Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gifts That Really Matter

As the holiday season approaches, we see more quotes and posts about gifts, Santa Claus and Christmas lists. One that caught my attention lately says, “I think as you grow older, your Christmas list gets smaller and the things you really want for the holidays can’t be bought.” Reading this quote made me think how my Christmas lists have changed over the years.

Like any child, I loved dolls and soft toys but I had only a few as my parents could not afford to indulge me with presents. We were five kids and my dad’s job was not going well at the time. What mattered most to my parents was for us to be well educated and well fed. Dolls and toys were never a priority for them, even for Christmas. During my impressionable childhood, this was somehow upsetting to me. But now I have the perspective of a few years, and when I reconsider the situation, how much did I miss? Not much at all. On the contrary, having only what was strictly necessary made me appreciate more what was really important in life and motivated me to work harder and improve my status.
“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” ―Denis Waitley
I was 11 when the civil war started in my country. The surrounded violence turned me from a joyful extroverted child to an introverted teenager. I loved reading, drawing, listening to music and watching movies. The gifts that I enjoyed most were music tapes and CDs. I never had any interest in fancy gifts, and that never changed in me. In fact, I recall an incident in one of my wedding anniversaries; my husband surprised me with an expensive piece of jewelry. But he was disappointed upon seeing my facial reaction when I opened the gift. At that time, I wished that he had bought me Time Traveler, a set of five CDs by the Moody Blues that I had seen earlier with him. He knew how much I loved this band and how much I cherish such gifts. 

The years went by, and the thing I wanted most was to have a child. But this was not an easy task for me. Ironically, the only tests I ever failed in my life were pregnancy tests. But I never gave up. Deep down inside, I knew I would have my own kids. Finally, after 20 years of childless marriage, seven IVF trials, loads of medicines and injections, and three miscarriages I had beautiful twins, one of each gender.
“Everything you need will come to you at the perfect time.” ―Unknown
Since the day they were born, my twins were pampered with expensive presents by family members and friends. But what amazes me most is that my four-year-old kids are more interested in some unusual gifts that they can buy from a vending machine in a local store, made of very small plastic boxes that cost almost nothing, each of which contains each a small toy. My daughter and son are always fascinated by these tiny gifts, which may contain fake jewelry, colorful bouncing balls, tiny cars or some build-it-yourself toys. This reminds me that the joy brought by any gift has nothing to do with its size or material value; it’s only the pleasure of unfolding it and discovering what is inside that matters most.
“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.” ― Boris Pasternak
Almost two years ago, my father died at the age of 94. He left behind some great stories and memories. When I visit my parents’ house, I always expect him to appear from behind, but he doesn't. There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone we love, and why even make the attempt? Our memories and gratitude are our precious gifts that can fill the emptiness created by the loss of our loved ones and transform the pain of their loss into acceptance. 

Thus, the gifts that I appreciate most are the ones that are useful in my life—that is:
  • Love, to give and receive abundantly.
  • Peace, to be able to live freely and with dignity.
  • Time, to live and love the way it matters to me. 
“Everything I know, I know because of love.” ― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

* I would like to thank my friend Richard Pennington for his most valuable comments!
* Corel Drawing by Hoda Maalouf 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Precious Dreams are Never for Sale

The Painting

My father was always a big dreamer. One of his dreams was to find hidden treasures, priceless antiques and pieces of art. He was very much influenced by his father who had an intriguing life. Grandfather worked for Baron Max Von Oppenheim (1860−1946). He was engaged as Oppenheim’s secretary for most of his expeditions in the Near East region. He wrote detailed journals about the Bedouin tribes they encountered, the excavations they undertook and the ancient scripts they copied by hand. Fascinated by his father’s stories and voyages, Dad had big plans for every one of us, including himself.
“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of Dad’s greatest findings was an old oil painting that featured a noble man and was signed “Titian.” Dad bought the painting from a junk shop that obviously did not know its real value. He brought his treasure home and showed it to us in a religious way. The painting was in a dreadful situation with lots of cracks in the canvas; it was almost falling apart.

Back then, in the late 1980s, there was no Internet or Google, so Dad searched hard for books about Titian (14901576), an Italian master painter. But he could only find one that briefly described his work, depicting just a couple of his paintings. This kept us puzzled for a quite some time especially since the “painting” was done in a similar artistic style. Dad also asked some experts who were supposed to know about old paintings. They all confirmed its old age, but none seemed to have seen it before in books or elsewhere.

As no one could verify that the painting was authentic, Dad decided to preserve his treasure, hiding it in a safe place, waiting for the right moment to reveal it. Sadly, it was my duty to kill my dad’s dreams and tell him the bad news that it was just a replica.
“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” – Langston Hughes
In 1999, I went to Austria to visit a good friend and spent two weeks in Vienna and Salzburg. While in Vienna, I visited most of its museums and in particular the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I have always been a big fan of Vincent Van Gogh, so I looked at the map to find how to reach the impressionists’ rooms. I followed the map, and in the first hall I entered, there stood my Dad’s famous painting! My heart stopped beating for a while. I sat on a bench and stared for half an hour at that magnificent drawing, very similar to the one at home, with the same colors and the same size. Simply the same, only it’s in a better condition. Tears came to my eyes while thinking about Dad’s crumbling hopes. Why did it have to be me to break his heart!

Afterward, I went to see Van Gogh’s paintings but could not concentrate or enjoy them. My mind was still there in Titian’s room. I went back to that hall, sat and looked at the “Portrait of Jacopo Strada. (Strada was an Italian contemporary of Titian’s, a painter, goldsmith, architect, inventor and linguist.) Then I bought a book about Titian from the museum where Dad’s painting is depicted, and took it home with me.

A year later, Dad offered me the painting as a gift when my husband and I moved to our new home. I took the old replica to a restoration artist who worked beautifully on it and brought it back to its splendor. The restored painting—so what if it’s a replica?—was very popular in the artist’s shop, and many customers offered to buy it. My answer was an emphatic NO. My dad’s dream was not for sale. This painting which now grandly hangs on the wall of our home is a constant reminder of Dad and a good lesson that without our dreams and hopes, we lose the excitement of possibilities.
“I prefer to be a dreamer among the humblest, with visions to be realized, than lord among those without dreams and desires.” – Khalil Gibran

Monday, October 21, 2013

Memories Die Hard

Couple of months ago, I read an interesting post entitled “Leaders Know When It’s a Good Day to Die Hard” by a friend, Dan Forbes, founder of the Lead with Giants Community of which I am a member. When I commented on the post, I mentioned that I remembered only watching the first movie of the “Die Hard” series, although I might have watched a couple of them. I was able to recall the first of the series probably because it reminded me of a story that happened back in 1975 when I was just 11 years of age.
“Memory…is the diary that we all carry about with us.” ― Oscar Wilde
The war started very close to home. I was born and raised in the east suburbs of Beirut with a majority-Christian population and where right-wing political parties and militias dominated on the ground. Less than 1 kilometer away from home, there was a small zone where a group of people from other political inclinations, religions and nationalities lived. Naturally, when the conflicts started in the heart of Beirut, other regions of the country soon had their own daily frictions among different conflicting groups. This also happened in what had been considered “my safe neighborhood.”

When the violence erupted around that mixed zone, the local right-wing militia decided to put an end to it and to cleanse from that spot anyone considered alien to the region. A fierce artillery fight started. It was the first time in my life I had ever heard such loud, scary noises. At home, mum, dad, and my brothers and sisters were all agitated and did not know where to hide or what to do. Since our house was full of windows, it had always been considered a healthy place to live with the sun infiltrating it from all directions. But it suddenly became hazardous because of the risk of getting hurt from the broken windows and shattering debris incoming from all directions.

The battle to take over that spot lasted only a couple of days. When we heard the good news, we thought, perhaps naively, that “finally” the violence was at an end. But what we didn’t know was that some of the defeated militias had managed to run away from the spot, were hiding in neighboring homes and were taking hostages. That’s what happened to our peaceful neighbors living in a building just 50 meters away. Four heavily armed gunmen entered their building, and took them hostages along with all the other residents of that building. They were forced to go to the top floor. Then the gunmen started to shoot, targeting the surrounding buildings. When we heard the very close shooting, we all ran to hide in the corridors, the safest places in our house. The local militia could not attack the building because of the taken hostages, so they decided to force their release by using a horrid technique that I can never ever forget
“The mind replays what the heart can't delete”―Unknown
A lineup of approximately 50 captured men, of all ages, passed in front of our house down the road until they reached a big, long perpendicular wall, which was used as a fence for a neighboring convent and home for the elderly. Among those poor people being led at gunpoint, there was one man who shouted dad’s name when he passed by our house, begging dad to save his life. I recognized his voice; he was an old man who used to sell us fresh oranges from his garden. Without a second thought, dad reacted to help the peasant by asking one of the militia guys to release him because he was a peaceful person and we would shelter him at home. The guy shouted angrily at dad, telling him to go inside and not get involved.
"To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose one’s self." ― Soren Kierkegaard
All the captured men were forced to stand against the long wall. Using loud speakers, the local militias ordered the four gunmen to release their hostages. Otherwise, they would shoot the captured men one after the other. Shortly after that we heard a lot of screams and firing of guns. Horrified with all that was happening, I started to cry, taking refuge next to mum and dad. Finally, the gunmen ended up by surrendering. We later learned that none of the hostages or the captured men was killed, as the militias were only hitting some of the younger ones and firing in the air. A tentative peace came back to our neighborhood, and, what we thought was the end of the violence was actually just a truce preceding a long civil war.

Memories die hard when our innocence has been hurt so deeply. Those stored memories from 1975 come to my mind again and again, reminding me of the horrors of war. Being exposed to such situations, in spite of the atrocities involved, taught me some good lessons in life and how to behave when emergency strikes. Such lessons are that:
  • We must resist the urge to respond to aggression with more of the same. If not there is a big risk of unintended casualties.
  • We need to have the courage to take risks and speak up for what we believe in. "It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all." ― William James
  • Even in extreme situations,we need to retain our essential humanity and aim to support others rather than spectating on them. "Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do." ― H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
  • Family support and love are very important. Love gives us courage to overcome fear and the giving and receiving of support strengthens our resilience even in extreme situations.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer…. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”― Frank Herbert

* I would like to thank my friends David Hain and Richard Pennington for their most valuable comments!
* Drawing & Collage by Hoda Maalouf 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Is there an extra couch for the night?

This morning, while we were driving up to my native village on a very brisk zigzag country road, I saw a middle-aged woman standing on the side of the road waving. She was hitchhiking. My husband, who was driving our car, kept going while I urged him to stop and give the woman a ride. He argued that the car was full with five people in it, and we didn’t know the lady. My answer was if I put one of the kids on my lap there would be space for her. Furthermore, I had no problem with the idea of offering a ride to a total stranger.
“The best portion of a good man's life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” ―William Wordsworth
This little episode triggered another story from my past. I was born and raised in a two-bedroom flat in a suburb of Beirut. Although our flat could barely accommodate seven people—in addition to mum and dad I have two brothers and two sisters—we managed to squeeze in with no complaints. There were two bedrooms and two sofa beds in the living room. Dad slept on one of them and the second was kept for any unexpected guest. In fact, this extra sofa bed was not only used by friends and relatives, but also by some guests whom we hardly knew.

The civil war in my country affected all its parts but not concurrently. The violence moved in a random fashion from one place to another, where conflicting militias, even former allies, fought each other. So sometimes, our neighborhood was slightly safer than other parts of the country and sometimes not depending on who was fighting whom. During what might be called our off-violence periods, our neighborhood was flooded with people seeking shelter with relatives and friends. Our extra sofa bed, as you might have predicted, was used a multitude of times for that purpose.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” ―Mother Teresa

I appreciated why we offered a safe place to our relatives and friends, but I was too young to understand why we would do so to strangers. My parents explained that duty compelled us to do it because these “guests” were related to our neighbors and there were not enough sleeping spots for them in one place so they had to sleep where they could. What if we were on the run in a strange neighborhood—wouldn’t we hope somebody would take us in for the night?

One time, my sister who taught at a school 20 kilometers away from home got stuck in her school because of fighting that suddenly erupted between two formerly allied militias. When my parents ascertained how dangerous it would be to cross these newly erupted frontlines, they conferred with our neighbors to check the availability of any shelter for my sister and found her a place in the house of the relatives of one of our neighbors where she stayed a couple of days until the road re-opened and was safe for her to come back home. 

“Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.” ― Iris Murdoch

The possibility of being in a situation where we might need to give a helping hand to someone we know—or don’t know—might arise at any time in our lives. Civil wars do not happen that often, nor do natural disasters, but personal conflicts and accidents could happen anytime and to anyone. So before saying no to that request for help, always keep in mind that:

  • Your son or daughter could be standing on that office door seeking help or advice from someone they hardly know.
  • There is no safe roof above any one’s head; no one is untouchable and you might need to sleep one day on someone else’s extra couch, or your car could break down in the middle of nowhere and you might need to ask a total stranger for a ride. 
  • An act of kindness is never wasted because it remains in the hearts of all involved, and spreads from one to another, creating a long chain of love.
  • Even if you have little to give, you still have the power to change someone’s life by simply offering a gracious smile, a kind word, a listening ear, a helping hand, a piece of your heart.
“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.” ― Dalai Lama

Picture by Hoda Maalouf
Thank you RAP for your valuable comments! 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

She who Kept me Going

My story is about an unusual journey that happened in August 1989. It started with a telephone call from my fiancé who was studying in London to let me know that I had been awarded a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in the UK. Having the scholarship in hand, I went to the British Embassy to get my visa. But I was informed that there were no visas because all the diplomats had fled Lebanon; I was directed to go to either Cyprus or Jordan to get it. 

Since Beirut Airport and various sea ports were essentially closed due to the chaos of Lebanon’s civil war, my best option to get a visa was to travel by car to Damascus and from there take a plane to Cyprus, where existed the nearest British embassy.
The roads from Beirut to Damascus were in no better condition because of the shelling and the risk of kidnapping. For that reason, very few taxi drivers dared to undertake that 84-kilometer trip to Damascus. But I managed to find one driver who agreed to take me at 4 a.m. the next day. It was the safest time to travel as combatants usually had a couple of hours of truce around 4 am.

At home, Dad was very reluctant for me to leave under such dangerous conditions. But Mum opposed him and said decisively: “Let her go. Let one of us survives this war.” When I heard her say that, I hesitated to leave, but Mum insisted and said, “You have a great opportunity you can’t miss. Go and don’t look back.”
Unfortunately, the evening before my departure was a very bad night of heavy artillery shelling. After I finished preparing my luggage, I waited anxiously in the corridor—the safest place in our home—together with Mum and Dad. Toward 3 a.m., the bombing stopped and I managed to snooze for an hour until I heard a frenzied honk at our front door. The driver had arrived to take me to Damascus!

My God, how could I travel after such a horrible night? But since there were rumors that the road to Damascus would be totally closed, I had to depart that morning. I left in such a hurry that I could not even say goodbye to my brothers and sisters who were hiding in a neighboring shelter.

The road to Damascus was deadly calm, no one on the streets, just our mad taxi driver, me and Dad who decided to escort me to Damascus to ensure my safety up to the border. We crossed several checkpoints where the soldiers were half asleep. They checked the car, and since there were no young men on board they let us pass. The driver was in such a hurry to reach the Syrian border that he was driving extremely fast, and we nearly had a fatal car crash.

“If you're going through hell, keep going.”  Winston Churchill

We reached Damascus early in the morning and I stayed with my aunt who happened to live there. A week later, my fiancé flew in from London. We got married very quickly in a small church and then traveled to Cyprus a week later for a honeymoon of sorts. We remained there for almost two weeks until my visa was approved. It normally takes 5 hours to travel from Beirut to London, but it took me 30 days to get there in 1989.

We reached London penniless as we spent all our money on that long journey and my scholarship was due one week later. The first day we were there, we went for a walk in Fulham Road. While walking, a summer breeze lifted some tree leaves from the sidewalk together with a twenty-pound note that got stuck on my foot. I could not believe my eyes! What was the source of the money? I really don’t know, but this piece of money had come out of the blue when we most needed a penny. It triggered in my mind the idea that I was never alone since the day I left home and went to London. I can even think and argue that probably I had never been alone since much earlier—probably from the day I was born.

As a result of this journey, an important chapter in my life started. And it simply would not have happened had Mum not pushed me to go for it. Mum was and still is my guardian angel and my main inspirer. She taught me to remain positive, to never give up, and to work hard and see opportunities in every difficulty I might face.
“Our journey is filled with never ending struggles, we must meet them with an open heart.” ―Lolly Daskal

Picture by Christelle Rahme

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Socializing and Circling People

I grew up in the suburbs of Beirut at a time when all the neighbors knew each others, women had early morning coffee together, men played backgammon during their leisure time and, kids played freely in the alleys after school. Growing up in such a relaxed social environment nurtured my socializing habits which started at the very early age of six. At that age, I loved watching TV. Unfortunately, we did not have a television set at home until I was nine. My father believed that TV was a bad influence on us during school days so we only had a TV set in our village home, where we used to spend our summer vacations.

In spite of my dad’s restrictions, I managed to watch my favorite programs all year long. To do that, I selected a couple of people from my neighborhood who shared my “passion” for TV. I can remember “Imm George”, an old lady who I visited twice a week so we could watch local sitcoms that we both loved so much. And then there was “Hasmik,” a young Armenian woman in her twenties and mother of a little baby girl; I sometimes served as a babysitter for her. Hasmik and I watched soaps and dramas on TV. And my passion for action and thriller programs was satisfied with my best friend from childhood, “Naji.” He was one year older than I and my second-in-command when organizing parties, monitoring games and solving conflicts among the local kids.

As I managed to wisely allocate my time without affecting my school results or abusing the kindness of any of our neighbors, my parents found no harm with my strange socializing habits. Finally, Dad gave up on his theory of TV blackout and bought us a television set, which was great news for me but not for my TV buddies who kept reminiscing about our shared evenings and insisted on inviting me to their homes long after my childhood years had passed.

“In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” − Charles Darwin

My passion for watching TV continued until the beginning of the Internet era. A new technology was born, and a new passion has blossomed in me. I started actively using the Internet around the year 2000, connecting with my old friends scattered around the world. Then, I realized that I was not taking full advantage of the web. So I decided to infuse my name in a pen pal database to connect with more people and find new friends. Although I got many replies that were mostly useless, I managed to build, as a result of that venture, some very good friendships that have endured.

Being a faithful advocate for social media, I can’t overlook the many “non-believers” and their skeptical view that no real friendship can ever blossom out of social media connections. I, on the contrary, believe that having the opportunity to think before we speak gives us a much better chance to have a useful dialog, and to help overcome our buried fear of rejection and adverse scrutiny.

Another criticism I have heard a multitude of times is the impossibility of having a large number of friends in real life—so how would this be possible in the virtual world? Well my answer is that it is actually more feasible on the web to have a large number of friends than in real life, because the whole world is within our reach and is full of people who share our interests. Moreover, for friendship-thirsty souls, it is absolutely necessary in this disconnected world to be fully connected through the web because it brings similar people together no matter their location or time zone.

“Social media spark a revelation that we, the people, have a voice, and through the democratization of content and ideas we can once again unite around common passions, inspire movements, and ignite change.”
― Brian Solis

I like Facebook because it allows me to connect with friends and family. I love Twitter, since it generates a never-ending stream of information, to pick, filter, process and store, nurturing my everlasting love for new information and connections. But, I must admit, my real passion goes to Google+ because it embodies brilliantly the concept of communities and brings back to me my old childhood habits of socializing and circling people.

My passion for social media will continue to grow because it allows me to open my heart and mind, to connect and learn, to love and support − hence to be myself. I will end this post with a message to all non-believers of social media:

“How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?” −Seth Godin

Thank You RAP for your valuable Comments!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Lost & Found Treasures, and Stories from the Past

I am writing this post to honor the memory of my father William and grandfather Elias. Dad passed away two years ago at the age of 94. He was fascinated by his father who sadly died in the 1920s when Dad was just a little kid. He used to tell us stories about my grandfather’s expeditions to neighboring countries with a German explorer to excavate ancient ruins and historical treasures. These stories were so intriguing that I wondered many times whether they were real or simply exaggerated by Dad due to the emotional attachment he had to his father.

“The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” ― Czesław Miłosz

Five years ago, when I was working in my office at the university a German doctoral student introduced himself as Wolf and asked for five minutes of my time to fill in a questionnaire. After answering his numerous questions, I asked the young man whether he knew any Arabic. His answer was that he was learning it so that he could complete his research in Oriental studies. Then I said promptly, “Oh my grandpa worked with a German Orientalist many years back.” When he asked me about his name, I paused and said, “I think it was Oppenheim.” But when I saw the reaction on Wolf’s face, I called Dad to get the correct name of the German explorer. It was: Max von Oppenheim. He gave me a look of astonishment and said, “Do you know that they are rebuilding Oppenheim’s museum in Germany right now, and I know the two main researchers in charge of this project?”

Wolf then took my e-mail address and the name of my grandfather, and promised to ask these two German researchers to contact me. When I told Dad about what happened in my office, he became very excited to hear some new stories about his long-gone father. Unfortunately, no one contacted me from Germany to the dismay of Dad who kept checking with me on the subject matter until the end of his days.

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”  ― Kevin Arnold

One day, couple of months after my father passed away, and while I was doing routine work in my office, I received an e-mail entitled “Re: Elias Malouf.” My heart almost stopped beating: This was the long-awaited e-mail.  It reads as follows:

“Dear Ms. Maalouf,

Two years ago Wolf-Hagen VA, University of Cologne, was so kind forwarding your E-Mail-address to us. I am sorry that it took so much time getting in contact with you, but my colleague and I were so busy with preparing an exhibition that we neglected answering sooner.

But let me start from the beginning: Elias, your grandfather, worked for Baron Max von Oppenheim (1860−1946). He was engaged as secretary for most of his expeditions. He wrote detailed journals about the encountered Bedouin tribes and the excavations, and hand-copied ancient scripts by drawing them (see enclosed picture).

In 1899, Baron Max von Oppenheim embarked on an expedition that took him to the head waters of the river Khabur. At the tent camp of Ibrahim Pasha, he heard about strange basalt sculptures—half man, half animal—that instantly caught his attention. When he arrived at Tell Halaf shortly afterwards, Oppenheim was not yet aware of the fact that he had stumbled upon the remains of an Aramaic royal palace.

Released from diplomatic service at his own request in 1910, Oppenheim henceforth devoted himself to studying Bedouin culture and exploring Tell Halaf. Initially his spectacular finds were to be displayed at the Pergamon Museum, but when negotiations with the National Museums in Berlin failed, Oppenheim decided to create his own museum. Despite inflation and the economic crisis, he managed to open the private museum on his 70th birthday, 15 July 1930. On 23 November 1943, the Tell Halaf Museum was hit and set ablaze by an aerial bomb. The remainders of the Oppenheim-collection were recovered after the end of the war. But the 27,000 fragments were deemed beyond restoration and it was not before 1993 when preparations to relocate the material led to another viewing and at last to the founding of the Tell Halaf restoration project.

Almost seventy years had to pass for the monumental gods, lions and fabulous beasts to shine anew in splendor. Their discoverer, Baron Max von Oppenheim, had been confident until his death in 1946 that one day they would rise again "like a phoenix from the ashes."

“The past is never dead, it is not even past.”  ― William Faulkner

I am grateful to Dr. Cholidis for giving me this priceless information about Max von Oppenheim and my grandfather, but regret not having received it couple of months earlier simply to show it to my father. I also felt ashamed of thmany times I had doubted Dad’s stories because I thought he had mistaken his imagination for his memories.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”  ― Thomas Campbell

Each day, people and events surrounding us make an impact on our lives but we can never tell which story our brain will pick and store away among its treasured things. Leaving it up to our memory alone, imagination and facts can fuse together, making it difficult sometimes to know what really happened and what did not. Similar to how Dr. Cholidis’ e-mail rectified facts for me, I have written this article as a diary that I will keep for my children so they need not question my credibility the day I tell them the story of the fabulous expeditions of Max von Oppenheim and their great-grandfather Elias Malouf.

“Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.”  ― Barbara Kingsolver

Enclosed photos are taken from the digital database Arachne which includes the Oppenheim photos.  
PS Maalouf and Malouf refer to the same surname.
Thank You RAP for your valuable Comments!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Success or Failure: It’s a Relative Matter

We celebrated the Dean’s list ceremony at my university two weeks ago. When I was reading the list of successful students who were on that list, I was happy to see some “regular” names but I was even happier to see some new names on it. In particular I was thrilled to see the name of one of my advisees, “Elie C.,” who made it to the Dean’s list for the first time although he was close to being suspended from the university a couple of semesters ago.  Two years back, Elie came to my office asking for help because he had received some severe suspension warnings from the administration. I advised him to change his major and try to make a new start. I warned him at that moment and made it clear to him that this was his last chance. To my surprise and that of everyone else, not only did he manage to pass his exams but he passed them brilliantly!

“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure”—Napoleon Hill

Another story on success and failure came to my mind when celebrating this event. I recalled an incident when I was about ten years old. At that age, I did extremely well at school. Although my parents were happy every time I brought my grade book home, my reward was simply some kisses with a couple of words of encouragement. On the other hand, I had a friend who was relatively less talented than me and who occasionally passed her exams. But every time she did not fail her semester, her parents threw her a big party to celebrate her “success. At that age, I was cynical of these parties and did not understand why my friend’s parents were so impressed by their daughter’s minimal success.

One day when I came home with my grade book, my mother was doing some ironing. I said, Mom, I came in first in my class.” She answered me back, “OK,” without even looking at me, and then continued her work. I got so upset at that moment and replied to her promptly, “Is that all you can say to me? Should I fail my exams first and then pass them so that you would be happy for me?” All I could think of at that time was the parties that my friend got for simply passing her semester. Mom then stopped what she was doing and came to me. She explained, “ Sweetheart, coming in first in your class is no longer news for us. Now you need to surprise us with something different.” Hearing Mom say this taught me something very important at that early age: we can’t be successful if we remain in our safe harbor. We need to always get outside our comfort zone and explore something new.

One needs to try always some new ventures to surprise and impress not only others but also oneself. A life-long learning approach is needed to continue to achieve that success. Also, we need to trust ourselves, be more willing to take risks, explore new ideas and always look for creative solutions for any of our problems. The most wasted of all lives is the one without sweat and the world’s most boring game is “Playing it safe. We should never stand still; we must always go forward, follow our dreams and stick to our plans.

I shall finish this post with one of my favorite inspirational quotes that stresses the importance of dreaming, exploring and pioneering in order to achieve sustainable success:

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination"Oscar Wilde

Picture by Karim Abou Samra
Thank You RAP for your valuable Comments!