Being a parent and being a writer have combined to teach me about what I call The Care, The Fair and The Fire – three ideas that God hit me over the head with recently. These ideas have encouraged me to realign how I think of the roles I have.
And when I grow up, when I grow up, I will be brave enough
To fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to
Be a grown up.
“When I Grow Up,” Matilda (Original Broadway Production, Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin)
We were in New York last week with our daughters – their first time there. I wrote last week about the special Armenian Genocide Commemorations we were honored to participate in. Unforgettable.
But it was also an unforgettable family weekend with our girls: Going to the top of the Empire State Building to take in the view of the city and the Statue of Liberty, shopping at the Toys R Us (with the four-story ferris wheel inside!) and the larger-than-life M&M Store in Times Square, eating Junior’s Cheesecake, seeing their aunt and uncle, cousins, great aunt and uncle, family — and seeing their first Broadway show.
Their first Broadway show – no small moment for this playwright. Thanks to some finagling by their uncle, my brother-in-law, we got tickets to see Matilda, one of my older daughter’s favorite books.
It was a delight, deeply meaningful and yet also humorous and musically catchy. A brave and unusually gifted girl overcoming a horrible family situation and bonding with a kind teacher who also benefits from the girl’s bravery and becomes braver herself.
The forecast was rain. But we marched anyway. To commemorate the coming 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, my husband, two daughters and I marched across the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday.
I first thought: maybe we’ll catch a cold, one of my family’s biggest avoidances. Maybe we’ll be utterly exhausted, with the rest of our busy schedule that we crammed this into, flying in from San Diego and back in one day. Maybe — this wasn’t such a good idea.
The kids and I made ornaments this weekend that I have a feeling will be favorites for a long time.
I saw a lovely and creative Christmas tree recently which, in addition to regular ornaments, had the various names for Jesus/God written on colorful, shaped paper. Simple and powerful words. So we did our own version on our tree this year.
Apparently, there are 100 such names in the Bible, all capturing a different quality or essence of God. Some, especially at this time of year, are very familiar: Immanuel, God with Us, King of Kings.
You can almost hear Handel’s Messiah, where the names soar forth in unison: “Wonderful! Counselor! The Mighty God! The Everlasting Father! The Prince of Peace…”
The words are powerful. Christ’s 100 names, given by God, announced by angels and men alike, are a remarkable and comforting reminder of who he is — each one worth reflecting upon; and yet in his case even 100 names cannot capture all of who he is.
The 100 names also make me think of how we, as writers, often agonize over creating a name for the characters in our stories — something that gets their personality just right and subtly reflects their purpose in the story. Or coming up with the title of a work, which captures its spirit and core. So many possibilities…and we don’t want to mess it up. Do-overs are not really an option.
Similarly, I think of parents, carefully reading through name books or making lists to select their baby’s name — something which will be part of their identity for life. We want it to be empowering but not too limiting, right? Does that one sound too heavy? Is this too easy to mispronounce? Too long?
Or when a scientist discovers a cell or a star, a protein or a process; or when an inventor creates a new gadget or patent. What to name the thing that’s going to be one’s legacy? In textbooks and registries for decades to come?!
It’s not easy to name something. Scripture and literature, from Adam to Romeo and beyond, are full of references to the power and burden of names and naming. Maybe if we could have 100 names it would be easier too!
But one thing that all of these situations have in common is that it is a privilege to be the one who gets to name something. Or to title something. It is a heralding, a cementing-in of meaning.
The next time we name or title something, we can remember what a special opportunity it is. The words we choose are not only a reflection of what we are naming — they are a reflection of us as well.
Like the Virginia Woolf quote I saw mentioned on Twitter recently:
“If your life was a book title, what would it be?”
This past week, on the eve of Election Day, I learned without a doubt that nothing I accomplish in my life will ever be as satisfying or fill me with the same depth of joy and pride as when my children accomplish something special. There is no comparison.
Over the last few months our local Armenian community has been trying to get approval for a new church facility to better accommodate its needs after 35 years in a sweet but outdated and undersized facility. My family’s connection to the church is deep, complex and multifaceted. But suffice it to say that despite various community dramas over the years, it is where we grew up, where we are still involved and where our children participate, and we’d always like to see the church — its people and its place — progress spiritually and physically in the years to come.
A month or so ago, we decided to take our girls to our local planning board meeting to see local government in action. For four hours (yes, we brought the ipad), our nine-year old and five-year old daughters listened to this board debate our church project. The girls wanted to get up and speak but couldn’t. But when the vote finally came in favor 6-4, they were so proud and excited that they were there. I told them: “In years to come, when the church is built and you are walking on its blessed grounds, you’re going to remember that you were there the day our local community first approved it.” And they nodded vigorously before falling asleep on the car ride home.
Then, this past week, the project had to pass through another hurdle — the city planning commission, before going to the state coastal commission. Many in the community wrote letters, so we felt it important that our girls write letters too, to share their feelings about why we need a new church.
They were very intent on doing a good job, and they did.
At the commission meeting, I sat in the same chamber where I, as a junior high student years before, twice pleaded with our city council to save our school music education funding for orchestra and band. Those were experiences I never forgot, and I believe they fortified me early on to be more involved in my community and to speak up for what’s important to me.
And here we were in the same room, years later, hearing about another heart and soul issue — not the arts, but the faith community and its gathering place — now being debated before a new set of officials.
The architects, consultants, and some of us leaders in the community all spoke, gave it our best and did well.
But when the commissioners gave their various comments, concerns, and preferences, one commissioner said that he was very touched, and quite impacted, toward the yes vote, because of two letters that came in — from two young girls…
I looked at my husband.
“From…Mari…?” the commissioner said. “And her sister…Ani?…”
Our daughters. He was talking about them! There, in front of everyone. On local TV. And when he cutely mispronounced the latter’s name, our entire community entourage in the audience corrected him in unison. (“AH-nee, not Annie!”)
The commissioner went on to say how the letters were the most compelling thing he came across in more than two hours of discussion, and that our girls’ words were what convinced him to vote yes — reminding him what civic engagement is all about, what community is all about, what the life of a young person is all about, and….
And I don’t know what else — because I was crying. Crying that our girls had tangibly made a difference. Our little ones, who were probably running wild at school recess, had no idea their names were being spoken and placed in the city public record, having a forever impact on the vote, and thus on our community.
I became a bumbling mess. When the commissioner finished thanking the girls, he immediately made the motion to approve the project.
When the vote came out unanimous, I looked again at my husband, and all I could say was “Our girls, lovie. Our girls…!” He and I were both overcome.
I hope that on the crazy days when the girls try my patience, I’ll remember that on this day they filled me with more humbling pride and joy than I’ve ever experienced. No Academy Award, Pulitzer Prize, Drama Critics Circle award, or anything could even compare.
When we got home and told the girls, they were so excited that their letters made a difference. Our youngest asked, “Did you talk to Mr. Golba?” even remembering the name of the commission chairman she addressed her letter to. And I said that yes, I did speak with him (which was true, afterwards.) We told the girls the rest of the details and even showed them the webcast where the commissioner acknowledged them, and they simply beamed.
One day, our girls will be able to vote, like I hope we all will this week. One day, they will take leadership positions and impact their world. And one day, when they’re grown, I hope to show the girls their letters again, to remind them that at any time, at any age:
Yes, your voice matters.
Yes, you can make a difference.
And yes, your writing has power.
Onward! And don’t forget to vote!
I currently chair a national Armenian women’s organization that helps sustain our cultural heritage, develop Armenian women leaders and support Armenian families around the world. Some would call it a sorority, but I consider it much deeper and stronger than that. However, one similarity is that fellow members call each other ‘sisters.’
And let’s just say that my fellow ‘sisters’ and I had an interesting travel adventure this past week, to say the least. As I write, we national officers are on the final leg of a very long trip across multiple cities and airlines.
In two weeks, we visited five chapters of our organization across the east and midwest. On our most recent trip, we had to travel through seven cities to visit three chapters. We missed two flights due to weather and plane delays. We were twice told the planes would be held for us, only to see the plane slowly back away from the gate the minute we got there, after we ran — yes, ran — through multiple terminals.
The gate agent on one end said, “Oh yes, we called already; they’re holding the flight for you; go, go, go!”
The gate agent on the other end said, “We never got a call…”
These and other snafus resulted in two unexpected overnight stays in two different, non-visitation cities.
“But you can get your luggage at Terminal E….” And a half hour later:
“Oh, no your luggage isn’t at Terminal E; it’s at Terminal C, and you can’t access it until tomorrow.”
Then we were delayed 2.5 hrs on another flight because the pilot never showed up and the airline had to search for another pilot last minute.
In another case, our flight was delayed 4.5 hours because Vice President Joe Biden was landing at the airport on Air Force Two for a last minute visit, grounding all scheduled flights for the entire morning.
Sometimes, our luggage made it to our destinations when we did; in other cases it did not. At one point, we got our luggage after being redirected multiple times, only to open two suitcases to find the contents soaking wet — apparently left out in the thunderous New England rain. Two of my officers caught colds and also injured their back and shoulder. And I’m not sure we ever slept more than 4 hours on any given night — and not always in a bed.
Those who have seen the film, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, about a frazzled father and his unexpected friend, overcoming hurdle after hurdle, trying to make it home for Thanksgiving, will certainly understand the frustrations we felt.
But we love our ‘sisters.’
That’s what kept coming back to our minds.
But we love our sisters, our fellow members. And we did not want anything to get in the way of our visiting them, after they had been planning and preparing for weeks with warm anticipation.
Sure enough, the visits to the gals of Worcester, Providence, Boston, Milwaukee and Chicago, were some of the loveliest, laughter-filled times we’ve ever had in the organization. Truly, we will never forget them. Those loving times of warm welcome and fellowship, celebration of common history, partnership in a shared vision — and laughter about all our craziness, into the wee hours — are what our organization is all about. They are what service and friendship are all about.
When our relationships, life situations, or writing projects take us on all sorts of unexpected delays, detours, or outright stoppages, we have to remember:
But this is who I love; this is what I love; this is why and how I love.
And that sense of love-centered purpose is what enables us to keep going, to see the journey through to completion — and to be grateful, especially as Thanksgiving nears. The pockets of love that we open along the way of a disjointed journey are worth all the headaches. Most of the time.
But don’t get me wrong: I’m still writing a few letters to United Airlines and US Airways. Soon as I finish this blog. They’re gonna have to show me some love too.
P.S. My book BRAVURA is out on Kindle — the first in the “The Music We Made” series about a group of classical musicians in 1960’s London. You can order it here. Downloads are free through 10/20!!