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.”

Posted in death, genocide, humanity, justice, Uncategorized, war | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

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

Personal Space Compromised

It’s the same scene today, as it has been most mornings for the past 5 months.
“What have you got planned for the day?” he asks as I pick up the daily paper from the driveway.
“Two meetings, a chat with the kids, a few email connections, WhatsApp with siblings, a report to write, an agenda to prepare and hopefully some creative writing,” I respond.
“Oh, so you’re home,” he exclaims cheekily and adds, “Don’t forget to smile. You’ll be on camera.”

In the age of coronavirus, many of us have transformed overnight from going to the office to digitally communicating from an alternate space called home. And we are increasingly relying on video conferencing apps like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype and others to correspond with our peers, with the use of video, camera and screen. In other words we are physically on camera; we are very aware of being watched, not only by our own faces but also by dozens more. We get this strange self-consciousness about how we look, positioning the Webcam so that it doesn’t angle up to add 10 pounds under the jawline to reveal the much dreaded double chin. We check our background and look behind us to see what it is people will see, or better yet, we change our background to seem more professional and hide the clutter, the mess or the intimacy of a room. And then there’s the child or husband who walks into the room to pick up an item or ask a question. And what of the pet, that beloved dog that suddenly lets out an excited bark or the cat that walks across the piano in your background?

I marvel at people who look good on screen. They are poised in such a way that it’ s hard to determine between their true self and their glamorized self. They don’t flinch and they don’t seem to mind the presence of a camera. Somehow, they catch the right light and always have a perfect tilt to their chin. Personally I’m convinced that they must have that coveted photogenic gene. I, on the other hand, do not have that gene and I don’t like myself on camera. I can’t seem to relate to a camera or something that isn’t a living being. It’s not exactly baked into my DNA. However, I can live with that since I’m not that vain. What I find more intrusive is the fact that my personal space is being compromised. Facets of my life that used to be separate/private – work, friends, family, intimate relations– are all now happening in the same space because my home, like most of yours, is now my workplace, and my computer screen is my sole connection to people beyond my household. My home and workplace have merged into one, and the boundaries between my personal and professional life are beginning to erode. My personal space is being compromised.

What do I mean by personal space? It’s that which separates the self from others in that invisible bubble I’ve created to form my boundary. That same invisible space moves with me rather than being place-specific, which means I regulate the dynamics with my surroundings and there isn’t much room for intrusion in my personal life. With today’s on line gatherings, my personal space is defined by a square headshot or thumbnail image of my face, which cannot move with me and cannot be dynamically regulated to fit the surrounding except that of my kitchen, den, dining room, bedroom, etc. and which allows for intrusion by dozens of faces staring at me Brady Bunch style.

At an office away from home, I can congregate in the break room or I can poke my head down the hall to greet a colleague. At home, everything merges into one nebulous mass. And I can’t pace the room during Zoom calls, either. Instead, I feel stuck and confined to hours spent sitting in one position causing my butt to numb. Not to mention an aching back and a dull-throbbing headache and eyestrain. Even group chats like “happy hour”, designed to provide leisure don’t feel like leisure time because, call it what you will, it’s a meeting–I’m using the same virtual tool I use for work—with wine in hand.

In short, I miss the physical locations which give color to my thoughts and actions, where I have room to roam, to visit, have face-to-face chats and “gossip” with coworkers, and then an evening commute during which time I can fuss and unwind and shed my work persona as I morph with anticipation into my social and relational identities.

The world is truly shaping its new normal, and I’ll need to do all that I can to make a commitment to embrace the practices that will keep me moving forward. So, the next time I sit in front of the webcam, I’m going to forget it’s there. I will ignore its presence, and when a dozen or more headshots greet me… Oh, hell, I’ll probably flinch, and then smile.

Posted in photogenic, technology | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Twin Blue Lights

Twin blue lights that shimmer in the darkness
Flood the night that haunts the sacred place.
Time passes,
But memories remain fresh and overwhelming

The wall of smoke, the trembling ground,
Sirens wailing, people jumping
Like birds learning to take flight,
Choking dust cloud rolling through Manhattan,
The grievous loss of life and the epic acts of heroism.

The panic, the chaos, the uncertainty and horror,
Later, the pain giving way to anger
And the desperate hope that the worst is over.
Memorials and monuments to our losses are built;
Across the nation, commemorations, not just in metal and stone,
But in solemn ceremonies and prayer vigils, candlelit.

We still remember
And perhaps always will, for the nation that went up in smoke
On this September day.
This day, that moment in history
Echoes beyond the memory of our eyes.

Tomorrow will not know what we know;
That a nation, indelibly marked by this singular tragedy
Gave birth to heroes;
A nation of faiths united
In strength and valor.

Twin blue living lights shoot to the sky
Unity and hope implied.
Twin shimmering pillars that carry
The slow unfolding of night into day.

Earth and rock are but a memory.

In remembrance of lives lost
In remembrance of heroes gained.

Photo:Tribute in Light by beanhead 4529 on Flickr
Posted in 9/11, tragedy, Twin Towers, Valor | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

To Daughter on her Birthday

Before you were born, I thought I chose you.
When you took your first breath, I thought I made you.
As you skipped, climbed and jumped, I thought I kept an eye on you.
Over the years, I thought I sculpted you.

Now, as I look back,

Before you were born, YOU were chosen for me.
When you took your first breath, YOU made me.
As you skipped, climbed and jumped, YOU had your eyes on me.
Over the years, YOU sculpted me.

Daughter,
with every year that grows in me,
YOU carve my heart with such precision and grace;
YOU transform even the ugly and chaotic into triumphs
Of beauty and bravery infused with love abundant.

Happy birthday, my jeweled crown.
May you live long.
May you live well
In the abundance of family love profound.

 

Art work by Anni Barsoum

 

Posted in family, life, Love, mother daughter, parent | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Civility

These are tumultuous times. There is conflict, division and dislike turning to hate everywhere I turn. It is difficult to explain exactly what is occurring or why it is happening, but my observations and experiences from the past few months have led me to conclude that civility, under the pretense of free speech, is under siege. Put simply, we are experiencing the death of civility.

By the death of civility, I don’t mean the end of mechanical polite remarks at dinner tables, or a “good morning,” “good evening” greeting to people we meet on a daily walk. Though I wish that there too, people would be more agreeable to lifting their heads and nodding or acknowledging a greeting or presence. But that’s not the worst of it. Rather, the death of civility means people care only about themselves while expecting the worst from others. Society has become too informal, and with that, the agreed-upon rules for respectful behavior, which we were taught, are no longer remembered. Shows like “The Apprentice” and “Survivor” highlight backstabbing behavior as admirable and winning qualities. And then there’s the Internet. The Internet has produced an etiquette-free zone where people can post uncivil criticisms with ease. There is stereotyping, dismissing, ridiculing, and contempt with no end to arguing, squabbling, accusing, distrust and outright rudeness, and no responsibility taken except to say “freedom of speech.” These uncivil behaviors are growing rapidly, and too many people either don’t see it or do see it but don’t care.

There was a time, not long ago, when these things were virtually unheard of. Instead of attacking those they disagreed with, the public generally showed respect and even outright concern for one another. Society valued standards, morals, etiquette and politeness. Certain rules existed for speaking and for behavior, which ensured no one was confused or unnecessarily offended, injured, insulted or ridiculed.

Civility is about more than just politeness. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility cultivates a civic code of decency. It requires us to discipline our impulses for the sake of others. It demands we free ourselves from self-absorption.

I am disheartened when I read or hear rude comments and vile political stances that demean the very essence of our humanity and create a polarizing animosity that deepens division. We need to think about how our actions affect others in the context of how we would wish to be treated in similar situations. This requires looking inside ourselves to understand the difference between valuable debate of ideals and disrespectful adjectives, and then acting in accordance with our beliefs which should be driven by moral virtues.

Unfortunately, our children are also being exposed to rudeness, vulgarity, and vile behavior that would have been unthinkable in previous generations. Children model adult behavior in real life and on screen. The world is their learning environment. They replicate language and behavior. We are their teachers. And as parents, teachers, coaches, politicians, television producers, and others who impact children’s lives, we have a responsibility to foster civility in children so they grow up with less, not more rudeness and ridicule.

Regrettably, I don’t see this changing anytime soon unless we as parents, as leaders, cultivate a civic code of decency. Because as a world turning away from civility, we are in for tougher times ahead. Studies show that incivility leads to violence, unhealthy communities, and societies paralyzed by conflict and political division. It’s not exactly the kind of world we envision for our kids.

I am convinced that the strength and integrity of a nation or a people depends on a strong foundation that begins in our homes. Indeed, “civility represents a long tradition of moral virtues essential to democracy. Virtues like empathy, humility, integrity, honesty, and respect for others are ideals of democratic engagement.” Without civility a society can morph into verbal, accusatory, offensive attacks on one another which is the way things are in these tumultuous times.

Civility can be a wonderful force capable of bonding people and instituting international brotherhood with differences of beliefs. It is that moral glue which prevents the breakup of society. And while we are in the midst of a crisis threatening the sustenance of society, we can rise above our own impulses and restore the civility we were once taught. It begins by practicing a basic concept: Look in the mirror instead of pointing the finger.

Posted in civility, communication, kindness | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Ya Beirut, Oh Beirut

It’s not unusual for me to receive from friends and acquaintances links to performances and concerts that could stir the heart to ride a wave of nostalgia for a place in one’s memory. But I don’t usually open any of them to allow myself the luxury of reminiscing, and especially not in these days of riskiness and unreliability.

The strangest thing happened to me the other day. I clicked on a link my brother sent me. After all, if my brother thought it worth sharing, then I should at least take the time to click on it. It took me to a concert choir performing a song in Arabic. The title of the song was Ya Beirut (Oh Beirut). Forty five seconds into it I felt my heart flutter and another 20 seconds later when the soloist started to sing, something inside me broke and with no predictions or warning signs the tears started to stream down my face uncontrollably. What was so special or different about this that could cause a tidal wave to burst? Was it the simple arrangement of lyrics to the song or the honeyed voice of the young soloist who sang of a homeland that refuses defeat? Perhaps it was both. Yet there was something more that made me surrender entirely to the music, melody and the lyrics. I was drawn to the soloist. There was a softness in the depth of her radiant eyes that gave her face a familiar definition…an edge of sweetness, a vulnerability that was visible in her smile of rose lips from which flowed the words of a song … a sweet, wrenching song that made the hair on my arms stand up. It made me lean back and weep.

Music accompanied by song does that. However, everyone may not feel what I describe. Some may feel what I felt with another song or type of music, and some, nothing at all. From the ballads of country song to the self-contained arias of opera; from the blue notes of jazz to the religious and folklore spirit of soul music; from rock, pop and rap, to classical, concert or cinematic, whatever the type, the genre or words, it touches a cord within us that resonates in our heart, mind, and spirit. It touches our soul because it expresses what we can’t verbally express ourselves in what or how we feel. We are compelled by it. We are provoked by it. We are moved by it. We are inspired by it. We feel connected to it. It reflects something profound about who we are and our experience in all the different phases of our lives. And we feel a reminiscent connection to that music that takes us back to a certain time or place in our life. There are songs and melodies that remind us of the first time we fell in love, or songs that bring back tender moments, wonderful moments of family gatherings, of picnics and parties; songs that remind us of heartbreak, and songs that awaken in us our culture; songs that delineate our history, of conquest and defeat, of unions and separations; songs that push us to our limits, songs that motivate us and keep us going, songs that strike a cord in our heart’s mind arousing unexpected sadness, and songs that cheer us up, and songs that lift us to another dimension.

Ya Beirut performed by Philokalia choir  and ensemble simply overwhelmed me. The young soloist with whom I felt an inexplicable connection awed me. It wasn’t until the end of the song that I realized my brother had sent me the link to introduce me to her — Hayfa Nour Yeghiayan, a second cousin whom I had not met since I had left Lebanon in the midst of a war around which time she was born soon after.

I listened through my tears. The music and lyrics triggered feelings absorbed through my veins and her voice held the power to undress the ache lodged in my heart under the many layers of my human shield. It reinforced what I longed to remember of Beirut, a city in a country that is the most educated in the region with the most creative and talented, courageous, generous and kindest of peoples. A country that has millenniums of history, that holds the treasured cedar tree of biblical note as the symbol of her pride embedded in her flag, who for years has heroically maintained a balance between the horrors of war and corruption and the semblance of ordinary life, and now, a country that yesterday saw what the world saw—a rain of carnage and destruction from an explosion that rocked the very foundation of an already fragmented city—Ya Beirut.

 

 

Posted in music connects, power of music | Tagged , | 13 Comments

I Write With Sorrow

I listen to the news and take a nervous mental stock of recent events that have targeted Armenians, Greeks, and others on the list of Turkey’s vengeful past, present and future.

I delve the most morbid corners of my imagination to find a metaphor or image capable of expressing some of my anxiety. And then I watch in horror as that vision turns into unspeakable reality. July 12th, Azerbaijan attacks Armenia across the Nogorno Karabagh (Arstakh) border. A repeat of 2016, April 2 which turned into a blood bath violating the 1994 ceasefire. Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey and fellow denier of the Armenian Genocide, has actively sought the eradication of the region’s indigenous Armenian inhabitants and traces of their millennia-old civilization.

The vision in my mind is like looking through a kaleidoscope except kaleidoscopes form colorful beautiful images. Shake it and a design appears. Shake it again and an altogether different one replaces it. I often wonder if the images will ever end. I shake the kaleidoscope of my mind. Should I write with hope? US congress has condemned Azerbaijan’s attacks. There’s no cease-fire. No handshakes or agreements exchanged. Blood hasn’t stopped flowing. The dead are still being buried.

Shake it again. Perhaps a shift will happen. This time I see despair because, for better or worse, I know what Turkey’s policy is all about. To realize his ultimate goal of leaving behind a legacy that surpasses that of all others, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has set certain objectives for the year 2023, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic. He aspires to become a new Ataturk seeking to regain control of certain Ottoman territories and change the demographics of areas outside Turkey’s borders.

I shake the kaleidoscope. Do I write with twisted humor? Turkey dispatched the seismic survey ship Oruc Reis to operate in the waters surrounding Greek islands because it seeks to steal resources from recognized Greek and Cypriot exclusive economic zones. Such an action would be in violation of the Lausanne Treaty, which was signed ninety-seven years ago July 24 to tie up loose ends remaining from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty set Turkey’s borders with Bulgaria, Greece, Syria, and Iraq. It is NO coincide that Erdoğan transformed the centuries-old Hagia Sofia from a museum back into a mosque, and scheduled its first formal prayers for July 24, the anniversary of the Lausanne Treaty.

Shake again. I write with anger. Because when it comes to Turkish policy and that of her allies, I know it is not over. Turkey is currently amassing troops on its border in preparation of once again invading and adding to its disastrous October 2019 occupation of northeast Syria.  Atrocities that have resulted in tens of thousands forcibly displaced from their homeland and unable to return are still continuing. Turkey and her allies have escalated violence against civilians who remain in those regions with reports of killings, rapes and kidnappings continuing to emerge. Amid these uncertainties, Turkey has started to spread its tentacles and mobilize its proxies with destruction/vandalism of monuments and religious property and chants of “Death to Armenia,” in cities across the globe (Beirut, Lebanon; Jerusalem, Israel; Baku, Azerbaijan; Seattle, WA; Glendale, CA; San Francisco, CA; Denver, CO.) Armenian Protestors have been attacked in LondonNetherlands, Washington DC, Ukraine , to name a few.

Shake the kaleidoscope. I see the irony. Israel has chosen to take Azerbaijan at face value (after all they are allies with Turkey), accepting oil in exchange for arms deployed against Armenian civilians in the ongoing border confrontation, while Armenia is taking tangible steps toward good faith relations with Israel including a commitment to establish an embassy in Tel Aviv. Ironically, Israel is aware of Azerbaijan’s ties to Turkey, and their hell-bent eradication of the native Armenian population of which Jerusalem will not be exempt. Israel’s current stance goes against the premise of what Jerusalem represents: a place for self-determination and a sanctuary for the persecuted and marginalized.

I shake the kaleidoscope. Denunciation is a must. Time and time again in history, and today and beyond, it seems that a certain personality type remains within the character of a Turk in position of power: the tyrant, calculating and cruel allies with strikingly similar personalities. (“Tell me who your friends are, I’ll tell you who you are.”) They all tend to have a blend of narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder traits such as a lack of empathy, grandiosity, thirst for power and control, lying and deceit, indifference to conventional laws or rules or morality, and more.

One last time, I shake the kaleidoscope and I write with sorrow. The memory of Ottoman domination still haunts Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Cypriots and others who have suffered massacres at the hands of the Turkey and her allies. I write with sorrow because international communities and the US shut the kaleidoscope of their vision and ignore the grave consequences of Turkey’s actions behind her allies.

I write with sorrow because the places that are symbolic of its people’s rebirth will soon become their burial ground.

Dread churns in my stomach.

 

 

 

 

Posted in genocide, war | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Be A Patriot

I am an American. And because America is largely a nation of immigrants, I am also, like the majority of you, something else. And when I became a citizen of the United States, I swore to uphold and protect the Constitution and the laws of this nation. I, like many who came to this country from distant lands generations ago, to the recently naturalized citizen, embrace my sense of belonging to this country and the democratic merits for which it stands by living and endorsing the fundamental foundational patriotic principles incorporated in America’s constitutional values. In those values are– participation, deliberation, fairness, equality, dissent, accountability, liberty, and the common good.

Recently in the heated debates over political policy, I found that many of the immigrants who are also “something else” easily forget that to be an American patriot is to participate and uphold those same values that are entrusted to us in the constitution.

There are countless ways that define a person who claims to be a patriot. And I DON’T mean hanging The Stars and Stripes from storefronts or gates at rodeos or seeing her fly high in used car lots. I don’t mean flaunting the Red White and Blue on blue jean “derriere” pockets or having her adorn men and women’s underwear. I don’t mean plastering The Star-Spangled Banner on plumbers and AC equipment trucks or having her flap away on the bed of huge pickup trucks barreling down highways and freeways. I don’t mean using her as a piece of cloth we wear to mask our faces, or to absorb the sweat off our brow as bandanas or caps. I’m not referring to any of these uses as symbols of patriotism which in all honesty have nothing to do with the honor and respect owed those who died for Old Glory when they pledged their allegiance to insure your life, your liberty, your property and justice for all.

To be a patriot isn’t just standing for the National Anthem and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. These are obvious ones. But the most beneficial acts of patriotism are those that make the country stronger through your participation and accountability toward the common good. A few of these important givens include participating and registering to vote and voting in elections; volunteering for community service or running for elected government office; serving on juries; obeying all laws and paying taxes; and understanding the rights, freedoms, and responsibilities contained in the U.S. Constitution. Out of all of these acts of patriotism, the only mandatory constitutional duty of a citizen  is to serve on juries.

Many of you naturalized “something else” associates speak of your rights allowed you by the Constitution. You speak of the wondrous opportunities granted you within the 50 or more years of being naturalized into the framework of the country. You speak of life and the right to protect it. You speak of liberty and defend your freedom. You speak of your property/ies in your pursuit of happiness and guard them as your entitlement. You speak of patriotism. You speak of being proud Americans. Yet when it comes to the one mandatory constitutional duty of every citizen, to serve on juries, you shrink from the responsibility and make arguments by any means necessary to be excused from this highest position of power in a courtroom. Jurors, not judges, determine whether the government has proven its charge against a defendant; jurors, not judges, determine whether a party seeking damages deserves an award. Yet every week, I see people strive by any means necessary to be excused from exercising this authority. Avoiding jury duty undermines the very core component in guaranteeing constitutional rights for everyone.

Every day there are people who wake up and put the flag on their arm to serve others for life, liberty and property and they do so to serve the people like you and me whom they do not know. I am sure there are times when they do not want to do what they are called to do, but they do it because it is a duty that they have sworn to and they do it with pride and honor. Every now and then you as the average citizen has to get up to do his or her duty. Most of you fought hard to be a citizen of this country so when called to duty, it is your responsibility to step up and have your voice heard as a juror because only in America is an ordinary citizen given the dutiful opportunity to consider the evidence presented, to apply the governing law, and to deliberate in good faith to render a just verdict.  And when you leave the courthouse, regardless of the outcome or verdict, you will probably have a renewed faith in the system because you were part of it. That’s what makes America great. We the people.

 

 

 

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Celebrate Baba

My father, Baba, who is now passed away for 15 years, is the golden rod by which I measure the greatness of a man, and the example by which I have chosen my husband and the legacy I pass on to my children.

I carry much of my father within me. It is a treasure that lasts, that transcends me and pushes me to live life by using the gifts he gave me during his time on this earth.

Baba was born in hard times but he was not hardened by the times. He rose to the occasion when faced with challenges, and the mark of his resilience after a hard days work was his ever present smile when he walked through the front door. He was a gentleman. He was always ready to lend a hand to those in need or in trouble without any expectation of something in return. It mattered not whether the person was a child, young, adult or old. All were equal in his kindness. He would say “kindness is the best investment that earns unlimited dividends in life.” He greeted each day with gratitude and never once complained about mishaps, misfortunes or life’s “imperfections.”

Baba believed in the rewards of an education, and every morning while he shaved, if I complained about having to wake up to go to school, he would sing out loud a song in Armenian about the joy of gaining knowledge. He believed in keeping an open mind and said “life is a school for perpetual learning.”

Baba was a thoughtful man of faith. His optimism was witness to his deep knowing of an omnipotent existence. I recall on occasion when he would recite a short prayer before he tucked me and my brother in for the night. To this day I repeat the prayer to my grandchildren. He led me to see the world through his eyes and created in my mind a world of possibilities where magic, mystery, the sacred, all meet in the presence of godliness. I have the privilege of Baba’s optimism woven into my being.

While father (and mother) have long left this world, they are still by my side with the gifts they gave me as inheritance. Today and everyday, I celebrate Baba by using the gifts he gave me in my life journey, and by sharing snippets of him (and my mother) in stories about my beautiful life.

To all fathers whether they left us a long time ago or are still by our side, Happy Father’s Day.

 

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