Monday, December 17, 2007

In Rod We Trust

Bill Martin welcomed Rich Rodriquez to the Michigan Family on this notorious day. I must say that my overall feelings in regard to Rich have developed tremendously in the past 24 hours.

My first reaction:
Dammit, that’s not Michigan football. That’s fool’s ball. What do you mean you have a spread hurry-up offense with an option and 5 men lined up to catch the ball? You mean you LIKE it when the quarterback runs?? Have you seen Mallet? He’s as mobile as a log. Bo would turn over in his grave if he saw this style of play. It’s going to be a season of interceptions, fumbles, and mistakes.

After thinking about it:
• He is one of the best coaches in the country.
• He knows how to win.
• He is genuine, passionate, and understands the importance of tradition.
• Yes, it’s risky. I commend Martin for this decision, though. At the end of the day, Martin is a businessman, and successful businessmen take big risks and win big.
• His name has attracted the top recruit in the country, Terrelle Pryor (which could be bad for Mallet).
• He said all the right things during the press conference, and he convinced me. Bill Martin and company knew exactly what people like me were worried about and he hit on every one. He described Rich verbatim as:
  • A man with strong character who truly cares about his players and treats them as family.

  • An innovative coach who would enhance Michigan’s standing at the winningest program in the history of college football.

  • A team player who would be a great University citizen.

When Rich spoke to us, he convinced me in a way that Les Miles never did. I said that Miles reminded me of a car salesman: disingenuous and trying too hard. Rodriquez is genuine and will earn the trust of the Michigan community.

• Yes, we will endure growing pains. We may see a lot of turnovers our first year, but Rodriquez is here to stay and we will grow accustomed to change. Change is not a bad thing, which leads me to my next point:

Tradition is a beautiful thing, and we love it at Michigan. However, if Michigan were content with the status quo then Fielding Yost would have never built our Big House grand enough for the world to admire.

Tradition is not reason enough to keep things the way they are when there is evidence that change could be better. When Canham renovated the Big House in order to hold 107,501, change proved to be appropriate. People will similarly look back and praise Martin for bringing in Rich Rodriquez from West Virginia. Innovation and risk revolutionize the game, and Michigan has always been at the forefront of that.

Fielding Yost was an innovator of college football, creating offenses that literally scored a “Point a Minute”. Rich Rodriguez is the coach who developed the spread option offense. New and exciting change should be welcomed and is possible to maintain alongside a proud and rich tradition.

In Rod We Trust.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Majida: The Voice of Lebanon

So much is lost in translation, but the quiver in her voice, the power of her words, and the passion for the Lebanese people speak for themselves:

How many hearts have to be broken? How many homes have to be ruined? How many Lebanese have to be given worries as their daily bread? How many young men and women have to leave the country before you decide to meet and put an end to this disastrous situation and this horrible division? How can divisions reach the point of having people tell me, “Do not pray at Pierre’s funeral or say a word in Gebran’s commemoration, or you would be speaking up against the others.” Who are the others? Aren’t you all Lebanese? All those martyrs who have died from the southernmost part of the country in massacres perpetrated by Israel to its northernmost part, in the case of our beloved army martyrs, and all those who died for our youth’s sake, … Aren’t they all – truly and honestly – ours? Didn’t they break our hearts? Aren’t they only guilty of being Lebanese?

We no longer meet to pray for the martyrs’ souls, since we now have “their” martyr and “our” martyr. I reject this painful discrimination. I hereby say that it was an honor to sing for Pierre inasmuch as it is an honor to speak about Gebran. If I am accused of being Lebanese, then I am the lucky one. I no longer care who will be offended by these words. Indeed, I know that some people will be offended, but I no longer care about them because, after 30 years of war, we have come to lose hope. I no longer care to bear witness to anyone on this earth, especially not in politics. I only bear witness to the Lord, and our Lord loves peace. He is against violence and He tells me to bear witness to what is right, to the best of our youth and to the sovereignty and freedom of this land, as any self-respecting citizen with some dignity should do. I bear witness to the tormented, martyred Lebanese people who has close brushes with death everyday and barely hangs on to life. I say: enough is enough…

You say you are entrusted with Lebanon’s sovereignty and our safety… [In reality,] you have torn the country into pieces, and you want to replace it with one that is tailor-made for confessions, parties and power obsessions. However, this country is far greater than that. You are responsible for driving wedges among us and dividing us under a single roof. You have scattered us and linked our case with half of the world’s pending issues… Why should we be a card in everyone’s hand? How can you accept to remain divided for 30 years, and then tell the whole world that you are unable to run the country’s affairs? In the end, this may be the ultimate aim. If so, then why are you doing it? You are entrusted with our freedom, our sovereignty and our independence. I am here to say: [You have done] enough… let us live.

In the name of what is right, in the name of the Lord, who you say you love and according to whose will you claim to be acting, let this state remain a state. Whose interest would be served if this nation remains unsheltered and if the state breaks up into countless component parts? I am here to conjure you up in the name of the Lord to make peace. You are so stifling us that there will be no one left to hear you. I am here for Gebran’s sake to tell him: I have come to pay tribute to you, my dear brother and friend. Our hearts will keep on beating as one as long as you are alive within us. Why is that so? Because we remained oblivious to the worth of the perfect man that you were. If no tribute is paid to you today as a King who left us, who deserves such a tribute then? Do those who have slain us deserve it? We shall not give it to them. Dear Gebran, I see your pictures on billboards, and I am ashamed to tell you that your blood will not have been spilled in vain. In the name of the everlasting God, I tell you with total confidence that there will come a day when your blood will bloom only in the three colors of our national flag. This day of freedom and sovereignty will undoubtedly come no matter how long it takes because no one can grow greater than Lebanon… Nor shall Lebanon ever be diminished. All shall perish and Lebanon shall remain, and you shall always be there, O Gebran, along with the great men who have borne witness to its dignity and its special vocation on this Earth.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The St. Alphonsus Arrows

Some of my favorite memories stem from my time at St. Alphonsus Grade School. Opening its doors in 1846, the school served the German immigrant population that was fleeing Europe and settling in Dearborn, Michigan. Almost 150 years later, St. Alphonsus opened its doors to me, an immigrant fleeing a different part of the globe.

For about 9 years, I attended the Catholic private school, and by the time I left, I had felt very much a part of the parish community there. For the entirety of those 9 years, I attended church regularly at 8:30am on Tuesday where Father Mike preached the Gospel of either Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John -- depending on the theme for his sermon that week. Young children, faculty, and loyal church-goers would congregate for the student's mass. If you were lucky, and chosen amongst your peers, you got to read the Gospel reading for that week in front of the entire church, and I found myself doing that more often than a non-Christian should have been able to. Our favorite songs to sing were "On Eagles Wings" and "Sing a New song", and we often sang them energetically. They were as catchy as most of the pop tunes of the 90s, and I am proud to say I still remember every word. That's not the only thing I remember. I remember the prayers: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Apostles Creed. I remember the Stations of the Cross, and I wonder now, how the elderly church goers persevered through the hours of standing, kneeling, sitting, standing, kneeling, sitting...

I remember when most of my classmates received the "Body" and "Blood" of Christ during Communion. Then there were the few of us who weren't Catholic. More often than not, this group was comprised of Protestants whose parents had swallowed their pride for good schooling. We placed our index fingers in front of our mouth as a gesture implying that we weren't up there for the Bread, but rather a blessing. And Father Mike would gently lay his hand on my head, and he would bless me every week.

Kind nuns like Sister Mary Ann always had a parable to share, and young children flocked the tenderly woman daily. But even at a young age, you knew to steer away from the not-so-pleasant nuns in the convent who had no patience for young children.

I remember Mrs. Pazur who had a heart of gold and made me feel secure. I remember how she told me that she, too, had been teased for her height growing up and that we had a lot in common. I respected Mrs. Pazur and so that made me feel good. When I arrived to St. Als, English was a second language, if one at all. Interestingly, I left as president of my 8th grade class. I remember Ms. Horner's sharp tone and quick tongue. I remember how much I respected her for her discipline and wit. I remember how these women, and many others, took pay cuts because they believed in this school when the city of Dearborn and state of Michigan started to doubt. With that doubt came less money, and with less money, St. Alphonsus became just another charter school. A school that opened its doors in 1846 would become just another historical monument. An aerial view of the church yields one of it's most beautiful attributes; shaped like the Cross, you can easily find the church prior to landing at DTW airport.

People ask me what compelled my Druze father and Muslim mother to send me to a Catholic private school, opting out of the free and Arab saturated elementary schools around the corner. The answer lies a generation removed. My parents left Lebanon with the notion that a good education was a private school education. My grandmothers were widowed in their 20s and raised 3 and 5 children respectively, yet they shelled out the money they didn't have to send their children to private schools. While my family has come a long way, the life of a new immigrant is always a struggle, yet my parents felt they had no choice but to make the same sacrifices their parents made to send them to the best schools. I cannot thank my parents enough for the lessons I learned at St. Als and the community that welcomed me. Had I gone to the Dearborn public schools with other Arab children I would have never been exposed to the cultural differences; I would have never been uncomfortable...and then comfortable again; I would have never read the Bible from cover to cover... enough times to quote scripture in my sleep.

Some of you are probably waiting for me to criticize the idea of religious coercion, the way it was instilled, the politics it alluded to. I can't do that, though. I didn't feel unwelcome at St. Als. As for the times that people didn't understand me, well, it made me stronger to teach them about the rich culture I came from. It made me more passionate about being Arab, and it taught me how to have these conversations in the future. I have nothing but thanks for the teachers, families, and parish I grew to love.