Finding Family, 80 Years Later

09/13/2010 02:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Kordahi. It was known to my family as the original surname of my great grandfather, before his journey from Lebanon to America and a change of his name at Ellis Island. This left "Kordahi" and all that was associated with it a distant memory to his daughter, my grandmother. It wasn't until more than 80 years later that the connection would be reestablished.

My grandmother always kept photos of the Kordahis, mailed to her father from her relatives overseas. In the summer of 2010 my family decided to take a trip to Lebanon, in a quest to find the family that we hadn't spoken to in more than a half century. My grandmother gave us her photos, but had no idea if her relatives were still living in the Lebanese village called Chbanié, let alone if they were still alive.

My mother traveled on a dirt road out of Beirut for many miles before finally arriving in the remote village of Chbanié. Walking around the village with my grandmother's photos, a local village resident recognized an individual in the picture, and pointed to a house further down the road. She approached the house and nervously knocked on the door. A moment later an older man answered, a bit confused as to who it was in front of him. My mother smiled and showed him her photo. He stood, surprised, and said something to the translator in Arabic. The translator turned to my mother and said, "He says, 'that person in the photo is my father.'"

My mother spent the next five hours with her long-lost cousin (named Boutros), laughing, crying, and catching up on the past 80 years of history in the family. At times it made her sad that so much time had elapsed, but mostly she was thrilled to have flown halfway around the world, only to find family in a remote village of Lebanon.

A few weeks later, I came to visit the family myself. Boutros, and his many brothers, welcomed me with open arms to the village. Showed me the house where my great grandfather was born. Fed me food as if I were their own son. Though none of them had known or ever met me before, I felt at home and truly loved.

As I walked away from the house after we bid our final farewell, I heard a weak yet loving voice behind me saying, in English, "b-bye ... bye." I turned around to see Boutros, reaching out to me with open arms, trying to stay strong while futilely holding back tears. I didn't speak his language, and he didn't speak mine, but we embraced nonetheless and thought the same thing -- that we were so happy to have found each other, yet wondering whether when, and if, we'd ever see each other again.

What I learned on that day in the mountains of Lebanon was the sheer connection we feel towards those we love -- that even in an instant, despite having never met each other, the establishment of a common bond created such generosity, such giving, such care, out of nowhere. Indeed, finding such a common bond between each and everyone one of us can lead to peace and beauty of the highest level. And that, I thought, was a powerful lesson to learn about life.

Daniel Arrigg Koh is a second-year MBA candidate at Harvard Business School. He holds a B.A. in Government from Harvard College. He can be reached at