Is this really happening?
I sat frozen as the Orthodox priest swung the censers during the Trisagion Service. The smell of incense filled the air and I looked passed the priest to see my father lying peacefully in the open casket. The second-half of the casket was adorned with roses while the first half revealed the Orthodox cross, a folded American flag for his military service, a rosary in his hands and the word “Palestine” written in Arabic on a small piece of metal carefully placed on his tie.
In recent years, I have written tributes for my heroes in Palestinian justice, such as Dr. Edward Said or Father Michael Prior. But it is my father who was my greatest unsung hero, and this tribute is for him.
People have often asked me how I got so involved in the Palestinian cause, and I usually just answer that “everyone is born with a purpose. This just happens to be mine.” Still, there is always someone that leads us to our purpose. For me, that someone will always be my father, Ead Michael Muzher.
Growing up, my mother and father instilled great pride in our Palestinian heritage. However, it was my father’s fighting spirit and passion for correcting the injustices against the Palestinians that were passed down to me at a very young age.
I remember going through a cabinet in the basement, making my way through all of my father’s chemistry books and literary masterpieces, and grabbing writings on Palestine instead. Sitting cross-legged, I would just read what he had stored away. That was back in the 1970s. I still have some of those writings today.
Always an optimist who believed in making a positive difference by working through the system, my father wrote letters to newspaper editors and politicians, forwarded petitions, and was constantly passing along action alerts to activist-friends by e-mails. He was clearly a doer, not a talker.
I will never forget the political debates we had. Sometimes we agreed and sometimes we didn’t, but the robust talks were always appreciated. During one of our last car rides from Mason to Southgate, we were so caught up in a discussion that neither of us noticed all the exits on I-94 we missed. We ended up in the city of Detroit.
“I promise not to talk anymore during this ride, Dad,” I told him. I looked out the window, feeling guilty for our lateness but also quietly laughing. We arrived home much later than we expected. We decided not to say anything because nobody would have understood the intensity of our shared passion for international politics. Now, I am completely thankful for quality times like that.
And even when my father wasn’t physically with me as I got older, I still felt him by my side particularly during a trip to Palestine back in 1995. I felt so many emotions, both politically-charged and/or personally-charged in every single place. One specific memory took place in Taybeh-Ramallah, where I stood on the veranda of my father’s childhood home. He used to talk about sleeping on the veranda as a young boy during some hot summer nights because of the cool breeze and safety. It was wonderful to be up there as his childhood memory became real for me.
My father didn’t just represent Palestine to me, however. The 17th century Welsh poet and priest George Herbert once said, “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” This described him perfectly.
He spent countless hours patiently teaching my brothers and me the skills we needed to do well in school. He also taught us how to play chess, read Arabic, and to appreciate classical and Latin music. Knowledge was treasured in the Muzher household and after retirement, my father’s computer desk was buried in foreign language books. From studying Greek and French to subscribing to on-line German newspapers, he never stopped his quest for learning.
He and my brothers shared a passion for playing tennis. And I don’t think there was a single Wimbledon, French, or U.S. open that my father ever missed watching on television. But it was my brothers that he most enjoyed watching. That’s just how he was . . . always proud of his children and our Mother, whom he affectionately described as “a great lady.”
I write this tribute with tears in my eyes. In his last e-mail to me only four days after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, he wrote, “. . . I don’t want you, or your brothers, and Mom to keep worrying. I am taking it easy while you keep worrying. No matter what happens you must remain strong and live as normal a life as you can.”
My father died the next day of cardiac arrest, only 16 hours before my scheduled visit home. I never got to say goodbye but have since said my private goodbye from a daughter to her father. Now, I’d like others to know who this great man was.
In recent years, my father — like so many Palestinians in the Diaspora — became very disappointed with the various political crises in Palestine and the Middle East. Indeed it is a very distressing situation, but keeping the Palestinian identity alive is paramount and a victory in itself. I’m appreciative to both of my parents for ensuring that our Palestinian identity thrived during our upbringing. And I’m indebted to my father for fighting the good fight of justice; always with integrity, honesty, determination, and honor.
So really it’s not goodbye, Dad . . . because the legacy of my unsung Palestinian hero will continue.