Saturday, December 24, 2016

And then 2016 happened

"Freedom lies in being bold"
- Robert Frost

If I were to be truthful, I've never really been jealous of much in my life. Sure, I did kind of envy my first cousins who got to go to Florida on family vacations or my friends at school who actually lived in pretty houses, unlike the holidays we never had or the crummy apartments we grew up in. I might have coveted a pair of shoes I couldn't afford and I really did experience humiliation when I showed up on my first day of high school in a second-hand uniform. 

Those feelings were part of my past life and for the most part, in my present life, I can't recall an instance when I was envious of something or someone. For the most part, I have been content. 

And then 2016 happened.

The dust didn't settle long enough this past year for us to pause and reflect on everything that was swirling around us. One day it was a lovely April morning and the next it was as though we were living and functioning in a nightmare. In the early days of the April War, there was a fleeting moment when I was convinced that every single one of us needed to get to the battlefield and form an impenetrable human chain, to stand behind our soldiers, to help them hold the fragile border, to show them that they were not alone, to save the country we had dreamed of forever...

My son, who was never the really patriotic type, or so I thought, was tumbling down his own journey of disbelief and anger. I need to go, he said one morning. My husband said to him, you've never held a gun, you don't know what war means, you will be more of a liability than help. He said if I can put one bullet in the barrel of one gun, at least I will feel like I've done something for my country. I kept wondering if I would wake up one morning to see that he had gone.

My son-in-law did go. He had a wife and two sons, one a mere two-weeks old, who along with my daughter had gone through a harrowing delivery in a hospital full of injured soldiers from the front. He left for the border with his brother and friends and I went to stay with my daughter, who had not yet recovered from the physical and psychological shock of her own experience. I couldn't think of the nation, I had to think of my family. But my family and the nation are inseparable, they are one, they depend on one another, they sustain each other.

My personal nightmare expanded and grew larger than I could manage as I kept going to work, seeing students who were going through their own crisis as their friends, brothers, fathers and boyfriends were on the frontline while trying to help my daughter and her babies get back on their feet.

So when I remember April in my head, it's gray, almost brown. There's some green specks here and there, but for the most part it's simply gray.

Our family didn't suffer loss, didn't experience the kind of bone-crushing grief that others had to endure. We moved on, while they will continue to weather a kind of pain that can take one to the precipice of madness.

The next few months we forged ahead in a dizzying fog. We functioned, we ate and slept and worked and lived but the grayness followed us wherever we went.

Early one morning in July, another national near-catastrophe began playing out and the country was shoved into yet another tumultuous period. A group of armed men, the Sasna Dzrer, had taken over a police station in Yerevan demanding the release of their leader and the resignation of the president. For two weeks the entire country was held hostage as fears of more blood being spilled hovered in our consciousness.

The contradictory emotions we were feeling began to take a toll. We couldn't agree with the tactics of the armed men, but we understood in a profound way the motivation. The day the Sasna Dzrer surrendered to security personnel and as the entire operation was being broadcast live, I wept silent tears. Not because I condoned their actions, but because I understood that the lives of those lost during those two weeks could never be brought back and the lives of the armed men and their families would forever be destroyed. And because everything that had transpired over a two-week period should have meant something to someone and the sliver of hope that something would fundamentally change was dashed.

In the end, we were all losers in this game.

When I think of July, it too is gray with specks of blue.

In the midst of this most difficult year, there were moments where I uncharacteristically envied the other members of my family still living in Canada, or my friends around the world, who no doubt have problems and struggles of their own, but were shielded by geography from the inexplicable kind of communal aching we had experienced.

But then I am reminded of flashes of beauty and grace like the birth of our second grandson and fleeting moments of happiness thanks to anniversaries, baptisms and milestone birthdays and good friends. We hosted George Clooney and the Pope and most importantly, we celebrated 25 years of independence, another milestone and hopefully a new beginning with a clearer vision of what we must do to clean up our own house. There were good days full of love and joy and those are the ones we need to hang on to.

While 2016 was an awfully difficult one, it was also an alarm, a tolling bell to remind us that we do not have the right to plunder or lay to waste our dreams and possibilities.

I hope it serves as a reminder to those in power that the words 'never again' do not only apply to a historic foe, but to the foes within us, individually and collectively.

When I think of 2017, I hope that there will be no gray. I believe in the power of the impossible and most of all in the power of love and compassion and in being bold, for it is through being bold that we can find our freedom.

May the coming year bring its blessings upon this ancient nation and its people living in a confusing and conflicted, war-ridden world. May we share the love that we all have inside of us with our fellow human beings and may we finally see the lighthouse that has always been there guiding our way.

Photo: Christmas Fairy Bench, copyright Suren Manvelyan

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