The Eyes Speak

The old saying that “eyes are a reflection of your inner self” holds true. The eyes have been regarded as the mirror of our mental states. The great Roman philosopher Cicero said, “The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter.” In the Bible, Matthew reveals, “The eye is the lamp of the body…” Descartes argued that there is no passion that some particular expression of the eyes does not reveal, and Shakespeare famously wrote, “The eyes are the windows to your soul.”

For one such as I who was taught to look people in the eye when speaking and listening, and for one whose eyes spoke before her mouth uttered the words, I find my eyes speak volumes about me… to the extent that if I wish to conceal my thoughts, I would have to block out the eyes. Eyes. They hold many revealing emotions that are expressed through eye contact. It can be a glaring look when a person is defiant or angry; a glazed over look when we are hopelessly enamored; a soft look, a hard look, the eyes can show compassion and empathy. They can reprimand, intimidate, or menace. They can question, and they can make a point. They show remorse, sadness, joy, happiness, hurt, fear, and uncertainty. They speak of desire, of want and need. They reflect our sincerity (or lack thereof), integrity and comfort when communicating with another person. And how can we ignore the non-verbal language of our eyes that speak of love? We convey our hearts most poignant picture through them. Yet, we have developed habits with our devices that interfere with our ability or even desire to interact and communicate on a face-to-face level.

I encounter the look in the eyes of a perky bank clerk carrying papers from her desk to another office. On the way, she greets customers with a cheery smile. She is truly happy. The eyes are the giveaway. She crinkles the corners of her eyes in a “crow’s feet” pattern showing a genuine passion, openness and receptiveness for her task at hand.

I find the look in a man sitting in front of his computer looking at pictures of his wedding day. The photo he stares at is one of a beautiful woman in white with a huge smile that spreads across her glowing cheeks as she looks into his eyes. There, his gentle eyes spoke of admiration and wonderment. In front of the computer his gentle eyes speak of deference, a passive resignation to love as though he is trying to remember what passionate love feels like. It isn’t the memory that fails him. It is the relationship.

I catch the look in the eyes of a store clerk who stops by the window and stares dreamily at the passerby’s. A father and child are holding hands waiting for the light to cross the street. The clerk likes what she sees. Her eyes dilate with tenderness for a few seconds before she furrows her brow making her eyes smaller. Is it remorse, or rejection? Definitely sadness.

I see the look in the eyes of an older man when I express condolences on the passing of his spouse of 55 years. He looks me in the eye with composure, and with an honest clarity his eyes express a light that springs from a deep void. The flame that once was is now a glow in the ashes of the memory of his love.

I perceive the look in the eyes of a dignitary, an accomplished woman who takes the first step on a staircase and with the utmost respect and humility, turns her gaze to her spouse while he steps up to follow. Her eyes hide nothing. They speak of equanimity, revealing a non-competitive love. It gives greater meaning to their intimacy.

I find compassion in the misty eyes of a man who is moved by the sight of a child rummaging through trash. His soft eyes resemble the early morning dew that clings to leaves before evaporating in the scorching sun. Care, concern and empathy are in his eyes as he hands his bagel to the rummager before he hides his true self behind his sunglasses.

The look of love is everywhere in the eyes of my fellow humans. Look at each other. It is the easiest and most powerful way to make a person feel recognized, understood and validated. Maintain eye contact. Find the true and silent language of love spoken through the eyes of your fellow humans.

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Transitional Time

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wildflower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.  William Blake (Auguries of Innocence)

January is my birth month, and as I celebrate another year I start to think of how transitional time is. At the close of 2018 I wrote: “Another year has passed. A year with a thousand happenings, pleasant and unpleasant, long and brief all at the same time filling my days broken up into hours. Every hour seems so short and at the same time endless. And what about those minutes? In one minute, a thousand thoughts can cross my mind, and in a flash, it’s over. And in one second, every word spoken is already in the past. These fleeting moments, shorter than a second, a decisecond, or is it a centisecond? Oh how brief it is, that intangible millisecond which, as I speak is already in the past. But it is all that I really have…that intangible moment, the present, which is where I always am. And while my present is slipping into the past as I speak, I am at the same time transitioning into the future.”

Past, present and future are overlapping. The shortest of these is the present. It goes by swiftly, moving me forward into the unknown future. Whereas, having lived a good many years of my past,  I recall a great deal more of the it with memories that nourish and strengthen me. When I was a child, I thought time didn’t move fast enough. Even “tomorrow” was too far away for me to comprehend. “Tomorrow” was not within my vision and I could never get there fast enough. I’d ask, “Are we there yet?” Or “Is today tomorrow?” When I reached young adulthood, there were the big moments when I wanted time to stand still. Those were wonderful moments of exploring emotions of growing up into the world of books and romance, adventure and fantasy and of love. And because I still had not had much of a past, the future became more interesting; something to long for. It was unknowable, and the thought that I could affect or even cause the future was hard to imagine. I dreamed what could be and fantasized the outcome while living in the present fragment of my life. Now, as a mature adult, I recognize today as the future I couldn’t imagine. I am living in the “tomorrow” of my past. I have slipped into it, one moment at a time, yet it feels like I have leaped into it.

In the span of “short” decades, science and technological advancements have led me to change how I work, play, socialize, exercise and relax. I wake up to a smartphone, check email, and scan news headlines even before my first cup of morning coffee. I conduct meetings and conference calls between workouts and commutes, and finish my day by completing projects after the household is in bed. Like the world around me, I cyber communicate from home, coffee shop, office, airplane or beach, blurring the lines between professional and personal life. Advancements in science and technology have created and designed systems that were once a fragment of my imagination —imagine self-driving cars, artificial wombs, Artificial Intelligence –the tomorrow of my yesterdays has fast become my present reality. And while the present is where I always am, I look toward tomorrow, because forward is the only direction in which I can move in time.

The past, my past, travels with me. It is a history that is my heritage. And the longer the past, the sweeter my present becomes. I cannot bring back the past nor do I wish to, but I can unlock the emotions of moments lived and re-live them in the fragmented space of my present. Those endless moments—running through orchards intoxicated by the aroma of orange blossom; speechless, standing in the shadow of the pyramids or agape at the vastness of the Grand Canyon; wishing on a shooting star and being awed by the cosmos; losing a friend; falling in love; childbirth; hugging; laughing; crying — are endless emotions that travel with me to present time.

hourglasTime moves, and I transition with it. I live in the short moments that unfold in my present. They go by fast, but they add to the length of my life, while, simultaneously, I slip into the future. What was yesterday is not today. What is today will not be tomorrow. The present is all that I occupy. But time moves forward. And by the grace of life granted me, I transition with it one moment at a time.

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Another Year

Another year soon to pass. A year with a thousand happenings, pleasant and unpleasant, long and brief all at the same time filling up my days broken up into hours. Every hour can seem so short and endless all at once. And what about those minutes? In one minute, a thousand thoughts can cross my mind, and in a flash, it could be over. And in one second, every word spoken is already in the past. Those fleeting moments, shorter than a second, a decisecond, or is it a centisecond? Oh how brief it is, that intangible millisecond which, as I speak is already in the past. But it is all that I really have…that intangible moment, the present, which is where I always am. And if my present is already the past, then I wish for you all a glimpse of the future : a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2019 immersed in promises of health, happiness and abundance in love and good fortune.

 

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Unwrap the Love

This Christmas,
Unwrap the gift of Love nestled in your heart,
And allow the winter winds to carry it as an offering,
Delivering its wealth through the delicate hands of Hope
Across neighborhoods and nations.

Unwrap the Love.
And in the spring, the breeze will send the fragrance of your gift
To bear fruit among neighbors and nations
Increasing its abundance in the warmth of the gentle zephyrs of summer.

Unwrap the Love.
And when in autumn, the gusts deliver your offering with tempestuous strength,
To fraternize among neighbors and nations
You will hear in the winter
A whisper through the cold whirlwinds…
“It was your gift unwrapped,
An echo of God’s Love,
That helped brave new storms, ease pain, bear fruit, build relationships,
Rekindle Hope and humble hearts
Across neighborhoods and nations.”

This Christmas,
Unwrap the pure and genuine love nestled in your heart,
And feel the miracle unfold.

So all may know Love, and all may have Peace.

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Empty Chairs

The streets are hung with lights, the stores are decorated with red and green, tinsel and sparkle are everywhere, and Christmas dominates the airwaves with songs about the spirit of the season and the glories of gifts. We fast-forward our days stressing over making lists and checking them twice, racing to find the perfect gift, the perfect tree, decorating the house and matching our table settings with perfect color coordination. We bake goods, exchange gifts, pass out tasty treats, and we relish in the bounty of our tables. Christmas is about traditions that are uniquely yours and uniquely mine. It’s about moments and memories that make no sense to anyone else but our own individual families. But within all family gatherings, there is not a soul on earth who doesn’t have a mental vision of an empty chair where once sat a loved one.

I close my eyes. I see the world we are living in. I can feel the beating of a thousand desperate hearts. I can hear the cries of mothers who are losing their children each day. I can see the fear for tomorrow in the faces of people. I can feel the heartache for those who have lost loved ones due to wars. I can feel the pain of loss intensified, the weight of tragedies, divorces, diseases, divided families, depression, and disaster. I breathe in. I breathe out. I am moved beyond the limits of my humanity. While I do believe in the joy of Christmas gatherings, Christmas shopping, Christmas recitals, Christmas outreach events and Christmas charities, this year in particular, I don’t want to lose sight of those whose table of life has an empty chair. I want this Christmas to be the one where we assume the empty chair not just in our lives but also in the lives of others.

The empty chair symbolizes what plagues our world today as we consider all the empty chairs in our lives. We don’t need to experience a personal physical loss to assume the empty chair. We all know someone who needs to be fed; someone who needs a listening ear or a shoulder to rest on; someone who needs shelter, a hug, a smile. We see violence, suffering and injustice happening in and around our world. Sometimes we are silent; sometimes we speak out and take action. But most of the time, we are rapt in the competitive chaos of making things perfect for our tables. And after a while we become numb to the repeats of tragedy and loss. The problems of the world are beyond us, we say. We tut-tut, shake our heads and go on with the want for Christmas to be the picture-perfect day. And somewhere in the frazzle dazzle, we lose the context of Christmas, found in the simplicity of a manger.

Our empty chairs are not necessarily those of wars or misfortunes in foreign lands, far from sight and far from reach. They’re close to home and in our own backyard. Is there someone going through Christmas dinner and seeing the empty chair of a loved one for the first time? Is there a mother who needs to be consoled? A father who needs to be contacted? A child who needs to be brought home off the streets? Is there an elderly in need of company? A friend with a disability? A family who has lost a home? Is there anybody who needs to be brought back to that table of life? It takes courage to assume the chairs at the table of our lives. It takes courage to assume the chair after feeling destitude by life circumstances. Could you be the one, who is big enough to call these people, write to them, visit them, talk to them, listen to them and reignite their appetite for life? Could you be the one to bring them back to the table of life with your care and love?

This Christmas, the love and wisdom of God incarnate found in the simplicity of a manger compels me to put down the cookie cutters, and step away from matching gift-wrap. I will use homemade ornaments and find joy in crooked trees and mismatched dinnerware. My house may not smell like fresh-baked goods and my tree may not sparkle, but I will relish at my table of life full with affection and fraternity from one end to the other, overflowing with room for the empty chairs in our lives and us.

It will be perfect. Merry Christmas!

 

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Family, A Heritage of Stories

There is no substitute for family. Family is those with whom I grew up and created a bond from my beginning years. Family is those whom I talk to or reminisce about in my adult years. It is those whom I will seek in my ending years.

But what I seek most these days are the simple moments when family comes together for a cup of coffee, a quick bite, or a peek-a-boo hello on any given day. There is magic in those simple moments. Inevitably, the conversations tend to turn toward the past and a revival of a family heritage of stories. Stories they told while preparing for festive occasions, bustling in and out of doorways, darting between children, and setting tables to serve a family of over 50 people. Each with a personality or funny quirk of his/her own added to the shared heritage that bound us with unconditional love. At the time, we didn’t know we were gathering memories as we heard family members tell their stories that were to become the most distilled and meaningful truth in our lives…learning that in the end, when the trappings of life dissolve, all that is left is the love we return to in family. As children, when we listened to the elders tell their stories, we learned how to finish their sentences, and the laughter that ensued created new anecdotes. We repeated their stories from memory passed down from the oldest to the youngest, and we often interwove them with our own stories formed through our own created families…with siblings, spouses, in-laws, children, grandchildren, friends, and the list grows endless. Our family gatherings are time tested. The repeated anecdotes have become our own family heritage. They bear a language all their own and bring out an acoustical signature of laughter; and when everyone laughs, I laugh the loudest.

The families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through our choosing of friends. No matter in which of these families we are gathered, the visceral combination of sight, sound, and powerful emotions is part of the shared heritage of stories that binds members of the family together. It endures as a rich, nearly tangible memory within our minds, a place remote in time and space but instantly accessible to any one of us at the mere utterance of a simple catchphrase or a “remember when…”. It is in a glorious place to be, surrounded by these moments. A single word or phrase — said with the correct inflection can make us all diffuse into hysterical laughter, until someone finally catches his/her breath to retell the original story of the special event and how it gained significance as a tangible memory in our family.

One such family is the family of friends my husband shares with his high school mates. Back then, on the small island of Cyprus, there was not any part of their memory or existence in which they did not exist separate from one another. Today, whenever their entire family of classmates, school mates and teachers gather, regardless of the distance of time and space, they always laugh aloud and share the same stories about growing up and being in the boarding school. They repeat stories about neighbors and neighborhoods, stories about teachers they all had in school, stories about unfairly getting in trouble and who was really responsible for breaking the rules, stories of love, of competitions won and lost, of couples, of mischief, of nicknames and of a special unparrarel bond. The anecdotes are never ending. They carry a language all their own. All of these inside jokes and stories slowly become my stories. Here too, the laughter among friends has its own acoustical signature, and when everyone laughs and jokes, I laugh the loudest.

Over the years I realize that when family gathers for any occasion small or big, the conversations tend to braid our past and present stories with humor and love, making them beautiful and unique in their own way. I wonder if all those stories are some kind of a reminder for us about how much of our past inhabits our world and how family (born into, created or chosen) is the only safe haven of unconditional love.

This Thanksgiving, make your home a safe haven for unconditional family love. Fill it with endless laughter as you retell heritage stories that resonate from the heart and live in your memory.  You will laugh the loudest. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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Petrichor

raindrop

(The precise aroma of falling rain is known as petrichor. It was coined petrichor by Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Grenfeld Thomas, two Australian mineralogists who blended the Greek words petra, rock, and ichor, the essence that flowed through the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.) 

Smell. It is one of the strongest sense that connects us to a world of our past; powerful enough to bring with it long forgotten memories. From freshly baked bread to frying onions, or cinnamon to pear drops, from gunpowder to smoldering ash, or diesel fuel to rotten eggs, a tiny whiff is capable of bringing memories of old flooding back. And our brain allows us to distinguish between different smells and decide whether they are pleasant or nasty.

Walking through a shopping mall in the heart of a city, I kept a steady stride looking left and right, up and around, absorbing as best I could the sights and sounds of a busy metropolis. Suddenly a familiar earthy aroma of lush soil, fresh and green yet musky reached my nostrils. It was an elemental smell that I knew deep within me… a smell that I had missed over the long hot dry summer. It smelled of sweet petrichor, the scent of first rain that moistens the dry soil…piquant, mixed with a whiff of jasmine. It emanated from the fragrance boutique in front of which I stood. “Do you like it?” asked the man holding a spray bottle. “It’s their new fragrance…a hint of jasmine with a strong mix of the smell of wet earth.” No wonder it had arrested me. I have a special attachment to the smell that rises from the earth after the first rains. It evokes such memories of different places and different stages of my life. I asked to sniff other scents mixed with earth’s perfume, and the subjective memory of my nose behind the sniff, took me to different parts of the world.

I inhaled the aroma of summer rain falling on a long hot day in Budapest. It smelled sweet, like grass and the wind carried with it the scent of fir and willow. Definitely pleasing to the senses, yet it was different from the familiar scent of rain that fell on the red soils of Lebanon. pine treeThere the earth carried with it the rich powerfully evocative aroma of pine, tree sap and bark. Petrichor! It is so emotive, stirring memories, sometimes of an apple orchard in bloom summoning recollections of a childhood run through my great uncle’s orchard; at other times a distinct petrol smell reminiscent of the baking sands that whispered secrets of the past as I’d roll down the towering dunes of dry Kuwaiti desert. In Utah, it was the scent of juniper. That scent was different from rain cooling a hot sidewalk in New York City, where the steamy asphalt and dusty smell rose from the concrete pavement to meet me. In Rome, it was the smell of limestone clay with an acidic – almost sweaty – hint. In the fields between Prague and Bratislava, petrichor hinted of wet hay and livestock. Whereas in Greece, the briny smell mixed with dry rock was almost a reminder of my connection to the salty earth.

How I love the smell of first rain on dry land! The Indians call it “Mitti Attar,” Earth’s Perfume, and knowing that it is linked with memory and the emotional side of our brain, they’ve been bottling it successfully since 1911 to mix with other scents. Perhaps that is why the perfume industry has been developing fragrances that seek to convey a vast array of emotions and feelings; from desire to power, vitality to relaxation, purity to wildness, delicate to overpowering. Scents that can make us salivate, attract us to a mate, change our heart rate, and provide umpteen sensory experiences.

I sniffed another. Nostalgia overtook my senses. “You really like this one,” he observed. “Yes, it’s like an ancient memory that I was already born with. I feel it. It’s in my genes,” I said. It had an oaky, wild pear bouquet, reminiscent of a forest. I thought of Jermuk, Armenia. maxresdefaultThere, the autumn breeze carries with it the scent of fallen leaves, and as the humidity shifts ahead of the first rain to loosen the metallic materials from the earth’s rich and fungal pores, it sends its pungency adrift. I felt it deeply. Perhaps just like my ancestors did as they breathed in the ripe air with the nectar of healing minerals …ethereal fluid, essence that flowed through the veins of my ancestors.

Next time, step outside after the first storm following a dry spell. The sweet, fresh, powerfully evocative smell of fresh rain will invariably hit you. You will relish the scent. Think of it as a cultural imprint, derived from your ancestors. Unconsciously, the scent with its magical aroma will conjure an ancient promise of plenty, of expectations and growth, of fruitful abundance, of change and positivity, of hope.

I long to breathe it deeply.

(photo of pine trees across the hills of Lebanon, courtesy of Vahe Barsoum)
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