Lebanon Betrayed

An FBI report dated October 7, 2020 but recently reported by Reuters, disturbed me immensely. It showed how close the Lebanese came to a cataclysmic slaughter. The report noted that of the 2,754 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the port in the capital city of Beirut, only 552 tons had exploded on August 4, 2020. Had the full amount of ammonium nitrate detonated, most of Beirut would have been flattened, leveled, razed. The number of deaths would probably have been in the tens of thousands of people, if not the hundreds of thousands. Following the report, the New York Times reveals that officials in the Lebanese government hampered the investigation into the port explosion. Clearly, the Lebanese government knowingly perpetuated fraud and raped the country.

As a Lebanese expat, it pains me to the core to see the suffering happening to my fellow countrymen for they are my family of the Middle East. This tiny country once coined the Switzerland or the Paris of the Middle East, a country where most people had advanced degrees and spoke three or four languages; where the American University of Beirut attracted students across the globe to medicine, engineering, nursing, sciences, arts, history, law, etc.; where the arts from all over the world came every summer to perform at the festival in the Roman ruins of Baalbek and Byblos; where many religions coexisted in peace; and where freedom of individual expression was enjoyed by persons from other Arab world countries that practiced institutional, societal and religious oppression — this tiny country now lies in ruins, stricken by poverty and neglect.

I knew, during every single one of my frequent visits to Lebanon, that there was desperation and instability all around us. But there was also vibrancy, a love of life and seeking joy in the small things – a vendor balancing a large tray of “ka’k” on his head (baked bread covered with sesame, shaped like a purse); the watermelon merchant pushing his wooden cart through the streets shouting “on the knife, watermelon,” (indicating he would cut a slice for the buyer to taste); the vendor of cooked corn on the cob with his clickety click of the metal tongs announcing his arrival; the cafes full of mixed sects sitting, smoking, drinking, laughing, eating. I have not been back for the past two years first due to COVID and then the horrific blast of Aug. 4, 2020, that uprooted the lingering magic of the country, and collapsed whatever hope was left in the long-suffering spirit of the people.

Plagued by sectarian tension that is also part of the governing constitution, and with the collapse and demise of its financial system (due to decades of corruption of its leaders), Lebanon’s crisis has been in the making for many years. Sectarian deep-seated antagonism, unworkable political institutions, mind boggling levels of corruption, the unspeakable effect of the Syrian civil war and influx of refugees, the grip of Hezbollah (and, by extension, the Islamic Republic of Iran), and the permanent tension with Israel not to mention struggling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, have thwarted the possibility of any real political and economic stability. Lebanon has dangerously sunk into the darkest of times having been betrayed over and over by her leaders who are now nailing her coffin.

If Lebanon was already on her knees, amidst all these crises, the heinous explosion of Aug. 4, 2020, most certainly broke her back as the port at the heart of Lebanon’s capital Beirut was annihilated. Shock waves ripped the facades from every building in neighboring districts – and behind every shattered window are shattered lives, but deeper still are the wounds to a nation that was already reeling from economic crisis, debilitated by pandemic and weary from political chaos and corruption. It has rendered hundreds of thousands homeless.

In a recent article by Ben Hubbard of the New York Times (Aug. 5,2021, Section A,  Page 1), he describes the “scores of people lined up for free meals from a charity kitchen, some equipped with cut off shampoo bottles to carry their food because they can’t afford regular containers.” Friends tell me that lines for food grow. My brother tells me fuel is in short supply. People wait for hours to fill a gas tank while others walk for hours to various destinations because they can’t afford transportation. Medicine is scarce. Power cuts can last 23 hours. Covid cases are increasing. Hospital staff have diminished. Food poisoning is on the rise (due to no refrigeration), and alcohol overdose is a given. There is a new kind of poor in the country. They are soldiers, bank employees, professionals, healthcare workers, educators, civil servants all whose salaries have lost 90% of the bulk of their value.

France and EU proposed billions in aid but only if the government restructured and eradicated corruption. The government did not.  The government will not, as their own self-interests prevail. Self-interests that are made possible by corruption facilitating money that gets squirreled away in foreign bank accounts while the Lebanese, buried under a rubble of crumbling buildings, search for a crumb to survive.

I feel an unsurmountable surge of responsibility and concern for my fellow countrymen, my family of the Middle East. I feel that if we don’t exercise our humanity toward Lebanon, a country that served the West, Europe, Israel, Syria, Iran and the entire Middle East with boundless tolerance and freedom of thought among the pluralism of its society, with churches and mosques and a synagogue side by side, with centers of finance, commerce, learning, medicine, and a frolicking social life of fashion and style, I fear our humanity will rust and we will be indifferent to the corrupt elites of the world who find ways to prey on a country’s vulnerability, and shamelessly game every tragedy to their advantage.

Meanwhile, I live vicariously through conversations with my brother who still resides there and the memories of parents and grandparents and relatives that speak of the days of gatherings with a unique mix of culture, food and terrain that made Lebanon the place I loved and love in my imagination.

Photo by Brian Dento, NYT, Aug. 5, 2021
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My Muse

“The muses in Greek mythology  were the goddesses of the fine and performing arts. The word derives from the Greek ‘Mousa’, which translates to ‘thinking in silence’. The Greeks saw their muse as embodied spirit goddesses.”

Father sat on an antique, curved wood bistro chair… a remnant from his childhood home. A green satin pillow covered the worn-out canvas seat. He sat at a small desk in the bedroom, cluttered with newspaper clippings, books and piles of paper. This was his chair and desk. It was a sanctified space, not to be touched, not even one paper or clip removed. He would face the window to catch every ray of natural light as the pen he held between his fingers wrote words that ran into sentences sprawled across thin sheets of paper. Sometimes he would stop to rub his ink-stained fingers, which matched the ink stains on his shirt pocket, raise a fist to his lips as though contemplating a thought, only to put his head down again to produce another stream of words. Then there were times when he would stare out of the window as though he was in a trance waiting for a divine spirit to nudge him, inspire him, get him to “think in silence” about words and ideas that came to fruition from his own thoughts.

If I happened to mention a coffee break, he would smile and let out a little chuckle. Sometimes he would take his coffee at his desk, but most times he would take the break saying his “Muse would wait.” I never really understood that. Dad was an individual who maintained an awareness of the environment beyond the level of most people. I’d like to think that father found stories in what he saw, what he heard, experienced and imagined. I’d like to think that neither the chair nor the desk had an extraordinary ability to summon the “Musa” (Muse) for his stories and writings. Yet, once he put his butt in the chair, his “Muse” magically summoned the creative juices to flow as a lamp summons a genie.

If it were really that simple, of course, everyone who wanted to write or create would simply do it. But my Muse has a life of her own. She comes from the spirit of my generation and generations past. She comes from the moments I live. She comes from tangled dreams I have at night, or from a film or documentary I watch. She comes from the lady walking her dog, the homeless person who mumbles utter nonsense rummaging through trash. She comes from the book I read, from a lecture I hear, a feeling I experience when visiting family,  my homeland or town, from the food I eat, or that extra glass of wine I drink. She runs through me like an electric current that thrashes my thoughts.

Anything can be a source for my writing.  It may be a fragment of a conversation, the way the light falls through trees, a breeze that picks up a scent, how a wine tastes or the feel of fabric on my fingers. I use my senses to absorb information, both passively and actively.  I’m not an eavesdropper but often I’ll direct my ear backwards and listen and jot down notes on a conversation that I am hearing behind me, or I may be talking with a friend and catching sight of a child at play. Whether or not I am consciously aware, as a writer I’m taking in what happens around me, and my Muse suspends all judgment and expectation and allows the creativity to flow at any time. Until recently.

I’ve lost my Muse, and I’ve made her vanish because my Muse came to me at the worst possible times. She arrived when I couldn’t possibly listen to her because my world would fall apart if I didn’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/annotate the notes for a meeting right then. She arrived late at night when I was tired and cranky and I didn’t care about her amazing creative insights. She came to me just as I was biting into a grab-and-go croissant. She arrived with crumbs still falling down my chin while I burned my palate on a sip of steaming coffee…because the Muse had a brilliant idea for me that couldn’t wait. The Muse expected me to drop everything and listen to her inspirational comments. So, I lost track of her because I’m a grown person with a bunch of things I must attend to that do not allow me the perfect time to put my butt in a chair and write.

My sister reminds me there is no perfect time. “Perfectionism hampers creativity,” she says. “Learn from dad. He never waited for the perfect moment. He wrote because he wanted to write despite everything. Remember, life is messy. Creativity is messy. Write when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.”

I don’t have a magical chair and desk. I don’t write in a trance or a sacred space. I write in the car stuck in traffic. I write in the dentist’s waiting room. I write on a pharmacy receipt, at the market shopping for fruit, I write on the back of my hand. I write in the back of my mind. I write in the splinters of time I can find amid my obligations. I write in the early hours of the morning and much as I would like to go back to sleep, my thoughts begin to whirl and spin out of control as fragments of my world break the silence inside my head like an ecstatic dance. “She’s back,” I say. “My MUSE is back!” And I give in to her.

“When the muse comes, you must go with her, and let her take you far.” (Yerbar)

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Resilience, Your life-line

An academic year like no other has come to an end and colleges and universities are celebrating graduates in a variety of ways. Some are hosting multiple small, in-person ceremonies to comply with social distancing mandates. Others are hosting larger ceremonies in stadiums and outdoor arenas. A handful are doing virtual-only, while others are restricting in-person ceremonies to just graduates while family and friends watch from a livestream. Regardless of how you celebrate the accomplishment, graduation ceremony is an emotional, moving, living event that is etched in memory. This year, especially, is no exception.

To all the graduates out there, it is my conviction that the broken routine of the pandemic taught lessons about what is important beyond the “classroom.” The pandemic was never about what you missed these past 15 months. It was always about what you can become. And if the past year taught you anything, it was resilience. Resilience is that quality which brings you back when injury makes you feel that all is lost— and how something horribly bad this year made you stronger for tomorrow and all future days. Pandemic restrictive learning gained you a deeper appreciation of your need to experience family, friends, events, travel and even the casual greeting of strangers on the street. Through it all, you embraced a spectrum of human experiences, adapted to changes and gained resilience.

Webster defines resilience as the power or ability to return to the original former position after being bent, compressed or stretched. We were all bent, compressed and stretched in 2020. Some of us lost loved ones to this vicious virus; others saw parents lose jobs, lose homes, and all of us were stressed to shift from the physical three-dimensional world to the flat screen virtual world. Yet here you are now graduates– from scholars to future leaders, YOU did it.  You overcame the odds.  You crossed the finish line and are proving to the world more than any other graduating class that you have what it takes to not only be resilient but to rise in the face of adversity and hardship.

Graduates, look at what brought you to this day. You learned alone and you learned together with online classes, independent studying, creative projects, virtual debates, practices, meets, games, wins, losses, fundraisers, job searches, interviews, meetings, and even protests. The pandemic did not erase your achievements. Nor did it destroy your spirits and talents. It simply diverted them to new pursuits like zoom conferences, online cooking shows, creative Tik Tok accounts, webinars, home econ, watching siblings, facing mortality and gaining an appreciation for life’s daily monotony and its tragic frailty.

You are a connected generation–now connected even more. Six-foot distancing and quarantines become disconnections only if hearts and minds define them as such. Stay connected. Continue to ask family, friends and loved ones with genuine concern “Are you safe? Are you sound? Are you whole? Are you well?” Because you have learned that human connections are above all and endure.

Keep learning. A great deal of education is about learning from personal mistakes and life’s curve balls. There is no success without the risk of failure; you cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism; you cannot have love without the risk of loss.  Take risks and discover the world in new ways. Have faith. Have hope. You must believe that when one door closes another will open. And when you’re in the fog of the unknown and you cannot see what or where the next step is, surround yourself with the family and friends who endure.  Push forward. Be robust. Be tough. Be gritty. Be hardy. Be resilient. When the storms of life keep coming and threaten to send you adrift, remember resilience.  Resilience comes down to a simple test between you and your image in the mirror. Look into your own eyes and decide what values you will live by and how you will live your life because you alone are responsible for your thoughts, your actions and reactions. Though you may not have all the answers, listen to the voice of your heart’s knowledge and decide to root your life in justice, compassion and humility.  You may feel compressed, bent and stretched, but resilience will be your lifeline to the future.  You’ll bounce back not just to your original state but to a place that your wildest imagination could not even fathom.  Trust your potential and your abilities, thank those who’ve helped you and be excited about what the new dawn will bring.

Congratulations Graduates!

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She is Mother

Years have passed

Since I looked into my mother’s eyes

Reflecting love;

Love she had shared generously with those

She’d touched in her life,

Love she knew would carry her through her days;

Love she ‘d given me and my siblings.

She had faith her story would one day end, that it must end.

“It is the order of life,” she had said. “For love to carry on,

It must be passed, and I must pass.”

And at that moment I came face to face with reality.

At that moment,

That day,

That night,

And forever more,

I would uphold the comfort of her magnanimous love

And I would be celebrating

This incredible, phenomenal woman…

….Mother, Mama, Mayr Im.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL whose hearts are satiated with a mother’s love.

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Call It By Name: Genocide

I am writing this with the hope that on April 24th a universal sigh of relief will reverberate throughout the Diaspora of Armenians and throughout what little homeland we have left. I am writing this with a hollow feeling because as an American I want to trust the moral rightness on which this country was founded based on the principles of justice for civil and human rights. I am writing this with the yearning that on April 24, America will have the courage to stand on the right side of history and recognize the atrocities of 1915 calling it by its name: Genocide.

I know that justice is not an object to have, but often a difficult journey to undertake. We saw that most recently, when a sigh of relief was heard nationwide after weeks of nervous anticipation at the momentous decision in the Derik Chauvin trial when the verdict was announced guilty on all three counts. The guilty verdict was as cathartic and dramatic as a cleansing purge that occurs which releases the painful emotions of an injustice that is made right with truth. Will this bring in a new age where we can confidently speak the truth– that Black Lives Matter — as we strive for equality before the law and affirm our inherent core values and respect our civil rights? I hope so.  Because I believe this judgment is right, just, and moral, and in a way, a triumph long overdue. And it is our responsibility to turn this moment into a lasting movement of civil rights equal under the law.

By the same token, a sigh of relief that some justice had been served was undoubtedly heard around the world after The Nuremberg Trials, which were prompted by indictments on Oct. 18, 1945, against some twenty individuals for crimes against humanity during World War II. In a way, that too was a triumph. Prosecutors successfully argued that German military and political officers such as Goring, Jodl, Keitel, and Frick violated natural law while serving the German war machine. The difficult journey of Holocaust survivors toward justice for crimes against their humanity had just begun. After four decades of denying a dark past, in 1990, East Germany apologized to Israel and all Jews for the Nazi Holocaust and accepted joint responsibility for the slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II.

The question of moral responsibility for an action at the time it occurred and the moral responsibility in the present time, for actions of the past cannot be separated. In other words, moral responsibility for an action, once committed, is set in stone. Germany recognized that after 40 years.

On April 24, it will be 106 years that Armenians have been waiting to release that cathartic sigh of relief for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1.5 million at the hands of Ottoman Turkey.  106 years of historical truth, knowledge, proof, memoirs, photos, loss, grief, pain, protests, letters, to hear an acknowledgment that the Armenians suffered a Genocide! The word genocide is important to the Armenians because it was coined by Lemkin who, for 25 years studied the massacres and deportations of Armenians and officially introduced it to a world wide audience when it was adopted by the United Nations ‘Genocide’ Convention in 1948. The term Genocide referred to the killing, injuring or forcible removal of people with “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”

In 2019, both houses of Congress adopted a resolution recognizing the Genocide. But recognition by the president of the United States will be a kind of moral beacon to the world that signals the American commitment to human rights outweighs the scale of political and monetary gain.  Recognition by a US President would hold officers of the Ottoman Government implicated in such crimes and current officers personally responsible for their crimes against humanity .

It has been over a century, and I know that if that sigh of relief is not heard and echoed across the globe as I hope it will on April 24, 2021, Armenians will continue to resist the injustice to bring the change we seek. We must pursue as a declaration of our worth and humanity. Healing does not come by closing the books and turning away from the truth. Healing starts when the devastating consequences of injustice and loss are seen and acknowledged. For the Armenians it starts with the word Genocide.

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Listen, God Speaks

The year was 1970, a few days before the start of lent. I was unhappy, or so I thought. I was confused, frustrated, impatient, annoyed, exasperated, dissatisfied, you name it, I was it. I assumed most teenagers were like me … Continue reading

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I Urge You, Choose to Challenge

(This article was first written in 2020 and has been updated since.)

The month of March marks International Women’s Day as the global celebration of women recognized widely throughout the 20th century after its official launch by the United Nations General Assembly in 1977. It is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. Yet, the day isn’t simply a celebration — it is an international call to action for everyone to continue to push for complete gender equality.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2021  is “Choose to Challenge.”  In 2020 was “Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.” The year before that it was “Think Equal, Be Smart: Innovate for Change.” In 2018 it said, “Time is Now: Rural & Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives.” In 2017 it was “Be Bold for Change.” In 2016 it reminded the world that to the benefit of humanity “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” was essential. In 2015 it was “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It.” In 2014 it was “Equality for Women is Progress for All.” In 2013 it was “A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women.” The year 2012 claimed to “Empower Rural Women: End Hunger and Poverty.” 2011 demanded “Equal Access to Education: Pathway to Decent Work for Women.” 2010 promoted “Equal rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All.”

Need I continue? Shamefully, it feels like a broken record. The fact that we are still fighting a battle for equality and for the recognition of the value of women’s contributions to society is indeed a shame.

There is ample evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies, and even countries. Women’s participation makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous.

At this crucial moment for women’s rights, it is time for men to stand with women, listen to them and learn from them and fight for gender equality in their communities. As real fathers of daughters, men should share the vision of a world where every human being is equally respected. Men should share the vision of a world where women and daughters are protected, defended and nurtured. If we are ever to defeat the systems of oppression we are all subject to, men must be involved and must work together with women on these issues.

“Those of us who have the opportunity to celebrate have the responsibility to speak for  those who cannot.”

Today, March 8, women will come together and pat each other on the back to celebrate International Women’s day; we celebrate the day with flowers, and praise each other for work well done. And truly, there are many women whose work is selflessly well done and recognized for their courage. However, those of us who have the opportunity to celebrate have the responsibility to speak for those who cannot. There are women out there who are under restrictive rules dictated by a culture that prohibits them from health care, or pursuing an education, or participating in their family’s economic progress, or in politics and worse yet, endure violence and abuse.

As an Armenian, I speak to those of my culture and heritage who must not ignore the violation of human rights that goes on in and among our culture and our homeland. We cannot turn a blind eye to the atrocity when only last year a 43 years young mother was beaten to death in Gyumri and her 13 years young daughter was beaten to a pulp and left to die. We can celebrate the day of the woman, but we will never enjoy the dignity deserved as women, as mothers, sisters, daughters, unless human rights of all women are respected and protected. Government and law enforcement in Armenia (and around the world) must accept their responsibility to protect and promote internationally recognized human rights as set by the Vienna Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, appointed in 1994.

I urge you, not to remain silent for fear of your professions, for fear of political or religious persecution by your peers. Let your this day of celebration be the day when you give voice to the girls and women whose words are unheard and whose presence is unnoticed.
Do the right thing.
Speak up.
Choose to Challenge the status quo and become the agents of change.
We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society. I urge you. Break the Silence. Speak up to stop the violence. Enlist women and men to step forward and join the drive toward a world in which women feel safe at home (and at work) and enjoy freedom to pursue their dreams and their potential.

I urge you.
If not now, When?
If not us, Who?

 

(ART WORK: Flaming Heart by Anni Barsoum) 

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Women’s History Month

From warriors of the Urartu period (as reported by Forbes) to athletes of today, from academicians and diplomats to politicians and human rights advocates, from publishers to scientists, from architects, mechanics, engineers and information technology to physicians, women across the globe have iconic groundbreakers who pushed boundaries, forced change and broke records.

The first day of March marks the onset of Women’s History Month in the United States and internationally. We dedicate 31 days to celebrate the often-overlooked contributions of women to history, culture and society. From First Lady Abigail Adams to suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fighting for women’s right to vote; from abolitionists and women’s rights activists  Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks; from  Amelia Earhart to the rise of feminism and women’s rights as human rights by Hillary Clinton,  the timeline of women’s history milestones stretches back to the founding of the United States. These women among so many others pushed boundaries, forced change, and paved the way for future generations.

The “backbone” to shaping recognition of women in history is Molly Murphy MacGregor, a high school history teacher who realized that the coverage of women in history was lacking in the books. She became determined to make a record of underrepresented women who created historical and monumental movements to make the world a better place. MacGregor set out to establish Women’s History Week in 1978 — a weeklong celebration hosted in California to educate others about women in history. The idea caught on within communities, school districts and organizations across the country, and in 1980, President Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. Seven years later, in 1987, Congress declared National Women’s History Week to expand the entire month of March.

Today, thirty-four years later, National Women’s History Month continues to be a major celebration and a developed grassroots movement among organizations that advocate for the inclusion of women figures in history.  One such organization founded 30 years ago is the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA), a pioneer organization established by women and for women based on the premise of elevating women to reach their full potential through education, advocacy and change. AIWA truly and inclusively recognizes how important women have always been in society. I draw comfort, pride and courage from their vision and mission in elevating Armenian women, teaching as many people as possible about women’s role in history and encouraging the retelling of history to change the future.

What you can do?
Draw strength and inspiration from the women who came before you – and from those phenomenal women working among you today. They are part of your story.

  • Thank a woman who inspires you.
  • Read about women who have done badass things.
  • Tell children about women’s leadership.
  • Stop gossiping about other women.
  • Lend a hand, lift, elevate and mentor.

Celebrate Women’s History month with pride, reassurance and courage.

 

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Scars We Bear

Scars. We all have them somewhere on our body. Some are easy to see, some are not. But they all leave a mark in lessons we have learned, or who we are or have become or wish to overcome.

I’ve had my fair share of scars. Some have faded to near oblivion over the years. Others remain as prominent reminders of a full and active childhood that gained me scratches, scrapes and scabs, bloody knees and elbows, bumps and lumps, gashes, cuts and slashes by nails, glass, ragged steel and tin, dog bites, and burns.

I still have two faded marks on my palm made some 50 years ago when an angry classmate jabbed me twice with his pencil because I had borrowed his sharpener without asking. A black spot on the sole of my foot marks the evidence of an injury acquired when I stepped on a rusty nail as a child, and eventually, when the foot seemed to be too infected, I brought it to my parents’ attention which resulted in a booster tetanus shot. A diminishing scar on my groin is testimony to an injury that occurred when an empty tin can toppled over and cut into my flesh as I lost my balance while using it as a stepping stool.

Then there was the time when I accepted a challenge to race downhill on a bike. I took a tumble, landed flat on my face and after removing the gravel from my grazed elbows, realized that there was a half inch nail that had penetrated the cartilage of my elbow.

The scar hidden in my hair line I gained when I ran, slipped and hit my head on the corner of a concrete step. I recall the fall but do not recall the pain and worry I must have caused because all I remember is waking up to having had a partially shaved scalp and stitches.

These are but a sampling of scars I bear… scars from physical tumbles, acts of bravado and a few surgeries. Each has its own story and I have mine about them, but most of them ended happily as they have healed. But what of individuals who have visible scars they wish to hide because they provide others a window into their lives? What if their scars remind them of terrible times or places they’ve been, experiences they’ve never quite been able to leave behind? The scars of abuse and pain endured, of persecution and of struggles between good and evil are difficult to see as proof of healing.

There are scars acquired through acts of heroism — saving people from fires, accidents and others from wounds sustained in combat. These are marks of honor, and though they may still hurt and blemish a handsome or beautiful visage, they are marks of true beauty for they came from showing love for a fellow human or for country.

Then there are the scars you can’t see. The ones sustained in memory of a parent who remembers every detail of their child in intensive care as doctors work to find out what’s wrong. Or details of a loss of life; a home ravaged by flood or fire; the stench of death in a war zone; or the look on a child’s face when hope is destroyed. These are the unseen wounds you think about in the middle of the night waking from some palpitant dream.

We all have scars– on our bodies, and on our hearts. They are the symbol of fragility in all of us—reminders of our journey in life, misadventures, grief, heartache and loss.  They test our determination and resilience.  Some of us will fold while others will use the reminders as their strength. It’s a personal choice.  What we do with the pain or hurt makes us who we are. But the scars on our bodies, the ones on our hearts and in our minds are only part of our stories and mementos of past events. They might be visible on the outside or they might be visible only to the individual. However, when our time is up in this world, I hope we leave here with scars. Scars say, “I took a chance,” or “I didn’t play it safe.” Scars say, “I’m human, and I made mistakes,” “I’ve learned a lesson.” Scars say, “I saved a life.” Scars say, “I fought the good fight.” Scars say, “I am a warrior.” Scars say, “I survived.” Scars say, “I lived.”

Embrace every one of them. They make you unique.

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“To-Do” List

I am a list maker. I start my day with a list of things to do as though I have a desperate need to write things down—to make order out of chaos. I have a thousand “to-do’s” revolving around in my mind, like a whirlwind causing the thoughts and items to crash and bang into each other like objects flying in the vortex of a tornado. If I can catch them one by one and pin them down, I can bring structure to chaos, body to shapelessness and manageability to otherwise the unmanageable. Come to think of it, even the Creator made order out of chaos with a list: Day 1, Light. Day 2, Sky/Water. Day 3, Land, and so on.

I make a list and then I feel like I’ve conquered the universe. I look at the list and it gives me that all important feeling of control, as though nailing the “to-do’s” down to a piece of paper makes them more doable. Of course, that’s not altogether true because making a list is not enough. I have to make the right kind of list. If it’s too long with too many items and with too much time to complete, my objectives will fail. For example, “Write my book by next week,” is not a good to-do item. Logic dictates if I break it down into smaller, more functional goals like “Write 1000 words by day’s end,” it becomes a good step toward the doable. Even if I fail, I can refine it to an easier objective: “Write 500 words by day’s end.”

Unfortunately, even if I make a perfect list, I may still encounter the unknown—the unexpected interruption when things go “Not as Planned.”   I  start out in the morning with list in hand, determined to begin at number 1 and work through to the end of the list, but the phone rings (it’s a friend who needs to connect—we’ve lost a common acquaintance to illness); the neighbor stops by (to check on containment of the squirrel population running wild on our communal back fence); the front gate buzzes (it’s a florist with a special bouquet and chocolate delivery for me) … At this point it becomes difficult to approach my list with enthusiasm when all I can think of is the acquaintance lost, the squirrels, and the persons who sent me the flowers and chocolates … and I still have 90% of my list to accomplish plus everything else that is a standard day activity which is not on the list.

Does that mean I should discard the list altogether?  I don’t think so. I just have to make a more realistically honest list. While I would much rather make a thrilling list that says, “count my piles of money,” “arrange lunch with friends,” “pack travel bag,” “climb the Himalayas,” “live on an island,” “take long afternoon naps,” “write the book,” — I resort to making a list of dull unavoidable requirements on a MUST DO to-do list. “Call dentist,” “schedule vaccination,” “buy squirrel trap,” “send thank you’s,” “express condolences,” “transcribe meeting minutes,” “fix garage door,” and among a growing list of other items “write 500 words.” Which make me think that perhaps I should move “write 500 words” to a list of desirable goals, a SHOULD DO to-do list which would include “call sister,” “call brother,” “call aunts/cousins/friends,” “cook” (instead of order in), “exercise,” “clear/file paperwork,” “reorganize hallway closet,” and “write 500 words,” among others. Of course, if I’m truly honest with myself, there are items on both these MUST DO and SHOULD DO lists that are probably not going to happen. I decide to move those to a list labeled PROBABLY WON’T DO. The problem with all these lists is that not one of them seems to get any shorter.

“My self worth and value are not measured by the ticks on my to-do list. “

Frustrated with all the items left undone, I decide to make a “have-done” list instead.  I start to write any accomplishment or “win” over the course of the day: things that I’ve achieved not only professionally but also personally …. moments that bring me real joy, or personal challenges that I overcome. Instead of always looking at what else I have to do, I  now reflect on my achievements and celebrate the smallest wins. A tiny change, but it is  monumental and in character with how I perceive success in life.  My self worth and value are not measured by the ticks on my to-do list.  I experience the euphoric, the ecstatic, the inexplicable elation that only a “have-done” list can give – instead of crossing things off, I am adding to a growing list … a list of tiny victories that otherwise might have passed me by, including having written 775 words! 

 

 

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