The quiet hum of Ashtarak highway reverberates in the background; the wind rustles the trees, new leaves – excited to show them off after a long cold winter. The city, away down into the valley buzzes with life: restaurants and some night clubs; a couple sits together on chairs outside of a cafe, sharing a secret. He says something in her ear, she laughs. A boy walks with his girl through lovers park, holding her close, its darkness under the cover of the trees now making their intimate rendezvous somehow forbidden. The booksellers are putting away their earnings for the day, stacking their books – covering them with tarps or into boxes; nobody will steal their livelihoods. Tomorrow will come another day, and there will be more opportunities – books are eternal after all, timeless as are those who seek them out — always coming, though never in a torrent the slow trickle never does abate despite the changing winds of world affairs. To escape into something epic and old – after all ambition has burned away is an unchanging fact and these ancient denizens as immutable as the bronze statues of the Cascade are willing to wait.
Tonight is my last night in Yerevan. That sentence was hard to write – I never expected to fall in love with a place and a people as I have here in Armenia. One of those special things that is all the more grand because it takes you by surprise, sweeping you away in a torrent of emotions. I remember my first night in Yerevan, just over two years ago. It was cold then, I walked the outdoor shopping mall – stopping for street food at midnight watching the children at play, “What are they doing out?” There was no pandemic then – there was no war – the “weeping nation” was filled with an almost youthful optimism, exuberance. So too was I. Coming from my wars in Africa, I found the fog that had closed in around my dark night of the soul temporarily lifted. Until the pessimism returned – unexpected and unwanted. But even that did not take away from my time here in Armenia. For Armenia saved my life, and for that I will always be grateful.
To be sure, it was not a euphoric time – as it started out to be. It is unwise, unkind to be too happy in such a time as this; and when the global catastrophe meets an ancient war rekindled… I spent the time – when not in lockdown – in communion with my little boy. I got to know him, really know him – and he grew into a boy here. “Goodbyes are hard” he said to me today, tears flowing freely down his cheeks as he bade farewell to schoolmates. Then it was off, to hunt down the elusive water-snake of the pond. We hiked mountains and made dams in rivers and trekked forests – we ate BBQ and dolma and fruit — so much fruit. Watermelon then cherries then apricots then peaches.
It was a quiet, somewhat lonely time – my time in Armenia. I developed good friendships that remained stillborn upon the shuttering of the world; leaving me with that feeling of wanting, of not being fully satiated like during a meal when they take away the main course before you can partake. I wish I could have spent more time here, debating ancient authors – discussing olden myths – praying in the monasteries black with the soot of a millennium of candles each one’s delicate smoke-trail taking the supplication up to God. And I lit not a few of my own; hopes that went upwards and left their tiny mark upon the intrados of the ancient houses of worship making common cause with so great a cloud of witnesses as this place has.
Tonight is my last night in Armenia. Life is transient and sad; we must come to grips with that. Things come and go and come back around but they are never the same – life is to be lived now, in the fresh pomegranate and the snow-ball fight and the ski adventure; in the moment when your little boy says “Daddy lets listen to music while we throw the frisbee” and though you are tired you pick up the toy and out into the glorious Armenian afternoon you go to revel in life lived now. Because it will never be again.
To be sure, there will be other moments. I will write about them – for those who care to read. And I’m excited about them too; swimming the coves of forgotten beaches – trekking the forests of my land – experiencing the vastness of the place that is my home and that I have never really experienced, not the way I plan to. But I will always take Armenia in my heart; and if I find myself comparing a golden valley high in the Rocky Mountains with a beautiful highland south-Caucasus pass – you might grin and forgive me. For I once lived in Armenia – and that changed everything.