Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a…. darn.
Clearly, sometimes, only the right words will do.
After a memorable weekend in Philadelphia with family and friends and… having digested a great Easter sermon or two… this simple thought (above) is my best takeaway from my holiday visit. Jesus and Humphrey Bogart don’t necessarily have a whole lot in common… and Casablanca and Jerusalem usually don’t belong in the same blog piece together. However, allegorically, at the very least, there’s a connection here. I think both Jesus and Bogart knew that CERTAIN words… (not just ANY words) were critical to their respective audiences. Sometimes, only the right words will do.
For that reason, Jesus didn’t use vague words: “either you are for me or against me” doesn’t leave much wiggle room for a luke warm follower, or disciple. And, such allegiances certainly rise front and center at Eastertime. One cannot be on the “side” of the Romans and have one foot in Christ’s camp at the same time, right? Shouts of “Alleluia!” (praise the LORD!) could NOT just as well have been simply “Hooray!” (terrific – that’s awesome!) in the Easter story of the risen Christ in order for the Easter story to have had as much impact. Sometimes only the right words will do… for each of us… even Jesus. Words have tremendous value.
“It is done.”
“He is risen.”
“I love you.”
“I was wrong.”
This Easter, I’m thankful for the power of words. I’m thankful for the words my brother first heard when he woke up from his surgery: “Brian, you made it.” I’m more than thankful for just the right words of friendship and advice from my mother-in-law… not luke warm words… but courageous words of allegiance, love and devotion to me during some recent times of difficulty. I’m thankful for the sage and kind words of my sister Nora and my sister-in-law, Laura. I’m so appreciative for definitive words… from ANYONE… that leave no question marks after they are uttered – especially as regards feelings, friendship and loyalty – most of all, loyalty.
There are also times when “just the right words” aren’t audible words, at all. There are times when just the right UNSPOKEN (but otherwise conveyed) words do the trick. As I watched nearly a dozen Armenian women… and a few good men… gather around the kitchen island at Easter, I marveled at how each of them worked with synchronicity; the pilaf was stirred, the asparagus was steamed, the salads were tossed and the signature traditional Armenian side dishes all came together with perfection, on an unspoken cue. Women who don’t see one another – but once or twice a year – knew what to do, while they spoke of children, health, loved ones passed and Easters of yesteryear…
All of this is really to set the stage regarding a heartwarming and deeply moving conversation I had on Easter with one of Gary’s mom’s best friends, Alice Dertadian. “Aunt” Alice is a woman of 85, who looks 65, and smiles like she is 25. She’s pictured, here, with me and Gary. As proud as I am of my own ancestral roots, I am increasingly impressed, amazed and inspired by the Armenian women on Gary’s side of our marriage. They are some of the smartest, strongest and positive women I have ever met. These women are not women of privilege. They are intelligent, tough, street savvy, warm, funny, quick-witted, engaging… and wise. Aunt Alice is no exception. I want to share her story with you.
She’s been widowed for five years (from her late husband, Harry), with whom she had a happy and full life. Instead of cashing in her happiness upon his death, she preaches even more of it. In fact, Alice clings to vignettes of her late mother’s Armenian sayings, which she loosely translates to English. Of course, Aunt Alice knows nothing of what I’ve been personally wrestling with recently, and it doesn’t really matter. Between appetizers and dessert, Alice told us the story of her mother, whose parents had been killed by the Turks, and whose beautiful sister had been taken as property of a Turkish harem. Alice’s mother had been orphaned in a Turkish orphanage at a very young age. She had rare blue eyes and blonde hair, which distinguished her greatly from other Armenian children. One day, friends of Alice’s mother’s family recognized her (while she was playing outside of the orphanage) and hatched a plot to kidnap her in the dark of night. They stole away with her, by rolling her up in a Turkish rug. Later, at 14 years of age, Alice’s mother was sent to Cuba to meet and marry Alice’s father (an older Armenian man whom she had never met, who was an American citizen). From Cuba, once married, she could enter the U.S. and also become a citizen. Once in America, she bore one child while fifteen years of age, had three miscarriages after, and then Alice was born, all within a three-year period. Alice’s mom had witnessed the Armenian genocide, had eaten off no silver spoons in her life and had had limited direct examples of marriage or motherhood. She didn’t speak the language of her new country. Yet, here was Alice, this past Easter Day, sharing with us a story of her mother’s HAPPINESS – not hardship. Here she was, decades later, telling us that her mother was the most happy person she could ever remember! Alice told us how her mother didn’t “walk”, but “sashayed” across the room…seemingly carrying happiness with her with each step. She told us many of the Armenian equivalents of her mother’s positive sayings (most of which I cannot recall), which were so beautiful in the moments of our conversation. This is the one that struck me the most; Alice’s mom used to say (in Armenian):
“If you have a solution, you don’t have a problem.”
Now, you’ll need to trust me; said in the Armenian language, this sounds much more poetic than in English. But, even in the English translation, I knew upon hearing it that it was one of those times when only the right words will do. These were the right words, at the right time, for me. In that moment, in the midst of Alice’s life story, these were EXACTLY the right words I needed to hear on Easter. Few problems that I will ever have can compare to the problems of those who have gone before me… those who have experienced abject poverty, or who have seen the ravages of genocide. That survivors of tragic events can find happiness in the midst of it all and in spite of it all is more than inspiring… it is transforming. It is not unlike the humbled feeling that overcomes me when I learn about or pray for some of my fellow autism moms who manage to find happiness in the midst of daily crises for which solutions have not been identified. If I am to believe there is a solution to a problem or, better yet, actually know of a solution, who am I to complain that there is a problem? Who am I if I quit trying to implement a solution? In that moment with Alice, I became convicted: if Aunt Alice, at 85, could be so obviously happy, if her mother – despite her life’s hardships could be such a model of joy – then so could I… for if you have a solution, you don’t have a problem. In those moments, I knew I wanted to be an Aunt Alice 30 years from now at the annual Armenian Easter celebration… with a spring in my step and a story to tell… when only the right words will do, on Easter or any other day, for somebody else.