There comes a pivotal moment in everyone’s life when fleeting past a window or mirror, he or she stops for a split second because the image reflected appears as that of his or her parent.
Looking in the mirror these days I find more and more an image that is familiar to me. When did my features change so completely? I know the image in the mirror is me, but if I look closely at my forehead, my brow and eyes, the lines around my mouth, and even my neck, I can see another familiar face—my mother. Though my features do resemble my mother’s, it is her voice and words of wisdom that form the characteristics I carry of her. They mold my features, and now, hers are woven into my face—a lasting and undeniable connection to the woman who shaped the woman I have become today.
My mother was regal, classy, and a “one of a kind” original masterpiece that combined authority, with benevolent tenderness and compassion. She came from a privileged family that valued education, simplicity, and thrifty living over extravagance. Strong, outspoken, friendly, strict, principled, devoted, and generous are just a few of the words to describe her. She had a faith in God that sustained her, and she relied on that same faith to keep her company in her older years. “Be compassionate with people. Most appear to be brave, but they are just scared of life.” She would say. On occasion she would cry. “When I cry I know who I really am. I cry when others hurt as well as myself. I cry at the brutal world news. It’s my strength and my weakness,” she would say. I have come to treasure the many words of wisdom my mother shared with me as I was growing up. I draw upon them in these uncertain days and times.
Looking and listening to the news these days, I find more and more an image that is familiar to the history of humanity. The camera shows a woman dressed in her native attire of what used to be the brightest of colors, now faded by the sun and weeks of treacherous trek of land and seas. She holds an infant in one arm, and with the other, embraces a knee-high toddler wrapped around the skirt of her dress. The infant is limp, weakened with dehydration, and asleep; the toddler is tired, his eyes barren, a hollowness that fear often leaves in its wake. Both have tracks down their dark stained cheeks where the tears have run and chased the dirt away. All are famished, desperate, displaced, devastated, lonely, and frightened. With all the dignity that the woman can muster, she says in Arabic, “We are not beggars. We are not dirty people. Our smell is the stench of persecution, exile, famine, and hopelessness.” And with that image and those words, I see my ancestors… I see the innocent people of my Armenian heritage. I see the faces of millions of families in their faces. I see the innocent children of Afghanistan, Ethiopia, India, and China. I see the Burmese refugees. I see Jewish refugees, Cambodians, Arab refugees, Bangladeshi and Pakistani refugees. I see German refugees, Koreans refugees, Irish refugees, Bosnians… As the world watches, more than 4 million Syrian refugees have been forced to flee their homeland by four years of conflict. This is not a Middle Eastern, or South-east Asian, African or European problem. It doesn’t belong to poor countries, or to rich. It is a global issue that belongs to you and me. Millions of children are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Given the chance of peaceful and secure living among the scant yet familiar surroundings of what was once their home, most refugees would want to return. All they seek is a chance for survival. But, there is too large a disconnect between their aspirations and the mirror of our reality. The image that separates fact from fiction in our lives has widened to a cosmic abyss. If only the world would look closely into that image, it would see a familiar history of migration and exodus. If only the world would look into the mirror and see its true reflection. The image would come back to haunt us.
I am grateful to have my mother’s words of wisdom to draw upon in these uncertain days and times. I proudly carry her words not only in my heart but on my face for the whole world to see. I cry. I cry at the brutal world news.
I’m not sure how you do it, but you do it well. From feelings of nostalgia to goose bumps and then to anger and fury. In one single essay you managed to get me to go through all those emotions. I am grateful that you share your thoughts, and dig into the memories of yesteryears to deliver compassion so forcefully. Warrants many a reread. As always i’ll be sharing this “masterpiece” on my facebook page.
Thank you dear Vahe. Interestingly, I had a hard time reading my own writing because I literally cry for the inhumanity of the history of humanity. Perhaps it’s because “tzerkes shad pan chikar pokhelou gatzoutunne.” Thanks for delving into my thoughts.
You made me cry, too, Silva. We all watch the heart-rending images of the refugees and are deeply moved by their plight, which reminds us of our ancestors’ forced exodus and persecution a century ago. You should be sooooooo proud to see the image of your mother when you look in the mirror. She was a great LADY. I am happy to have met her at times, though very shortly. I remember her saying once “ashkhare shad pokhvetsav” (the world has changed too much). I also just thought of my father often commenting on how cheap human life was. They were so right. Krichet talar.
Thank you Yeran for your kind comments. We should all look back to our parents’ generation and marvel at the dignity of their compassion given the brutal history of near annihilation and exile of our ancestry. The plight of all refugees, regardless of their culture or ethnicity, is one and the same.