Sibling Love

I grew up the middle child among three, between a sister and a brother with three years spanning between us. Growing up with siblings profoundly altered my childhood — and everything that followed. Sister and brother were my first playmates and now as an adult, my oldest friends.

From sharing a small bedroom with a cot and bed, to each living in the four corners of the earth, our relationships have stood the tests of time and distance. Like olive trees that grow stronger with cuttings from parent trees and become more grounded to bear fruit as they spread their gnarled and twisted branches, weathering storms and changes around them, I attribute our strong connection to how we were raised with “cutting” from roots and stems of family genes. Our mom and dad believed in the importance of our relationships and were persistent in fostering our sibling love. “You don’t let anyone, or anything come between you,” mom would say. But she needn’t have said it. We grew surrounded by family of aunts and uncles who didn’t let anything come between siblings. Their emotional intelligence, their assertiveness and equanimity, their empathy, their self-awareness, and distinction between creative and critical thinking all had a role in being examples.

Siblings. They are the link to who I have been at every stage in my life. They are the only ones who share collective memories of growing up and can reminisce together with laughter and with tears. They are who I feel most at ease with, my absolute comfort to just be me. I don’t have to think about it – I just am around them. Whether it’s because of all the time spent together while growing up or the lack of need to pass judgment on each other, there is something unique about the way we are able to connect with one another.

That connection is hard to describe in a single word. It’s the comfort felt when you sit in the same room with your brother and sister, in pure silence, yet the three of us know how the other is feeling. And sometimes it’s picking up right where we left off, even if it’s been weeks, months, or years since the last deep conversation. It’s the knowledge that, at the end of the day, we’ll always be able to call on each other for support.

The relationship which I have with my siblings thrives on differences — not only the ones we have had as children, but those which we continue to create as adults.

For example, my idealist nature contrasts sharply with my sister’s practicality, while my brother’s rectitude stands out above my Christian ethics. Yet as time has worn on, we have come to share far more interests and common family traits that run through our DNA than I would once have thought possible.

Sister’s role in my life as I am sure in my brother’s life has changed as we grew: a doting, prideful protector in her preschool days, an often-disinclined playmate as she grew a little older, and, following that, a brilliant young teen whose analytical mind pushed the status quo to the limits and as an adult, her direct approach to solving life issues.  These shaped me into understanding the expanse of my abilities. Brother’s role in my life was as playmate in our preschool days with whom I shared little mischiefs as we grew older and while we may have had separate interests in our early teens, somehow, we grew to share exploratory adventures, hiking, and camping in “forbidden” territory and experiencing life-threatening moments that enhanced our resilience with emotional regulation.

My siblings are two of my biggest advocates (and of course can be the biggest pain in my butt). They have been there with me through thick and thin. But that’s what siblings are for: to be your number one fan at your best and kick your butt when you are out of line.

From the time I can recall, sister and brother are collaborator and co-conspirator, my role model and cautionary tale. They are my scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride. They teach me how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them. They carry the innate gene of compassion and I learn from them the ways in which our needs and desires relate and clash onto each other.

To the outside world we all grow old. But not to sister and brother. She still calls me Sil, he calls me Sily.  We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time. Just like the olive tree.
Sibling love.

 

Charcoal drawing (Siblings) by Puzant Godjamanian (private collection)

 

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Mother and Child

She puts her arm on my shoulder to rest.
I hold onto the hem of her green polka dot dress.

We feel free like sparrows in flight.
She teaches me
Just by their leaves, the names of fruit trees;
I tell her life is grand
She tells me only if I can stand
Tall from dawn to night.

We share an apple. I eat the core.
No, no she says, you must spit the seeds
And plant your dreams on barren soil in                                                                                                foreign shores.

I run my fingers through her hair,
Short, combed waves of softness,
She caresses my face,
Long, elegant, beautiful strokes
That paint a utopia we seem to share

We wipe the dust from our feet
Refreshed by the intensity of sprouting dreams
Roots planted a long time ago
Lacing the distance of our hearts.

I’ve missed you, I say.
I’ve missed me too, she says.
And in our reflection of who we want to see
We become the change we want to be
Am I child and she mother?
Or am I mother and she the child?

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Accountability-Be Answerable for Resulting Consequences.

 

Today, we mark the 107th anniversary of the first genocide of the 20th century, perpetrated against the Armenian people.

So much is happening across the globe in remembrance of that atrocity that reveals the humanity and goodwill of a people whose survival skills were honed by horrific experiences. We have transformed beyond the anger of protest and readily tell our one and a half million stories, recording them through innovative technology of USC researchers. Through our churches, we are baptizing adults who by no fault of their own were denied a faith that led their ancestors to perish, thus affirming further the Christianity that was ours by right of our history. Recognition of the Armenian Genocide is growing. Celebrities are standing up and courageously speaking of the crime.  Marvel characters are referencing the Genocide specifically in the new Disney+ series Moon Knight. Universities are holding Armenian commemoration ceremonies, cities are devoting special public space for official declarations in recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and TV channels are including month long programs that highlight the contributions of Armenians to their cities and nation. And work is being done by the ANCA (Armenian National Committee of America) calling on Congress to pass the Armenian Genocide Education Act, introducing legislation to provide funding for the education in schools about the history, consequences and ongoing costs of the Armenian Genocide. The bill also aims to educate people about Turkey’s aggression and genocide against Greece, Syria, and Cyprus.

Yes, “The first Genocide of the 20th Century is gradually gaining its due validity in many countries, which, in the past, were very indifferent to our inalienable cause. Today, the expansion of those who affirm the crime of genocide has formed a greater contingent, led by the United States whose president officially recognized the Armenian Genocide a year ago.”  (106 years later!)

“We bow our heads in remembrance to the one and a half million martyrs and stand once again to renew our commitment to remain faithful to the memory of the victims and to thank the countries of the world that have recognized the great Armenian tragedy.”  Yet with all this recognition, “The inhumane atrocities committed against the Armenian people remain unpunished and the Turkish state refuses to face the dark pages of its history. Moreover, our heroic people in Artsakh face the danger of a new genocide by the Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance.”

“The current situation in Artsakh and the rapidly evolving events in the region inevitably require all Armenians to be vigilant to prevent further attacks that seek to prohibit the civilian population of Armenia and the Armenians of Artsakh from maintaining their existence and self-determination.”

Here we are, “A century after the Armenian Genocide, the international community has yet to take a clear position. In other words, it has not taken punitive action to justify the freedom-loving peoples’ strife and struggle for a sovereign, free and peaceful life.”

At the time of its occurrence, in 1915, the American press and politicians had cried out lamenting the Armenian genocide. President Woodrow Wilson had said, “The whole heart of America has been engaged for Armenia.” But then, for geopolitical and economic gains, suddenly everything changed. And because of the lack of consequences to the perpetrators for what happened in Armenia, countries like Russia wage the horrific war we see today.

It was early April when Biden said Russia’s war in the Ukraine  amounted to genocide, accusing President Vladimir Putin of trying to “wipe out Ukraine.” A year ago today, President Biden also said that the massacres of 1915 were a Genocide against the Armenians. Good as this may sound to console the human suffering, the world is paying the price for the inactions of a century. Had the demands of accountability been dealt with at the time, it could have prevented many other atrocities and genocides around the world including Ukraine.

Our history is full of empty rhetoric. The world did not hold Turkey accountable then and does not do so publicly even today while pogroms against Armenians continue.  In 2020, had the world acted to stop autocrats like Aliyev and Erdoğan in Azerbaijan’s brutal and unprovoked war against the Armenian people, when schools, hospitals and churches were bombed – causing countless civilian casualties – or had the international community sounded the alarm when Azerbaijan used a thermobaric weapon (vacuum bomb) against Armenian civilians in 2016, today’s wanton destruction in Ukraine may have been avoided.

The end goal of the Armenians has always been to prevent further crimes of genocide. To achieve this, Turkey must recognize its hand in the play and take appropriate steps to make amends. It is the only way to reparation. Autocrats like Erdogan, Aliyev and Putin will continue genocidal actions – from beheadings of people in Artsakh, to torturing of Armenian prisoners of war, and erasing all traces of centuries of Armenian existence; from bombarding innocent civilians in Kyiv to mass graves in Mariupol and erasing a Ukraine. These atrocities are happening right now, before our eyes.

The U.S. and the world must hold Turkey and Azerbaijan accountable. The U.S. and the world must hold Russia accountable. The U.S. must stop sending military aid to Turkey. The US and the world must recognize who their true allies are and not sell out their humanitarian principles of freedom, equality and justice for all.

This I humbly advise.

In this article, I used excerpts from the statement issued publicly by the three leading parties (Henchag, Tashnag and Ramgavar) of the Armenian people. They are written in quotation marks.

 

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Women Are the Storm

  1. Happy International Women’s Day to ALL mothers, sisters, daughters, spouses, friends. “Today is your day and mine, the only day that we have to play our part. What our part may signify in the great whole we may not understand, but we are here to play it, and now is our time.” (David Starr Jordan)
  2. March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to honor and celebrate the women in our lives and those whose work has paved the way for so many of us. We have all been raised on the shoulders of one or more women who have embraced bravery despite personal or professional obstacles. Their persistence has made a powerful impact in our lives and that of the world. Through their work in the arts, education, healthcare, STEM, law, public service, policy implementation and more, women have fought for rights, telling their own stories and advocating for others. They have and continue to break barriers and challenge discrimination based on gender, economic status, sexual orientation and race in the name of equality. They are –enabler, nurturer, motivator, entrepreneur, believer, supporter, leader, optimist, powerful, legend– women who deserve our praise. They possess the tenacity and drive to step up to the podium and raise their voices so that others may find their voice. I applaud the women.

 

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Hollowness of War

If history should have taught us one thing it is… the brutal hollowness of wars. From known genocides, wars, human sacrifices, torture, slavery, and the treatment of racial minorities, women, and children — all stem from parts of human nature that militate violence. Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine is no exception. It is a war of choice for all the vices thinkable by a megalomaniac.

Sadly, it seems, the world has lost its moral compass by standing idly by when there is exploitation and dominance by authoritarian alpha males, and their contention for ethnic, racial, national, or religious supremacy or pre-eminence. There is such a thirst for vengeance, a kind of immoral violence that inspires cruelty and creates an ideology of militant religions, nationalism, fascism, Nazism, communism all leading to large scale malevolent, brutal destruction of humanity.

We watch as madmen (Gengis Khan, Ivan the Terrible, Maximillian Robespierre, Talaat Pasha, Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Augusto Pinochet, Pol Pot, Idi Amin Dada, Hafiz al-Assad and his son Bashir, Kim Jong II, Recep Erdogan, Ilham Aliyev, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin…to name a few) with a penchant to rewrite history and swallow up their democratic neighbors persecute without an iota of compassion for lives lost.

Though I have not personally experienced the atrocities of a genocide and the World Wars, I have understood the pain and sorrow of the years through stories of survivors.  I have been raised by victims of genocide who have spiraled through the chaos of its labyrinth, persecuted and exiled.  They were once children who grew up with harsh realities of trauma and hardship that come with the responsibility of a culture trying to survive with the “baggage” of its history.

I have heard the stories, felt the pain, seen great marches, heard great speeches, have participated in movements where people were fighting for justice against all odds and changing the world in spite of itself. But nothing prepared me for the grotesque useless war in Ireland, or the brutality of war experienced in Lebanon where over 120,000 lives were lost. Nothing prepared me for the 44-day war invaded on the Armenian territory of Artsakh where human rights and civil liberties continue to be ignored with over 4,000 lives lost and others MIA. Realities of unmentionable experiences and horrific violence, loss of homes, separation from parents, being forced to flee, witnessing death and atrocities, and eventually harboring non-reconciliatory resentment, and the loss of innocence. No argument under the sun can justify the unspeakable cruelty of any war.

“War is a crime against Peace.”

If you need convincing of the hollowness of war, look no further than the poem In Flanders Fields by Canadian poet, soldier, and physician John McCrae. McCrae wrote the poem in 1915 as a memorial to those who died in a World War I battle fought in a region of Belgium known as the Ypres Salient.

In its simple complexity the poem demonstrates the horrific realities of engaging in war. It suggests that war is a shared responsibility that affects everyone. It is a responsibility we of the living owe to the dead.  War is destructive. It is a crime against peace.  Ultimately, we are called to “hold [the torch] high” which demands that we recognize our own complicity and responsibility in war.

If madmen are capable of the most appalling injustices only to seek their own self-absorbed grandiosity, then certainly, the rest of humanity with a conscience seeking peace, is capable of the most glorious battle against them. If blind prejudice can lead to untold hatred and murder, then solidarity of action and faith in justice could destroy it. Standing together for our shared human values against tyrants may be difficult, but it is nothing compared to the agony of a people at the hands of a brazen invader.

We must do more than stand in silence next to each other.
Lest we become hollow voices… amid fields of crosses.

 

 

 

 

 

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60, the Youth of Old Age

January 2022, and I am living in my sixth decade of life. I am grateful for yet another year granted me by the grace of God.  I know that my physical attributes may signal to others as “old” because it includes silver hair, skin that is losing its elasticity, a strange obsession with music from the 1970’s, and a belly that jiggles as I laugh even after years of yoga and exercise. I am simply grateful for these years, because I’ve stopped worrying about the insignificant things in life and have come to a better understanding and appreciation of myself. I’ve lived long enough to accept what I can do and what I am unable to do with a good sense of what works and what doesn’t — which gives rise on occasion to be a grump and say important things that people don’t want to hear.

Is it wisdom? Maybe. It’s tough to define. Wisdom cannot be focused on how much knowledge I have accumulated. It is different from knowledge. It embodies moral elements that impart the down-to-earth pragmatics of life. When I think of the wise people in my life, I think of how they relate to others and how they are fully present as they listen with attention before they part their lips with “words of wisdom.”  Wisdom emerges not necessarily from their book knowledge but from their life experience and is reflected by a sense of balance, of making thoughtful decisions, and acting with understanding toward people of different backgrounds and perspectives. It is out of savoring the fullness of each passing moment (even the difficult ones) in the years of my life, from which is gained the understanding and compassionate awareness with regard for the frailty and strength of others. It is wisdom.

Through good fortune and tragedy alike, and across the years of six decades I have forged the truest possible friendships.  I have learned that such heartiness doesn’t necessarily come from being raised in the same neighborhood or under similar economic conditions. It doesn’t come from attending the same schools or belonging to the same religious group or having children the same age or rallying for the same political candidates. It is friendship forged not out of convenience but out of honesty and respect, of seeing our narrative from the inside as we experience it and from the outside in a way that we cannot. These are friends that draw out a candor in us and walk us to our own conclusions while holding us to the highest standards of our character even when they don’t always agree. The years have taught me well to be open, curious, and willing to embrace paradox, rather than choose sides. Whatever else might separate us, sharing a love for each other is enough common ground to start the harder conversations of aging and time.

We make assumptions about time and age. Well, the answer is simple. We have today, and that’s it. We don’t count the years; we live the day. And who says we must act our age? There are days I feel 10 and sometimes 25 and 40 and 50.  I believe that my life should not be defined by numbers but by what I have experienced and what I have given of myself. In the end, the number of years attached to my life will not matter. What I have given of it to others will.

And if 60 is really the new 40, then I haven’t reached middle age yet! But given a choice, for me, I’d rather think 60 is the youth of “old” age because I choose to live life looking ahead with joy, and not behind with regret. I am profoundly grateful for every act of kindness, whether from strangers or friends and family; thankful for every blessing from a loving God, realizing that the past is past, and the present is truly a present. It is my gift of life to fully enjoy today and every day, and live in a way that will best serve others by God’s grace!

Lithography by Jansem (private collection)

 

 

 

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A New Day

It is midnight.
We cross our arms and link our hands
Together in a circle
And sing to drink to days gone by.
Step into the new year,
Open the door and enter a new day,
It is no different from yesterday, but today
Is the beginning of the ending of yesterday.

Do you see in our tomorrow
Anything other than what I wish it to be?
Faith to overcome fear; courage to meet discouragement;
Confidence to draw on strength, and success amidst failures we suffer.
Between dreams and reality, an immense distance transcends
And the mystery of tomorrow remains hostage to my thoughts.

It is nearly dawn.
Take my hand offered in kindness.
Together, let’s click, clack, clomp and march our footsteps
Across the threshold of tomorrow’s open door,
And when the first sun rises
We shall tread light our steps
To welcome a new day with footprints of joy and reverence,
Because today is the beginning of tomorrow.

SK 12/31/21

 

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Envision the Future

In my younger days and toward the end of a calendar year, one of the many conversations when gathered with family and friends would be “where did we see ourselves in the future.” We would make projections of progress in our personal lives and predictions for the world we inhabited…fantasies of robots, tech advances, underwater roadways, space travel, a cure for cancer, an end to deforestation, elimination of war, poverty reduction, preservation of our natural resources, equality for all as one human race and so on. Imagining the future was perhaps our way of grappling with change in the present. We envisioned our lives, and through our lens of progress we painted an optimistic canvas for the world we inhabited.

In hindsight, I realize our vision for the future was bifurcated into putting ourselves at the center of everything and fighting for the togetherness of the world. Together we marched for peace, against wars, against racism, against inequalities. We spoke out for human rights, for clean water, deforestation and climate crisis. We demanded recognition for indigenous people and the release of the kidnapped. We raised our voices, held strikes and sit-ins and held rallies all in the name of peace and love. In our young and passionate strife, we believed that reason would lead to a world free from war and terror; that society and mankind would move toward putting an end to discrimination and turn the corner on the urgent challenges of the environment.

Were we triumphant? We may have made substantial “progress” in preventing what could have been worse, but to say we won would be a mistake. Our only triumph was our stubborn persistence. Because reason may never fully rule man; violence may never be eradicated; social, personal, and intellectual problems will always exist; crime will always be with us no matter how rich, educated, or socially caring we become; and environmental concerns remain mired in processes that take too long to resolve.  Does that mean we lower our expectations of what the future can be? I think NOT

There is no doubt that today we face a particularly tough set of challenges especially as we begin to catch our breath and build upon the imposed life-style balance after two years of a Covid-19 pandemic.  That said, the countless challenges we faced showed us just how resilient and adaptable we could be. Many experienced losses, never to be replaced. Despite that, we did our best to get through each day and set some higher expectations for the year 2022.

Today, the world we live in relies heavily on the advances of science (which gave rise to the fastest vaccines approved and administered to millions in the fight against Covid).  We depend on the speed of technology in ways of education and learning.  Internet, computers and social media, video conferencing tools, and mobile apps have become the silver bullet for connecting with the world at our fingertips. With the advances of science and the expansion of technology, the future is in our hands.  We shape it. We are the participants, whether we passively accept the old and unsustainable business-as-usual route or embrace change by implementing new models that deliver brighter futures for society, business, people and the culture in which they operate. We face huge challenges, but with a positive and open, empathetic mindset; with a commitment and a profound sense of community so powerful as to compensate for the difficulties of the year and time lost, we can shape a future that brings us much closer to an ideal. This means that each of us, through the choices we make and actions we take in governments, companies and as individuals, is accountable in determining the direction of the future of society in the world we inhabit.

And in the years to come, people of the future will be able to see where our actions have led. Did we reduce poverty? Have we halted the wave of famine that sweeps the world of our time?  Is homelessness no longer an issue? Have we met our climate pledge and reduced global warming to an insignificant degree?  Is forest destruction a thing of the past?  Does everyone have water? And did we shelve the bullet and bomb to invest in peace?

As for me, I have narrowed my vision of the future to one year at a time. As I approach the Christmas season and look ahead to 2022, knowing that all things are possible, I will embrace the New Year with an open heart and a fierce spirit. 

May God bless you all with a safe, healthy, and joyous New Year.

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Grateful For Today

In a fragmented world when night and day meet
I ask,
What gifts have I been given?

You are born, you breathe, and you grow,
You work, you harvest and you create.
Life is your gift.
Let it sing through you
And convey the prayers of a world in need.

Go set a table of bread and salt
For family, friends and strangers alike.
Greet one another in the familiar language of love,
And ignite the night sky with laughter and praise
As you tell the stories of those whom you’ve lost.

Wake up to the sun with open arms.
Embrace what is before you
Because the magnitude of your blessings
Is given you only day by day.
Breathe in,
Breathe life.
Be grateful for today.

Thankful for all of the blessings that have been delivered throughout the year, have a joyful and happy Thanksgiving 2021.

 

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To the Memory of Mom

To every mother,
I see you and I hear you.
I see you making sacrifices as an act of love,
Listening to one more story and whispering, “I know.”
Too tired to cry.
Bridging the gap between the years of family
Siblings, aunts, uncles
Experiencing what it means to let go and hang on
While still being yourself.
Children, all grown
Holding them in your heart as you fall asleep
Because they no longer fit in your arms.
Tears leak on your pillow
Because somedays,
You still need a mom.

Sprinkled with salt from my tears of memory.

Portrait: Mother and Daughter by Saundra Lane Galloway

 

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