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I began pulling treasures from the safe one by one. There was an envelope that contained loose diamonds – large ones that sparkled brilliantly even in the low light of the cottage. A leather case contained plastic sleeves that held gold coins, including South African Krugerrands, Swiss Francs and Canadian Maple Leaf coins – all pure gold. A separate box contained actual gold ingots in fifty gram weights.
A small cardboard box contained five carved figurines cushioned by foam pellets. Each was about the height of my hand. They were made either from ivory or bone – I couldn't tell – and depicted various historical figures that might have been Maronite saints. The only one I recognized was Saint Maron himself. I examined the Saint Maron figurine. On the bottom, in tiny Arabic script, were the words, “Khaleel Haddad. 1502.” I realized that I was looking at an artwork created by one of my own ancestors over six hundred years ago.
I was stunned. These assorted treasures must be worth a small fortune. Where had they come from? Were they my father's share of the Haddad family fortune? Had he already been wealthy when he left Lebanon? But then why did he live so simply, running a gas station while mom sold purses through the mail? Was he in hiding? Or hiding his assets from the government?
I shook my head, having no answers to these questions.
Aside from the treasures, there were four more things in the safe: a photo album, an envelope containing documents, a blue canvas-bound journal, and at the very bottom, a battered black briefcase with a combination lock. I tried the latches on the briefcase, but it was locked. Great. Yet another combination to figure out.
I examined the photo album. It contained exactly what I had hoped for: family photos of me, Charlie, our parents, and some of our relatives in Lebanon. Gold and diamonds were fine, but this was the true treasure.
There were photos of me and Charlie playing, including one of me, dripping wet, and chasing Charlie in the backyard. I stared at it for a second, then I remembered and smiled. I'd been practicing forms in the backyard when Charlie had sneaked up behind me and dumped a bucket of ice water on my head.
There were photos of my school graduations and belt promotions, and Charlie's as well; all of us at Swensen's, eating ice cream; family outings to the beach, and even photos of my aquarium and the beautiful tropical fish I had nurtured so carefully. The funny thing was that we'd had a family photo album. I remembered browsing it on summer afternoons, with Charlie fighting me for control over it. And I remembered seeing many of these scenes, but not these particular photos. Apparently every time we'd developed a roll of photos my father had divided them in two. One group went into the family album, and the rest into this secret album. As if he had known that the other might not survive.
I stared at each photo for long minutes. It had been so long since I had seen my parents' faces. My father, with the laugh lines around his eyes, always using a cane to walk. My mother, with the serious grooves alongside her mouth, mitigating her movie-star beauty. I felt a combination of wonder and heartbreak. Sitting here, looking at her face in the photos, I wanted so badly to see her again. I would hug her as tightly as I could, and tell her that I was okay, and that I was so sorry about Charlie.
I put the album aside and took a deep breath. I picked up the envelope full of documents and emptied it on the kitchen table. It contained papers that one might expect to find in any homeowner's safe, with a twist. Interestingly, there were two sets of identity documents for my entire family, one under the name Haddad, and another under our assumed name of Ibrahim. There were birth certificates for myself and Charlie, old passports, and social security cards, though the latter were under the name of Ibrahim only.
Two property ownership deeds were clipped together. The first was the deed of ownership of the house, indicating that the house had been paid for in cash. I'd always assumed that my parents had taken out a mortgage like everyone else, but obviously with the kind of savings my father had possessed, that would not have been necessary. For the first time, it occurred to me to wonder what had become of the house after my parents' deaths. Who had taken ownership of it? Who had profited? I shrugged. The Porters owned it now, and that was fine with me.
The second property deed bore the name of an entity I had never heard of – Red Day Incorporated. The deed was for a section of land in Riverside County, zoned for industrial use. I puzzled over that for a minute, until I realized that it was the abandoned rail yard where my mother had taught me to shoot. So my father had known about that all along. Or my mother had told him at the end, after they reconciled. But what was Red Day?
That question was solved as I sorted through the papers. I found incorporation documents for Red Day. It was a foundation based in the Cayman Islands. The officers were listed as – to my surprise – my entire family, under our surname Ibrahim.
I was not about to revive my old identity in order to access the foundation, but I did want to know if the property still belonged to Red Day. If the property taxes had not been paid, the state of California would have repossessed the land and re-sold it. I was thinking about my mother's guns. If they were discovered it could lead to a police investigation. Or perhaps they'd been discovered long ago and the case was filed away in a cold-case box in a police warehouse. It might be better to leave it alone.
I was tired of examining documents, but there was only one left. It was an account statement from an Austrian bank called Volks Group. No name on the documents. Only a long account number, a series of alphanumerical characters handwritten by my father, and a phrase: “Share the house.” It was a numbered account. I'd heard of these from a guy I knew in El Reno who'd been sentenced to thirty years for his role in the savings and loan scandal. All you needed was the account number, the access code and the code phrase, and you could access the account and wire money out. Even the bank employees did not know who had opened the account.
The opening balance, according to the documents, was fifty million Austrian schillings. I had no idea how much that equaled in dollars. It could be a thousand dollars or enough to buy a small country, for all I knew.
I'd saved the blue canvas-bound journal for last because I knew what it was. I'd seen my father writing in journals like this many times, and I'd sneaked a peek over his shoulder occasionally. If this was like the others, it was a combination of diary, poetry and philosophical musings.
I opened it randomly. Printed on the page in my father's neat handwriting was a poem:
Water in the Well
There will always be water
in the well for you,
even when my lips are parched.
There will be an ark
when the troubles rise
and you don't know where to stand.
There will be strong hands
to lift you, and smiles,
and a heart split wide,
with the sea
rising and falling inside.
There will be rain
from a clear sky.
There will be water in the well
for you, my love.
Kamal Ibrahim, 1980
I read it three times, soaking up the words. It was written for my mother, no doubt. My father had loved her so much.
With trembling hands, I leafed through the journal. I found diary entries, more poems, and thoughts on non-violence, sincerity, defeating racism, the meaning of justice, and more. As I neared the end I saw something that made me go utterly still. My father had written me a letter. It was dated only a few weeks before his death. I'm paraphrasing, but this is more or less what it said:
My beloved son Simon,
It's my hope that you have discovered this journal late in life, along with the others that I have yet to write. I hope that I lived a long and fruitful life, and that you and I came to know each other as men.
I am proud of you. Sometimes I watch you when you don't notice. I observe you teaching a junior student in Hapkido class, playing with Charlie, or tending to your fish, and I see a boy with a huge heart, boy brimming with love and faith in himself and the world. Watching you is like seeing a piece of my soul, grown into a new person. I love you. And I know your mother feels the same.
Your mother and I sometimes disagree, but she is my angel. Everything she does stems from her deep love for her family. I pray that when you grow up, you find a woman as fiercely protective and loyal as she. That's no easy task.
There are two great challenges in life, Simon. The first is life itself – the blows it deals you, the setbacks, the hurricanes that knock you off your feet, no matter how strong you are. The way people can betray and disappoint you. Lost love. Sickness. Death.
My plan has always been to wait until you are eighteen to explain the family history. So by now you know. I chose the name Ibrahim for our family because the Prophet Ibrahim was the father of us all.
Being a descendant of Antoine Haddad carries a burden of guilt, shame and fear. Aside from that, we each carry our regrets like anchor weights on our hearts. We have our private shames, moments of failure, and times when we lost control and said or did something we shouldn't have.
This brings me to the second great challenge in life, which is forgiveness.
Simon, I don't worry about your ability to weather the storms of life. You are a fighter. You're stronger than me; stronger than your mother, even. You're a superhero in the making, son. I see it.
True strength, though, lies in forgiveness. Whatever anger you harbor against others, let it go. Anger and resentment make us brittle and cynical, and narrow our vision, making our world small. We become bitter and quick to judge. These negative emotions are poisons that kill us day by day, from the inside out.
Forgiveness opens the lungs and lets us breathe. It releases our hearts to beat freely, and lets the weight fall from our backs.
I know that this is easy to say and hard to do, but we must search our hearts for every vestige of bitterness and resentment, and forgive.
Ask God Almighty for forgiveness for anything you've done that you regret, then, let it go. Others have erred against you because they are human; you have harmed others because you are human. Breathe in and out, and let your regrets escape with each breath. Do this as often as you need.
Forgive me Simon, for any way in which I've hurt you, embarrassed you or let you down. Forgive your mother. She's not perfect, but by now you know that no one is. Forgive your brother. Brothers fight sometimes, but you are Charlie's hero. Forgive your wife, if you have one, and your children. When families forgive each other it creates a safe, peaceful space. That peace ripples out into society, touching everyone we encounter. By that means we change the world.
This last one is hard. Being a Haddad means having enemies by default. People will hate and fear you because of your name. I'm asking you to forgive the ones who denounce and injure you. Do it not for their sake but for your own heart, and for God.
Simon, be gentle with yourself and others. The world is bursting with hatred, divisions, and suffering. It is torn by war and conflict. Let us change this by starting with ourselves. Go into the world today and be gentle, and forgive, because when you forgive, you live.
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