There are women in my life who are critically important to me in my circle of family, relatives, friends and co-workers. They range in age from teens to mid nineties. They are daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, oldest friend, newest friend, married, unmarried, gratefully single, remarried, mothers, childless (for a variety of reasons and emotions), homemakers, and professionals. They are Middle Eastern, American, Armenian, European and African. Some are devoutly religious, while others are absolutely not interested in the divine, but most all have questioned divinity at some point in their lives. Some are spiritually challenged, while a few have “negotiated” personal agreements with God. Over many years of coffees and teas and drinks (including much hard liquor) I have sat with these lovely individuals and have had conversations and discussions about family, responsibility, work, autonomy, marriage, men, divorce, intimacy, fidelity, love, sexuality, cultural stigma, traditions, faith, life and death. I have laughed with all and I have cried with all.
I could write a memoir or a tribute for each of these fine women built on the bones of those conversations. But today, when I piece together the pages of my life story I find a common denominator with an extraordinary woman, my aunt Nane. The first memory I have of my aunt is perhaps when I was 4 or 5 years of age. At the time she and her husband had no children of their own and I was to spend a couple of days with them for reasons unknown. I marveled at her slender body, her beautiful green eyes and her radiant smile whenever she looked at me. But what struck me tender was how she would bend her knees to come to my level when she helped dress me or speak to me. Over the years I established a habit of spending summer days with her and her family. During those times, between her daily chores of tending to home, three children, and a husband, we bonded. She, like many of the women of her time, has had her share of wrestling with her role as a loyal daughter, woman, wife, mother. With every motion and emotion, with every difficulty or trouble, I saw in her a frailty that over time began to gain muscle. My mother would say of her sister, “the ferocity of her human spirit comes from her faith driven stubbornness.”
She is a pianist. Music, (a love she instilled in all three of her children) is her friend. The notes rebound off the walls, invisible waves of sound making imprints in time and in my memory. I listen. She is also an avid reader spending hours among books, magazines, newspapers and the Bible always sharing reflections and insight. Being a middle child among 5 siblings she was the assigned “mediator” and “messenger,” the “peacemaker,” for family and friends when argument stirred among neighbors and couples; a gift she continued to spread through her benevolent volunteer duties for the Blue Cross in Lebanon. Yet the demon of guilt always makes her question whether what she does now in her life adds to anything worthwhile. I remind her that benevolence is how she continually gives of herself to her friends and family, with her strength, her faith, her care, and her unspoken love.
During my college years, in between Biology and Math classes, Tuesdays were spent in her kitchen or in the dining room with conversations over lunch. It became a ritual. We trusted that our thoughts were not only safe in each other’s presence, but that they were also positive influences to our sometimes-troubled souls. It was as though we replenished the parts of ourselves that were missing in the different stages of the lives we were living. There were good days and there were ugly days. In the 70’s and 80’s war in Lebanon landed a brutal blow to many who lost sons and daughters, and Nane was there comforting friends who suffered the agony. The memories stay in her mind’s eye for decades. It was years later when she would stand at her youngest daughter’s grave, stoically suffocating the torment in her afflicted heart. She believes in good and evil. She believes in God. Torn in so many places, she finds her footing. Her faith doesn’t falter. Nane is a woman of few words about her own feelings and emotions. Her world is private. She puts up a harsh front for herself, yet she is lenient with others, validating their existence and their thoughts and actions.
The ritual continues. I spend my Tuesday nights with Nane. We pour a glass and set the table to start our night of nibbling on our thoughts. The conversation shifts to current wisdom and the advantage of age, but behind the mask of her advancing years is the woman I knew as a little girl. She does not make excuses for who she is and what she feels. She has thrown away the censors and the cultural stigmas of the past. She is open and loving.
Life is finite and fragile. Which is why I want only to tell this dear woman that her spirit and soul are the most beautiful I’ve ever felt; that she is beautiful, too, in every important way. I’ll hold on to the memory of what she’s shared for as long as I live.
(Dear Reader, share with me one of the beautiful souls in your life whose spirit will linger in your memory.)