03 February 2014

Family Connections

I really had a beautiful week.  It all started last week with my birthday.  It was such a wonderful day that I was on this pink cloud when Monday came around. I met a new homeless friend, Joseph who is only 19.
I've shared with you my desire to have a job where I can work with the homeless or needy population.  And for a while I was so down on being where I am at my office job.  But I have also been working on surrendering my will and focusing on being grateful for what I DO have rather than what I don't.  And this week showed me that I am where I need to be for now.  Because of my job downtown, I may not be working directly with the homeless, but I do get to interact with them.  Because of our In His Shoes homeless outreach, over the years, I've made some contacts with various agencies that may be able to help him.  And so for now, Joseph  was able to use these resources to take a shower, wash his clothes, and get cleaned up.  He is still on the street, and we're still working on getting him off the street and into a shelter with a program to help him get a job and some life skills.  Like I said, we're working on it.

The first few times I met Joseph, I gave him money and  food on my way into the office.  The next time I saw him, he was sitting on the corner of 7th and Fig with his sign, and I was stopped at the red light waiting to cross, and I asked him, "So what's your story?"  I think I surprised him.  "What's my story?"  "Yeah, why are you here?  what brought you here?"  So we started talking.  He's here from Portland, Oregon.  When I heard that I said, "Portland?  You left Portland to come here?"  After all, I loved the Oregon coast and I even took that little quiz on Facebook, you know the one -  "Where should you live?" - and outcome said that I would be a perfect fit in Portland!  He asked me if I had ever been to Portland (I hadn't)...and if so, have I ever spent a winter there.  He said it was bitterly cold.  And if you're homeless you won't survive on the street.  So he came here to sunny southern California.  And then his first week on the street his phone and ID were stolen.  Talk about bad luck.

So what is this 19 year old kid doing homeless?  I asked if he had family.  His mother died when he was very young of lymphoma.  And he had never known his father.  "Who raised you, I asked?"  He said he did...he managed.  He slept wherever he could at different people's homes that took him in.  I asked if he had gone to school.  He was able to graduate high school, but only because his old girlfriend's parents had taken him in and allowed him to stay with them. And that was pretty much it.  No family, no support systems. Completely on his own.

But I can still see hope in Joseph's eyes, and that is what is needed for him to help himself to get off the street.  There are r
esources out there, and connections that need to be made, but he will need to be persistent and patient, to try to make a life for himself.  It's very difficult with out family and a support system.  And I'll take my own advice now and be just as persistent in trying to find him some help.  With that, and continued prayer, I am hopeful that we'll be able to help.

We get so much love and support from our families.  This is a huge blessing.  This week, we had family visiting us from Argentina, and as I was trying to think about what to share with you, I was thinking about Joseph, my week's events, and it all came together.  Family.  In Armenian, the word family is "Undaneek". Literally it translates to "under the roof".  In other words, people that share a household...or are under one roof.  And in a practical sense, that's true.  But there is extended family, and then family of the heart as well. Like I said, my cousins are visiting us from Buenos Aires.  I never really thought of how we are related at all. Only that we are cousins.  When I was a kid, my grandmother would tell us about our our Uncle Nubar, Auntie Zabelle and Uncle Gughmez in South America. She would share letters with us that contained photos of them, and my cousins. My Uncle Gughmez came to America to visit grandma in the late 70's and we had a great time showing him all around our city and getting to know him.    Some thirty-five years ago, when I married Ani's dad, my South American cousins made the trip and came to our wedding.  And I got to meet them.  Making connections.  When my sister Sona got married, my cousins again came out.  My cousin Sonia was even in her wedding.  And through the years my family has kept in touch.  It wasn't really until a couple days ago that I tried to figure out HOW we were related.  It turns out that my grandmother (who had gone through the genocide), and Uncle Noubar's father were first cousins.  That goes wayyyy back, right?

But here's what I'm getting at.  Two nights ago, my sister in law and brother invited us over to dinner to visit
Bonding time with cousins:
Anush, Madilyn, Philip and Nicole
with our cousins.  We shared a very fun night with my cousin Martha and her husband Tato, and their two children.  We were hugging, laughing, reminiscing as if we see each other all the time.  There is this family bond there.  And although we don't see them for years at a time, there is love there that bonds us together and we can pick up right where we left off.  We are family in the true sense.  And this trip, Martha's kids were able to bond with my sister's Sona's kids.  And the bond is made and will continue.

On our way home that night, Mamajan and I were talking about what a nice evening we had.  We owe this family bond to her, really.  Even though the relationship is on my father's side, it was always my mother that kept the connections.  It was mom that would write letters and update their family with our news.  And it's always been my mom that connected our relatives in Armenia as well, again on my father's side.  Interesting. So we talked a little bit about that on our drive home as well.

My mom  is the child of genocide survivors.  Because of this, other than her mother and father, brother and sister, she had no family to grow up with.  Her grandparents, aunts and uncles had been killed by the Turks. Her parents where left orphaned and met in the orphanage in Aleppo.  It actually wasn't until my grandmother was in her 30's that she found out that her two brothers - two out of the six children - had made it through the genocide and were living in France.  They reunited.  My two uncles in Marseilles, had started their families there...and so we have cousins there in Marseilles as well.  My mom grew up knowing that she had family, but they were overseas.  Mind you, in those days, there was no internet, and calling overseas would have been way too costly.  So she wrote letters to the family that she longed for.  And they wrote back.  When my mom was a teen, her cousin Rouben came to America and spent a year or so living with them.  Finally, family.

And then when Mamajan married Babajan, his my father's family became my mother's family.  Whether they were in Armenia or Buenos Aires, her longing for family kept it all together.  Mom shared with me what my Uncle Gughmez had told her back in the 70's.  He told her it was important to keep the ties of family tight, because the world was uncertain.  If there was turmoil or problems in one country, you would always have a home with your family abroad.  My nephew just returned from a work study in Buenos Aires.  He spent 5 months working on his Masters degree there.  And he was able to make his own connections to our family there who opened their hearts and home to him during his stay.  Deeper connections made.

Our stories are not uncommon though.  We're Armenian.  Those that made it through the genocide were scattered all over the world, having to fend for themselves and rebuild their lives.  Holding on to each other, blood relations or "family of the heart" in order to survive.  Our immediate families include our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, inlaws, and an array of  "aunties" and "uncles" that are close enough to be family...and so they are!  When I've spoken of our family get togethers to my non-Armenian friends, they've been blown away by my refering to cooking for a small group of 20 or so "because the whole family won't be able to make it."  We've been brought up to view the family as sacred.  And to cherish the family ties that bind us together whether connected through bloodlines or not.

In a sense, I think the internet has kept those connections together for the new generation.  I know that my niece will now add her South American cousins to her Facebook friends, and they will be able to share their lives together as well.  But I'm also seeing the downside to it too..  My mother is a letter writer, and I think that's a lost art.  As much as I love to write, my letters to family are through email.  Here today, and in your computer's trash bin the next.  They are not lasting...unless you file them in a folder, but even that is fleeting.  How many things moved things to a folder to save only to lose track of where I've saved them on my laptop.  As Mamajan gets older, I'm understanding that perhaps I will need to take over that gift.  The gift of tieing us all together through something more permanent...the handwritten letter.  Before the internet, I too used to write to my cousins in France.  I had met them when my mom and I took a trip when I was a teen. We wrote the first year or two, but through the years, I stopped writing.  I couldn't write in French and I'm not confident in writing Armenian.  My cousins can't read Armenian, and didn't read English...so we stopped.  But now I'm thinking that it doesn't really matter what language I write in as long as I write.  The letter will always get translated one way or the other, and the true language of the letter will be love.  Love is understood by all.

We are so very blessed to have this beautiful family that spread out worldwide.  Family in Armenia...family here in the states, family in Buenos Aires and Marseilles.  And then I think of my family of the heart...in London, in Australia, in Japan...all over.  Beautiful connections of love and support to share the ups and downs of life with.  God bless all our families and keep us tied together with love always.  And to my cousins Martha, Tato, Philip and Anush, have a safe trip back....and we miss you already!


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