One of the ways in this pilgrimage of aging that helps us gain a heart of wisdom is to remember the past. Certainly, we don’t want to spend all our time in the past. But it is important to reflect upon stories and events, to commemorate them, and discern what they may be saying about our days ahead. Here are a few to think about for 2015.
This year marks the anniversary of some very important events in our national history as well as the world—the 70th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation, the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and even the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. In this pilgrimage of aging, I find myself remembering especially the civil rights events as a teenager and young college student. I wonder what I am called to do about these commemorations as I listen to NPR stories, or as I view the movie Selma, or as I attend anniversary events such as the ones commemorating the martyr, Jonathan Daniels from New Hampshire, who took the bullet meant for a young SNCC volunteer, Ruby Sales.
During these snowstorms and zero degree days here in the Northeast, it is easy for me to hibernate a little—to go deeper into reflecting and meditating. Knowing that this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I am undertaking the task of transcribing into my computer the onion-skinned letters of James Lyman, who wrote from Marash in Armenia during the genocide to his betrothed, Bessie Hardy.
James and Bessie, not knowing each other, sailed from New York City in 1913 as young missionaries under the auspices of the American Board of Foreign Missions. James was from Walla Walla, Washington, and Bessie from Nelson, New Hampshire. They were assigned to one of the most dangerous places in the world as teachers and James as a pastor in Marash. They soon met each other (as there were only about ten Americans assigned to their particular orphanage and church) and fell deeply in love. Bessie left Marash, after seven years in August of 1920 to return to her home to prepare for their wedding and have a furlough from the daily horrors of genocide all around them. James’s letters to Bessie detail his courageous work as a mediator between the Turks and the French, as a counselor and supporter to all suffering people no matter their ethnic origin, and as a “father” to hundreds of young boys in the orphanage. Never knowing whether he would survive to write another letter, James did the only thing he could do like so many called to give their lives for others. He carried on as prayerfully as he could for two years often with very little food, faced with decisions around sacrificing a few to save many, and with bullets flying all around. Thankfully, in August of 1922, James was furloughed, and he and Bessie were married in Nelson, New Hampshire at the Congregational Church, where Bessie’s father, my great grandfather, Millard Hardy was the pastor.
My faith tradition celebrates Lent which is about new things arising from the old and hope arising from pain and suffering. During Lent, I take more time to look for the small little moments of new life, new understandings, and new love which may be in front of me. This year, as I unearth letters, documents, and stories of the Armenian Genocide, I invite my friends and readers to know even just a little about the sacrifices of the Armenian people 100 years ago. You probably have Armenian friends, doctors, teachers, or read Armenian authors and may not even know it—Dr. Kalpakian, Ophthamologist; Barkev Kasserjian, Professor of Business and Management; Chris Bohjalian, author from Vermont, to name a few. If you want to know more, begin with the January 5, 2015 issue of the New Yorker’s powerful story, “Atoning for a Genocide” by Raffi Khatachadourian, or with Chris Bohjalian’s Facebook page.
And on this pilgrimage of late winter and early spring of 2015, I am compelled to link the horrors of 100 years ago with the horrors of today here in this country and in the world. I question whether we have learned anything in these 100 years. Like my Uncle James and Aunt Bessie, I can only trust that we as humans can find ways to unleash the paradox of surrender and hope of new life to come even if only in our own understandings of the past. A first step in going forward in this pilgrimage is to “Just Remember.”