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 December 6, 2002 
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A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home


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.

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