Updated: Apr 10, 2019
It happened on their first date while they were watching a parade. Suddenly, tubas and trombones were flying through the air. There was chaos: noise, a human stampede. My mom had polio. My dad, who hardly knew her at the time, picked her up and ran. He hid her behind a column and put his back to the crowd, shielding her with his body. A bomb had gone off.
It wasn't until many years later that I met someone who lost her father in a situation like this, and I realized what it would have felt like had the story ended not in love but in death. She told us her story of violence in a too-loud room. We were six strangers who had ended up at a table together. What I had meant as a benign question to another woman ("Oh, your last name is Somethingopolos? Are you Greek?") ended with a statement that no, but her husband was, and he was dead. The widow was in tears. She seemed to surprise even herself. The woman to my left leaned forward across half-eaten plates of Korean food, her hands on the widow's shoulders: "Yes, I know what it feels like. I know." The widow was embarrassed. She looked for a chance to change the conversation. "Who did you lose? What happened?" Those of us caught in the middle leaned back, making room for elbows, not sure whether we were in the conversation or not. "My father. He was murdered when I was a little girl. Terrorists killed him." She was crying now too. The widow didn't know what to say. None of us knew what to say. She was from Egypt, and her father had worked for Anwar Sadat's government in 1981. Sadat had just won a Nobel Peace Prize, but rumors of violence were everywhere.
The day finally came during a parade on Nasr Street. Khalid Islambouli shouted "Death to Pharaoh,” threw grenades, and then started firing an AK-47.
"They killed my father before they came for Sadat. And now there is a street in Iran named after the man who killed him. They celebrate him! They named a street after him." Her makeup ran in streaks down her face. We swallowed our kimchi. We shifted in our seats. Her face in that moment looked like what I've seen in Brussels. What we've seen in Pakistan, Istanbul, San Bernardino, Garissa University, Libya, Paris, Boston, New York. Pain and sorrow and confusion: A Why? wrapped up in too much loss to want to hear an answer.
Anwar Sadat was buried across the street from where he was shot: "Hero of War and Peace" was inscribed above his grave. Khalid Islambouli was 27 years old when he stood in front of the firing squad. His family was not given his body for burial. The writer of Ecclesiastes might have guessed what would happen next-— not as a result of Sadat or Islambouli, but simply because "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again." Nasr Street eventually became the site of more violence. Mass protests turned into riots. People died, and a regime was toppled.
In Tehran, Khaled Islambouli Avenue also became the site of riots and riot control. Fresh blood was spilled. People died, and the regime remained. "There is nothing new under the sun." I know that God didn't include these words in his holy book as a call to apathy. This world is full of brokenness, and it has been since Genesis.
But one day the streets of bloodshed will be replaced with streets of gold, and death itself will be overcome. And everything that happens between now and then is significant. Even when parades are bombed and towers are crashed down and people are treated as symbols to hate rather than image-bearers of God, our time is the antithesis of despair. Because "anyone who is among the living has hope" (Ecclesiastes 9:4a). It bears saying twice: God views this time as so significant, that he extends it — even as we cry out maranatha — so that more people can be saved (2 Peter 3:3-9). The nominal, the radicals, and everyone in between. I don't know what to do with this sometimes. When we see the innocent grieve, his patience can feel like a weight to shift under. "They" become "us." The question rises up: "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (Revelation 6:10). I've asked this question countless times. I join in the Earth itself in longing for redemption. "But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). And when I hear my God, I know the answer. How long? Long enough. Long enough for God to fulfill his purposes. To save more. Because this world is dark but his regime is good, and it will not be toppled. His reign will not end, his peace will endure. And this story will not end in death but in love.
A portion of this article has been read and responded to by over a thousand Syrian Muslims in one week. Thank you to the Embassy volunteer who shared this.