A few hours north of Madrid, in the heart of the Navarre region, at the southern edge of Pamplona, lives a young man named M. Impossibly tall, with a full mane of black hair, olive-colored skin, M’s face is blessed with dimples and a smile that welcomes a revolving door of friends and visitors into his small but comfortable home.
To look at M, you would not imagine that his soul carries the stories that it does.
Not only a childhood – in Iraq – ravaged by conflict, military incursions, bombs and occasional food rations. Not only a family whose elevated status in social circles somehow existed, even harmoniously so, with their religious (though not extremist) fervor. Not only because of his strong-willed determination to learn English at a young age, participate in an academic exchange program to the U.S., and to assist American troops with translations on the ground back home.
Not only because M shook hands, rubbed shoulders and broke bread with, American statesmen. Or because he was roughed up upon his return to a ravaged homeland. Not only because he withdrew allegiance to his ancestors’ religion, or because he favored treating Muslims and non-Muslims as equals. Not only because, while still a teenager, he sought to educate himself in yet another country – with a new language, new family, in a new home.
Not only because, for the past few years, he has been dealing with the lamentable results of botched surgeries (to repair sports-related injuries in his legs, now leaving him with broken knee-caps); or because when his younger sister suddenly died earlier this year, despite being bedridden, he flew to Iraq three hours later on crutches. Not only because he lives daily with pain and requires the use of an ‘assistive device’ in the shower.
Not only because he went back to Iraq today on a family-related mission, carrying with him a solitary sense of duty and responsibility which no man in his mid-twenties should have to bear. And not only because, with a sense of tragicomedy, he espoused hope that, during his current stay in Iraq, he’ll manage on his way home, to safely navigate the “road that still gets car-bombed every day.”
But also because his every day is filled with dreams, plans and gusto; with a sense of all that is possible, with hope and faith in his future; and with obvious care and affection for his family and friends. Because the door to his home is forever open to those seeking a friend or bed for the night; because his yen for existentialist conversation is always tinged with a smidgen of silliness; and because there is not an ounce of self-pity coursing through his veins.
Oh, and quite possibly, because if he dressed up just so, and rambled off a few words in the lingua local, M would surely pass, in a self-mocking way, for a dashing Spanish conquistador. Or a maestro, intent on healing himself and the world around him. And for all those reasons, I say: Olé and شكرا جزيل