Thursday, February 5, 2015

This Tired and Ancient Soil

Photo credit: Seda Grigoryan

I carried the soil in my suitcase. It came from beneath the ruins, it held the decaying bones of past lives, it came from fields where mulberries grow, where countless stories are buried and where memories tumble along cascading rivers, submerging, reappearing and then finally drowning in the rushing current. The soil held the melodic chords of hymns sung for centuries in ancient churches with soaring domes, it was rich with the toil and sweat of the farmer, the despair of orphans and the blood of martyrs.

I carried the ancient crumbling soil in my suitcase to mix it with the soil of a new country.

The women who loved him held that ancient soil in their hands and then released it onto his freshly covered grave...

* * *

Sometimes it's easier to talk about the horrors and atrocities of the past than it is to talk about the uncertain present. The tumultuous events of the past few weeks in Armenia have provided ample opportunity for many of us to be outraged, to weep in horror and cringe with shame.

Sometimes, certain events that occur in the present are so difficult to confront that you turn inward and refuse to comprehend their raw brutality. You bury your head in that ancient soil, hoping for comfort and solace, because you know that soil has seen and experienced so much.

Today, several of my colleagues and I were discussing the special programs we are preparing for the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. I was glad for the reprieve it presented from our modern-day woes. The Genocide is a familiar space. We know how to deal with it. We know how it feels, we know its smell and its aura. We've grown accustomed to its constant presence in our lives. It's a safe place, safer than the here and now. Or so I thought.

As the discussion about a particular program transformed into a debate, and as voices were jumping over one another,  expostulating, struggling to underscore a point, one of our editors broke down and began to weep as she spoke about a past experience...

"What is going on with you?" I asked.

"I don't know. I'm not doing well this year," she replied.

This year. This 100th year. One hundred years and it doesn't end. There is no closure. There is no safe place to exist, not yet, perhaps never.

* * *

As my father lay in the cold ground in the new country, as we are powerless against death and dying, as his dream for the lost homeland died with him, as his yearning for his ancestral village in historic Armenia never left him, the only thing I could do was to bring a little bit of that ancient soil with me and scatter it on his grave so that his bones could rest and his soul could find some solace.

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