In the late 19th century a teen-aged boy, named Khalil Gibran, born into a poor Lebanese Christian family immigrated to the United States - and continued writing poetry - but with such support as to become the third most famous poet of all time. A clerical error at his school in his new country inaccurately recorded his name as Kahlil. Like many such school errors - it stuck. He's known today nearly the world over as Kahlil Gibran.
So much of what you'll read today will be freshly minted quips, sound-bites and tid-bits - duly dated and thrown up in the social-stratosphere - but when did you last read the words of such globally appreciated poet - words that are timeless, deep ... resonant. Too much of what we'll read today will be looked upon as "too old to be relevant" tomorrow - but Gibran's insights so beautifully expressed beckon to us with as gripping and fresh power today as they did when they were penned a century and a quarter ago half a world away. Actually - perhaps it's because Gibran was born on one continent - and then immigrated to another - and studied both art and poetry that his words and images do in fact cut through so many of the trappings and limitations of the mad love we have of the ever newer, glitzier, blingy-ier. He deftly exposes the permanent and everlasting nature of being human and pursuing the Divine - of being in search of a meaningful life so much so that what he created still speaks.
Kahlil was born relatively late in his mother Kamilah's life for the time - when she was 30. His father, Girbran Khalil Gibran, was his mother's third husband - details about his parent's lives isn't particularly easy to come by. His maternal grandfather was a priest in the Maronite Catholic tradition and the church continued to play a vital role in the Girbran household. Due to previous marriges (Kamilah's dowry was gone) Gibran's were so poor that they could not afford to send little Khalil to school - so occasionally priests would visit the home and teach tutor him individually. In 1891 Khalil's father was arrested and imprisoned for charges sometimes recorded as tax evasion, other times as embezzlement. His mother - unsure of his future and therefore theirs - made arrangements to immigrate to the United States to join her brother in Boston. Gibran Khalil Gibran was released before the family left - but did not go to the US with them - rather stayed behind in Lebanon.
Once in the US Khalil's - now Kahlil's - talents in art and poetry gained him the attention of notable artists as he was highly skilled and talented in both of these very different areas of creative expression. In 1904 Gibran had his first exhibition of original artwork - which led to him meeting Mary Elizabeth Haskell, whose patronage and support played a crucial role in his career - which led him to eventually become the third most published poet of all time - after Shakespeare and Laozu. His most famous publication was released in 1921 and was called The Prophet - which wasn't initially received terribly well - but gradually gained steam until by the 30's he was a house-hold name. His work enjoyed a resurgence of popularity during the 60's and he's still celebrated today in Lebanon as a literary hero.
Gibran's Christianity - which was rooted in the experience of being part of a minority faith community in the predominantly Muslim Lebanon - figured centrally in many of his writings and works of art. Perhaps because he had this formative experience of being "other" so often - he tapped into that universal experience of otherness we all feel from time to time. Today - where it seems only the negative interactions between Christianity and Islam get much press - Gibran's work - replete with so many familiar themes to so much of the world and which so casually reflects a childhood brought up essentially peaceably beside Islam reads especially other-worldly for its ability to bridge misunderstanding with hope and peace. In fact it somehow seems to beckon us to a deepen our own connection with God wherever we might initiate that connection.
Gibran Kahlil Gibran died at the age of 48 in 1931 of cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis. Though his life was shorter than many would have liked - by the time of his death he'd already produced over 700 works of art, and written published dozens of books of prose and poetry - before 1918 mostly in Arabic and after that time mostly in English.