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I brought home a keychain.
There is nothing noteworthy, unusual, or special about the keychain as for as keychains go. It is a bauble you pick up at a souvenir stand for a couple bucks that dangles in your pocket or from the steering column of your car while you drive if you still have a slot into which you place your key to run the engine.
It has a small circular disc placed inside the outer ring that spins inside the ring, and on the surface of the disc there is a relief etching of a cedar tree. I found it at a gift shop in Beirut and so it is, as you may have already guessed, a cedar of Lebanon. And although I said there wasn’t anything unusual about this keychain, there actually is. Cedar is misspelled on it.
So, why did I leave the shop with it and why do I now cherish it as one of my lasting and precious memories from my recent trip to the Middle East?
Well, let me tell you how I came to have it in my possession.
On August 4, 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut in the capital city of Lebanon exploded, causing at least 218 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and US$15 billion in property damage, as well as leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.
That is the opening sentence on Wikipedia’s page about the explosion in the port of Beirut almost three years ago.
Three years before that I sat on the shore framing the western coastline of Beirut in the shadows of the harbor that on August 4, 2020. There is a picture of me with towers over my shoulder in the background that now no longer exist.
My visit this time to the harbor showed, even three years later, massive debris piled up. Buildings and structures still laying in ruin, and a port city trying hard to recover during one of the most economically depressed in their long history.
I spent one morning visiting the store-front businesses that were just now rebuilding and reopening. I met shop owners who gave us a brief tour of their newly renovated, humble one room businesses of which they were very proud and into which their entire life savings were invested. Some of the funding to rebuild came from dollars we share with mission partners in the area – partners who spent the morning introducing us to those whose shops were now reopening.
You can imagine how proudly they told us of their struggles to stay open; and how grateful they were for our support in making that happen. There was a jeweler, a launderer, a short-order cook, a handyman who sold various household items, and a woman who hand-made religious icons and sold little baubles to travelers and tourists. It was she who gave me the keychain.
Yes, she – this humble shop owner, filled with a deep spirit of gratitude and fully embracing her beloved culture of hospitality to the stranger; she struggling to make her small business viable, she it was who handed me that keychain to take with me as a gift from her store to thank me in the only way she knew how.
So now I cherish that bauble, that trinket. It is worth little and yet worth so much. Its value is in reminding me that with simple acts and kind gestures, the world can turn. We helped her put her world back together after a catastrophe that she didn’t imagine she could recover from, and she returned our kindness with a gesture of magnificent hospitality that reminded me of the capacity we have to restore goodness in the world. May your own life be blessed by the simple gestures and acts that cost so little but mean so much on this, our journey Into the Mystic.
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