August 4, 2020 – a date which will live in infamy…you know, in a year which was already planning on living in infamy, based on everything it’s thrown at us thus far. The city, Beirut. The country, Lebanon. The location…we’re Americans, we don’t really know that. Somewhere in the Middle East. We think.
Welcome to the port of Beirut. A huge explosion rips through the sky, carrying with it a condensation cloud horrifyingly reminiscent of something you’d see as a nuclear blast goes off, and a shock-wave that blows out windows and vaporizes soft things in its path. A mushroom cloud – again, reminding us of a nuclear blast – rises into the sky over Beirut’s now-destroyed port, portending doom to all who are close enough to look. Not too far away from ground zero (at the time of this writing, identified as a warehouse containing fireworks and ammonium nitrate – because why wouldn’t you store those things together?), and in two separate places, two brides and two grooms are hit with the shock-wave as it forever defines the memories they will associate with their outdoor wedding pictures.
In a barbershop, security camera footage captures the grim moment when the owner steps to the front of the store to investigate the noise from outside (the warehouse had been on fire prior to the explosion, and either fireworks or some other form of munitions were going off rapidly and loudly), only to be blown backward in a hail of steel and glass as the entire front of his shop burst violently inward. Astonishingly, this man will appear later in a video, seemingly unhurt save for a small bandaged scratch on his cheek.
Others will not be so lucky. As of now, at least 220 people are confirmed dead, and over a hundred are still missing. It injured over 6,000 people, and rendered over 300,000 homeless. In the space of a few minutes, somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 billion in property is destroyed. No doubt about it, August 4th is shaping up to be one of the worst days in Beirut’s history – and that’s saying a bit, given the city’s already-checkered history.
But then something happens – something which cuts against the grain of horror and sadness painted across the Lebanese evening sky. In a hospital in the city, a mother is in labor, bearing down on the pain and preparing to bring her child into the world. In a YouTube video of the event now viewed nearly a million times, you can see her being wheeled on a hospital bed into the O.R. just as the explosion bursts through the window, throwing her and all those attending around her to the ground. It looks bad. It looks, in fact, as though you’ve just witnessed the creation of a part of that body count. But you haven’t. In fact, the mother – Emmanuelle Khnaisser – goes on to give birth to a happy, healthy little boy, whom she and her husband Edmound Khnaisser have named George.
In his picture, little George is sucking on his middle finger, as if priming it for the rude gesture he has every right to extend – at least once – toward the cruel insanity of the world on the day of his birth. He is beautiful, a reminder to us simultaneously that life is a precious, precious thing; and that even in the depths of tragedy, some light of hope can and nearly always does shine through the cracks. Sometimes you have to go looking for it, and sometimes it can be really, really hard to find. But it’s almost always there.
The world mourns with Beirut. In the wake of the disaster, people from all around the world began setting up and gathering aid to send their way. The U.S. and the U.N. have also gotten involved, and are pledging large quantities of money as well (though some of this is stalled in reform politics at the moment, a fact which may have had something to do with the present government stepping down). Beirut will be able to rebuild itself in time, and humanitarian efforts will be a big part of that. But there can be no doubt that a hole in the heart of the Lebanese people has appeared, and it will take a long time for it to heal. Things like the birth of George Khnaisser – the little boy who lived – are and should be bright spots in an otherwise dark affair.