April 27, 2022

GUEST ROOM | From Ithaca to Beirut: Redefining Home

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Aug. 8, 2021. 369 days after the third biggest explosion in history that rocked Lebanon. I was boarding the plane departing from Beirut, a suitcase in one hand, half of my broken heart in the other. On that day, a feeling of fright was born inside of me. Not any regular kind of fear, but a special one. One that persists and develops every day. One that keeps me up all night, worrying me that I will never go back to the “home” I know. 

Since my early childhood, a stereotypical image of “home” has been formed in my head. One that would develop and mature throughout the years, until I realized that home is much more than a simple idea. 

When I was 6 years old, I believed that home was just like the ones I would see on Disney: a small house with a dog, surrounded by a big garden filled with flowers. 

When I turned 12, I believed that home was wherever my family was. A place where its walls would vibrate with love, affection and tenderness. A place that is constantly feeding my soul with resilience, comfort and ambition.

At the age of 16, a more powerful concept was born. I regarded home as a shoulder on which I cry, a place that holds my tears, a place that hears my loudest celebrations and, most importantly, a place that always has my back.

However, this idea did not last long. As I was turning 17, my country entered its darkest phase in history:   a drastic economic crisis, the devastating Aug. 4, 2020 blast, a throbbing financial capital control and the lethal COVID-19 pandemic.

For the very first time, I felt betrayed. Betrayed by my own country, by my own home. I realized that all of the images of home that I had in mind were fading away. The place I always looked up to was transformed into a heartbreaking reality, a gloomy feeling and a painful nightmare. Beirut’s magical charms were transforming into maniacal repulses. Beirut’s sparkles of love were transforming into spells of trouble and misery. Beirut’s glorious history was transforming into an image of grief. For the very first time, I didn’t recognize home. Beirut was down on her knees. Was she giving up or was she just praying?

As I made the decision to start a new chapter of my life abroad at Cornell, the idea of leaving home terrified me. It was impossible for me to imagine that life had a meaning anywhere else. Beirut’s serenity was constantly feeding my spirit with peace, satisfaction and joy. Beirut’s resilience was constantly nourishing my heart with strength, determination and dedication. But, what could I do when Beirut was 5,631 miles away? 

Aug. 8, 2021. I was still trying to convince myself that leaving the country was the only solution. As I was boarding the plane, I felt, this time, that I was the one committing a betrayal. To me, leaving Lebanon meant giving up on my country. It meant throwing away the souvenirs, the people, the family and most importantly my life. At this point, I knew that there was no turning back. I knew that the only thing I could do was pray and wish to see Beirut still breathing.

As I was trying to find a new meaning for home while at Cornell, I realized that home is not found, but made. Home is not an image in your head, but a dream constantly turning into reality. Home is not a feeling, but an album of memories, a rollercoaster of emotions and a gem of adventures. 

At Cornell, I feel at home. 5631 miles away from Beirut, I felt sheer happiness and everlasting serenity. I hear voices of home through Cornell’s magical chimes. I sense the beauty of home through Ithaca’s charming gorges. I reminisce on the feeling of home through this big community’s warmth and hospitality. 

While I was collecting the pieces of home into a big puzzle, I realized that Cornell gave home a special meaning to me. At the intersection of inspiration, challenge and charm, I discovered that home is mostly what I make with the people around me; it is what makes me grow and glow. 

Feeling at home in one of the most prestigious universities in America is probably the greatest feeling of pride for me. While returning to Beirut remains my ultimate dream, the moments and memories at Cornell never fail to make me feel at home.

Anna Hayek is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically throughout the semester.