Grandma, Genocide, and Getting through the Lockdown

This time of the year is an emotional rollercoaster for me: April 23rd and April 24th, for completely different reasons, have a powerful significance for me of remembering and reconnecting to my ancestry. My beloved grandmother’s birthday — a day of remembering someone in love with life and unwavering sense of inner power. Followed by a grimness of the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. This year, as I was sharing with my 4-year old pictures of Rita, the great grandma she’d never met, and contemplating whether it was time to also show her the documentary I had made about the genocide survivors, I for the first time realized the importance of the proximity of those days. Surrounded with news of the pandemic and the frustrations of the lockdown, I felt such a painful urge to bring her back, to feel her unwavering uplifting energy that made everyone around her feel like nothing could ever go wrong. As a parent and a teacher of wellness, I now wonder how much inner strength it took her to transmit that light, that contagious positivity, a certainty that there is no room for despair when the gift of life is to be embraced.

Despite the turmoil she lived through, I don’t ever remember seeing her lose her temper or her composure. She was a granddaughter of a genocide survivor, who fleeting her ancestral home in Trabzon (northern part of modern day Turkey) lost everything, including her newborn child, killed in her own hands. Despite eventually losing her mind, she was first able to reinvent herself, reconstruct her family, going on to have seven children, the foundation of our family. Every woman I met in that genealogical line, including my grandma, were endowed with such powerful inner peace and liveliness, you would never guess what they had lived through. Today, I wonder, if being a survivor has something to do with it. Only those that could have this resilience, could go on to create a new life… I later found this true in many other painfully similar stories I carefully documented from survivors I interviewed for my film, Armenia Sings on in Our Hearts.

My grandma had had her own share of horror stories to tell. Though she chose not to. Having lived through World War II, with her father serving in the frontlines, she saw hungers of the blockade, terrors of Stalin’s iron grip, and later lost her own child and husband to the collapsed healthcare system of a post-soviet Armenia, in hospitals that lacked basics, like electricity to support life. Yet even after this, she rebuilt her home on top of the ashes with the same resilience. Last time I saw her, on a visit to Armenia, I received my needed dose of confidence and love. But as I was leaving, I thought I caught a single tear, the first I had ever seen escape her eyes. She knew it was the last time we’d see each other.

Today, as I celebrate her beautifully lived life and legacy, I also celebrate the survival of my ancestral line, that despite all the attempts for annihilation, destructions of ways of life, and bleakness that was imposed, created a world of hope and unshakable faith for us, their children. I only my grandma’s spirit can contaminate me with that unwavering power of love of life that she exuded just once more. I need it more than ever today. I need to be reminded once again that despite the end of this world, another will come soon; that seeing the blinding beauty and singing resounding song of victory of life does not mean waiting for the external world to match the part. On the contrary. The Belief precedes the creation. The dream precedes the reality. The spark is always lit inside first, so it could grow and remain protected from the blows of the winds of negativity. And once it’s strong enough, its light can shine through all the darkness of the external world while its fire consumes all the pain and fear that we’re told are so real and so invincible.

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