Memories Can Never Rub Away

“A man is what he remembers. And he is free by virtue of what he remembers.” Leon Surmelian

The internet is buzzing with news of Christian villages and towns being destroyed by rebels in Syria, churches burnt, nuns taken hostage and youths beheaded. The latest news is the siege of the Armenian village of Kessab near the border of Turkey. Islamist militants, mostly Turks, have forced the inhabitants to flee and have taken the village, looting and destroying their homes.

This kind of news resonates strongly with me. My mind goes back to the days when I used to listen to my grandparents telling their story of how they were displaced and forced to flee their villages by the same Turks, to never go back again. And what was once their home became a memory they cherished and passed on to us together with the bad. Leon Surmelian wrote:

“Memory preserves continuity. And if it is destroyed, suppression of memories is the most awful tyranny of all, for it destroys the self and kills the soul of man.”

My heart bleeds as I continue to read. Because deep down I want to hope against hope that this time it is not the same. That everything is going to be okay for all those innocent civilians against whom atrocities are committed in the name of democracy or freedom. That people and authorities have learned from the mistakes of the past and that history will not be repeated a century later.

I have first hand experience of civil war, I grew up in it. I have seen and know what it can do to people caught in it. I was lucky to have been given a second chance, to leave and live a normal life outside. As Haruki Murakami writes:

“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about everyday, too many new things we have to learn. But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.” 

lost i


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There Is Nothing I Wish More

When I looked out my window today morning it was snowing. I grumbled and sighed and then went into the kitchen to make coffee. Don’t get me wrong on this. I love nature. But this winter has somehow been too much for me to handle. We have had extremely cold days and snow since November now and spring is nowhere in sight even though March is almost over.

I take my coffee and go to my corner. The corner where the light is just right for me to sit and read, or plan my day and time, or sometimes write. Basically a sofa in the corridor between the sitting room and my bedroom. I look for my book to read but then I remember that I finished it yesterday. And then I notice the pile of notepads that I have accumulated on the other side. About six or seven of them. My writing pads.

I grab the first one. It is a small pad with plain white paper. The cover is yellow and laminated with my name printed on the bottom right. A pad designed and made for me by my dear husband.

See years ago when we were living in Dubai, I couldn’t find the kind of notebooks I liked to write on. Some were too expensive. So I used to buy loose paper and my late husband, being the artist and the graphic designer that he was, he used to have them made for me. He made them in different sizes, with different colored covers, in different styles, with different fonts for my name, and sometimes even different colored papers inside. I even have a chart from him explaining all the different sizes of paper.

Size Width x Height (mm) Width x Height (in)
4A0 1682 x 2378 mm 66.2 x 93.6 in
2A0 1189 x 1682 mm 46.8 x 66.2 in
A0 841 x 1189 mm 33.1 x 46.8 in
A1 594 x 841 mm 23.4 x 33.1 in
A2 420 x 594 mm 16.5 x 23.4 in
A3 297 x 420 mm 11.7 x 16.5 in
A4 210 x 297 mm 8.3 x 11.7 in
A5 148 x 210 mm 5.8 x 8.3 in
A6 105 x 148 mm 4.1 x 5.8 in
A7 74 x 105 mm 2.9 x 4.1 in
A8 52 x 74 mm 2.0 x 2.9 in
A9 37 x 52 mm 1.5 x 2.0 in
A10 26 x 37 mm 1.0 x 1.5 in

I shipped them here in a box with me. But on this cold and snowy spring morning here in Montreal, there’s nothing I wish more than to have this coffee with him.



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Spring Is Full Of Promise

Saturday was an emotional day for me and my family. In fact last week in its entirety was a lot more emotional than any of the weeks before. My son got his engineering Iron Ring on Saturday evening. I was so proud of him and at the same time my heart felt so heavy. I was so emotional thinking of how proud his dad would have been if he had been alive. And I tried my best not to show it and not to cry and to be strong for my son.

After the ceremony and the wine and cheese reception, he accompanied me and my daughter home before joining his friends to celebrate. And it hit me there and then that he has grown so much and turned into a real gentleman. That he has all the qualities his father had, and even more. When did this happen, I asked myself. It was only yesterday that he was just a kid.

I realized then how strong both of them were. That unlike me they did not let their grief and sorrow get the better of them. I felt kind of stupid that I idled my time away. I had focused on my grief and loss for so long that I was no longer in the habit of sitting for hours and working. It’s not that I was bored, I had simply become indifferent, inert. I didn’t feel anything.

Watching the two of them that night I felt my passions come back to me. This struggle, this deceit, to deny my frustrations, to try and keep myself in check, annoyed me. I felt this rebellion rising up in me. And I realized I do not want to live in a kind of stupor anymore, buried in my thoughts and feelings.

Watching my two kids that night I felt serenely happy for the first time in such a long time. And I thought that spring was full of promise, cold, uncomfortable and still dark, but headed toward joy.



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The Real Things Haven’t Changed

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” Abraham Lincoln
I wake up every morning promising myself and my kids that everything is going to be okay. And I try to believe that everything is okay or as it should be. As the day goes by and I meet people, I talk to friends and relatives and the first question they ask is, “How are you?” I say I am good. Somehow I try to believe those words myself.

Evening comes and I am having dinner with my kids. I listen to them talk about their day at school and work. They ask me how my day was and I tell them it was good. We talk more, have a few laughs. The evening passes. When it’s time to go to bed, I sigh with relief because I don’t have to pretend anymore. And I break down in the privacy of my room.

And I think about my kids. About how much they miss their father but they don’t say anything because they don’t want to upset me more. Because they want to make me happy. About how much they miss talking to him, about how much they miss his embrace, his hug, his wisdom, his encouragement and his support. About how much they miss hearing his voice, laughing at his jokes, about how much they miss his being here with them, with us.

And I think, why do we have to pretend? We don’t owe anyone anything right? Why do we have to keep up appearances, why can’t we tell people and each other the truth? Is it because, to quote Maya Angelou:

“Let’s tell the truth to people. When people ask, ‘How are you?’ have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you because, they, too, have knees that pain them and heads that hurt and they don’t want to know about yours. But think of it this way: If people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you.” 

Maybe it is better to be alone for a while if it will help us mend our scars and find our true selves. Maybe it is better to have time to focus on the beautiful things that surround us like the trees, the flowers, the birds, the sky, the sunset. And little by little we start to appreciate these things that are given to us and which we take for granted most of the time. Because to use Laura Ingalls Wilder’s words:

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”



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You Don’t Figure It Out!

“Don’t cry, I’m sorry to have deceived you so much, but that’s how life is.” Vladimir Nabokov

Is that how life is? Only a deception?

At another time, in a different world or in a parallel universe, I wouldn’t have agreed. I would have said that life was not a deception but an unknown path full of surprises, pleasant surprises. I could have, but not in this world, not in the world I live in.

Why, and I ask myself this question almost on a daily basis, why do I have to be brave and show the people around me that nothing is wrong with me when nothing is right in my life right now? Everything is on hold. The only concrete thing that I am certain of at this moment is my existence. I exist.

I have so many decisions to make, I have so many steps to take and they all depend on the answers I would get, on what the outcome of what I am waiting for, or what I have been waiting for these past few years, will be. I have waited, I was waiting and I am still waiting.


Every time the answer I get is not what I expect it to be, my heart cracks but I still hold on. And I try to believe:

“I try to believe that God doesn’t give you more than one little piece of the story at once. You know, the story of your life. Otherwise your heart would crack wider than you could handle. He only cracks it enough so you can still walk, like someone wearing a cast. But you’ve still got a crack running up your side, big enough for a sapling to grow out of. Only no one sees it. Nobody sees it. Everybody thinks you’re one whole piece, and so they treat you maybe not so gentle as they would if they could see that crack.” Rebecca Wells

I try to convince myself that maybe whatever it was that I was waiting for was a waste of time or that somehow it was not meant to happen. That perhaps God, or destiny or whatever name you want to give it, has other plans for me. I try to figure out the other possibilities. And when I am done with them I move on to figure out my dreams, my purpose, my goal. I try to figure out what it is that I want from this world, from this life which I call mine. And then I move on to figure me out. Only to find out that I can’t. Because to use Rebecca Well’s words:

“You can’t figure me out. I can’t figure me out. It’s life. You don’t figure it out. You just climb up on the beast and ride.”


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Promises! Promises!

It’s election time here in Quebec. In less than a month, on April 7th, we Quebecers will elect a new government, and perhaps a new premier. And like every election time all we see and hear in the media are advertisements about the different leaders of the different political parties. As in every election all we hear at this time are the promises these leaders make to the people. And change is what we hope to get and that is why we vote.

Promises! Promises!

Promise(v): assure, swear, undertake, guarantee, agree, give your word, pledge, secure.

Promise(n): assurance, undertaking, guarantee, agreement, contract, word, oath, pledge, potential, possibilities.

Have you ever wandered how many promises we make every day?

We make promises as a child, and later as an adult, as a student, as a teacher, as an employer, as an employee, as a sister, a brother, a mother, a father, an aunt, an uncle, a partner, a husband, a wife, a friend, a lover. We promise to write or call, to be there even when sometimes we know deep in our hearts that we won’t. We promise to love and grow old together. Promises we make every day. Life is full of promises we don’t get to keep. Paulo Coelho wrote:

“In the first place, you shouldn’t believe in promises. The world is full of them: the promises of riches, of eternal salvation, of infinite love. Some people think they can promise anything, others accept whatever seems to guarantee better days ahead, as, I suspect is your case.”


And when my kids are in some kind of trouble or distress and I try to give them a hug and tell them, “It will get better, trust me,” that hurts. Because deep down I can’t help but think, what if it doesn’t get better? Was it Saint Teresa who said:

“Words lead to deeds. They prepare the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness.”

I personally have given up on promises. Especially on the ones I make to myself. But it wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I very much believed in what people said and promised. As I believed that we, my late husband and I, will always be there for each other and will grow old together, so none of us will feel all alone in this world. A promise we kept but were destined to break.

“It’s strange how people give up on you within weeks of promising that they will always be there… and it’s just sad that promises are destined to break and when you had finally believed in that one promise someday you give up on yourself too… and it’s not about love… it is, at times, about barren hopes and a bleak tomorrow…” Sanhita Baruah 


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To Stay Or Leave?

Is it only me? Are you by any chance also troubled by this talk of referendum? During the past few days when I watch the news on TV and I listen to people talk about leaving Montreal and Quebec, to flee the language police, the charter of values, I can’t help but worry. Mainly because there is a wave of hatred and racism that’s being nurtured by different factors here in Quebec. And with time the divide between the English and the French is getting wider and wider. 

The question that’s on my mind now is what’s next? What if the situation worsens? Especially when I hear the premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, talk about separation and borders and all. I can’t help but be concerned. Do I stay or do I leave? It seems to me that it was only yesterday that I crossed yet another border.

Feb. 1984, Lebanon. Beirut is divided into two parts: East and West. The Museum Crossing is the only crossing open between the two sectors. People cross on foot during the day. Sometimes they are caught in gunfire between the rival militias. The crossing itself is controlled by the army, which opens it to civilians for only a few hours. People cross from West Beirut to East to flee the country either by sea, through the Jounieh port in the East, or by air, traveling through the mountains, crossing the border to Syria to fly from Damascus airport. I took that road only a few months after my wedding and crossed to the East with my husband. Here’s what it felt like (taken from The Lost I):
“They reached the Museum Crossing in no time. At exactly a quarter to seven, the Lebanese government army opened the crossing and they started to walk towards the army checkpoint. There were a few others like them. When it was their turn, she looked at the soldier. He was so young and so thin that his uniform seemed an ill-fit. His face was pale and sordid. Could he ask them to go back? And what if he did? Oh God! Please, no! She was afraid. They were not the enemy. They were at the mercy of this soldier. If he didn’t let them cross, they would have to go back again.”

Twenty two years later, before immigrating to Canada, I flew to Lebanon with my teenage children as a last stop to bid farewell to my family. A few days into our stay hell broke loose between Israel and Lebanon and the airport closed. On July 12, on my son’s birthday the bombing started. It was the first time my kids were being exposed to such terror. Within 24 hours the airport and the main roads to the city Beirut were bombed. Luckily I was staying with my parents east of the Bekaa valley close to the Syrian border. There were rumors of that border being bombed too. My late husband who had stayed in Dubai to take care of unfinished business, managed to email us e-tickets to Dubai through Damascus airport. 

On July 15 2006, at 4:00 am in the morning we said goodbye to my mother, my brother, his then pregnant wife and two beautiful little girls, and along with my father got in the car that would take us to Damascus, Syria. Half an hour later we were at the Syrian border. Sitting in the car with my teenage daughter and son, I looked around. There was not a single soul passing, not a single car, it was dead quiet everywhere. I had waited in the same spot more than two decades ago, when I was fleeing the country to join my husband. 

And now, to have to face all these rules and regulations and threats? What if the hatred intensifies? There’s nothing worse than knowing that your neighbor hates you not for the person you are but for what you stand for. And who was it who said, “No one ruins another person’s life that we are ultimately responsible for our destinies.” 


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