Breakfast at the Counter

Tenakee Springs 276

There is one empty stool at the counter and we need two. I contemplate if one of us should take claim while waiting for a second but I am too late – a 60-something man walks past the final food prep station and sits down on my stool. The waiter places a cup of coffee in front of him without words or receiving an order. He sits looking intently at or through the soda dispenser as he drinks his black coffee. The people to his left finish their breakfast but are in no hurry to leave as their plates are removed, coffee cups refilled, he turns to a different page of his Sunday paper and she checks her e-mails.

The 5′ 5″ man on my stool stands up and disappeared to the back, behind the 5′ 6″ wall, above which the cooks’ heads bob and totes of dirty dishes disappear. Within a few minutes he reappears with a plate of food, just as we are taking the two seats to his left. In the center of his plate is a sausage patty and egg sandwich, next to a couple of sausage links and toast. Two pickle spears lie parallel on either side of the plate. Around the edge of the plate are eight little mounds of butter, arranged as if numbers on a miss-manufactured clock face. I acknowledge him and he informs me that he delivers the produce and the owner lets him cook his own breakfast.

As I open a packet of artificial sweetener, he leans towards me, points his sandwich in the direction of my mug, and says,

You shouldn’t eat that stuff – it’ll kill ya.

Natalia’s Story

20170125-dsc_0020Our personal stories are very important because they help us define ourselves and remind us of who we are when we get lost. I have been thinking a lot about various segment of my story-line in an attempt to clarify what values I stand for, what I am willing to fight for.

My story involves some difficult times where I felt I was loosing myself, when I sought help from a therapist. It was difficult trusting another with my story of brokenness, but I received acceptance and love instead of rejection. Later as a therapist I was pulled into the lives of others as they struggled to authentically remember the difficult paths they had followed. When we share our true selves, without the puffed up facades of how perfect we are, we feel vulnerable, like we are standing naked.

The miracle I so often see is that when we listen to a personal story, it touches us and calls us to respond. When we read authentic stories, we can frequently identify because we share so many aspects of the human experience. Here is Natalia’s story of being an outsider in her country of birth because she came from the wrong region, of becoming insignificant, of loosing everything, and of finding refuge in the United States.

26 years ago I came to this country as a refugee. I still remember that day pretty clear. We were extremely tired and disoriented, but excited.

It was a long journey, it took us about 24 hours to get to Lansing, MI from Moscow, Russia. I had $200 to my name, I knew 4 words in English and I had no idea where we are going to sleep that night. It was alright, it was not too bad. It was not about what we had, it was about what we left behind – fear for our lives, fear of tomorrow and feeling of not belonging. We did not belong in USSR, we were not valued. We had no rights and no protection of police and government. If my family would’ve been killed (just like many others had), no one would have cared, there would not have been an investigation and a trial, there would not have been any justice.

I am grateful to my parents for their extraordinary bravery. In their mid-50s they had their lives pretty established – they had good jobs, good house, savings, vacations, two adult children … and overnight they lost everything. Everything they worked for and earned, but most importantly they lost their citizen’s rights, their sense of security and safety.

Real heroes in my life are my parents Vladimir Agababian and Larisa Melik-Bagdasariants, my aunt Aida Melik-Bagdasaryants and my uncle Eduard Badaliants, perhaps most of all – my uncle Mikhail Melik-Bagdasaryants. My uncle Mikhail risked his life by going to American embassy in Moscow. If it was not for him, we might’ve all been part of forgotten people. Forgotten people of Armenian descent that still are, after 26 years, live in ruins, live in fear of tomorrow, live without hope for better life and without basic human rights.

I would like to say that since day one my life in US was easy and I got it all and right away, but it was not. The first decade was a struggle, life was confusing. But it was alright, because the most important things like safety and outlook for brighter future was simply given to us and given right away, we were no longer forgotten people.

Natalia’s first husband, Gary, died of a fast growing brain tumor a little over 10 years ago, leaving her to raise two children by herself. A year and a half ago she married our son so now she and her two beautiful young-adult children have joined our family. They are a blessing, and we have had the privilege of joining her extended family for meals around her happy dining table laden with wonderful Russian foods. Most important, she has supported our son through tough times because she knows how to live through loosing everything and come out the other side standing firmly on the life values that are most important.

We can’t let hate and fear close our borders. We need to welcome those who are fleeing desperate situations so that they can be a blessing to our nation and hopefully touch our personal lives. Thank you for your courage, Natalia, and for joining our family.