Sometimes events happen life, in which we have limited or even no input at all, but the output is pretty much colossal for us. These things could occur before we were born, when we were young, or maybe recently. Heroes of the story could be anybody other than us. The important thing is that the results made a major influence throughout our lives.
Some day in February:
It was 1998. I was six years old and my brother just turned nine. There was an event happening for the first time in our humble establishment: “First Communion”. Well, for celebrations such as baptism, first communion, early birthday, … it is the parents who get involved and enjoy the most. The kids are either unaware of what is going on, or might get annoyed by the obligations they experience during these events. For my brother, first communion was something important, but also an unfair exercise since he should be available every Saturday afternoon for training, instead of staying at home and playing games. “We go to school for five days” he exclaimed. “Why must we also have something more to do on Saturday?”
My parents on the other side, and especially my mom were thrilled. First communion means their babies are growing up. It is an explicit sign that their love has successfully incarnated through a wonderful and loving family. It is also a motivation for them to persevere and continue on the same track.
Anyway, “Our Lady of Lourdes” Parish, located in the suburbs of Beirut where we lived, was annually organizing First Communion celebrations for locals. And like I mentioned above, mom and dad were excited this year since their eldest son will be the star of the house.
It was a very bright morning for my mom. Today marked the first reunion the Parish arranges for the parents regarding First Communion. She dressed well and went there, proud of herself, while she was also ready for this new small adventure. She encountered all sorts of characters during the meeting: Some parents were listening carefully to the instructions given. Others were searching for whatever could serve as a distraction. I guess these parents should be the ones living this experience for the second or even the third time. And like always, there were few “Besserwisser” who were continuously interfering with a comment or a dumb question just to mark their presence.
Such a reunion was the best opportunity for Lebanese people to mingle. They break the ice with simple chats about their children and five minutes later, we hear them discussing all sorts of subjects as if they were best buddies. Mom, however, was kind of shy during these events. She was not the type of person who enters a public place and socializes with whomever she encounters. She may conduct small conversations, but the important thing for her was to get informed of all the details concerning the First Communion.
During the meeting, the priest announced a new approach which will be implemented this year, suggesting that parents could help out with the preparations. From one side, this will get the locals more involved in the Parish’s activities, and from the other side the kids might seem less entangled when witnessing parents assisting them. After the meeting ended, the priest gathered all the parents who were interested in this new idea. “Why not?” mom thought, “Volunteering is fruitful and fun”.
As the parents were introducing themselves, a masculine voice stating the name of our school caught my mom’s attention. Actually, there was a man nearby talking with other parents and he seemed to mention that his kids are currently going to this school. All of a sudden, the shy lady, aka Mom, gained confidence and with a blink of an eye rushed to join the conversation:
- Umm, sorry to interrupt, but did you say that your kids go to “Sacré-Coeur” School in Gemmayzeh?
The man directly looked at my mom and answered:
- Yes! My older daughter and my two little boys.
- Oh! Well, my two young boys too, replied mom with a sincere smile on here face.
- Really? That’s nice, and who is having his First Communion?
- My big boy actually. You?
- Oh! So first time, huh? The man chuckled. For me it is the second time. My daughter did it two years ago, and now it is my older boy’s turn.
- Great! And, are you interested in volunteering?
- Well, actually I am not. But I am sure my wife will be. She was not able to join me today, so I am gathering the necessary information.
My mom acknowledged with another smile, as she hadn’t anything to add. But, she felt strangely relieved to know that there another kid from the same school.
After a moment of silence, the man resumed the conversation with Mom:
- By the way, my name is Abdo.
- I am Dolly. Nice to meet you.
- Nice to meet you too. Umm, if you don’t mind me asking Dolly, how do your children go to school every day?
- Umm, well they go by taxi. In fact, there are a few other students who also live nearby, so we made an agreement with a taxi drive them to and from school daily. My kids did not like the school bus experience, so this alternative was a suitable solution.
- Sounds good. Actually, it is a similar case here with us. School bus was never an option. I am taking my kids to school everyday, and it is getting a bit overwhelming with all the traffic during the morning and also in the afternoon. Thus, we are trying to find an alternative...
And without hesitation, Abdo continued: Hey! Look, here is my wife’s number, she is more concerned about this matter. Besides, she is fun. I guess you will click together. Give her a call and maybe you can discuss whether my kids can also go with the same taxi. I need to get going now. Nice to meet you again and hope we keep in touch.
Later that night, my mother related the story to my dad. She seemed pleased with the outcome of the meeting. Besides, she was excited for the opportunity of being involved with the preparations...
Jumping to June:
When the month of June appears on the calendar, school becomes surprisingly lovely: Most of the books have already reached their last chapters, teachers talk about the summer vacations during the courses, and multiple entertaining events take place at school. Even final exams seem less harmful. Frankly speaking, the last days of school exceed summer vacations in terms of gorgeousness. Students are filled with excitement as they are about to get going with their vacations. Thus, their start imagining all sort of activities they wish to accomplish during summer.
A couple of weeks left till freedom, today came to reinforce our “Month-of-June” happiness. In fact, today we will be leaving almost two hours earlier, and it was our parents who were be picking us up. Throughout such days, students are in airplane mode, they keep focusing on the early departure. And teachers tolerated such behavior. In fact, they considered such days as useless. Nevertheless, nothing important occurred until the very end, as the small event that happened, genuinely marked the beginning of a new era in my life.
Since we will be waived early from the classroom, there was no ringing bell. The dean came to our class to notify us about the awaited news. Teachers struggled to keep us in a straight line going down the stairs until reaching the playground, but who cares, students were dying to meet their parents and teachers were also not that keen on keeping this stupid straight line. Not long after my colleagues scattered throughout the playground, I saw my mother waving at me with her irreplaceable radiant smile decorating her face.
Leaving school early, my mother picking me up instead of the taxi, summer vacation knocking on the door. Too many positive vibes were in the air that day. A huge smile was graved on my face, as my mom held my backpack.
- Hey little champion! Ready to go home?
- Hey Mom!
- Look what I got you!
And this day was getting more alluring. Mom brought me the best snack of my childhood: “Peanut Curls” chips. Two small pieces of heaven were about to be in my possession. My mom was about to hand me those bags of chips when she continued by saying:
- I brought you two bags of chips. One for you, and the other for a cute little boy like you that I want you to meet.
My smiling face shrunk a bit. At a first glance, I did not like the idea of sharing my favorite snack with somebody, regardless of how cute he or she could be.
You know mom that I am shy, because well, I was raised by you, so why are you willing to reduce the intensity of joy I am experiencing today when you put me to the test and face me with another kid! Besides, we agreed that you will pick me up early today and go home. I was not expecting surprises. Bringing me the green chips is perfect, but why put me in contact with another kid. Let’s keep it simple lady, come on!
All these thoughts were looping inside my brain while mom was leading me to the trial in order to face my verdict. I was skim listening to her telling me about this boy, who happens to be the son of a new friend she met recently during the first communion preparations of my brother.
Then, an unforeseen female voice infiltrated to stop my thoughts:
- Well, who is this little handsome boy? Aren’t you adorable? He actually looks a lot like you, Dolly!
As I looked up, I saw a strange woman looking down at me with a silky smile. She then continued chatting with my mother.
Puzzle solved: This woman was the friend mom mentioned earlier, and I was about to offer one bag of my sweet chips to her son.
- And this is my youngest son, Ralph, the woman enthusiastically said while grabbing mom’s attention.
- Hello, little boy, how are you? Look what we got you! Come on Elias, give your new friend Ralph a bag of chips.
And here I stood still in front of the other kid. He had approximately the same height as mine. His hair was kind of funny, a vintage bowl cut. He was scrutinizing me with his eye contact.
You know when two kids meet for the first time, verbal communication will not probably be the primary channel they use. They start intimidating each other with eye contacts, interrupted sometimes by small distractions from the entourage. Each individual marks his own territory, while the continuous mystifying looks incarnate a threat in case took the decision to come closer. For more than half a minute, I was scouting my rival on the other side of the bunker, not moving a single muscle. I did not want to appear less powerful than him if he got my chips. Besides, why doesn’t his mother get him his own snack?
I was not sure what he was thinking. It was uncertain if he was feeling subdued or irritated.
Finally, the truce was brokered by my mother who incited me again to give away the bag of chips, and this time with a more strict tone.
I approached the red zone, full eyes on me, and when I reached the enemy territory, I hesitated a bit and then extended my arm to hand over the snack. “Here you go, snack thief”, I thought to myself as I was waiting for Ralph, with a shy smile, to accept the bribe. After he gazed at his mother and took her approval, he took the bag of chips and each one of us got back to his initial position. We kept staring at each other while no one was daring to open the bag.
It really amazes me how kids behave during these circumstances. They can make an entire army fall back with their raids of hyperactivity. Yet, they turn extremely numb during situations as the one described above. Society seems very blurry to us as kids, so we interact with each other in a kind of wild way: Marking our territory, feeling anxious when surrounded, and sometimes creating fake competitions between one another for reckless things. Who can jump up the most, who can run faster to reach the bin…. And most of the time, losers will put their efforts to convince the others of a biased battle, while the winners can’t wait to share their triumph with their friends at school or their cousins.
Once again, mom interrupted the tension by announcing the upcoming plans.
- I suggest you boys keep the chip bags closed for now.
She looked at me with optimism: “We will visit Ralph in his home right now. So you can both enjoy the chips together and then play, ok?”
At the same time, Ralph’s mother was supposedly telling him something similar.
So, we are going to his playground then? My day was functioning perfectly, until this burden came up. Facing a new kid with home-court advantage, is hideous and could lead to nasty consequences. He masters all the corners of the house, knows the strong and the weak spots for every activity he is allowed to do. He will surely suggest the games in which his expertise is quite unbeatable, and will enjoy mocking me for the rest of the afternoon while claiming his cruel victory.
However, as we got to the fighting arena, all my suspicions turned wrong: We actually got along quite quickly. In fact, Ralph got very comfortable, and did not hesitate to invite me to try his best PC game: “Timon and Pumba.” It was actually a “Tetris-like” multiplayer arcade game, and we really spent a wonderful time challenging each other. We laughed out loud, restarted the game so many times, disregarding who was getting the most wins. Hence, the false illusion I had in my mind turned into dust. I even felt a bit disappointed that we had to leave so early, but I eventually calmed down as my mom promised me of a second visit soon.
What happened between February and June:
As my mom was telling my father about the fruitful meeting that night, she mentioned the small discussion with Abdo, who gave her his wife’s phone number.
- So will you call her?
- Should I? I was just curious to find out that there are other children in the same school as ours. Dunno if I can really offer some help with their school transportation issue…
Well, I cannot recall in details what my mom actually did back then, but it seems that she surprisingly contacted Abdo’s wife, a thing that she naturally don’t do, and they both became friends. They did not find a solution for the transportation matter. However, they both were interested in helping the parish with the preparations. Hence, they started meeting weekly, and got along very well. In addition, my brother was already good friends in school with this woman’s older son, so first communion preparations and witnessing their mother’s progressing friendship, made them even stronger buddies. And to complete the puzzle, it appeared that Abdo and my dad were in the same school. Abdo was older than my dad, but they remembered each other quickly which fast forwarded the ice breaker.
Today, nearly two and a half decades later, this family remains the definition of lifetime friendship for us. We have lots and lots of memories together. In addition to some old JPEG pictures on our External Hard Disk where we keep our digitized attic, you can also find some “Kodak-printed” photos dating back from more than fifteen years, reminding us of the numerous events we spent with each other.
Our parents are still meeting in the Parish. They are nowadays part of a social and religious movement for couples. Furthermore, the traditional visits persist between them despite the booming of online communication.
As for Ralph, our meeting began with a green bag of chips and did not stop from evolving. As youngsters, we used to wait passionately for an event uniting the two families, in order to meet and play. Then, as we got a bit older, we started walking towards each other’s houses. Nothing was in our way, since we had only in mind the fun time we were about to enjoy while playing video games, watching movies or simply discussing silly stuff. These shallow discussions matured into deep and serious conversations about life and all sorts of things by the time we reached our early adult years.
Nowadays, Ralph became my dentist, and I am his marketing consultant. Each one of us has his own circle of friends, yet no one dares to enter our private treasure chest. In addition, we always remember this simple story which marked the beginning of our friendship and we even tell it to our mutual friends. Sometimes, weeks and even months pass by without us getting in contact, yet it only takes a small nudge on WhatsApp for us to resume normally as if we were together a couple of minutes ago.
Thank you mom for stepping out of your comfort zone and engaging in a conversation with Abdo after hearing that his kids are in the same school as yours.
Thank you Abdo, for being friendly and easy-going as you gave my mother your wife’s phone number. Finally, thank you again mom for leaving your comfort zone one more time and made that call. The rest is history.