Date Published: Apr 5, 2022
In 1970, at the age of 17 and with only twenty-eight dollars in his pocket, Tony Assali flew to America to escape war in his homeland, Beirut, Lebanon. With the intention of establishing a foothold so that he can bring the rest of his family to safety, Tony must find work quickly.
Luckily, Tony possesses a special skill: the ability to perceive white tigers, rare and valuable opportunities other people either do not see or are too afraid to pursue. From humble beginnings working in a doughnut factory, to parlaying his charm into a position selling men’s suits by the thousands, Tony fulfills his promise to his family. Then Tony dares to dream bigger, creating a thriving business that makes him a millionaire. But even with these victories, Tony still hasn’t found the white tiger he’s really looking for—the right partner to make his life complete…until a woman he can’t stop thinking about walks into his life. Complications arise, but she might just be the one, and Tony is never the type of person to let an obstacle stop him.
I am dreaming of a white tiger when a car backfires. More explosions rock my neighborhood and I realize it’s not a car. I know these noises. Everyone in Beirut does. It’s gunfire. And it’s getting closer. I turn to my bedside clock. It’s only just after 6:00 a.m.
“What’s going on?” my little brother, Joe, groans from his side of the room.
I throw back my covers, find my slippers, and dash downstairs. I run out into the street without my coat. The morning sun hovers above the eastern hills and the air is damp and cool. I hear shouts from the direction of St. Joseph Church, whose ancient spire rises over the rooftops. Emergency sirens echo off brick houses. A police car blasts by, nearly knocking me off my feet. I follow it.
St. Joseph is only two blocks away. It’s where my family celebrates Mass every Sunday morning, where we had planned to spend the previous night, Holy Thursday. When I arrive, the place is pandemonium. People shout and scream. Several women cry hysterically. Blood stains the men’s fine suits and the women’s fancy dresses. I halt when I see several people splayed out on the church steps. More blood. The acrid smell of cordite assaults my nose.
“What happened?” I ask no one in particular.
“Up there,” an older, gray-haired man points to the three-story building across the street. “A man with a gun started shooting. Militants.”
I look up, then down the church steps, in what would have been the gunman’s line of fire. Suddenly, everything spins. I feel like I’m in an elevator whose cable has just snapped, sending me plunging into a dark abyss. This is now the second time in the past two days I have experienced this sensation. The first was just twelve hours ago, when my family was preparing to leave for services. At the last second, I insisted we stay home. I had no specific reason for this demand, only the strange feeling that if we went, something awful would happen. At first, my family protested, but my pleading made them change their minds.
Now, here I am, staring at the carnage. I freeze as I recognize a victim: my best friend, Nabil Kessrousani. Sixteen years old, he was accompanying me to church when I suddenly demanded we stay home.
“You’re crazy,” he had told me, going off on his own.
I move to help Nabil but am pushed back by uniformed personnel carrying stretchers and medical bags. Now, police are on the scene. They herd us all to the sidelines so the first responders can do their work. I want to help, but I know there is nothing I can do.
How did I know we should’ve stayed away from the church? Was it gut instinct? True, I knew Beirut was becoming more dangerous, but perhaps it was divine intervention. I cannot dismiss the fact that God was looking out for me. But why? What had I done to deserve such attention? In the years to come, I will experience many eerily similar incidents. And these same profound questions will continue to vex me. Can the practical and the mysterious coexist? My incredible life story will suggest an answer to this question.
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