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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Hana Memorial

The Nash family came to Petrolia every summer from around 1982 to 1992 to spend two weeks of vacation enjoying our time together as a family, away from work for Peter and Judy, and school and also our other parent’s house for the rest of us kids.
            We would load up our huge white suburban van from our house on Granite Creek road in Santa Cruz, 5 bikes attached to the back, and full to the brim with clothes, art supplies and whatever else we needed for our trip.  We spent the night at the White Deer Motel near Willets and finished our journey the next day, stopping at Murishe’s in Redway to stock up on food for the lunches and dinners Judy would make, and our sugar cereals for the mornings- Captain Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms.
            We spent days on the Mattole river, swimming, making mudball tracks, skipping rocks.  At this cabin here on Evergreen way, we climbed this great Maple tree in the front yard, played Tiddly Winks, Monopoly, Poker.
            I particularly remember spending time with Hana, those summers.  Her creative energy was abundant with writing and art work, and organizing Rocky (then known as Elijah) and I in theater productions, which we performed for Petrolia neighbors, here in our cabin.
            Growing up with Hana in Santa Cruz, I was probably the brother who was closest to her.  Her spark and curiosity about people opened up the world of people’s inner lives in such an engaging way.  I studied math and physics, and though Hana did not engage in the same technical abstraction as I did, her questions and interest in my work could bring back my own love for the subjects.  Many times, when my enthusiasm for physics was flagging, Hana’s engaging interest could remind me of my early and true motivations. 
            Our conversations about our family were equally stimulating, ranging from how the trauma of the Armenian genocide had been passed down through the generations to how the quest of Herman Bernstein (my great grandfather) to understand the origins of war and honor the Jewish people weighed on us today.  Talking to Hana, life felt big and important.
            Hana and I grew apart over the years as she tried to find her place in the world as a sensitive artist and I pursued my own views and work in academics and science.  I worked with complex, ambiguous views of the world and our family, and Hana maintained a more childlike purity and certainty in her convictions.  I searched for a balanced picture where all the various parts of my family could coexist, and she focussed on the purity of those moments of togetherness and support where her creativity thrived, and she felt direct connection to the spirit of life.  I was in the process of mending together for myself the disparate pieces from the two sides of my family.  Hana was sympathetic, but following her own path.
            Even when we hadn’t been in touch for many months, Hana would be on my mind almost every day for the past ten years or so.  I often pictured her here in this cabin on Evergreen way, even years before she moved to Petrolia.  Sometimes, when I was off in New York, or in France, and my origins seemed so far away, I would picture returning to this cabin , where Hana would be there to offer me something that would be the key to reclaiming some lost part of myself.
            When Hana actually moved into this cabin, however, a few years back, it was very hard for me to accept.  I knew she was struggling, not finding the collaboration and respect she yearned for, and some slow process of mental illness was taking its course through her in both hidden and overt ways.  She claimed this cabin as her own, without giving reasons I could understand, and getting angry if questioned on this.  She needed a home and felt entitled to one.  I decided I would accept her living here, but withdraw my interest.  This would be Hana’s home, and not a home for me: the family concept I was working with: Nash/Hammer/Kamian/Silbert/Bernstein,  I would keep seeking elsewhere for the tenuous sense of extended family I had started to consolidate in my life.
            Spending time here in this cabin, a few months ago after Hana had disappeared, however, I felt that I rediscovered Hana’s perspective and her spirit.  Hana’s intesity of caring, aesthetic sense, and conviction was compelling and softened my heart.  I discovered the tape in the player next to her bed with her interview of her grandparents, Pares and Seto, looked through her books on Armenian culture and history, and other causes of social justice such as justice for the native Americans and African Americans.  I read some of her recent journal writing on restorative justice.
            I found the sense that the world is big enough for many different stories, and I finally felt ready to start exploring the meaning of our stories, mine and Hana’s with their points of commonality and their divergences, that of the Jews and the Armenians, American stories of immigration, settling in a new world, and being given the permission and encouragement to dream of a new world.  Sadly, though I am now ready to share again on this adventure with Hana, she is no longer here.
            I am grateful to Hana for the years we spent dreaming together.  And now that she is gone, I can only attempt to respect and love her spirit and her dreams and use that inspiration to help work for the creation of a more just world.
            I was talking with an old friend of mine, Josh Chang recently about his mom’s death, and he said that its sometimes appropriate to don rose-colored glasses in remembering loved ones who have died.  His mom, Jancy, was also an amazing creative soul, who descended into dementia at the end of her life.  I can understand this sentiment, but I’ve never been one for rose-colored glasses.  I’m a firm believer in looking into the depths, with its beauty together with its ugliness and challenges.  This is a slow process that takes energy and patience- finding a balanced view within a complex, fraught situation.
            Finding this balance in perspective and emotion with respect to Hana, who played such a large role in my life, will be an ongoing task for the rest of my life.  For today, I am grateful to gather together with family and friends from Petrolia to start this process together, as sad and confusing as it may be for all of us.

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