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My Grandmother’s Last Words to Me

My Grandmother’s Last Words to Me

* Find my original Facebook post here 
** Photos and illustration by Sara El-Yafi 

My beloved grandmother passed away two days ago.

Mother to five glorious children, wife to former Lebanese Prime Minister Abdallah El-Yafi, a gifted mathematician, and my personal food inquisitor (‘Sara. Eat.’), Hind Al-Azm El-Yafi, lived 93 honorable years.

The pictures attached to this post were taken the last day I saw her. That day, my grandmother was in the ER because of a pneumonia that eventually took her life. Whenever I see my grandmothers, I like to ask them a bunch of existential questions from -what is the meaning of happiness- to -where is the chocolate-. That day, she received the last question I was ever going to ask her: “What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?”

She smiled and said one word: “Love.”

“Why love?” I asked.

“Why hate?…” She replied. “When you live this long, you understand that hatred (البغض is the word she used) can never coexist with happiness. Love is the only unerring and infallible human condition and the solver of all harm.” ” الحب معصوم”

My grandmother was born in 1919. A time where women and goats had equal rights, except that goats were mostly free-range mammals and women were not. To add to the onus of her ovaries, those days were mostly isolated, dictated and restricted for almost all people. Life was generally uneducated, autocratic and fatalistic due to the religious and socio-political orders in place. But as with all human conditions, life’s quality often depended on people’s chosen response mechanisms. The truth is the way we choose to rejoin to our circumstances sets the quality of our life. Feelings convey perceptions, and perceptions are choices, and in the end, you get to ultimately choose how your life feels and at what frequency your life vibrates.

My grandmother has always harbored an interesting response mechanism to her surroundings… In the incredibly confessionally-ridden-segregated Lebanon, she sent her Muslim kids to Catholic Jesuit and Franciscan schools in the 40s and 50s (boys went to the former, girls went to the latter) to get their education. If you’re familiar with the Lebanese sociopolitical landscape, you probably know that “inter-faith mixture” in Lebanon today is not very ‘hip’, so I’ll leave it to your imagination to visualize what the 40s must have been like. When asked why she and my grandfather were sending their kids to be raised by the wine-drinking-Jesus-Christ-symbolic-flesh-eating Christian religious order of the Roman Catholic Church, my grandparents would reply “Children must befriend and understand all their compatriots. Where else would they do that?”

Indeed, the Lebanese Prime Minister, the headman of the Lebanese Sunni community, had his kids learn Christian prayers, Christian values and morals and befriend Bernard and Micheline in order for his children to be better Muslim citizens. That was my grandparents’ thinking in the 40s. Resultantly today, my own father and his siblings know everything about both the Bible and the Quran and they think Georges Brassens and Alain Souchon are the sh*t.

I extend more respect to my grandmother for the role that she played as the wife of a high-profile politician and the influence she had on him. It was my grandfather and his cabinet who gave the voting rights to women in Lebanon in 1952, one of the harshest battles in my grandfather’s political career as most of the political clan of that day was against it: the Muslims thought it was “unislamic” and the Christians were afraid of Muslim women (They’re not to be blamed. Sometimes in the morning, I am afraid of me too). Although it may be naive to assume that my grandmother had a direct word in policymaking, I know that when my grandfather got up in the morning to go to work, he was getting up to fight for the rights of ladies like his wife who was equally, if not more, impressive than he was.

I am revisiting these episodes because I would like to resound my grandmother’s last words and put them in serious perspective.

When someone as experienced as my grandmother says that love is the most important lesson she has learned in life, it should not be overlooked. Like most men and women of her generation, my grandmother has witnessed the lunacy of the 20th century from both a civil as well as an official conscious perspective. The 20th century alone has produced 160 million human killings, half of which were perpetrated during a time when the world population was 60 to 75% less than what it is today. We have had 105 wars (not accounting for ‘battles’, and not accounting for the bloodcurdling events perpetrated under regimes of “stable oppression”) with the “smallest war” producing a death toll of 20,000. A new war has erupted every SINGLE year on our planet since 1900; and if you were to go back to every single one of those wars, none of them has yielded the “desired result” of the group that instigated it. None.

And instead of harboring the most awful perception of mankind, my grandmother harbored a belief that only love will save the world. Senile dementia? No. Historical facts. History shows that failure is the only long-term result of every war as the use of force has never yielded any constructive, lasting results for any belligerent initiator. That is history and that is fact. Scholars like to say that the explanation behind such a reality is that nature’s course sets that “civilizations inevitably rise and fall.” To me, they miss a very important detail in that sentence: I believe that civilizations -that are built on aggression- inevitably rise and fall. Yet we have never tested a civilization built on empathy and love as it has simply never existed.

I’d like to believe that human beings are capable of creating such a society because we all share all but 0.01% (1/100th of 1%) of identical genetic sequences. So biologically, as a species, you and I are virtually identical to one another at the level of our genes (literally, 99.99%). Looking around at the diversity within our human race, obviously this 0.01% accounts for a significant difference in how we look, think and behave, but I cannot believe that 0.01% can win over 99.99% every goddamn minute of every goddamn day of human history by setting us apart in hatred and competition to this extent.

We can start rewriting the human narrative by rethinking our institutions together, and laying the groundwork for a compassionate civilization. We can start seeing the rest of the human race as equal, fellow travelers, other species as part of our evolutionary families and the biosphere as our community. Our human default mechanism CAN become love and compassion. But it is a choice. Otherwise, I don’t really see how we’re going to make it.

Many people often seem to be less emotional about the passing of an old person because they’re old. If they die young, it’s a tragedy; if they’re 93, it becomes “life.” Well I find that the treasures carried in the minds of the latter people make them our richest wealths of the world because only they can tell us how wrong we all are, all the time. If you have a grandparent still in good health, or an older parent, ask them, I’ll be damned if any of them vouches for aggression instead of love any day of the week. History has shown us that it does not work, so why continue? We can rewire.

I know my grandmother did. And she died with the hope that maybe one day we will too.

Written by Sara El-Yafi

64 Comments

  1. Claude Lebeau · December 21, 2012

    Wisdom is found in many places. Even amongst your ‘enemies’…

    • Matthew Crawford · December 21, 2012

      She will be missed but her love for her children and grand children in her open minded parenting and how she brought them up will go on and affect generations.

    • Tom Lebeau · December 21, 2012

      my condolences 🙁

  2. Ziad Ramman · December 21, 2012

    My condolences.

  3. Karim R. Maluf · December 21, 2012

    This popped up on my newsfeed, and I just had to tell you (despite not knowing you) that this was a beautiful, poignant read.
    My condolences to you and yours.

  4. Bachir AL Zaim · December 21, 2012

    Allah Yerhama , I am sure she was a great courageous lady … With a vision way ahead of her times … May she rest in peace

  5. Dana Silwadi · December 21, 2012

    I’m sorry for your loss. Your writing is as on-the-nose as it is endearing, as always. People like to say that hate breeds hate a lot, disregarding that love, does indeed, breed love and that power, when harnessed as diligently as its counterpart has been throughout history, would probably mean the difference between our salvation as a species, or our collective unceremonious end.

  6. Molly Stacey · December 21, 2012

    Your words are truly extraordinary and inspirational, as I believe your grandmother had been. What a legacy to leave to you and by default to those that take the time to read your post. My condolences to you and your family. Allah yer7ama x

  7. Ismat Mahmassani Malas · December 21, 2012

    Allah yerhamha

  8. Judy Barrage · December 21, 2012

    All my condolences sarsoura…. Send me ur number. I am in town

  9. Carine Khoury Torres · December 21, 2012

    My condolences, habibti, to you and your entire family. Speechless once again…

  10. Mahyar Yahfoufi · December 21, 2012

    I am sorry for your loss, I think your grandmother is even more proud of what she left behind.

  11. 'Farah Ghad · December 21, 2012

    My condolences even if I don’t know you, your grandmother is admirable.

  12. Nisrine Rawdah Naaman · December 21, 2012

    May her soul rest in peace… They are treasures…

  13. Lubna Lutfi El Mourabet · December 21, 2012

    Allah Yerhamha wmaskanha Aljanna inshallah…

  14. Bassam Abu-Ghazaleh · December 21, 2012

    May her soul rest in peace!

  15. Jennifer Tucker Thurman · December 21, 2012

    Love love love to you, Sara. And I’m sorry for your loss.

  16. Nabil Hallak · December 21, 2012

    R.I.P.

  17. Samar Youssef Eid · December 21, 2012

    Love to all grandmothers, so heart warming how you honored her…May she rest in peace.

  18. Nay Rouhban El-Yafi · December 21, 2012

    Sarsouretna, toujours le mot qu’il faut au Bon moment..

  19. Rasha Hassanieh Tabet · December 21, 2012

    It is said God couldn’t be everywhere so he created grandmothers. May she rest in peace

  20. Georges Sassine · December 21, 2012

    Mes sinceres condoleances Sara!!! Allah yi 3awid be salemtik

  21. Leila Zacca Alameddine · December 21, 2012

    May Her soul rest in peace.

  22. Maya Barbir · December 21, 2012

    May she rest in peace she was a great lady and the best friend of my mom!

  23. Riebal Hmaydan · December 21, 2012

    May her soul rest in peace

  24. Jacqueline Salme · December 21, 2012

    Nos sincères condoléances à toi Wassek ainsi qu’à toute la famille. Que son âme repose en paix. Jean et Jacqueline

  25. Maha Zakka Yafi · December 21, 2012

    Mes sinceres condoleances

  26. Majda Al Zadjali · December 21, 2012

    am sorry for ur loss
    allah yerhamha

  27. Liliane Mia Khoury · December 21, 2012

    my condolences Sarah

  28. Sarah Nsouli El Najjar · December 21, 2012

    May her soul RIP sarsour

  29. Ghada Kallas · December 21, 2012

    Speechless! I wish i met her to kiss her hands. Love

  30. Fadi Michael Nassar · December 21, 2012

    Please accept my heartfelt sympathies for your loss. May the peace that comes from your grandmothers memories and love comfort you. I am sure she was a great lady and your grandfather was a great man. They will live in our memories forever. May God bless them both.

  31. Khaled El Abed · December 21, 2012

    Allah yerhamha .

  32. Marc Adwan · December 21, 2012

    Allah yerhama

  33. Edwin R Sutphin Jr · December 21, 2012

    Rip

  34. Khalil Tayara · December 21, 2012

    One of the first first ladies of Lebanon. Her memories must hold so much history yet, she knows to look good for every picture ;). May she rest in peace…

  35. Yasmin Agha · December 21, 2012

    May she rest in peace Sara. My love to you and your family. Your writing is beautiful -she would be proud.

  36. Nora Katabi · December 21, 2012

    My condolences Sara to you and your family!! She was great in all aspects. I will miss tante Hind so much. Allah yerhama

  37. Ibrahim AlHusseini · December 21, 2012

    Rest in celebration dear Hind. Rest in the celebration and knowing that the example you have lived has already generated the ripples necessary to create the world you instinctively knew humanity could reach.
    Echoing your granddaughter’s eloquent invitation to us all, I would like to remind myself first and anyone reading, that “human being” is a learned-trait and we learn through modeling. So by simply and wonderfully being you, you set in motion the legacy you wanted for us all and I for one, can vouch for your success. I have met members of two distinct generations of your descendants and they both embody love as their primary value and draw from that infinite well for their thoughts, words and deeds.
    I am sorry I will never get to meet you in person, but thank you dearly for the world you have helped create, so me, for my children and for generations to come. In true honoring of your life, I vow to live from love, act from love and feel loving as often I am present enough with myself to do so.
    In gratitude and humility, I send my condolences to your family and the human family for this immense loss and hope you enjoy watching as the meaningful world you helped create unfolds in the years and decades to come.
    Ibrahim AlHusseini
    Oh, and say “Hi” to my grandmother, she passed last year. You two will have a lot in common.

  38. Maha Kayss Agha · December 21, 2012

    Maybe u don’t know m but am closed friend to Dina harke I felt with u in every words u wrote I understand your feelings cs I’m feeling the same cs my mother in the hospital & in bad situation hope she will b better nchallah ,,,,, but I wana say for u Allah yeah ah ya rab wmasaha eljaneh ya rab take care …….

  39. May Habbab · December 21, 2012

    Allah yr7ama …

  40. Mounir Ch Halawani · December 21, 2012

    عزيزي غياث، رحم الله الوالدة الكريمة و اسكنها فسيح جنانه.

  41. Monique Zaarour · December 21, 2012

    Sara! Impressive , thoughtful , so real … So amazing what you’ve learned from her . I salute her .

  42. Lina F Tabbara · December 21, 2012

    God bless her

  43. Ghada El Yafi · December 21, 2012

    Sara, merci pour ce que tu as écrit sur ma mère, mais les photos, sont personnelles et n’auraient pas dû être publiées sans son autorisation, à plus forte raison après son décès, car elle était essentiellement pudique et simple

  44. Karim Beguir · December 21, 2012

    Toutes mes condoléances Sara. Et merci pour ce message très touchant de sagesse et d’humanité.

  45. Azmi Yafi · December 21, 2012

    My condolences to the entire family..

  46. Zein Taher · December 22, 2012

    You are lucky to have known you’re grand mother.she will always be part of who you really are and this way she cannot be forgotten.may she rest in peace…I agree and believe in what you have written.but lately I am starting to doubt myself.i will not any more.thank you for sharing this and reminding us that there is still hope in a kind,loving,and humane world.

  47. Muhammad A Hawa · December 22, 2012

    I knew late PM A.Yafi . Allah yerhama . You should send what you wrote to Annahar and almustaqbal news paper .

  48. Maha Masri Shaaban · December 22, 2012

    el3awad b salemitkon.allah yer7amha

  49. Souraya Francioli · December 22, 2012

    Habibti Sarah, thank you for these wonderful reflections.
    She really was a great woman, I knew her well because my dad and her husband were friends and she was Syrian born like my mum.
    I would like to present my sincere condolences to you and to all your family from here Geneva Switzerland where I have been living for the last 40 yrs, where I also keep in touch of Lebanese happenings through my family in Beirut.
    May her wonderful souvenirs accompany you for ever and all the love she gave you keep you spreading it as she did. Bless her soul and may she rest in loving peace. Souraya Saeb Salam Francioli.

  50. Thierry Zablith · December 22, 2012

    Very beautiful i wish alot of people read you for you are trully a wise person may she rip

  51. Sue Yafi Omary · December 22, 2012

    My deepest condolences to the whole family we lost a very dear lady, whose was always with us.

  52. Mahdiandnoor Halawa · December 24, 2012

    Allah yirhama and wow! She was so right about love and i really hope a lot of people can truely appreciate the power it has on this entire existence.
    Love

  53. Sara El-Yafi · December 25, 2012

    Thank you all for your very kind and wise words. Your comments have truly touched me and my family and it makes the whole difference to know that even if we don’t know each other, you have still taken the time to express your thoughts and feelings (or likes). It means a lot. As for our friends, thank you for your support always, it’s a blessing to have you everyday and especially in times like these. Have wonderful holidays!

  54. Marwa El Mourabet · January 6, 2013

    Sara, may she rest in peace. What a great way to express your love and your loss, Im sure she was and is very proud. Your writing is incredible, very witty and right on! Keep writing…

  55. Ahmed YM Abdullah · January 6, 2013

    عظم الله اجركم سارة … May her soul rest in peace inshallah, my sincere condolences

  56. Lisa Cleary · January 7, 2013

    Allah y3azikoun, & may we all be gathered in Heaven very soon. Beautiful writing reminded me of something written more than 2000 years ago:
    The Way of Love – Corinthians 13:

    1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have aprophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

    4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. 5 It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
    8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
    13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is LOVE.

  57. Elle Fersan · January 7, 2013

    I am speechless Sara! All i can say for now, may she rest in peace! And her legacy and that of your grand father’s is passed on and payed forward through your words and actions… When i read you, i know lebanon still has hope…

  58. Kristian Sagia · March 6, 2013

    so sorry for your loss she will forever live in your hearts and memories.

  59. Doha Amin · March 19, 2013

    You are a wonderful Human being. Your words are deep. I couldn’t agree with you more. It makes a difference when people like you speaks up. Your voice can help many people in their journey. Shukran 🙂

    • Sara El-Yafi · March 21, 2013

      Thank you very much Doha for these beautiful heartfelt words. It means so much to me to know that my words resonate with you.

  60. Sara El-Yafi · March 21, 2013

    Thank you all for your compassionate messages. I appreciate it a lot.

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