On Sept 1st 2019, my parents renewed their vows after 40 years of marriage. My brother officiated the ceremony. We celebrated their beautiful love with many of their close friends and family, especially those who couldn’t attend their wedding on Sept 1st 1979. Please, allow me to share with you their story. A story of true love, courage, and persistence. A story of 2 individuals who dared to dream, hope, and love in a time when hate, political tension, and religious prejudice had divided their country.
It was 1975 at Beach Club in Beirut when the 27-year-old Simon set his eyes on a tall, thin girl with a gorgeous tan and a long black braid. He was instantly smitten but his friend quickly discouraged him from pursuing her because she was Druze. Sectarianism exerted considerable influence on the choice of a romantic partner at the time. There was a commonly held belief that getting to know someone from a different faith was pointless for the future. Simon arranged for the 17-year-old Nabila and her brother Nabil to get invited to a party in Hadath. Nabila showed up flaunting her blue “pattes d’éléphant”. Simon was waiting for her “tiré à quatre épingles” as always. With a charismatic smile, he invited her to dance with him. From their first dance, Nabila was swept off her feet. After the party, he offered to drive her home and invited Nabil to continue the evening with him. Simon and Nabil became good friends and Simon started getting invited to the Assaf family’s gatherings and picnics every weekend. Later that year, Nabil immigrated to the United States but Simon stayed close to the family. Nabila would wait for Simon on Tante Angel (the neighbor)’s balcony just to wave at him. Simon would drive Nabila and her girlfriends around Hadath in his red Mini Cooper. She recorded a cassette for him with her favorite French songs. She would phone him from the Abey Call Center whenever she could meet him at her friend Ghada Tawil’s house in Chemlan.
As their romance grew, tragedy struck. The civil war started. Simon left to Jordan and the Assaf family had to flee to Abey because it was dangerous for them to stay in a Christian neighborhood. Nabila and Simon lost all contact for 4 months. The future was uncertain. It was a love letter that Nabila wrote to Simon that brought them back together. Simon returned to Lebanon and moved to Ain El Mreisseh to work closer to Nabila who had started her undergraduate studies at the American University of Beirut. From 1976 to 1979, they spent most of their time together. Nabila would visit her family in Abey on the weekends and bring back her mom’s delicious food to share with Simon. They enjoyed going to Sporting, dancing at After Eight, and hanging out with their best friends Elie Tabanji and Rita Chalabi. Their love grew deeper and Simon approached Nabila’s parents asking for permission to marry her. They unsurprisingly objected. That didn’t stop Nabila from coming up with more creative and convoluted excuses to keep seeing Simon in secret. Now you know who I get my fearlessness, rebellion, determination, sense of adventure, and endless capacity to love from.
Nabila and Simon knew that marrying from outside their religion could be detrimental to their relationship with their respective families and possibly affect their personal safety. They decided to elope regardless and started working on all the logistics. Nabila got baptized at a church in Brummana. Simon furnished the house where he grew up in Hadath and made it ready for them to move in together. Nabila went to Abey one last time to pack as many of her clothes as she could and say goodbye to her parents. She didn’t know when she would see them again. The only inter-religious couple Nabila and Simon knew was Nabila’s great uncle Wahib and his Christian wife who were living in France. They were among the few who supported their decision. Nabila and Simon were so concerned about Nadia (my aunt) finding out that they waited until she went on vacation to the US to have the wedding. On Sept 1st 1979, they had a quick ceremony at a church in Hazmieh followed by a reception at The Jahshan’s house. That same night, Lina (my younger aunt) drove them to the airport and Rita (mom’s maid of honor and my godmother) delivered the letter Nabila had written to her parents informing them that she had eloped and was already on her way to Greece with the man of her dreams. My grandparents were devastated when they found out and had to carry the weight of shame and disappointment inflicted on them by their community. They didn’t talk to mom for 6 months but when they heard she was pregnant with me, they went with Nadia to visit her in her house in Hadath. Like any parents who love their children, they forgave her and gave her their blessing.
Mom and dad spent 12 magical days in the Greek Islands in 1979 but in reality, their honeymoon has spanned 4 decades. Their love is inspiring and their zest for life is contagious. We’re blessed to have them as our parents. Not once did we see them fight or be upset at each other for a long period of time. They taught us from a young age that love is stronger than any other force. They told us they would support us no matter who we fall in love with. They raised us in a place rife with conflicts and gave us a life better than most. We had a warm happy childhood surrounded by a large loving family that united 3 religions. We celebrated Christmas, Easter, Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha with our cousins. My parents hosted all our birthday parties and never missed an opportunity to invite everyone to our home. They taught us how to swim, bike, ski, play tennis and made sure we excelled academically. Whenever our safety was threatened, they packed everything and drove us away, sometimes under the bombs, to a safer area. When they realized they couldn’t give us the stable future they had envisioned for us, they let go of their possessions, jobs, and home in Lebanon and brought us to the US. The sacrifices they’ve made to protect us from harm and provide us with a good education and an enriching life are countless.
Mom and dad have created a marriage that many of us aspire to. They know how to live, have fun, stay active, and bring people together. Their ability to seamlessly navigate life’s challenges with positivity, respect and lots of love for one another is admirable. They have been incredible role models for all of us. They have taught us to:
Follow our heart
Live every day as if it’s our last
Be forgiving and don’t hold grudges
Don’t go to bed upset at our loved one
Be generous and kind to others without expecting anything in return
Be courageous and never give up on our dreams
Jump at every opportunity we get and don’t put things off
Enjoy life RIGHT NOW because life is fragile and precious