George Floyd is America

I am white. And much as I hate to admit it, the reality is that my skin color comes with white privilege as opposed to black or brown privilege. Until I have had to walk in black or brown skin, I will never understand how much I as white, take for granted in my daily living which is not granted to people of color. And until we as Americans come to terms and accept that we are not a colorblind society, that we are responsible for racism to still exists in America, we will remain contributors to the problems at hand, having lobbied and continue to lobby against humans simply on the basis of the color of their skin.

It is important for us as white Americans to understand that there is persistent injustice for people of color that runs from racial profiling to police violence to murder. In the U.S., 1(one) in 1000 black boys and men will be killed by police in their lifetime, while for white boys and men, the rate is 39 out of 100,000 according to a new study conducted by Frank Edwards, of Rutgers University’s School of Criminal Justice, Hedwig Lee, of Washington University in St. Louis’s Department of Sociology, and Michael Esposito, of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

We watch the murder of George Floyd, aghast that such a criminal act can happen while other officers look on. We watch events unfurl on our TV screens and newsfeeds; and as the protests turn into riots, we shake our heads, point fingers, and give our privileged explanations calling the rioters anarchists and losers, establishing that the rioters have little to do with the killing of George Floyd. Maybe so, and I absolutely do not condone rioting and looting, but we cannot ignore that the violence and destruction is a result of frustration built up over years of pent-up anger at a system that has for decades worked against them, telling them that they are less human and therefore inferior to the white race. And this racism they are fighting is still alive and well throughout our nation. This racism is what we should all be fighting.

I am often moved to hit the streets to peacefully protest against unequal policing, racism and the perceived devaluation of black American lives. I have participated in many marches against injustices, and inevitably, once among the massive crowds, there has always been and there will always be the individuals whose motives are difficult to discern and whose emotions are led not by intelligence but by committing vicious and heinous acts. Meanwhile we, as white America continue to ignore the real underlying problem of racial tensions that exist in our nation, and we dehumanize for their bad and violent decisions, the rioters and looters who know not how else to become “agents of change.” The true protesters want an end to racist police practices, an end to the criminalization of being black and an end to the killings. They want to be the agents of change.

Instead of tearing down these human beings who are acting out of sheer frustration through years of longstanding grievances, and who don’t know what else to do, we ought to be reaching out to help them regain the humanity they lost. We ought to be helping them exercise their right to voice their demands loudly to their government. We ought to be helping them in demanding better and constructive responses from the authorities, from the President, from the governors to the mayors to the police who have all cheapened black life with the systematic discrimination and brutality directed at black and brown people. And to add fuel to the fire, the officers in the majority of cases were not charged for their crimes. Here are just a handful of names of people who succumbed to deadly force used by police —Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, Stephon Clark, Eric Garner,  Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and countless others.

Floyd’s name is now added to a long list of black men killed by cops. Floyd’s murder and the ensuing riots shed light on America’s broad racial divide, which, despite the strides made by the Civil Right’s movement of the ‘60 –shamefully still exists in this great country that claims to be and should be better than the rest. George Floyd is not an aberration; George Floyd is America. And we as Americans are accountable and must share that responsibility.

 

 

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I Will Not Complain

complaintWhile I’d like to think that I’m not much of a complainer, I’ve come to realize that complaining is something we all do without even recognizing it. To set the record straight, I am not a chronic complainer. Sure, here and there I will fuss about my day…traffic was worse than expected; the gardener didn’t fix the sprinkler; the movie was disappointing; too much dust from the construction across the street; and so on—but I’m a firm believer in the power of positivity, knowing that complaining focuses only on the negative and sets oneself to fail at the outset. And yet….

Wasn’t it just two months ago I complained that we were overspending on eating out and we needed to cut back that activity? Seems like that’s not a problem now considering most restaurants have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wasn’t it two months ago I said it I’d like to break away from opulent and high priced dinner banquets that cater to the elite status? That doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore given the “ban” on large group gatherings. Wasn’t it over two months ago I grumbled that I spent too much time on the road with traffic that I lacked time with my family? Now it seems my travel plans are keeping me home spending time with my family. In truth, I’m exhausted, emotionally and physically from these months and I barely have time to process my day each night, but I can’t complain. Life and everything about it is still so sweet.

In reality, I have nothing to complain about and everything to appreciate. I come from a strong and proud Armenian family who through the worst period in their history maintained their identity, their culture, and their overwhelming love for life. I grew up with a father who taught me that survival depended on optimism and the fierce fighting spirit of love for family. I grew up with a mother who taught me that the true measure of human worth is not in what we gain but in the sacrifices we are willing to make for the people we love and the ideals in which we believe. I grew up in a country whose people saw their hopes, their dreams and vision crushed by war and who, despite the governing hand that they’ve been dealt, still try to preserve their human dignity and character. Today, we are living in one of those periods in our history that will be marked by changes in all of humanities ideas and values, and human dignity and character will be questioned.

In my wallet, I keep three neatly folded pieces of paper; though I have learned them by heart from a very young age, I refer to them constantly. One says, “Do unto others whatever you would have them do unto you. This is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) Another says, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) And the third is a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night day, Thou canst not be false to any man.” At the end of my day, I meet my God. And before I unleash my mind to sleep I ask, “Did I do so unto others? Did I guard against greed? Did I measure up to that, this day?” My meet with Him is candid. I take inventory of my actions and deeds. It covers my thoughts, impulses, inclinations and temptations. What thoughts did I have today? Who did I ignore? Were my intentions noble?

Exhausting as it may be, I will not complain. I consider this current situation a time to pause, to take a giant step back and look at the whole picture. This is the time for each of us to look within ourselves to reevaluate, to find purpose in ideas and decide by which ideals we will live. I look to my golden rules to make and strengthen me in my time on this sweet planet. I want to give to this planet something more that just my labor and material accomplishments (or lack thereof); something that can be measured as good in the sight of our God; something that adds value to His faith in humanity.

Everything in life is still sweet. We are not what we have lost and we are not what has been taken from us. I will not complain because I am the next generation of a great family who entrusted me with their loving survival spirit to cultivate good thoughts and consciously live by God’s wisdom.

I might fuss here and there, but I will not complain.

 

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Mother

Tonight, I lay me down to sleep
A simple prayer I recite
Carved in memory to keep alive
the treasury of childhood archives.

And in the nectar of my thoughts
Her arms, a wingspan, fold gently
Embracing the child in me.

Her scent, a fragrance of lemon,
Drifts through the window in the breeze,
While her voice, like a whisper in my ear
Floats in prayer toward heaven’s tier.

Her words, roots of wisdom, planted
Long ago in my bosom
Seem to sprout, like seeds
Branching from under my tongue.

Her love, folded like a handkerchief
tucked neatly into my heart;
Her name, a ribbon wrapped around that love
Laces the distance between my now
and her forever more.

Mother. Now and forever more,
like a fledgling crying for its nest,
I cry  her name, Mother.

Mother and Child art by Sudhir Bangar
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Yeva, a Mother

I met Yeva for the first time one afternoon at her home while waiting for Ohan to arrive. She lived upstairs in one of the traditional Lebanese homes of stone with beautiful high arches and windows that showed off the decorative wrought iron work of early 20th century architecture. A long flight of marbled stairs worn out from years of use ran up the side of the building leading to a balcony entrance. Sweet smelling rayhan (basil) potted in large painted cans lined the foot of the iron handrails at the side of the staircase and perimeter of the balcony.

Yeva opened the door. She was a small woman, but not in any way frail. She was well built, with a dark complexion and prominent features. She had thick black eyebrows that formed a semicircle around her deep-set eyes that peered through heavy lashes. Her hair, thick waves of black hugged the nape of her neck and fell forward to circle around her V-shaped chin. Her thin lips formed a welcoming smile as she invited me in. The main room had a dining table set for three, and there were two sofas facing each other separated by a coffee table. Clean ashtrays lay on colorful embroidered tablemats. The aroma of a home cooked meal wafted from the kitchen into the room. She said she had food cooking on the stove and wanted to make sure it was ready before her daughter came home from school and would I care to join her in the kitchen until Ohan arrived?

Yeva was born in a refugee camp to parents who made use of salvaging whatever they could from the city’s trash dump. She was the youngest and only girl of three siblings. They lost their mother to tuberculosis when she was 13 years old and by the time she was 14, she dropped out of school to clean houses while her father found a construction job outside of the city and moved away with her two older brothers. Yeva had a dream. She dreamed of going to college and one day finding true love with someone who would stand by her and value her, and she would him.  She secretly “borrowed” books from the homes she cleaned to remain a student applying herself obsessively to gain knowledge. The best part of her day was rushing to her tin and cardboard home, to catch the last rays of sunlight before turning to the gas lamp to light the pages of a book she devoured with her eyes and mind. Then one day, at the age of 16 she fell in love with an older man who showered her with intellectual sophistication and words of false adoration. She gave him her heart and body. He made a promise to marry her until the day she informed him she was pregnant. He took her by the hands, pressed an envelope of money into her palm and in less than two minutes, he was gone, out of her life. She grieved. She grieved for wasted love, for loss of her heart and for a life without marriage. But she was strong. She had lived life in survival mode and now more than ever she needed to fend for herself. She had Ohan, her son to raise. She would give him all the opportunities of an education that she never had. She put aside all dreams, vowing to never again surrender to love. She no longer believed in true love. She used the power of her beauty, which brought her many well-dressed and well-groomed men to pay for sex services rendered. She had her regulars and she chose her hours. Ten years after Ohan was born she had her daughter. Throughout her profession as a sex worker she never let her work interfere with her children’s schedule.  Her parental diligence was among her top priority. Earning a living to provide for her children and determined to give them a life she did not have, Yeva kept a clean house, provided neatly washed and ironed clothes on their back and a hot nutritious meal every day for her children.

There was something sad and mysterious in Yeva’s story written in the worry lines on her face. And then Ohan walked in with his sister. The lines around Yeva’s mouth, the deep crevices that formed around her cheeks and eyes as a broad smile appeared at the sight of them were witness to a love greater than what she imagined true love to be. In spite of everything, Love had found her and she had surrendered to it.

Yeva, above all else, was a mother.

Line art drawing by Agnes Cecile. Painting of Girl in Red Chair by Shota.

 

 

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Remembering

I believe in remembering history. And I believe a great deal can be said about a country and a people by what they deem important enough to remember, to commemorate and to celebrate in their losses and in their gains. I also believe we learn more about a country and a people by what they choose to forget or deny, in their wickedness, their barbarism and their cruelty.

My father was born in 1910. He was one of the fortunate ones whose father had moved from Aintab to Aleppo after the 1895 Aintab massacres. He was raised in Syria, a country that had welcomed his parents until he moved to Beirut, Lebanon. Despite the hardships and death of other members of their families, my father never spoke of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 perpetrated by Turkey. He was raised in a home where memories were not welcome, a home with an unspoken past of genocide and exile. It was as though they were silenced by the horror; and guilt, the embodiment of anger directed toward oneself was the penance paid for the “gift” of survival. However, my father never played the victim. He held a happy disposition in life and took it upon himself to be well knowledgeable and well versed in the history of the world and the Armenians, and proclaimed through open letters that these horrendous acts had taken place by Ottoman Turkey and that there was retribution to be made for the 1.5 million lives lost.

In a box containing cassette tapes I found a recording of an interview with my father conducted by the Zoryan Institute. The tapes dated back to 1989. I knew they were always there but somehow, I had never listened to them. Perhaps I hadn’t wanted to hear the truth. I feared outrage and anger. I feared hearing hurt in his voice, a hurt that would cut through my own skin and I would be scarred like that hollow place that outrage and anger had carved in so many hearts. I feared I would hear a voice wounded too deep to mend. But what I heard was the wisdom of a man who could leverage knowledge with personal and collective experiences, a man who spoke with faith, with courage, with compassion and with confident truth in his heart. He said, (and I paraphrase) “that to understand the continued repercussions of genocide depended on how deeply the world understood that the permanent original sin committed by Turkey (even preceding the Holocaust) was a Genocide against all humanity. If original sin goes unpunished, what is the benchmark of our morality as a society and our ability to say no to evil?”….

….”As a people, it is not death that we fear, but fear of life without hope, without a dream, without an Armenian identity. The moral balance of the universe has been perverted and as Armenians, the one thing we fear is a world without justice.”

My father was right. Until Turkey finally accepts and redeems the moral debasement of their crimes against Armenians and against humanity, and until all leaders of the world practice the political will to courageously reject the denialist mentality and prosecute Turkey’s Erdogan, such blindness toward original sin will lead us into one war after another, one genocide after another – all stemming from a denial of Turkey’s own blood-stained origins. And yes, we learn about a country and a people by what they choose to deny in their history, a wickedness, barbarism and cruelty, a destructive nature that persist to this very day… as recently as October 2019 when with swift and brutal execution under Turkey’s Erdogan more than 275,000 Kurds in N. Syria were displaced and executions implemented. (Refer to  Pity the Nation, October 20, 2019)

As for the Armenians, their true nature as a people and a nation of builders and contributors has not faltered. We remember, we commemorate and we celebrate wherever we are. It is remembering that has defined us, allowed us to grow and to stay focused on the mission of justice for these past 105 years since that fateful day of April 24, 1915.

I believe we learn and we teach from remembering. April 24 is the day that provides a focus through national and local events and activities for people worldwide to think about the continuing repercussions of the Armenian Genocide and the recent Genocides of the world. This year, on April 24, in place of the annual March For Justice that brings tens of thousands of Armenians to the streets of Los Angeles and other major cities to call on Turkey to recognize their original sin, Armenian organizations and committees have united to launch a humanitarian fundraiser to provide 1.5 million meals to Americans in need through Feed America. Remembering and how we commemorate our losses and our gains says a great deal about the Armenians. It instills a sense of reverence and appreciation for the gift of life and connects us to our past with an omnipotent force.

Remembering.

 

Posted in accountability, death, faith, genocide, humanity, justice, Uncategorized, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Called to New Life

eggsIt is Easter once again. With hope in our hearts we proclaim, “Christ is Risen. Blessed is the Resurrection of our Lord.”  The Father raised Him to new life.  Now, He is calling us to new life.

Easter reminds us that life is truly a constant beginning, a constant opportunity and a constant renewal, like springtime, sending the message that we can lighten the load, pack away what weighs us down in exchange for the things that are less burdensome. We are being called to new life.

Easter is about making a constant and conscious effort to renew ourselves especially now in the face of the current coronavirus lockdown and our changing circumstances. It means letting go of lavish material things to make room for what I consider the nobler…relationships and friendship. It means becoming more conscious of spending time instead of money in ways that will enrich our life and the lives of those around us. It means living a life that isn’t defined by things we know won’t last. In other words, it means trading the material trappings — driving flashy cars, buying designer clothing, or the latest gadgets while attending every social event — for the freedom of creating less stress and becoming more resolute in the quality of relationships instead of quantity.

Our mandated social and physical distancing due to the COVID-19 gives us time, space, and room to question the inconsequential inanimate material items we covet, trading them with the loved, treasured and adored in the living and breathing. Easter, like spring, is the signpost reminding us to renew ourselves and to stay connected to the simple things that make life grand, to reach out to others, to pause, to wonder, and to connect to Him from whom everything is possible…Wounds will be healed, sins forgiven, hearts at peace, and souls resurrected. He calls us.

The promise of new life in the Easter Resurrection of Christ. 326737-Celebrate-The-Resurrection-Of-Our-Lord-Happy-Easter-

 

 

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Nature Connects

Nature connects us to the Divine that calls to us. It is what I believe, not because of what religion I am or what God I believe in. It is because this earth knows only one Divine, and Nature is her manifest.

I also believe that nature embraces us during our hour of need. There is constancy in nature that speaks to the life that is inside me. It is healing. I remember an evening when my very young teen heart was terribly upset. The details of the issue have long since slipped from memory, but I still recall the embrace I received from the crooked yet majestic old oak tree in our mountain home when I climbed up her thick trunk and perched on one of her bent branches to sob into her bark. The tree cradled me and held me until I stopped the tears. A sense of connection, belonging, oneness; the presence of God. I felt renewed and restored.

The past three weeks we have had to muster every shred of fortitude and patience to ride out the global crisis of COVID-19. The outbreak of the novel virus is testing, tightening and loosening every aspect of our lives. We are told by government and health officials to heed and practice social distancing, self-quarantine and isolation from family and friends. There is fear and pain and uncertainty as we adapt to our new reality. Once again, I look to nature seeking consolation in these tough times.

I step outside of the home. It is at times like these when I notice strength in the smallest details of nature revealing their beauty. A spider’s silky web that glistens in the morning dew; the hummingbird hovering above my head alerting me to the empty feeder hanging on my front porch, a bird fluffing its feathers  to bask in the warmth of the sun while another splashes in the bird bath, a caravan of ants, bees in and around the honeysuckle and the first caterpillar of the season.

I take a walk in the crisp cold spring air. The street is nearly deserted. There is a palpable sense of emptiness to it. The traffic, if any, is scant and unusually quiet. I stroll down the now silent streets of my city and the sound of my shuffled steps resonates off the smooth concrete. A squirrel scurries up the maple tree looking for nuts. The bougainvillea with its bright fuchsia flowers shows fresh leaves that unfurl and grow. Everywhere – buds, shoots, blossoms.  Nature is alive and blushing. Each tree, each bush, each plant holds life that surface in deep hues of green. There is such comfort in my early morning walk in the rooted garden of earth.

I decide to drive to my next refuge: the beach. I am struck always by the vastness of the ocean. It stretches and becomes one with the horizon expanding to reach the sky. All around me, there is beauty – cliffs of rock, uninterrupted shoreline, crashing waves, gulls that race to scavenge food, crabs that crawl leaving patterns in the sand, sand that warms my feet. The sun and water lift me, and a gentle cool breeze encircles me like the arms of God. I am humbled by both the vastness and the minuteness yet empowered by the awe and endurance of God’s creation. I am renewed and restored.

At home I look outside my window. It is a beautiful evening. The San Gabriel Mountains loom, great giants ten thousand feet high, hovering over my day-to-day existence. These mountains stand, ageless. Though it is spring, residue of winter remains as I lose myself in the beauty of the peaks still covered with snow. The dark green grace of the pine trees gradually lose their distinctive contrast as the sun rays fade away, and the lavender hue of the mountain turns deep purple and switches into serene blackness.

There is such beauty that goes unnoticed in the natural manifest of God’s presence. It doesn’t mean that there is less suffering or pain or that it is felt less deeply. But if no one notices the strength in small details, surely large and overwhelming crises, panic, pain and despair will become our only reality. I find myself hopeful and grounded by the small (and large) beauties that connect me to the divine and speak to the life that is inside me. I am refreshed in spirit and mind and ready to love the world as is and help “bind up its wound.”

 

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