April 7, 2009: “Count on me”

When step-son Jeremy and his wife, Vita, invited David and me to travel with them and their toddler daughter Sasha this fall, maybe to Spain, maybe to Croatia, maybe to Turkey, we were flattered to be asked. Since I’ve been to what used to be Yugoslavia and spent several months in Spain, I’d volunteered that, given my druthers, Turkey would be my first choice (You know, life-lists, and all that.) It was only when Vita e-mailed that, yes, let’s do Turkey together that it occurred to me: What will Garen, my Armenian brother-in-law, and my sister, Deborah, also well-connected to Armenia, think? Will they be pissed that we’ll be traveling to a country that ethnically cleansed 1.5 million Armenians between 1915-1918? And now denies that genocide?

So I called my sister; we talked. Former assistant director of the Peace Corps in Armenia and still very active with Armenia-based organizations, with a wide circle of Armenian friends, my sister is far more in tune with the ongoing tensions re Turkey’s denial than most Americans. (Indeed, she’s been enormously  supportive re a play I’ve written re the genocide and denial.) But my sister, mother of a terrific son (who BTW, once attended an Armenian school), is also deeply connected to the whole idea of family. So while not thrilled about our plans (“It’s your life.”), she completely understood how excited we were to be accompanying “Baby Sasha”—no matter where.

“It’s [the genocide] going to come up,” she predicted. Which made me realize that, like the “Count on me” campaign here in Somerville a few years back, when white people in this community actually discussed what to say and what to do when someone made a racist remark, our little travel group (excluding year-old Sasha) needs to practice our remarks ahead of time. How to be honest, how to acknowledge a tragic event without putting notoriously gracious and hospitable Turks on the defensive, how to encourage talk, listen to stories? Not easy. But definitely required.

And, of course, not every Turk is a genocide denier. If we enter Turkey EXPECTING the worst from its citizens, that would be grossly unfair. So I am excited to see the wonders of this historic country and equally excited to learn from its people.

December 18, 2008: Allison’s “competition”

Judging from the frenzied activity at my bird feeders, tomorrow’s snow storm will be a doozy: lots of cheeky, fat sparrows and late this morning, a female goldfinch at the niger seed feeder. Usually skittish and/or really fast eaters, goldfinches, at least the ones who visit MY feeder, stay briefly and then flitter away. But this particular gal ate and ate and ate. That she lingered so long just feet away from where I watched her gave me a much-needed opportunity to reflect:

Before the goldfinch’s arrival, I’d been missing Allison a little bit (she’s spending Christmas with boyfriend Dustin’s family this year.) But the goldfinch reminded me, as goldfinches always do, of Michael Merkin, who, when I’d visited him at a Hospice in Queens, had assured me that, yes, he was dying, but he’d be back. One summer afternoon, a couple of months after he’d died, I was sitting on the deck writing in my journal about Michael and his deathbed promise. Just then a male goldfinch flew to the feeder. “Is that you, Michael?”

A few years before that visitation, however, Allison had been mock-jealous that I lavished so much attention to the feeders. She especially resented that I babytalked and cooed when goldfinches showed up. (Who could blame her, really?!) “They’re our competition,” she told her twin, pointing to a pair of goldfinches. “Now that we’ve gone to college, Mom’s replaced us with THEM!”

No golden bird, not even a reincarnated Michael Merkin, could ever replace my precious daughters. That a very hungry goldfinch lingered for a deliciously long time this morning enabled me to remember Michael, Allison’s wiseass quip, AND to experience the unmitigated joy I always feel when a goldfinch comes to feed. (I feel only slightly less euphoric about chickadees.)

Walk Cheerfully: Posted August 11, 2008

“Walk cheerfully over the earth,” George Fox advised,”answering that of God in everyone.” A couple of weeks ago, I took an illuminating walk  while on a vacation in the NW: One foggy, misty afternoon, my husband, my step-daughter, and I walked for almost an hour through the dunes of Oregon in bare feet! It’s probably been fifty years since I’ve walked that long and that far without wearing shoes.  Call me crazy but it seemed as if my feet were a little surprised to be unsheathed and unprotected but also, as happens in yoga class, pretty excited to be asked to do what nature intended for them to do. My toes reaching into the sand with every step, the muscles in my calves doing new work, aware with every step how I planted now this foot, now the other, I mused how I complain that I never hear Quakers talk about Fox’s “cheerfully” yet I, an inveterate walker, never consider how I walk! In yoga, in preparation for any standing pose, we’re often instructed to give attention to the four corners of our feet, the placement of our toes, etc. etc. Needless to say, I now consider the word “grounded” in a new, toe-tingly way!