she had met them at her church, although I have known my friend years she had never mentioned that she was a church goer, had she I would most likely have teased her remorselessly about it, which was exactly why she probably hadn’t done so. She asked me to come with her, she also asked me not to open my big mouth and embarrass her or talk dirty. I decided I could probably manage both for just one evening, probably.
I thought what the hell, it’s Friday night, I have nothing planned, lets go and see the nutty God squad, it will be a bit of a laugh, I can come away with my convictions endorsed, leave the party telling myself all J.C. followers are nuts and thank God that I am not one of them ( a funny turn of phrase for an Agnostic, but there you go ) .
Well, Nobody put me on the spot, I didn’t have to talk about why I don’t believe in God, I didn’t have anyone trying to save my Soul. What I did get though was a rather delicious supply of Lebanese yummies and yet again my ideas confounded.
The little flat was crammed full of people, as I entered knowing nobody I just thought, what the fuck did I agree to this for, these are not my kind of people, I took a deep breath and dived in, well, I dived for the food at least, plates of Middle-eastern food, my favourite. I chatted away, first with a feisty Polish girl, she was confrontational, sassy, attractive and had rather sexy dark eyes, I’m a simple man, I felt happy and at ease rather quickly from there.
As the evening progressed I was more and more drawn to the host, let’s call him S.
S was wheelchair bound, Lebanese, probably in his late thirties. Strongly framed and with dark expressive eyes. I found myself wanting to talk to him, I was curious about the wheelchair, why was he there, what had happened to him, what was his story. Eventually I manoeuvred myself into position and we began a conversation. S told me he was born in Beirut. He spent his youth and teenage years in Lebanon at the height of the troubles, he was recruited by Hezbollah and became a fighter, he fought against the Israelis, he fought other Lebanese factions, his whole teenage years were spent as what some people would without doubt call a terrorist. The Gun and the bomb were his toys from an early age.
He was actively a fighter, until one day somewhere close to the border of Syria and Lebanon, the taxi he was in blew up, a car bomb was detonated and he was left with a broken neck and fractured spine, paralysed.
Years of operations and rehab followed. In that time somewhere along the line he picked up a Bible. He said what he read made him realise that the war in Lebanon was not his, that there was a different way besides fighting and bloodshed. S left the Lebanon, his journey over the next decade took him to twenty four different countries, he lived in South Africa, Turkey, the US, Egypt and finally the UK, he studied international relations, has done course after course and educated himself widely.
In the U.S. he met his now wife, a US Citizen, with Iranian roots, a woman I would say that is rather beautiful, both on the inside and the out. I talked to her during the course of the evening, she told me that she had met S at a conference in California, she called up her mother the next day and said she had decided she was going to marry S, he was the one. ( He did not know it of course, but then men are never usually aware of the plans of a woman until they are ensnared! ).
S now lives in a sweet little flat just off the Harrow Road, he talks excitedly about his little garden, it’s the first he has had since living in England, he tells me that it gets the sun until late into the evening and he has lots of plans for it. I think of my own garden once beautiful but which I have left neglected and unloved and I see the contrast between us.
S’s journey has taken him from the streets of war-torn Beirut to the halls of Academia, he has travelled the World in a wheelchair, he continues to work on his paralysis, he can now stand and move with crutches, the trauma changes, he has found love and affection with a kindred spirit.
I can have little true understanding of the life S had led so far, what I can see though is a warmth emanating from him, a joy.
In the past I have looked at people in a wheelchair or who have some form of disability and on some level seen them as less than, not perfect, not “whole” not like me, I walk, I talk, I hear, I have the full compliment of functions. I have felt sorry for them, I’ve felt that they are unfortunate because they are less than.
Yesterday I met S and I heard some of his story, I realise my preconceptions of what is whole and what is perfect have been misguided. I look at this man and I no longer see a wheelchair or a disability or a less than. I see a perfect man, comfortable and at peace with himself and his world and I am humbled.