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A Poet's Oasis of Peace

By Louise SweeneyStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 5, 1991



WASHINGTON

'I LOVE you, my brother, whoever you are, whether you worship in your church, kneel in your temple, or pray in your mosque. We are still all the children of one faith."Those words by poet Khalil Gibran are carved in gray marble at the new Khalil Gibran Memorial Garden and are on the lips of the man who made the memorial possible. "That prayer kind of symbolizes the nature of what Gibran stood for," says William J. Baroody Jr., chairman and president of the Khalil Gibran Centennial Foundation. It is also the favorite passage of Mr. Baroody, a former government official of Lebanese heritage who was asked to take over the foundation in 1989. At that time it looked as though the October 1989 deadline for securing the memorial land appropriated by congressional legislation might run out. "They had a nice design halfway through the app roval process," says Baroody, "but no money. Would I take over ... raising the money so we wouldn't lose the land?" He did and they didn't. Baroody flew around the country, putting on dinners, lunches, receptions in Houston, Chicago, Miami, Cleveland, Detroit, raising $800,000 of the necessary $1.2 million by October for construction. The result is the quiet oasis in Gibran's name on embassy row across from the British Embassy and next door to the Islamic Center. You enter the cool grove of tall trees over a miniature bridge. At your left is the bronze bust of Gibran by sculptor Gordon Kray on a low, dark gray marble pool wall. A path circles up above the sculpture pool to a larger circle of limestone benches on which excerpts from Gibran's writings are engraved. The circle here symbolizes completion and continuity. You can sit on the memorial garden's benches and read such lines as: "We live only to discover beauty. All else is waiting." Or "When you love you should not say God is in my heart, but rather I am in the heart of God." As yet there is no water plashing in the eight-sided, star-shaped pool that contains a fountain. The paved terrace around it borrows the geometric pattern of the courtyard of the Beit ed Dine palace in Lebanon. At least one cedar of Lebanon towers over it all. Gibran, who died in 1931, is the author of "The Prophet," the book in 50 languages that has sold over 8 million copies since it was written in 1923. Baroody says one of the reasons Gibran was selected by Congress for a memorial "is because he was a literary figure, a universally loved poet who has had an incredible impact worldwide.... Only the Bible has outsold 'The Prophet' in this country." He says that Gibran, who emigrated to the United States from Lebanon, is "in terms of his roots, his ethnic heritage, coming from the Middle East, represents all that is positive in that culture." When raising funds for the memorial garden, Baroody received a surprising reaction from the Middle East community here in the US. "As you know, that's a pretty split community, not just between Arabs and Jews, but also among Arabs and among Jews and others. But on this issue I've found little contention or controversy generally. ve been received positively in all the different communities ... and that includes Muslim and Christian, Druze, Jewish and so on. Khalil was a Maronite Christian." Baroody says the Gibran Centennial Foundation still needs to raise $350,000 to wrap up construction costs. The memorial will then be turned over as a gift to the nation. In 1977 Baroody became president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank here. In 1986 after a bout with illness he became self-employed, taking on this project later as well as becoming chairman of the board of the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He is also vice chairman of the American Task Force for Lebanon.

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