My childhood was not exactly typical. As a result, the circumstances of my formative years instilled in me the practice of never taking anything for granted and of trying to appreciate everything in life—no matter how small.
I was born and raised in the eastern suburbs of Beirut with a majority-Christian population, where right-wing political parties and militias dominated on the ground. My mother originates from Zahle, a large Christian town in the middle of the Bekaa Valley where a majority of Muslim and left-wing militias dominated during the war. Zahle was put under siege several times and paid an enormous price in term of casualties and destruction over the war period, roughly 1975 to 1990.
When my uncle (Mum’s brother) passed away in the 1980s, the situation in the Bekaa was relatively calm, so my parents decided that we would all go to my uncle’s funeral. All seven of us—Mum, Dad, my two sisters and brothers and I—rented two taxis to go to Zahle and give final respects to my dead uncle. On our way back from the funeral, however, a military road-block was suddenly put on the highway from Zahle to Beirut. Cars were checked and some people, mostly young men, were pulled out and were told to stand aside. We got worried sick! My two brothers were in their early 20s. Although they were never involved in any type of political activity, it was difficult to predict at that time what these militias wanted. They held lists of names for people they were looking for. “Maalouf” is a very big clan in Lebanon, and thousands carry this surname so obviously some of “us” were active during the war. Luckily, my two brothers’ names were not common names and were not included on that black list.
That evening, we were all quiet at dinner and grateful to our parents for having given us some uncommon names! Seeing all of us at the table that evening was a real blessing and filled my heart with gratitude.
Looking back on those 15 long years living in a war zone, I see that growing up in such circumstances deeply affected me, shaped my very personality, and taught me how to break through difficulties by appreciating life’s most basic gifts: being alive, being in good health and being surrounded by family and friends.
Mercifully, we don’t all live in a country torn by civil war, but we all have other kinds of war to deal with. Keeping a grateful attitude makes us see the positive in every situation—even those that are ugly and violent.
"Gratitude gives us the drive and energy to get up, shake off the dust, rebuild what was broken and move on with our lives."
To read similar stories, please check my co-authored book Energize Your Leadership: Discover, Ignite, Break Through. It was written by 16 authors with one common goal—to inspire people to rethink their personal and professional attitudes. Sixteen real-life stories were composed for readers who want to excel and make a difference in the lives of their students, colleagues and so on. The book is divided into four parts: “Energize Yourself,” “Energize Others,” “Energize Your Workplace” and “Energize Your Future.” Each chapter’s content stands on its own, so the book can be read in any order. Furthermore, all chapters follow the same framework: the author’s personal narrative, the lesson learned from the story, a few key questions for the reader to ponder, and finally some action steps based on the theme of each chapter.
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* Artwork by Maria Matta