BY PAUL CHADERJIAN
Once there was and there was not …
This afternoon I pulled off the two-lane Kamehameha Highway on the North Shore of Oahu to watch the mighty Pacific and the brave surfers riding her waves. When I reached for the ignition to kill the engine, I became mindful that blasting on my stereo was Karnig singing “Leran Lanchin.”
Mezi hamar zoh knatsin, Tashnagtsootian veh kacher,
Khor nnchoom en leran lanchin azadootian mardigner…
The moment was surreal: the surf, my new wheels, carefree tourists and natives and bonfires, the scents of charcoal and barbecues, a new life I began on Sunday, April 24, 2011 on an island in the middle of the Pacific, and the words about selfless Armenian heroes who have been laid to rest at the side of a mountain.
How do you explain the synchronicity that my iPod would randomly choose from nearly six thousand tunes in its memory a song with minor chords and a melancholic melody honoring the heroes who fought the injustices against our people, lost their lives in the process, but made us the victors after generations of being victims.
Those victors had given me life, and they had made it possible for me to walk into a Nissan dealership, take the keys to a new Juke, and run around paradise blasting Terrence Malick’s classical selections in his movie, “Tree of Life,” the Cure, the Cascade Folk Trio, Depeche Mode, Sarah McLachlan, Nune, Edith Piaf, Karin Simonian, and Karnig.
I stepped onto the sand to watch the beautiful people and wondered what meaning could I glean from this perhaps meaningless coincidence of events. Was there more to Karnig’s song at that moment? Was there any reason for me to be on Oahu a year-to-the-day when my destiny seemed to be falling into place in the Homeland?
We can post-rationalize anything, said the man heading the Tatev Revitalization Project last year. His mind functioned on another, higher plane than mine, but there were some take-aways for me from the short meetings we had as I planned to pen some articles for him.
One of those take-aways was the concept of post-rationalization, humans trying to make sense and comprehend God’s complex and incomprehensible chain of events. Even though we know we’ll never understand the universe, rationalizing events seems to be the only way we can find peace.
Perhaps this will ring true for you, dear reader, or perhaps this will be a brief respite of entertainment in your complex, challenging, and colorful journey. But it gives me pleasure to find meaning in things others may see as coincidental. I feel joy thinking about all the dots that connect in our lives as I sit here in the Liliuokalani Gardens in Waikiki after midnight, listening to a stream of songs on YerevanNights.com.
The moment this afternoon when I killed the engine, turning off the ode to my ancestors and walked out onto the sands of the North Shore, I was trying to make sense of the randomness that my genes had survived out of the millions who died on the Syrian sands, and it was me standing on the sands of a beach in the middle of the Pacific.
Everything will make sense in hindsight, I thought. And this led me back to the post-rationalization conversation and my journey to Tatev. It was a year ago this week when I was sitting above the Vorotan Gorge, staring at the ancient monastery.
A teenage farmer named Seryoja sits near us. Zara, Anna and Gagik have brought me here to inhale the beauty of the geography, soak in the majesty of the monastery, and meditate on what this holy site means to us and our people.
Seryoja stops here often on his way back to the village after working his family’s plot of farmland a stone’s throw away. He has a pick axe and a burlap sack. I have a Blackberry and a can of Diet Pepsi. We are from different generations, different worlds, but we are equally enamored by the monastery and the peace it brings us, his village, this nation, and our people.
I ask the 16-year-old what the monastery means to him, why he comes here every week to observe the 9th century compound from above. I ask him about his life, his aspirations, his dreams.
He says he dreams of traveling the world and going to Hawaii one day. He says he often looks at the islands on the map of the world and wonders what it would be like there. He says he dreams of seeing Hawaii with his own eyes.
Seryoja says he began to look at photos of the islands after hearing people talk about what a wonderful place it is. He says he would like to be there, enjoying the beauty. Most of all, he says, he wants to be in the capital, Honolulu, enjoying the beaches, the Pacific Ocean, the volcano, the fauna and nature.
I tell him to hold tight to his dreams because if he can imagine it, he can make it happen. I tell him dreams do come true and mine have come true. I had dreamed of anchoring a newscast and reporting on CNN, and Armenia had made those dreams come true.
I give him the words of advice I think he needs to hear and think to myself how I wish I walked in his shoes, lived in his village, knew what he knew, belong where he belonged, and was half of what his people are with their salt-of-the Earth endurance, their perseverance, and those strong ties to each other, to nation and church.
I had gone to Tatev to chronicle a massive, long-term development program being underwritten by the Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia. I had gone on a temporary assignment that was cut short when an unexpected work opportunity came from one of the TV stations I had worked for a decade before in Fresno.
The news gods had other plans for me, so I moved on like a news gypsy, following the trail of jobs, using my connection with the Tatev Revival Project to take my Fresno TV station to Armenia and bring back a week’s worth of extensive and unprecedented local news reporting about Armenia.
But this afternoon, on the sands of Oahu, a short 12 months after my conversation with Seryoja, I think about Tatev in Eurasia staring at the surf in the middle of Polynesia.
I have come to trust the news gods. They are the intuition in my belly, that fire that burns with a story to tell, that need to create dialogue about things I haven’t seen or read. In my post-rationalized mind, I am the writer, born to write, and waiting for the news gods to give me things to write that will validate the reader, inform them, or give them something to think about. Or at least, entertain them for a few minutes.
I thank the news gods for taking me to the heart of CNN in Atlanta five years ago, also on this exact week. I was the Armenia TV talk show host and anchorman, broadcasting the news of our people in English to Diasporans around the world via satellite. I was the CNN contributor reporting 2-minute stories from Yerevan to global audiences, thanks to Mr. Gerard Cafesjian and his vision for the homeland.
Mr. C had put CNN International on the airwaves of Yerevan, a first of its kind antenna broadcast of the international cable channel anywhere in the world. Anyone with rabbit ears in Yerevan could watch CNN, the voice of the West. And in turn, Mr. C’s Armenia TV, would report the important news of the region to Atlanta, putting our homeland on the evening news.
I had the once-in-a-lifetime fortune of being the conduit, the go-between, and the man telling Armenia’s news to CNN.
Life can turn on a dime, and in the summer of 2006, a Liberian reporter invited by CNN to Atlanta to participate in the CNN Fellowship program was denied a visa to enter the U.S. I happened to be home the week before the fellowship and my contact at CNN, Boriana Milanova — the CNN International World Report producer I filed my stories to – knew I was not in Armenia. She connected the dots and sent me an e-mail asking if I would join other contributors from around the world for three weeks of workshops, anchor training, one-on-one coaching, and seminars on journalism, writing, ethics and technology..
Of course I would, and I did, again thanks to Mr. C. and the time off I was allowed to take by my Armenia TV supervisors. I was also grateful to a rejected visa application and Boriana’s awareness that someone like me was a short flight away from Atlanta.
And there I was five years ago this week, congregating in a conference room in Atlanta among a group of CNN contributors from around the world. We were there to learn about how the network functioned and to forge lifelong ties with colleagues from across the seas and oceans.
Standing in the middle of a room with reporters from places like Turkey, Australia, South Africa, Thailand and India, was the tall, young and muscular African-American facilitator. It was his goal to break the ice on our first day together as a group, to introduce us to one another, give us the chance to appreciate and respect our differences, think as a team, and become a cohesive unit that would live and work together for three weeks in the sweltering heat of hotlanta.
This dynamic and gifted facilitator had us participate in various exercises, building up trust, having us reveal personal asides, hiding coins that would appear magically in random reporters’ shoes without the holder of the coin physically coming near the person who would discover the coin.
The facilitator played card tricks, guessing the suit and number of hidden cards, and kept up this show and exercise for several hours. When he had made his reveals, made magic happen, he had used words like abracadabra or shazam.
He must have felt that I was not buying these sleight of the hand tricks, these well-exercised and well-practiced illusions. He must have sensed it when he asked me to participate and pull a card from the deck.
The facilitator asked me to hide the card I pulled in my pocket, and I placed it in the right pocket of my beige Dockers. He pointed to his deck, said, 3, 2, 1, “Meshak” and pulled out from his deck the very same card I thought I had in my pocket.
The card reappearing in his deck and disappearing from my pocket wasn’t what disoriented me at that moment.
I felt breathless when this total stranger, hired by CNN, had called out the name of my father’s printing press. He hadn’t said, abracadabra or shazam. He has used the name that had identified my father’s career and life, that had foot the bills, that had given him his passion in life, and taught me to value books, writing and literature.
My father had been the meshak – the cultivator – of our ancient literature and culture. And the image of a farmer, the meshak, had been the emblem of the volumes he had published in Armenian and English under the Meshak imprint.
Amazed, caught off guard, having a card disappear from my pocket, and hearing the reference to my late father while standing in the dream-come-true venue of CNN left me speechless. That’s when the facilitator looked straight into my eyes and said to everyone, “we are all connected.” That’s how he ended our group’s first meeting.
And so we were connected, and we had always been. Not just that group but all of us, you and I, your neighbor, the Turks, the Armenians, and the Hawaiians.
We have always been one, various parts and incarnations of the life force, God, doing what collectively we need to do, what we’re called to do, to move this human experience forward toward the goal of becoming uber-connected, so in sync, and so in touch with our other-selves, our pasts and futures that we become one with the universe and God.
It was Carl Jung who wrote that we all received our marching orders from our subconscious, which was in-fact connected to God and the force that ruled the universe. Interpret his philosophy any way you like, but perhaps we are not as different as we think we are.
Perhaps we are not the image our egos create to feel superior or inferior or different than those others. Perhaps what we do to each other is what we are doing to ourselves. Perhaps the injustices the Turks unleashed on us were truly the injustices that they unleashed on themselves in the past or in the future.
Perhaps when we shut others out, we are shutting ourselves out. Perhaps when we mock one another, we’re mocking ourselves. No longer should we look at someone or a group and say, ‘they.’ No longer should we talk to others as ‘you.’ Because we are all in one experience, all successes are ours, all failures, all joys and all hardships are one. I’m hungry when anyone is. I’m lonely when anyone is. I’m happy when anyone is.
Perhaps the secret loves and dreams we harbor are also harbored by that person in your office or at your school you don’t seem to understand and don’t care about.
Perhaps we, at the root, are the same person, living in various incarnations, wanting the same things, needing the same understanding, sharing the same traumas, hopes, and frustrations.
And if we accept this concept, then we are all living out our dreams. I’m the network anchorman traveling the world and reporting for CNN. You are the basketball superstar slam-dunking to the wow of the crowds. I am on Horizon TV, and you are writing this essay.
I am the father nurturing and providing for his children. You are the expectant mother waiting for your first child. We are the scientists using stem cells to cure cancers. We are the peace-makers in the world resolving the conflicts in Karabakh, Javakh, Syria, Libya, Jordan and Greece.
We are no longer the problems but the solutions and the answers and the remedies.
Perhaps what drew me to the islands is what draws millions of my other-selves from around the world — the sheer natural beauty that makes people feel connected to the Creator.
Perhaps what made it possible for me to live here instead of just visit for 7-days as I had in the past was my other-selves at my station understanding we had stories to tell beyond the local broadcast footprint.
Perhaps we knew that I needed a new ohana, a new family, after I hadn’t found a mutually beneficial opportunity with my own people’s media organizations to do what I loved doing, reporting, being on the air, writing for a living, and volunteering in their (our) annual nation-building fundraisers.
Does this mean I had been the one who had not met the expectations of my people and that’s why Armenian media had not met my expectations? Had I wished not to be on Armenian television or on the Telethon, and had that reverberated itself into reality?
Here I was (here we were) in one of the most beautiful places in the world, Hawaii, and latching onto a people who also referred to their lands as homeland, who also been defeated, overruled, abused and prospered. They also had groups among them who aspired for autonomy. They also had subcultures facing some of the same issues as the Armenian people in their (our) homeland.
I was here to write and produce an hour-long daily newscast about missing hikers, near-drownings, moped accidents, proposed transit lines, overflowing landfills, homelessness and poverty. I was here to help incorporate the global headlines into a local newscast. I was here to earn a living in an economy where many media jobs were going away, never to come back.
But however far away I have come from my origins and my source of life, the stories of the fedayees, of that magical valley in Southern Armenia, the Tatev monastery from a year ago are on my mind and in my soul. Always.
In July of 2010, Seryoja had articulated a dream I had always harbored. And today, I was at the North Shore watching the Pacific through his eyes.
I am living the dream of a young man in Tatev while he is living out my dream. And perhaps together we are simultaneously living both of our dreams, our collective dreams.
“We are all connected,” as the facilitator in Atlanta said five years ago. And it was Karnig today, booming through the speakers at North Shore, connecting all these thoughts.
And instead of three apples falling from heaven, only one fell so the storyteller shares it with his friend who made him tell the story and you the reader — my otherself.