“There’s an Armenian here,” my former professor’s wife texted me from a dinner party in Fargo, N.D., a couple of months ago. “Do you want to come have dinner?”
Naturally, I thought. I’m on my way to stay with my former professor and his wife in Fargo—land of zero Armenians—and they’re at a dinner party where there’s an Armenian.
I’ve grown accustomed to this phenomenon. Somehow, I’d grown up without ever hearing of Armenia or Armenians until I was 20 years old. And now, some 18 years after I first set foot in Armenia, they’re everywhere I go.
“Do you ever wonder,” my friend Mark once asked, “whether the Armenians are wondering why you keep showing up everywhere?”
When I arrived, I met him: the Armenian at the dinner party. He had been hired as a piano professor at my alma mater. As is inevitable in these situations, someone suggested we speak Armenian.
“There’s such a big difference between Western and Eastern Armenian,” he started explaining, clearly wishing to avoid any awkwardness. I was delighted and amused that he had assumed I spoke Western Armenian.
“Բայց չ՞ե որ դուք արեվելյան հայերեն եք խոսում?” (But you speak Eastern Armenian, right?)
He was taken aback. As taken aback as, say, I would be if someone from across the earth had informed me that they have visited the outskirts of Fillmore, N.D., the now-ghost town where I grew up. Armenia is not a ghost town, though there is that joke about how the last person to leave should turn off the lights in Zvartnots Airport.
Nonetheless, Armenian coming out of my mouth was no doubt a surreal experience for him, no matter that it’s become somewhat ordinary for me. “Շոկը կ’անցնի,” I assure the bewildered audiences. The shock will pass.
I recently attended a party hosted by a woman, originally from South Dakota, and her husband, originally from Iran. Their hospitality reflected what I know of Iran and the region: an abundance of food, drink, and engaging conversation. The only thing missing were recitations of Rumi poetry.
When her husband learned of my connection with Armenia, he asked, “ժամը քանի՞սն է” (What time is it?)
I laughed and said, “Տուր ժամացույցդ ու կ’ասեմ ժամը քանիսն է” (Give me your watch and I’ll tell you what time it is!)
It turns out that that was the only thing he knew how to say in Armenian. And why not? “What time is it?” can be used as a metaphor for getting the pulse on things. If nothing else, asking it in Armenian breaks the ice with a very specific portion of the world’s population. Okay, not even one percent of the world’s population, but who’s counting?
The reach of Armenians never ceases to impress me. Reviewing posts and comments on Facebook on any given day brings me information and ideas and stories from people in Syria and Lebanon and Cyprus and Russia and London and all across North America.
An Armenian priest from Wisconsin who I admire was in St. Paul this past week and we swapped musings over coffee.
A distant cousin who found me through social media this year wrote me just today to tell me about an elderly Armenian man she’d met at a wedding, who told her of his family’s suffering and losses during the genocide. She had known nothing of it before that conversation.
Our time on earth is so fleeting. Many days I find it exceedingly stressful to absorb the stories of the world and wonder how to translate them into action. Deeds, they say, are the true measure of faith. And deeds can only be accomplished alongside others. So each and every day is another opportunity to find partners to do what needs to be done. Or, at the very least, to try.