Love You

“Love you, love you,” I said in Armenian, as I ended a phone conversation with my sister, while waiting to pick up a cup of coffee at a local joint. A beautiful elderly woman smiled and asked if I had just said I love you in Armenian. She said it was the one phrase that as a young girl 70 years ago she had learned to say because she had had a crush on an Armenian boy in middle school. I gave her a puzzled look. She said, “You never forget how to say I love you in whatever language,” she said. The telescope of her memory brought out my own.

Somewhere in every person’s heart is the memory of at least one young crush. I can still remember the many crushes of my middle school years. It was a time of fantasy and romantic imagination; a potent mix of idealization and infatuation. It didn’t require being well acquainted with the person I found attractive. It meant wanting to be around that person, creating a fantasy world of excitement while scenarios of “I love you” in different languages danced in my head. I wasn’t alone in these idealizations. It was the rage then among my closest friends and me. We attended schools that had an international population of students from so many differing countries and cultures that we each wanted to know how to say, “I love you” in as many ways and languages as we could. Each of us took on a language, or two or three, that we were convinced would forever be our way of saying “I love you.” I took on nine, (oh yes, I had nine crushes). Each language was more beautiful in rhythm and sound than the previous. I learned how to say the words and then spelled them out phonetically in English and repeated them throughout the day in school as though I was chanting a mantra or the rosary.

As children, we grow up with the romantic ideals of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White thinking that true love is the happily ever after of fairy tales. As early adolescents, we move onto the corny sentimentality of crushes and infatuations. By mid adolescence, we experience young love, the Romeo and Juliet kind of love with its wild and impetuous, skyrockets and roller coaster rides, where we think we know true love.  At the end of adolescence we begin to understand that love reveals over time as we grow in maturity and experience. And when we do learn to love and know true love, we fall in love with love. We surrender to it, because “The heart loves who it loves. The beauty of giving our heart to another, and having that heart love reciprocated is a gift from God.” (John Three One Six, Kristi K. Mendoza).

Love is a nutrient essential to living. It is real. It is delicate and tender yet tough and passionate, and when it pours into the heart, love cannot be stopped or denied. But often I hear that the phrase “I love you” has lost its meaning because of overuse. Where love once stood for a strong emotional attachment or a deep spiritual connection, it is now a substitute word for a temporary feeling. Even I carelessly toss the phrase “I love you” around. I once told my Uber driver ‘I love you’ because he weaved me through seemingly impossible traffic. The other day I went to my hairdresser of 15 years and when she cut my hair I exclaimed, “OMG, I look amazing. I love you. I can’t wait to show myself off!” On Saturdays and Sundays I frequent my favorite local coffee bar and I take my first sip of coffee for which I’ve been dying and tell the barista, “This is perfect. Love you for making my day start just right.” My aunt ends a phone conversation with me and says she loves me. A best friend departs with a swift trill of her fingers and says “love you, friend,” as she walks away. I see my neighbor cuddle his dog and utter loving words acknowledging her (the dog’s) never-failing ability to make him smile and cry at the same time, and I’m convinced that any reason to keep on living for him would disappear if he lost this bond of love. “I love you,” I whisper to my grandchild as I put him down in his bed for the night. That sweet phrase “I love you,” exhausted and abused, forms the foundation of our lives. To love abundantly is to live abundantly.

I’d be silly to think that saying “I love you” means the same thing to each person to whom it is said. My mom didn’t give me or get from me the same kind of love that I give to a best friend, husband, hairdresser or kitty cat, and that doesn’t mean I care for one more than the other. So, no matter how you say it or to whom you say it, keep passing on the love — even if those words accidentally slip out when you’re talking to the bartender on a fun girls’ night out as I did the other day. I’m convinced there’s nothing wrong with verbalizing my feelings on a regular basis. This world can always use a little more affection, a bit of extra magic. So go ahead, love others, and love yourself because Love begets Love.

As for my corny sentimentality of an adolescent, in the words of the beautiful elderly woman, “You never forget how to say I love you in any language.”

 

 

 

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Thread of Permanence…Love

Celebrity deaths and the grief that accompanies them prompt the collective question about the purpose of life. We start to think, “What is a life well lived? What imprint are we leaving on the world? What do we fear most about our own death? How will we be remembered? What is our legacy?” Untimely deaths like that of basketball legend Kobe Bryant remind us that all of us will die someday. Neither fame not wealth nor talent will shield us from that inevitability, but how we live our lives and how we do everything with love, in love and for love is the thread of permanence that runs through everything from the beginning of time.

The power of athletes, or musicians, artists, actors, comedians, and celebrities is that they do have an impact on a large group of people and within that, the impact becomes personal. Most of us feel connected to them whether it is through their champion athletics, the music or entertainment factors, their art or their skills as influencers. We follow them on social media, we latch onto their thoughts, we share their tweets, and watch them on the courts, studying their every move regardless of whether we are Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennial or Gen Z. I can remember exactly where my college self was when I heard Elvis Presley, the king of Rock ‘n’ Roll, had died. I remember distinctly the moment of disbelief and collective grief on the street at the news of princess Diana’s accident and death, or the moment of shared sorrow at a Starbucks, when I heard Robin Williams had died. Celebrities, though we may not personally know them, we DO know them. They are a regular part of our lives, in shows, movies, and arenas, creating music or scenes or shots that define moments that make memories in our lives. If their music touched us, or if their champion good hearts inspired us, or if they became an unforgettable part of our youth, we feel their connection. We mourn their loss and weigh in on the grief with candlelight vigils. We share posts on social media and celebrate the cultural benchmarks that define and identify us through our generations. The connection is not just about how much we love, appreciate, respect and admire them, but oftentimes it’s because they bring us to a realization of finiteness. Ideally, that realization of finiteness will help us to pursue mindful living and appreciate the love that is exchanged to sustain us in the now, and in the hereafter. Goodness, creativity, passion and a mindful sharing of the richness of our lives through love are the thread of our permanence…the legacy we leave.

The idea of leaving a legacy is the need or desire to be remembered for what we have contributed to the world. In some cases, as in the late Kobe Bryant, that contribution can be so special that peoples’ lives are unalterably changed. Kobe grew and transformed his life, made changes where he needed, found his truth, inspired others, became a leader and spent time and money influencing youth. Touching lives and exemplifying a truthful path is paramount to a life of purpose. His legacy will live on.

However, for most mere mortals like me walking this earth, I hope to leave a more modest legacy that doesn’t necessarily change the world but does leave a valuable thread of permanence or lasting footprint that will be remembered by those whose lives I’ve touched. That valuable thread is love. It is my hope that family, friends, associates and community, will remember me not for what I accomplished, but instead, for what I helped them in their lives to accomplish. They will remember how I cared for them and loved them.

Vanessa Bryant, wife of Kobe and mother of daughter Gigi, wrote on Instagram, “there aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved.” Ultimately, for those whose lives we’ve touched, the love we take with us and the love we leave behind in their hearts is all that matters and all we have to live by. (May all our untimely departed rest in peace and be remembered with fond love.)

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” — Shannon L. Alder

 

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“Game of Life”

One of the oldest American board games is the “Game of Life.” Players spin a wheel on the board and travel along charted roads in small plastic automobiles according to the number on which the spin stops. Each car has six or eight holes into which pink or blue pegs representing people are added as players “get married” and “acquire children”. Throughout the game are spaces that emulate life, and require players to choose college, career, buying homes, cars, insurance, stocks, taking out loans, paying taxes, among others. Money is constantly exchanged, and when players reach the end of the game and retire in either Millionaires Estate or Countryside Acres, they must repay any loans and add up their assets and cash. The player with the most money in hand wins the game.

When I was a child I played “Game of Life” with siblings and friends. It was the air of being a grown up that enticed us. We could choose a job, college, buy a car and within a few turns get married and have kids — so many kids they didn’t fit in the car. Being an adult was effortless, and life was a game — literally.

Recently, I played “Game of Life” with the grand kids. With some modifications and updates to the game, it still has an attractive appeal to children. The game pulls them in. They are drawn to the two-option choices, the roll of dice revealing their fate, the purchase of properties and pricey items, the spin of the wheel, the trivial decision of a second home between the Dream Villa or the City Penthouse and the final measure of success… winning with the most amount of money.

As an adult, something about the game bothered me. It felt compulsory. I realized that even with all the choices available, I didn’t feel like I had much input into how I went about living. I was simply following preset rules of doing what I was supposed to do at the times I was supposed to do them. What if I didn’t want three children? What if I wanted none at all? Did I really have to buy a yacht on my modest teacher’s salary just because that’s the space I landed on? What if I didn’t want a yacht? In the game, I already owned enough things I couldn’t afford, including two homes, a business, a horse, and apparently all of my great uncle’s antiques. When I reached the end of the game I had a family of five that had been assigned to me, a collection of ridiculously pricey items, and a life insurance policy to cash in on which didn’t give me any sense of triumph or accomplishment. But this is a game with a set of rules.

As a grown woman and in the real world, I know I have more say in whether or not to buy a yacht, but there are still plenty of stops along the road of life where I’m expected to acquire or do certain things just because that’s the accepted general blueprint for living, and most of us follow it without thinking twice. In real life, if all I do is choose to follow the charted blueprint path, how will I ever open myself to moments of discovery? Those moments of spontaneity like walking in the rain, noticing the shedding of bark on the eucalyptus tree, or sitting on a sidewalk and marveling at the one seedling growing in the dirt between cracks in the concrete. And what about the show of kindness and love by people who influence me and build on my journey in the real world? Friends? Family? The “Game of Life” is fun as a child, but the underlying motivation that drives the player’s actions is money. (Perhaps that’s why I seldom won the game, as I am not of the conviction that “whoever has the most gold, wins.”) No amount of money or material validation will ever take the place of what you can achieve out of pure love exchanged in real life.

In the real world, you have roughly 33,000 days to play the “game” of life. When the end of the day rolls around, how will you decide whether you won or lost? By money amassed, or by who and what put a smile on your face and lit up your heart to keep the embers of your soul on fire? Will you measure your wins by money? Or by the beauty of human connections that help build on your journey through life?

How will you decide?

 

 

 

 

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Rejoice, Rejoice

This Christmas,

I pray,

For humanity to simply hold the hand of God
And with humility on bended knee
Feel the wonderment in the force of His sovereignty

He is parent, you are child.
The creases in His palm speak to say
Be kind, be gentle; don’t dismay.
Prove loyal in word and deed,
Rise up against malice; make it your creed
To discourage complacency;
Forgo strife, and forgive an enemy;
Celebrate the heroes in your life.
Keep a promise to seek forgotten friendships.
Express gratitude. Listen, and mend relationships.
Trust more. Don’t keep score.
Encourage youth and let go of envy.
Brighten the hearts of children
For they are the treasures of heaven.
Laugh with a roar. Share more.
Speak of love.
Speak it again
With faith, with hope and peace in your heart.

Parent and child, Rejoice, Rejoice,
For God the Word is man in Christ.
Revealed to us on Christmas day.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

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The Wait

It is the Advent season and in all stores, the rush of shoppers has formed long lines in front of cash registers. Everyone seems frazzled. I look over to the self-checkout stations originally designed to facilitate or eliminate the pains of waiting. The wait line there appears just as long. It doesn’t bother me. It is the Advent season, and I am patient. Still, I choose the shortest line in my estimation and wait to pay for a couple of items I hold in my hand. The person at the register is having trouble with her electronic coupons and credit card that cause the wait in line to drag. The person in front of me begins to huff and puff showing signs of restlessness. The person behind me is growing impatient. He’s in a suit and tie, and is anxiously looking at his watch. He says he’s in a hurry and doesn’t have time to waste. Which prompts me to think…why do we consider waiting a waste of time? Why do we have this nagging sensation that our life is slipping away, wasted in the “eternal” moments of waiting?

With the speed of the world today, where everything is for the here and now, we simply do not like to wait. We huff, we puff, our nerves tense, we stress and fidget impatiently to move to the “next” place in our lives once we have arrived someplace because it is not the someplace else, someplace else and someplace else where we think we have to be. The last thing we want to do in the numbered moments of our diminishing time is to “waste” it by waiting. But that’s what we do. We wait. We wait for our food at restaurants; we wait for our burger at a drive through window; we wait for tickets to see the newest movie or for the latest ride at an amusement center. We wait for packages to arrive that we ordered online in record speed; we wait for that phone call or text; we wait at the doctor’s office or at the DMV. We wait for test results, or for the acceptance letter in the mail. We wait for that great job to come along. We wait for our paychecks and tax returns; wait for our retirement to set us free from the binds of our career. We wait for that perfect relationship; for our families to reunite, for a loved one to come home from war. We wait for a child to be born. We wait for the sun. We wait for rain. It never ends.

We are so busy rushing through life, that we have forgotten how to enjoy the moments that make us live in the present. We have forgotten the fun of standing in line with our friends or family members deciding which to buy for whom or what to cook for a gathering. We’ve forgotten to let ourselves fall into the steady rhythm of life as we sit in a coffee shop huddled over hot drinks, hands rubbing against one another, and our whispers trying to keep each other warm. We have forgotten the tidbits we tell and stories we share as we wait for our waiter to come with our food. We have forgotten the beauty of a patient smile as we absorb the colors, sounds and scents. We have forgotten that the best part of Christmas is not Christmas Day, but like little children, the waiting for Christmas. This is the Advent season where the joy is in the waiting. With sleigh bell songs across the airwaves and on our lips resonating in our hearts, stringing of lights around the house, smelling orange and pine around the fire, cupping our hands around a mug of hot chocolate, (or cognac), we should be waiting like children. Waiting with a flutter in our hearts and tingling anticipation, faithfully waiting for that proclamation of love, the arrival of the birth of a child wrapped in swaddling cloths, the Messiah, Jesus.

As we wait in long lines this Advent season, or as we wait for anything in life, it is important to remember that we are ALL waiting for something. Wait, with patience, humility, and expectant hope in a state of prayer. To wait means to strengthen, means to hope, means to believe, means to love.

For God the Word became man in Christ, celebrated on Christmas day. Wait. And the world is sanctified.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

 

 

 

 

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In the Flow of Life

There was a time when I did not give money to peddlers and beggars and people on the street. It’s not that I was not generous. I was and I am. It’s just that I didn’t trust that the money I gave them individually would help improve their lives. A walk with my Dad and an experience years later brought me to understand the act of giving and receiving are a continuous process in the flow of one’s life.

Many years ago, I accompanied Dad on a walk around the block. I always enjoyed the time alone with him as we would delve into some form of philosophy that shaped our lives. We walked in and out of alleys just chitchatting, until we came across a tired looking woman with a baby in her arms asking for charity. Without hesitation, Dad reached into his pocket, took out paper currency and kindly handed it to her. “Why?” I asked. “How do you know that woman isn’t going to spend the money on things other than food? She could be using the child as bait for sympathy,” I continued. “Instead of begging at the corner and making an easy career out of this, she should be working and doing something with her life.”

“My dear girl,” said Dad, “Do you know what has brought her to the streets? She may not have had the choices or the capabilities to stay afloat in the social structure. Perhaps she got stuck in the flow of life. Perhaps the opportunities for her were very limited. Perhaps she was outcast. Perhaps misunderstood. Perhaps neglected. Perhaps she doesn’t know any better. Perhaps she was born in poverty.” And with a nostalgic shake of his head, he said, “And, do you know the state of mind associated with loss of dignity and humiliation that comes with poverty and desperation? You do not, dear girl, because you haven’t worn her shoes. I see degradation and humiliation in her eyes, and when I give her money, I see in her eyes a grateful heart. That’s all the reasoning I need.” Then he added with his usual huge smile, “And if, for whatever reason, she has made this a career of her own choosing, like all careers, they need a boost.”

Dad’s desire to help unconditionally was genuinely rooted in recognition of his human solidarity with those who were suffering, regardless of their circumstances.

Flash forward years from that day. I had been up for two nights straight tending to my seriously ill infant daughter who was in need of medication. I looked a mess in baggy sweatpants, a faded frayed T-shirt with drool stains on my shoulders, disheveled hair and eyes that screamed ‘exhausted’. I looked like crap. I felt like crap. All I could think of in that state of mind was to ease my child’s discomfort. I drove to a nearby drugstore with my baby (since I had no one with whom to leave her), and after what seemed like an eternity at the pharmacy, I picked up the meds and made a weak dash to the car and realized that I had locked the keys in the car. I found a pay phone, looked up the number to a car locksmith in the directory of a phone book only to discover that I did not have any change to place the call. (For those of you wondering, at the time, mobile phones were not yet common and credit/debit cards were not an option with which to pay.) With a sick infant hanging on my weary shoulder, I was desperate. With great self-conscious embarrassment, I grudgingly approached people in the parking lot for a dime or quarter. Many odd looks, quite a few rejections, then, one kind man gave me the dime. He must have seen gratitude in my eyes because he then took out a dollar and squeezed it in my hand saying, “Here, buy some milk for the child.” Painful humiliation, loss of dignity, and degradation. My eyes welled with tears. At that moment, in the eyes of a stranger, I was no different from that poor, tired woman with child of years ago asking for charity on a street corner.

Today, I give. I give to persons in need in recognition of my human solidarity with those who are suffering, regardless of their circumstances. Because for whatever reason they are on the street, for whatever wretched circumstances brought them there in the flow of life, they will never lose the ability to be gracious for the “monetary” gifts they receive… a lesson I will keep in my heart.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, from my grateful heart to yours.

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“Pity the Nation”

“…Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful. … (Khalil Gibran)

I cannot let go of the weight on my heart as I, and many others, experience the depth of our sorrow when politics turns dark. In a phone call 10 days ago (at the time of this writing), President Trump gave the green light to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to invade northern Syria, and in the process, to engage in what Armenians have experienced and known for over 100 years, an ethnic cleansing.

Nothing new here. It is history that repeats itself with tyrants. And unfortunately, the grim and sobering reality of our current global crises of leaders among nations is frightening. Todays’ foxlike statesmen have “great” relationships with one another, weaving webs that bond them together over “nice” conversations. “Nice” conversations among them are merely an exchange of needs that serve narcissistic egos. And they will forsake anyone or a people who no longer serves their need. President Trump, whose appeal is founded on a backdrop of personal achievement, constant boasting of being unrivaled and a bully like toughness, will, like all the other tyrants with whom he has a “good” relationship and “nice” conversations, abandon anyone who no longer serves his needs. (Check the number of White House Staff, Cabinet Members, administrators on whom he has turned his back after letting go or resigning.) He has no empathy, no sympathy, no guilt nor shame. I pity the nation.

A year ago, President Trump was praising the Kurds as “great” allies, vowing to protect them. “They fought with us. They died with us,” Trump said. “We have not forgotten.” Predominantly Kurdish forces in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) played a central role in aiding the United States in fighting the Islamic State. The US armed them, used them, praised them, and just last week, the President dismissed the Kurds with the justification, “They didn’t help us in the Second World War; they didn’t help us with Normandy.” And the President of this nation did not call for the Turkish tyrant to observe the rule of law, or Western standards of justice. Instead, Trump distanced himself saying, “Turkey and the Kurds are fighting ‘over land that has nothing to do with us.’” The results have been swift and brutal with the displacement of more than 275,000 people (of whom 70,000 are children, according to SDF), executions of journalists, female politician, war crimes, and the escape of hundreds of Islamic State (ISIS) prisoners. If Islamic State fighters manage to get free, “they’re going to be escaping to Europe,” Trump said last week. As if Europe’s problems won’t affect the United States! I pity the nation.

This becomes a complicated geopolitical battleground where many international and regional players, with varying interests and means, clash violently. Sadly, ordinary civilians will pay the ultimate price. We see this same scenario being played out over and over again. Go back 104 years to the Genocide of Armenians by Turkey; back 75 years to the Holocaust; back 45 years to the Cambodian genocide; 25 years to Rwandan genocide; 15 years and counting to the Darfur genocide; 8 years and counting to the Saudi led Yemeni genocide; 3 years and ongoing to the Rohingya (Myanmar) genocide, and beyond. For tyrants, other human beings don’t have intrinsic dignity or value. Human worth is determined in terms of what benefits them in their personal “great” relationships and ego boosting ‘mine is bigger than yours’ attitude. By now, this behavior should come as no surprise to anyone. When tyrants lead nations, it becomes the history of the world to interfere solely to suit their political game and agenda.

Where do we go from here? For the Kurds, Arabs, Armenians and Assyrians living near and around the northern zone of Syria, the consequences of America’s policy change will only get worse. Meanwhile we have played Syria into the hands of Russia. Our “ally”, Saudi Arabia, is ready and waiting for the green light backing of the US to pounce on Iran who holds the Hezbollah proxy. The proxies of Russia, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are now spinning an even bigger web, in which millions of refugees continue to face an unknown future. One thing is certain: the biggest beneficiary of this will be ISIS, and with a possibility of resurgence we will all be under threat. Any ensuing conflict will be fought on the battlefield of civilian bodies.

I pity the nations.

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