I remember sitting on Mona’s porch at the Orange House Sea Turtle Reserve one morning eating her homemade jams, lebneh, olive oil, and zaatar. The sun was glistening off of her lush grapefruit trees and the moist herbs–lemongrass, mint, bee balm, zataar, throughout her garden. Her goats knocked horns of their fence posts, and we caught glimpses of them through the trees. Her bird was perched on the railing next to her head at the foot of the table, “The Mediterranean isn’t a sea, it’s a dump. They pump their sewage into it. They dump their garbage into it. They don’t care. They poison the fish to catch them, then take them home and feed them to their children and wonder why they get sick. Nothing but a dump.”
Her words resonate off of the surface of the water as I float along the Southern Lebanese Coastline that she fought so hard to protect. I look towards Tyre to the North and remember wading on the coast amidst plastic bags and the admonitions of locals not to swim too near to where there are buildings. I feel each bump, each twist of water, each new undulation like a message from her. She tells me her feelings are hurt. She doesn’t want to be a dump. Why would we call her one? Don’t I love her? Don’t I see how much fun we can have together? I submerge myself and then think that all I know is that I feel perfect inside of her. The gentle waves are my childhood dream of what the sea would be. It’s not the grand knocking of the Atlantic or the batting tide off of the stony Corniche in Beirut. It’s utterly gentle, playful.
I start sobbing uncontrollably. I do love her. She’s perfect exactly how she is. I had been thinking earlier about how I should see more fish under the water, perhaps. About how the water could be clearer, perhaps. About how the water should smell sweeter, perhaps. I was entirely wrong. This is the most beautiful, the most perfect place that I had ever been. She’s perfect. She is the universe. My best friend. There could not possibly be anything wrong with her. I am blessed to know her. I will be blest forever and ever to know her, to have known her.
She tickles me. I laugh and we begin to play again. I close my eyes and let her take me wherever she wants. I pop up, look south, and see cliffs in the distance. Yes, this is heaven. I am in the universe. She accepts me inside of her, a miracle. The world is suddenly all miracles. And I accept. I suddenly realize that it all it takes. Just to accept.
Too often we let the world convince us that we need to focus our attention on what we’re losing, on how things disintegrating around us. This never has to be the case. In each moment, we can open our eyes and choose to see heaven. This was the most beautiful gift that the sea provided me with. My partner was sunning himself and collecting sea shells, occasionally awaking to do an asana or two in an alcove where waves had cleaned the sand from rocks. I swam into him and tried to explain what the sea said. I realized that I would never be able to give it words. To explain how we conversed as the tide tumbled with me, out and in, up and down, swaying, bobbing, tickling one another as I floated belly up, back-flipped, breast stroke–each movement a message from one to the other and back again. The sea had been so lonely. The sea had missed speaking to anyone who knew her language, who was willing to listen. And if anyone had, they would never call her a dump or dream of dumping. They would do nothing but praise.
As we left the beach darkened and sun stoned to prepare lunch, we took one another’s hands and ran down the dirt trail, through the banana trees, through the orange trees, past the little shack that Mona lived in during the bombings, past the family that Mona hired to farm her land, and to our paradise. We were greeted by bleating baby goats to whom we fed green bananas and the loyal dog Poopie, who served as our nighttime swim watchman. We again decided, together this time, to be in heaven. We took a long time to sit on her second story balcony and stare off into the landscape, the cliffs, the vast expanse of sea, even the military outpost and consider the blessing of this mysterious oasis’ existence in this war-torn region. We had just suffered through our own personal war. We very nearly separated when he first arrived. I had decided that in order to survive Lebanon, I had to cease to love him–being thousands and thousands of miles away. I had decided on the easy way out of suffering: moving on to the next thing. Exactly what so many of us opt to do. I could have chosen to focus not on the lack of him in my life, but on what he continued to bring me through our past experiences, through our love for one another, even at a distance. I could have made and accepted my heaven, much more easily than it seemed. And in this moment I accepted and embraced a forgiveness of myself for this failure. I must be deserving of this beauty to be existing inside of it.
There are great stretches of beauty in every part of the world, in every town, off the side of every highway, but we rarely take the time to appreciate them. We allow some obstruction to get in the way: construction work, drainage pipe, litter, traffic noise. Not seeing the holiness, not seeing that what exists is just as good, can offer just as much, speak just as beautifully if only you would choose to allow it. This is a lesson that I learned more completely on my walk. I used to think that I needed to seek solace in the wilderness by going deep in the woods, far far from any highway. But I’ve now spent some of my most healing moments with nature right off of the roadside, washing my face in a creek or river running right alongside of it, blessing it, ever grateful for what it offered. I’ve found perfect little nooks for lunching that I wondered if anyone ever bothered to stop and notice, how a single body fits so perfectly here, how it begs, longs to be used to be appreciated, to be glorified as holy holy holy. But no one wants it when its tainted. We turn our back on it and move on to the next perfect, pristine thing, until you find its dent or bruise that you deem unworthy of sitting with for long.
The Orange House’s beach receives so much love, but it is sometimes a love of grief. A love which stared in the depths of what was lost and what the beach and sea once was. Once there were more sea turtles here. Once my goats could run on this beach unafraid. Once I could swim and fish here without worry of chemicals. Once I did not have to pick garbage from the beach. Once they did not dump sewage here. Once there was not a military outpost on that corner. Once I was happy. Once this was beautiful. Once there was peace. The desperation sets the tone for what the universe brings.
Now Orange House and that sacred stretch of coast, home to the last sea turtles in Lebanon, is threatened with another hit. Developers want to use it as a women’s beach, line it with restaurants and hookah bars. The flowers, the bees, the succulents lining the dunes would disappear. As would the fruit bearing trees and the dirt road it lined. The sea turtles would no longer crawl ashore to lay their eggs. But I know the water would still speak that tongue. I know the miracle would still be present, just harder to find. You’d have to sit for longer to see it. But even now, as developers plan their concrete walls, we can think, how beautiful this place is, how much like heaven, and perhaps the battling would become easier then. Perhaps the fight to keep our paradises alive would be less like fighting and more like pointing, look look, don’t you see, this is perfect, this is exactly how it should be.