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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A Beacon of Light, Once

 

This was supposed to be a joyous blogpost about The Epiphany. I started to write: May this Epiphany bring peace, joy and happiness in your lives. As the three kings Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior followed the road to the path of righteousness to witness the manifestation in the birth of King of Kings, may that same light of wisdom guide our path to love, joy, peace and  happiness.

But alas, a different manifestation took place shattering the path to love, joy and peace within the American fabric of democracy. Like many of you I witnessed the rise of domestic terrorism in this once great country. I am disillusioned as I witness on TV, jaw dropping pictures showing law-enforcement officers with guns drawn to keep protestors off the floor of the House of Representatives. There are protestors fighting police inside the building and a bleeding woman on a stretcher being rolled away outside, (who, by the time I publish this blog, is reported as dead, including three others). People are clamoring the areas around the Capitol waving American flags and Trump banners while Trump delivers a taped message continuing to stress his claim of election fraud and telling people to go home. Meanwhile the constitutional process has been thwarted and the country is in disarray.  This is not something new. It started in 2016. And I mourn this country’s demise.

I, like many of you who came from abroad mourn the country (America) that was my family’s salvation. When I arrived here in the US, I felt gratitude for the values of openness, decency and tolerance found in this my adopted home. I became a naturalized citizen as soon as I could, because in a world that seemed to reward dishonesty, cutting corners, lying, cheating, stealing, bullying, harassing, and all manner of coercive tactics, this was the country where I could practice with the values ingrained by my roots. This was the place where the integrity of character was rated above all else. Here was practiced openness and tolerance that made this country a safe haven for me and many like me. This country was the place where I was awestruck to witness the majesty of a peaceful transfer of power for over 40 years. 

Regretfully, all this that I value has degenerated.  Since 2016 the surge of misguided nationalism that accompanied then elected President Trump revealed deeply held prejudices about immigrants. Racism and xenophobia, which I had mistakenly presumed to be banished from the minds of majority, made its ugly return under the guise of nationalism and patriotism. I, and the likes of me were at a risk of being objectified as foreign or alien if we spoke with an accent or looked other that “white.”

I take no joy in these states of affairs. A political rot has set. The country is divided, and many are as angered and disillusioned as I am. Government plays craftily and manipulatively with procedures, international treaties and internal constitutional legislations. Ethical standards have taken a tumble by turning a blind eye toward harassment, political correctness, and moral behavior. 

Having come from an ancestral ethnic group of people from the highlands of Western Asia who have had to constantly battle and prove themselves a member of the reigning society, and who because of genocide, have had exile and resettlements as part of their history, my grandparents found a home in the Middle East. It was there that I grew up under the influence of Mediterranean hospitality and a union with the best of European and Western education and a marriage of their cultures. However, civil unrest and war, compelled me to move voluntarily to the United States, a place where my quintessentially multi cultured self was welcomed. I was and am pro Europe, a feeling reinforced by having lived in European countries and receiving from them a firm educational foundation. My multi-identities seemed to be complementary to my life here in the United States and the values it upheld.  As the granddaughter of traumatized and exiled people for reasons of religious beliefs and values of character rooted in loyalty, courage, compassion, fairness and respect, I went to great lengths in defense of these global values that embodied decency, respect and integrity.  I do not take my citizenship lightly. I am Armenian by heritage and conviction, proud to have Lebanese roots in hospitality and union of cultures, and I would like to remain proud of the America I chose to love. But this once beacon of light and hope is now inward, polarized and self-aggrandizing.

Which brings me to the realization that if America was once the beacon of light and hope, the land of opportunity, tolerance, inclusivity, courage, compassion and generosity, it was due to the leadership of presidents and their courageous administrations who exemplified what their respective party’s mission was. Republican or Democrat, they didn’t abandon the principles they believed in. They didn’t falter from domestic integrity, international cooperation, honesty and above all, America being the “shining city on the hill,” inviting the world to admire and follow our example. It was a wonderful enviable example that drew support from a host of nations and immigrants that wanted to be like America.  It was all due to the “chutzpa” and integrity of the men and women who understood the difference between their role in government to ensure their party stance on issues that affect their national vision, and the personal interests and visions of a running president. 

All that came to a crashing halt in the four years of the Trump presidency. We have slipped far from the shining hill and we are now the pariah of the civilized world. The election of Joe Biden offers a reprieve from the crassness and naked insensitivity of the past four years. But can we recapture our old glory? Can we eradicate Trumpism from our national soul? Can we remove the stain on this nation left us by a president whose self-aggrandizing became his number one motive to create a cult-like following?

For our children’s and grandchildren’s sake, I hope the answer is yes! It is now up to our next president and his administration, house of reps. and senate to save our democracy and our Constitution. And it is up to us, citizens of the United States, to embody the spirit of America in her celebration of tolerance, brotherhood and diversity; to share “with those less fortunate our wealth of knowledge, indomitable courage, boundless compassion, unique talents and selfless generosity; all while maintaining the traditions of ‘our’ ethnic heritage as they uphold the ideals and spirit of America.”

May the light of wisdom guide our path.

Good luck, Joe.

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Hello 2021


So long, 2020!
You gave the world sorrow and too much pain.

The pandemic shattered, scattered, stalked corners of the world,
Bearing death’s weight mercilessly on families, friends and strangers.
We heroically adapted, learned and pushed for solutions,
Juggling work from home, zooming, with kids and online classes;
Washing hands, staying apart, waiting in line.
Loss of jobs and income, political divisiveness,
Upheavals, wars, genocides;
Unity turned discord within races, cultures and ethnicities…
A universe crumbled
Afflicting further grief and bitter wails behind our masks.

Time passes.We turn to a new page of the calendar.
Hello 2021!
You bring fresh songs and melodies
Rich with promise of vaccines, a renewed appreciation for each other.
For medical science and healthcare workers, for teachers, parents, builders,
For doers and makers, for skills, diversity and innovation
We yearn for wings to break free from our confined solitude.
Abundant in sweet hope, we seek
Strength
To rebuild our crumbled universe from the inside out.
Courage
To not waste one moment of our precious time on anything less than the positivity of who we are.
Wisdom
To let go of what no longer serves us,
And for light to lead us to heights
That harvest life’s victories.

Fill our hearts with love
That spring gifts of goodness we can offer to the world.

With gratitude
for the miracles of our lives
Hello 2021
We embrace the opportunity of you.

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Dear Child, (Letter from Santa)

Actual letter to a pre-adolescent child on Christmas morning.

Dear (Name of Child),

For the past decade, I have watched you grow into the bright person that you are. And every year at Christmas, wherever in the world you may be, I fly into the night to bring you gifts that cause your eyes to twinkle with anticipation. This year, you may have heard from your friends that I, Santa, am not real; that there is no magic to my existence. But I know that in every doubting heart, there is a small, itching, corner that wants to believe. So, here’s the truth — I am not just a jolly man in a red coat who gives gifts to all good boys and girls on Christmas day. I represent the magical spirit of Christmas.  I am real in spirit and intent, flavored with good and godly ideas of love, giving, caring, and helping.  I have been around longer than any one has lived, and my job as Santa is to teach children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe–in yourself, in your friends, in your talents and in your family. But my child, above all, you also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.

The spirit of Christmas is the magic it brings. It is found in the spirit of love and giving.  As children get older, parents start helping me with giving presents because just like you, they were kids once and they also learned about the love and giving spirit of Christmas. Since you are older now, you can understand that the true spirit of Christmas lives not just in me but in so many people. People like your parents, who can bring love, magic, hope and happiness to others just as I have done for so many years (and will continue to do so for younger children.) The best part is that anyone can become a doer and bearer of these things…making someone’s day brighter, someone’s burden a little lighter, by showing them there are things to look forward to in this world you live. So when your friend/s tell you Santa is not real, think of the magic you have felt in your own life.  What do you call that moment when you are completely and totally immersed in the book world of adventure, and you hear the characters talking to you, as you imagine the scene in your head?  Isn’t it magic? When you can bring laughter, excitement, swashbuckling or playful moments of your imagination into the world around you as an expression of your creativity, isn’t it magical? So too am I.

Life is miraculous, magical and wonderful, just like Santa, but only if you are willing to believe in the mystery will you be able to see it as such. Choose to let it go and the magic will disappear, just as with the belief in Santa. See me as the spirit and intent of all that is good in love and giving and the magic will unfold and last.

You have been a very good kid, and your parents and I are very proud of you and your achievements. I know it was hard to move to another country far away from friends and other family members. and adapt to a completely different environment. But YAY, look at what you’ve achieved.!!! Magical!! You will find a few small items from me under the tree, but please thank your parents for the large gift which did not fit under the tree.

Merry Christmas!

With Love,
Santa Claus

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Christmas Light

Over the years, I stopped decorating the perimeter of our house with Christmas lights. The children grew, we downsized the home, and it became too much of an effort to string lights around the house to reflect the season. It was much easier to view and appreciate the random neighborhood homes dotted with lights.

This year, something changed. An acquaintance posted photos of her home beautifully decorated with ornaments and lights that shone brilliantly revealing a cheerful “feel” of Christmas.  That same evening, I took a long walk and then a drive through different locales. Almost instantly, enchantment won my heart as I witnessed the magical transformation of light in neighborhoods and city. Here, there and everywhere, Christmas lights shone and twinkled on rooftops, around windows and doors, on lawns and on shrubs and in trees. There were strings of colorful lights, some blue, some just white lining the perimeter of homes. Shimmering mismatched splashes of light draped over fences and shrubs. Oh, what a sight of color that dazzled and illuminated the once dark streets; a show of solidarity during these tough and isolating times; a sign of unstoppable hope emerging from the dark night.

As I admired the lights I thought about all those whom we have lost this year during the course of the pandemic. In this country alone, nearly three hundred thousand dead, lives destroyed, and homes upended. People have lost friends and family members, loneliness has increased, and, for some, severe financial stresses make this time of year even tougher. We’ve missed the closeness of friends, loved ones around tables, shoulder to shoulder drinks at a bar, firm handshakes and tight hugs. We’ve lost our cheerful appearance and the fizz that went with our fashionable veneer at luncheons and banquets. Before Covid, our world centered around spending time among large gatherings of family, worship and song, travel, sporting events and the adventures that we would experience together. We miss sitting close to someone, photos with Santa, snuggling grandchildren, and passing on the traditions of amity and the kiss of peace! Yes, all of these things have changed drastically in 2020.

We want life to be what we know as normal. But until the vaccine becomes available across the board, and until peoples’ trust returns to a place where we can look at each other in a more inclusive way with less judgment and anger; until we can eliminate the division between “us” and “them;” until we can heal from the hurt and regain faith in humanity and be prepared for a unified perspective of the world, the festive jeweled lights unleash the enduring hope for the future. In the midst of the pandemic, assurance of hope is showing up in the most ordinary and imaginary of ways — in Christmas lights. Whether they are flung across a shrub, lining a window or in a dazzling display that emblazon an entire yard, Christmas lights are saying, “Covid 19, you will not have the last word.”

That night, I came home like a child who  had just seen Christmas lights for the first time. Their radiance flooded my soul with their twinkling reminder that we are not what we have lost and we are not what has been taken from us. We are what we have here in the present, grounded in hope. The Christmas lights are simply reflectors of that hope, that same hope evidenced in the star of Bethlehem, the Christmas Star signaling victory of light over darkness in the birth of the savior shining for all mankind.

To shed further light onto the world, this year mankind will witness a unique phenomenon which was last visible some 800 years ago. A “Christmas Star” visible from wherever you are on this Earth (weather permitting) will appear on December 21, the night of the winter solstice. Two planets, Saturn and Jupiter will align and look like a “double planet” to produce a significant amount of light. If the world ever needed this ‘great conjunction’ of light and hope, it is now, during the final month of 2020. Look for the light. Celebrate with light. Witness the tangible brilliant reminder of the original Christmas Star, and radiate from your heart the light shining for all mankind.

From my home to yours, Healthy, Happy Christmas.

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Human Connections

Human connection is an energy exchange between people who are paying attention to one another. It has the power to deepen the moment, inspire change and build trust especially during this year when we have all had to rely heavily on adapting to uncertainties and anomalies. Much has changed between a coronavirus pandemic, world poverty on the rise, natural disasters, a 45 day war in Nagorno Karabagh and an unsettling situation in Armenia, not to mention climate changes and global unrest under authoritarian leaderships. And to top it all, a forced distancing from loved ones during these days of traditional family gatherings. Is it any wonder that I felt a wave of nostalgia hit me as we approached Thanksgiving? What might have been a possibility that 30 or so family and relatives who, under normal circumstances would travel from near and far to gather around our humble table of blessings is now obsolete. I do miss the celebrating and reconnecting; getting caught up on one another’s lives, reminiscing and browsing through old photographs, reminding us of special times and helping us keep track of what has changed and what has remained the same in our lives — and in ourselves.

I come from a profoundly social family and I feel the need for that human connection embedded in my biology and history. The ease with which technology connects me with updates about members of the family and friends afar somehow does not quell my drive for the human connection. Interestingly, I am not alone in this. The human species throughout its evolutionary history is dependent on one another. But ironically, in today’s adapted lifestyle, our physical health depends largely on our adherence to staying apart physically, and our mental health depends on our willingness and ability to stay connected emotionally. At times like these, the latter is difficult given the former. And while I am not alone, I feel the disconnect.

A phone call I received put the necessity of human connections into perspective. A gentleman who happened to be a keynote panelist on a zoom conference that I had moderated called to let me know of the many members of my family whom he had come to meet and know while working in different parts of the world, informing me that our connection dated back to over 20 years. We fell into an animated conversation connecting the people from Dubai, Beirut, Kuwait, Italy, Toronto, and Los Angeles and their relations to each of us. I found myself remembering the years of simpler times with those who played important roles in my life. In those moments, I realized that our sense of who we are is closely related to how we connect ourselves in relationship to others. His call strengthened a sense of social connectedness by helping me appreciate what my family has meant to others as well as what others have meant to us. His words of acknowledgment for members of my family heightened the sense of social validation that comes from knowing that each of us is someone’s daughter or son, mother or father, sister or brother and the bonds we share with those we love survive physical separation. I felt their memories reawaken and embrace me.

Am I still nostalgic today on Thanksgiving Day? Yes. Nostalgic reminiscence  helps me maintain a sense of continuity despite the constant flow of change we are undergoing. It is reassuring to realize how rich my life has been – how much joy, hard work, success and excitement I have experienced through the human connections.

This Thanksgiving, my grateful heart sweeps like a magnet over the days connecting reasons for gratitude. While I am indebted to the Power Above for all infinite number of divine gifts received, I am equally indebted to the gifts of human kindness from numerous human connections. In the words of writer and historian George Matthew Adams, “There is no such thing as a self-made man. We are all made up of thousands of others. Anyone who has ever done a kind deed for us or spoken one word of encouragement for us, has entered into the makeup of our character and of our thoughts as well as our success.”

In the shuffle of humanity, may I never lose the awareness that I am the result of an infinite number of divine gifts, numerous human connections with a show of human kindness.

 

 

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The Candle

A light in time of darkness, a flicker of hope when we need it most. Something so simple, yet so powerful. A glimmering teardrop shaped flame that casts rousing shadows on the walls. Soft, luminous, mystical, almost magical. A single candle.

I lit a candle last night. It was something I did without giving much thought to the action. I picked up the matchbox, pulled out a match, struck it and watched it sputter to life. In two second it was ablaze, a fire at the end of a small stick that lit up the room. I brought that flaring fire to the wick, watched it ignite the wick and rejoiced in the glow, and for a moment the match and wick joined forces. The flame reached its highest potential only to settle down to soft dancing amber as the match pulled away. I turned down the lights and watched the candle burn. There was something mesmerizing about the flame as it flickered and rippled shedding light that flowed out of the darkness. It cast quivering forms that danced around the room. It was a quiet feeling. Healing.

Lighting candles is a practice shared by cultures and religions that has endured for thousands of years. In religious worship, candles symbolize the light of God, the holy illumination of the spirit of truth, which shines eternally. The smoke that arises from a candle symbolizes the conduit for prayer. I cannot quite remember what my first recollection of lighting a candle was, but I do know I grew up with candles being lit in church for health, for loved ones, for memorials, baptisms and celebratory occasions always in prayer and in gratitude. My family lit candles just before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s eve, turned out the lights and greeted the new year with good wishes, a prayer and kisses all around after which the candles were blown out signifying our wishes carried up to heaven with the rising smoke they exuded. Candles were lit on birthday cakes, one for every year lived and blown out. Candles were lit at dinner tables instantly making the occasion special and sacred for when we came together. Candles became a symbol of silent protest when taking part in candlelight vigils held in response to all kinds of tragedies, massacres, diseases, disasters, prayers for miracles, for seeking justice, for strength. When life was uncompromising and our thoughts too corroded to conceive of another way, we lit a candle.

The candle in the darkened room drew my gaze into its radiating flame of light, emitting a smoke like incense of worship rising to meet deity as a sweet offering before the throne of our Lord. Its presence swallowed up the vastness of space, hushed under the weight of worldly troubles, and eternity gazed back at me, peering down, timeless, as though the temporal and the infinite converged.

I realized that this world will never allow for perfect circumstances. Troubles are still flying about the world, and have increased in multitude, rather than lessened. They are ugly and most venomous. And as I grow and become more sensitive in my wisdom of years, I expect to feel their sting even more. Perhaps I subconsciously lit the candle to dispel the darkness that our society is now living in, to search for a change, for a ray of positivity. A symbol that some light, some hope, some strength is still left in us and if we all come together we can get rid of the darkness.

The candle became my companion for a long time. In the darkened silence it gave out light; warmth, kindness. Or was it Hope? Maybe that little flame was my prayer without words because hope was too fragile, and words were too heavy.

The candle burned for the martyrs who sacrifice for freedom, for justice. The flame blazed for the pain we endure, for loss, for exile, for genocides, for preservation, heritage and culture. It flickered high for displaced people, women, children, the young and the old. The flame grew tall for peace within, to know that we are not our own enemy. It danced, changed color for strength and wisdom to not allow anger to rip us apart. The candle grew smaller. I watched it sputter like an inferno, burning all the way down, and then, like a person’s last breath, it breathed a puff of white smoke for unity before it petered out.

 

 

 

 

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The Soldier

Cease fire is declared.
“Pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death,” I mutter under my breath. I raise myself out of the safety of the small dugout, a makeshift trench, to take a cautious peek into the night. There is a deafening silence, and the smell of gunpowder forms a thick wall suspended in mid air. I sink back into the trench. I take a deep breath of the dear earth. It is moist, almost muddy. I bury my nose into my mud, sweat and blood stained sleeve. Surprisingly, the aroma of the earth blends pleasantly into the very fabric of my army camouflage. This is the 15th day. I long to wash, to feel the warmth of water running down my skin and the scent of soap in my nostrils. I think of my wife. She had said, “Go, go fight the fight, but come back to me.” I had wanted to cry as I smelled her hair in her embrace. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I shouldn’t. I hugged my little girl. She cried.

There is a whistling sound, an explosion, and the hillside vibrates with the concussion sending clumps of earth into my face. The walls of the trench shudder. I lie stunned for long seconds. My head doesn’t clear. I try to shake my head to awaken; I try to move. The stench of explosives burns in my nostrils. Ayo, yeah, I finally mumble. Yeah, I’m still here.

“Pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death.”

I hear a cry from another dugout. A Brother is hurt. I tell him “Brother, hang on, relief will come before dawn.” Silence, once again.  In the end it isn’t the noise that worries me. It is the silence between the noises. It means expect more trouble. I have girded myself with extra ammo, stuffing magazines into every available pocket and pouch of my harness. But this war needs heavier equipment than a pocketful of ammo.  In training, I was told to use my ammo wisely. Wisely! What is wise about this whole situation? Genocide has played no small part in the history of my people. A whole generation has grown up in war with the resurrection of the nightmares of 1915. The torch, held by my ancestors, that I have struggled to keep lit, is being passed on to the next generation. So at all costs I doggedly, stubbornly carry on because I am fraught with doubt at the horrifying lack of global humanitarian action. A thousand miles away, a peace talk is being held. I do not know the outcome but I hope for the best even as I prepare for the worst. I have understood from my experience that Azerbaijan and Turkey do not know the language of negotiations. They are fighting unjustly and cunningly with paid jihadists. As though their numbers are not enough to outnumber our small 3million wanting to live in peace. So with every new battle, every new death, every new bomb or every massacre, every new piece of bad news is felt as a personal injury to be born forever in our history. This is not a war for a small piece of land, it is a war against the very existence of our beloved homeland, our Artsakh, our Armenia, our freedom, our right.

“Pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death.”

Gentle rain sprinkles on my helmet. I welcome it. I crawl out of the muddy trench and make my way to the other dugout. “Brother jan,” I whisper. I know his face well. He is one of the brave young men who joins us from the Diaspora. He has fought a war previously. He has shot an unknown number of men. “Those you see die will stay with you for the rest of your life,” he said in training. We see sameness in war. Fighting for the homeland and a vow to not have a repeat of the Genocide our grandparents had to go through. But here we see death hovering relentlessly. And in this place, we both feel fear, and it shames us privately. I hate fear, and most of all I hate fear in myself. And yet I have been afraid three weeks and everyday since coming up to this moment. Brother is badly hurt. He is bleeding and shaking. He says the rain feels good. He fumbles for something in his pocket. I help him. It is a pack of cigarettes. “Take it. Keep it dry,” he murmurs. Slumped together, we wait for relief.  His blood, my blood seep into the mud and we feel  the earth ooze, as though she too is bleeding. “Victory,” he exhales as he releases his final breath.

I kiss him on the forehead for his mother. I kiss him on the brow, for his true patriotism. I kiss him again, for in this he is my brother. I kiss him.

“Pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death.”

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Rooted In Anger, A Gift

Where do I begin? How do I write about Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) and Armenia? How do I write about the pain I have for a place I came to love? I am not a native Karabaghtzi, but I attached myself to every inch of that place with its green undulating hills and mountains, its waterfalls and pastures, its people of the cities and villages. I made them mine. I became part of it all.

So how do I write about the years of pain suffered, the violence encroached, revisiting the memories experienced by mothers and fathers so vividly tattooed on my mind? And then how do I explain my unusual love for this place with its lingering magic that has kept me and so many others clinging to her earth and refusing to abandon it? How do I put all that and the layers of courage and hope and commitment of the people into a few paragraphs? How do I encapsulate the loyalty built on faith for a better future and stand in solidarity with those who are committed to keeping the place alive? How? Truth be told, I can’t.

My writing is rooted in anger with a furious defense of a collective humanity of an Armenian people who have had more than their share of inhumanity shoved down their throats. Attack after attack, explosion after explosion, and the world watches with indifference. They tut-tut at best while supplying more weapons to the aggressor. A shop, owned by a villager, is blown up. Years of labor diminished in a nanosecond. Trees are uprooted, khachkars (crosses) destroyed, whole villages, towns and portions of cities in ruin, churches and monasteries decimated, schools and hospitals wrecked, factories toppled. But no matter how hard they try to uproot traces of centuries of Armenian blood, sweat and toil from the land, they cannot eliminate homeland, heritage and culture from the heart and soul of this Armenian. I’m locked into the situation, consumed by it. I carry it in me and with me.

The overriding anger, which accompanies the underlying pain, is overwhelming because Armenians are being crushed and pulled and pushed from all sides, and their human right to live peacefully within their compromised borders is being intentionally targeted. And what I struggle with most is the growing list of names of young men and women, civilians and children who have been killed since September 27 when the Azeri’s attacked Karabagh. I feel their senseless deaths, everyday, like fresh raw open gashes that sting with an intense burn. Salt on a wound.

For those who are outside and indifferently looking in, they see only another war and do not understand the clear line between good and evil. But for Armenians, we know differently. We have seen evil in the eye; we have come face to face with it and have felt its devilry 105 years ago with a failed Genocide by Ottoman Turkey to obliterate the Armenians. Now, Turkish tyrant Erdogan who shoulders Azerbaijan with hired jihadists, is determined to finish what was started. There is no argument under the sun that can justify the unspeakable savagery. Yet the world watches. The world knows. The world chooses to ignore. It is easier to ignore injustice and look the other way than to have courage and act against it.

But for this Armenian, and for the Karabaghtzi in all of us, every gunshot, every explosion, every battle reasserts the profound intensity of commitment and community, which give us the strength to continue. We have no more illusions about bravery and stoicism and how much we can stand and for how long. We are a people with a cavernous sense of community and solidarity spread throughout the globe on which to bank. We know how to walk a tightrope stretched across an abyss of indifferent nations. We speak the language of experience. We love, we are creators and builders, our work is our art, we have faith, we live. And if we seek justice for the past and raise our voices to a roar to trigger action; if we are relentlessly stubborn in our fight for our survival; if we are unforgiving for the present with an overriding anger, it is because anger is our gift. It is the expression of our humanity, a testimony of love and a sign of life.

I shall hold on to my gift.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” (Elie Wiesel)

Landscape of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh). Image by Photolure
Posted in genocide, humanity, justice, racism, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments