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Dedicated To All Who
“Give us wings to open the horizon of ascent,
To break free from our confined cavern, the solitude of iron walls.
Give us light, to pierce the deepest darkness
and with the strength of its brilliant flow
we will push our steps to a precipice
from which to reap life’s victories.” (Excerpt from poem by Fadwa Tuqan )
Powerful women influenced my childhood. I had two grandmothers who had lost their spouses early in life and who singlehandedly and successfully raised their families while working and living in a man’s world. I had a mother who held her ground and tried hard not to allow the societal definition of woman define her place in life. I have a sister who continues to voice her professional and personal rights to champion for women and crush a needless compulsion of women to prove themselves worthy of respect. Growing up, I had a pretty good idea what being a woman meant. All the women I looked up to had a lot in common. They were educated, they were married, they were mothers, they were involved in their communities, and they were bold, proud and heard.
Grandma Marie was the only sister among 5 brothers. She was smart, observant and resilient in a world of men. She married a doctor, and together they had six children. Marie saw the death of her eldest who passed away from an illness at a very young age and then the death of her husband who passed away soon after their sixth child was two years of age. As a single parent, Marie knew the power she gained in raising 5 children on her own, and giving each of them, without gender discrimination, the opportunity to receive higher education and enter professional fields. A brave woman who rose to chair the Lady Volunteers of the Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, Marie had little patience for women who chose to remain victims of life circumstances. She spoke her mind and encouraged girls around her to do so fearlessly.
Grandma Victoria was stoic, disciplined and reserved. She was a woman of few words who had strength and determination that spoke volumes beyond her pursed lips. She was a no nonsense woman living in a brutal man’s world who preferred to depend on her own skills than to rely on an absentee husband. There was no room in her life to be less than righteous and principled in all her actions. Never a victim of self-pity, she tirelessly worked jobs in order to provide a stable life for her two boys whom she raised to become responsible, respectful and reputable gentlemen. At a time when women did not have the “authority” to take life into their own hands in the absence of “a man by their side,” both Marie and Victoria were women who relied on their own fortitude, and with matchless scruples they faced responsibilities in a patriarchal culture and society. They became their own authorities. They both taught me that a woman is not defined by her gender and the stereotype box that categorizes her but by the accomplishments that make her proud.
I am woman. Being a woman is about independence. It’s about standing my ground alone or with my peers and voicing my opinion on what matters. It’s about stamina and holding my head up high and my ideals even higher. Being a woman is about pride; to be able to look people in the eye and brush the dust off my suit every time I am knocked down. It’s about support and unity; standing together and building up my fellow women. It’s about carrying another emotionally, and cheering her on through even her smallest of successes. Being a woman is about taking responsibility for my life and for what I want from that life. I am my own authority. I cannot be put into a box.
I am solemn and I am mischievous. I am audacious and confident but terribly shy and awkward at other times. I am intelligent and I like to look good (but do not ask me to dye my hair). I can make an argument about controlling the use of modern technology to prevent a future of depressed and electronically addicted generation “Z” and “Alpha,” and I can follow that with a question about which dress goes best with my high heels and open toe shoes. I am traditional and I am modern. I am academic and I am activist. I am simple and I am complex. I am revolution and I am evolution. I am warrior and I am worrier. Laughter is my medicine, faith is my cure, and my tears are my humanity. I live purposefully, not perfectly.
Raised on the shoulders of the women before me, I carry their power and pride as wings that give flight to my strength—a woman’s strength that comes from within my heart, my mind and my body. And that cannot be put into a box.
International Women’s Day March 8, 2019 theme: “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.”
The old saying that “eyes are a reflection of your inner self” holds true. The eyes have been regarded as the mirror of our mental states. The great Roman philosopher Cicero said, “The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter.” In the Bible, Matthew reveals, “The eye is the lamp of the body…” Descartes argued that there is no passion that some particular expression of the eyes does not reveal, and Shakespeare famously wrote, “The eyes are the windows to your soul.”
For one such as I who was taught to look people in the eye when speaking and listening, and for one whose eyes spoke before her mouth uttered the words, I find my eyes speak volumes about me… to the extent that if I wish to conceal my thoughts, I would have to block out the eyes. Eyes. They hold many revealing emotions that are expressed through eye contact. It can be a glaring look when a person is defiant or angry; a glazed over look when we are hopelessly enamored; a soft look, a hard look, the eyes can show compassion and empathy. They can reprimand, intimidate, or menace. They can question, and they can make a point. They show remorse, sadness, joy, happiness, hurt, fear, and uncertainty. They speak of desire, of want and need. They reflect our sincerity (or lack thereof), integrity and comfort when communicating with another person. And how can we ignore the non-verbal language of our eyes that speak of love? We convey our hearts most poignant picture through them. Yet, we have developed habits with our devices that interfere with our ability or even desire to interact and communicate on a face-to-face level.
I encounter the look in the eyes of a perky bank clerk carrying papers from her desk to another office. On the way, she greets customers with a cheery smile. She is truly happy. The eyes are the giveaway. She crinkles the corners of her eyes in a “crow’s feet” pattern showing a genuine passion, openness and receptiveness for her task at hand.
I find the look in a man sitting in front of his computer looking at pictures of his wedding day. The photo he stares at is one of a beautiful woman in white with a huge smile that spreads across her glowing cheeks as she looks into his eyes. There, his gentle eyes spoke of admiration and wonderment. In front of the computer his gentle eyes speak of deference, a passive resignation to love as though he is trying to remember what passionate love feels like. It isn’t the memory that fails him. It is the relationship.
I catch the look in the eyes of a store clerk who stops by the window and stares dreamily at the passerby’s. A father and child are holding hands waiting for the light to cross the street. The clerk likes what she sees. Her eyes dilate with tenderness for a few seconds before she furrows her brow making her eyes smaller. Is it remorse, or rejection? Definitely sadness.
I see the look in the eyes of an older man when I express condolences on the passing of his spouse of 55 years. He looks me in the eye with composure, and with an honest clarity his eyes express a light that springs from a deep void. The flame that once was is now a glow in the ashes of the memory of his love.
I perceive the look in the eyes of a dignitary, an accomplished woman who takes the first step on a staircase and with the utmost respect and humility, turns her gaze to her spouse while he steps up to follow. Her eyes hide nothing. They speak of equanimity, revealing a non-competitive love. It gives greater meaning to their intimacy.
I find compassion in the misty eyes of a man who is moved by the sight of a child rummaging through trash. His soft eyes resemble the early morning dew that clings to leaves before evaporating in the scorching sun. Care, concern and empathy are in his eyes as he hands his bagel to the rummager before he hides his true self behind his sunglasses.
The look of love is everywhere in the eyes of my fellow humans. Look at each other. It is the easiest and most powerful way to make a person feel recognized, understood and validated. Maintain eye contact. Find the true and silent language of love spoken through the eyes of your fellow humans.
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wildflower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour. William Blake (Auguries of Innocence)
January is my birth month, and as I celebrate another year I start to think of how transitional time is. At the close of 2018 I wrote: “Another year has passed. A year with a thousand happenings, pleasant and unpleasant, long and brief all at the same time filling my days broken up into hours. Every hour seems so short and at the same time endless. And what about those minutes? In one minute, a thousand thoughts can cross my mind, and in a flash, it’s over. And in one second, every word spoken is already in the past. These fleeting moments, shorter than a second, a decisecond, or is it a centisecond? Oh how brief it is, that intangible millisecond which, as I speak is already in the past. But it is all that I really have…that intangible moment, the present, which is where I always am. And while my present is slipping into the past as I speak, I am at the same time transitioning into the future.”
Past, present and future are overlapping. The shortest of these is the present. It goes by swiftly, moving me forward into the unknown future. Whereas, having lived a good many years of my past, I recall a great deal more of the it with memories that nourish and strengthen me. When I was a child, I thought time didn’t move fast enough. Even “tomorrow” was too far away for me to comprehend. “Tomorrow” was not within my vision and I could never get there fast enough. I’d ask, “Are we there yet?” Or “Is today tomorrow?” When I reached young adulthood, there were the big moments when I wanted time to stand still. Those were wonderful moments of exploring emotions of growing up into the world of books and romance, adventure and fantasy and of love. And because I still had not had much of a past, the future became more interesting; something to long for. It was unknowable, and the thought that I could affect or even cause the future was hard to imagine. I dreamed what could be and fantasized the outcome while living in the present fragment of my life. Now, as a mature adult, I recognize today as the future I couldn’t imagine. I am living in the “tomorrow” of my past. I have slipped into it, one moment at a time, yet it feels like I have leaped into it.
In the span of “short” decades, science and technological advancements have led me to change how I work, play, socialize, exercise and relax. I wake up to a smartphone, check email, and scan news headlines even before my first cup of morning coffee. I conduct meetings and conference calls between workouts and commutes, and finish my day by completing projects after the household is in bed. Like the world around me, I cyber communicate from home, coffee shop, office, airplane or beach, blurring the lines between professional and personal life. Advancements in science and technology have created and designed systems that were once a fragment of my imagination —imagine self-driving cars, artificial wombs, Artificial Intelligence –the tomorrow of my yesterdays has fast become my present reality. And while the present is where I always am, I look toward tomorrow, because forward is the only direction in which I can move in time.
The past, my past, travels with me. It is a history that is my heritage. And the longer the past, the sweeter my present becomes. I cannot bring back the past nor do I wish to, but I can unlock the emotions of moments lived and re-live them in the fragmented space of my present. Those endless moments—running through orchards intoxicated by the aroma of orange blossom; speechless, standing in the shadow of the pyramids or agape at the vastness of the Grand Canyon; wishing on a shooting star and being awed by the cosmos; losing a friend; falling in love; childbirth; hugging; laughing; crying — are endless emotions that travel with me to present time.
Time moves, and I transition with it. I live in the short moments that unfold in my present. They go by fast, but they add to the length of my life, while, simultaneously, I slip into the future. What was yesterday is not today. What is today will not be tomorrow. The present is all that I occupy. But time moves forward. And by the grace of life granted me, I transition with it one moment at a time.
Another year soon to pass. A year with a thousand happenings, pleasant and unpleasant, long and brief all at the same time filling up my days broken up into hours. Every hour can seem so short and endless all at once. And what about those minutes? In one minute, a thousand thoughts can cross my mind, and in a flash, it could be over. And in one second, every word spoken is already in the past. Those fleeting moments, shorter than a second, a decisecond, or is it a centisecond? Oh how brief it is, that intangible millisecond which, as I speak is already in the past. But it is all that I really have…that intangible moment, the present, which is where I always am. And if my present is already the past, then I wish for you all a glimpse of the future : a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2019 immersed in promises of health, happiness and abundance in love and good fortune.
Unwrap the gift of Love nestled in your heart,
And allow the winter winds to carry it as an offering,
Delivering its wealth through the delicate hands of Hope
Across neighborhoods and nations.
Unwrap the Love.
And in the spring, the breeze will send the fragrance of your gift
To bear fruit among neighbors and nations
Increasing its abundance in the warmth of the gentle zephyrs of summer.
Unwrap the Love.
And when in autumn, the gusts deliver your offering with tempestuous strength,
To fraternize among neighbors and nations
You will hear in the winter
A whisper through the cold whirlwinds…
“It was your gift unwrapped,
An echo of God’s Love,
That helped brave new storms, ease pain, bear fruit, build relationships,
Rekindle Hope and humble hearts
Across neighborhoods and nations.”
Unwrap the pure and genuine love nestled in your heart,
And feel the miracle unfold.
The streets are hung with lights, the stores are decorated with red and green, tinsel and sparkle are everywhere, and Christmas dominates the airwaves with songs about the spirit of the season and the glories of gifts. We fast-forward our days stressing over making lists and checking them twice, racing to find the perfect gift, the perfect tree, decorating the house and matching our table settings with perfect color coordination. We bake goods, exchange gifts, pass out tasty treats, and we relish in the bounty of our tables. Christmas is about traditions that are uniquely yours and uniquely mine. It’s about moments and memories that make no sense to anyone else but our own individual families. But within all family gatherings, there is not a soul on earth who doesn’t have a mental vision of an empty chair where once sat a loved one.
I close my eyes. I see the world we are living in. I can feel the beating of a thousand desperate hearts. I can hear the cries of mothers who are losing their children each day. I can see the fear for tomorrow in the faces of people. I can feel the heartache for those who have lost loved ones due to wars. I can feel the pain of loss intensified, the weight of tragedies, divorces, diseases, divided families, depression, and disaster. I breathe in. I breathe out. I am moved beyond the limits of my humanity. While I do believe in the joy of Christmas gatherings, Christmas shopping, Christmas recitals, Christmas outreach events and Christmas charities, this year in particular, I don’t want to lose sight of those whose table of life has an empty chair. I want this Christmas to be the one where we assume the empty chair not just in our lives but also in the lives of others.
The empty chair symbolizes what plagues our world today as we consider all the empty chairs in our lives. We don’t need to experience a personal physical loss to assume the empty chair. We all know someone who needs to be fed; someone who needs a listening ear or a shoulder to rest on; someone who needs shelter, a hug, a smile. We see violence, suffering and injustice happening in and around our world. Sometimes we are silent; sometimes we speak out and take action. But most of the time, we are rapt in the competitive chaos of making things perfect for our tables. And after a while we become numb to the repeats of tragedy and loss. The problems of the world are beyond us, we say. We tut-tut, shake our heads and go on with the want for Christmas to be the picture-perfect day. And somewhere in the frazzle dazzle, we lose the context of Christmas, found in the simplicity of a manger.
Our empty chairs are not necessarily those of wars or misfortunes in foreign lands, far from sight and far from reach. They’re close to home and in our own backyard. Is there someone going through Christmas dinner and seeing the empty chair of a loved one for the first time? Is there a mother who needs to be consoled? A father who needs to be contacted? A child who needs to be brought home off the streets? Is there an elderly in need of company? A friend with a disability? A family who has lost a home? Is there anybody who needs to be brought back to that table of life? It takes courage to assume the chairs at the table of our lives. It takes courage to assume the chair after feeling destitude by life circumstances. Could you be the one, who is big enough to call these people, write to them, visit them, talk to them, listen to them and reignite their appetite for life? Could you be the one to bring them back to the table of life with your care and love?
This Christmas, the love and wisdom of God incarnate found in the simplicity of a manger compels me to put down the cookie cutters, and step away from matching gift-wrap. I will use homemade ornaments and find joy in crooked trees and mismatched dinnerware. My house may not smell like fresh-baked goods and my tree may not sparkle, but I will relish at my table of life full with affection and fraternity from one end to the other, overflowing with room for the empty chairs in our lives and us.
It will be perfect. Merry Christmas!