Just as love doesn't need a reason, grief has
no language. Which is why standing in this yard
of a stranger brought to me, not by life but by
her death, something stirs in my heart - a kind
of confused sadness - that looks for a means of
expression but finds none.
I didn't even know her name.
And I am not at this teenage girl's funeral because
she touched me, but because she touched others
I love. And it is their faces I am looking away
from in this funeral parade because, despite the
peculiar familiarity that has become my life in
Armenia, I don't feel as if I've earned the right
to share sorrow here.
The faces I know are usually alight with life
as I've seen them across filled tables at their
homes or at weddings or holiday parties. And they
are the faces of these who call me their "chief"
but whom I call colleagues who, in this community
of the grieving, I am meeting for the first time.
There are members of this family I have danced
with, made toasts to, exchanged gifts with. Now
these reddened eyes and sunken cheeks belong to
those made strangers to me by my inability to
say how sorry I am. As if language could do that.
Here, at least it is my excuse.
This whole yard is a circle of sorrow, of women
leaning into each other and of men trying to find
ways to show their needlessness for support. Young
people, classmates I suppose, haul a river of
flowers from inside the building from which a
priest soon appears and then the opened coffin
and a sleeping girl.
Six men with the girl in the box on their shoulders,
turn their precious cargo around and around and
around. It is a custom here, intended I am told,
to give the dead a last chance to see all the
things in her world before the coffin lid is placed
and she sees a world none of us knows.
And as I watch this curious tradition unfold
I notice an old woman from a third-floor balcony
watching too. And I'm wondering if she thinks
what I am thinking: What order is there if the
aged should have a birds' eye view to the last
rites of a child? The girl in the box has raven
hair and smooth skin and the woman on the balcony
is gray and wrinkled. And not much makes sense
in this yard.
We stand here for maybe half an hour and during
the time my six year relationship with Armenia
finds a new layer. On the eve of an anniversary
marking 25,000 deaths as senseless as this one,
I have learned the significant difference between
grieving for a people and grieving with them.
Her name was Armine.