Please join me for Twists and Turns of a Love Story, the humor and irony that is the framework of my, novel Sister of Saidnaya. At Conversations and Coffee, Thursday, Feb. 14, 12:00-1:00, at the Cultural Arts Center , 139 West Main Street, Columbus, OH.
Because we’re usually busy taking down decorations and trees, we can easily forget the Epiphany. It falls twelve days after Christmas, which is today, January 6. The Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian feasts. It is celebrated by many denominations: Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians. Roman Catholics and Protestants emphasize the visit of the Magi, The Three Kings, to the baby Jesus. That day is commonly known as Three Kings Day.
Some churches, particularly the Eastern Orthodox, celebrate the Epiphany as the day when John the Baptist baptized Jesus and when Jesus began his teaching. Other churches use the Epiphany to celebrate and remember both the visit of the Wise Men and Jesus’ baptism.
The word Epiphany also means manifestation or revelation. Both the visit of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus and his Baptism are important times when Jesus was “revealed” to be important. On a personal level an epiphany can mean a sudden understanding or an insight.
As a Catholic Syrian, it was a day to attend Mass. It was also the happy day to make Zalabee. Zalabee is a doughnut-shaped cake that is fried in oil then, when cooled, sprinkled with sugar. The sugar signifies sweet and everlasting life.
My mother made the doughnuts, as she did all the Syrian and American pastries. With Zalabee, she more than doubled the recipe. My brother Charlie fried what seemed hundreds of doughnuts then handed them to me. Holding a bowl of sugar, I would sprinkle them then place them on a tray. Eventually we would trade posts, always doing our best to eat as many doughnuts as possible—because we knew the next step.
Our mother boxed the doughnuts into several containers and it would be our job to distribute them to the many folks she watched out for. She also emphasized that we remember to smile and spend a few minutes with the recipients.
Cold and shivering on the way home after our distribution duties, we laughed and complained to each other, but never to our mother.
Dear Friends, Family, and Associates,
I will be one of the forty authors at the Local Author Festival held
in the auditorium of Bexley Public Library
2411 East Main Street
Columbus, OH 43209
On August 26, 2018
2:00 pm to 4:00
I look forward to seeing you and sharing my adventure to debut novelist.
All my best.
Rose Ann Kalister #BexLocalAuthorFest
Finding Meaning and Value
I’m glad the first half of this year is over, but the remaining forecast is bleak. Like everyone I’m influenced by the constant news about natural disasters, shootings, exposes, scandals, and political travesty.
For me personally the first half of 2018 has been productive. I finished and published Sister of Saidnaya, A Syrian Immigrant’s Tale, my debut novel. The initial response was joyous and heart warming. Now I’m dealing with the complexity of book marketing and social media, which is all new to me, time consuming, and frequently difficult. I did have the foresight to arm myself with and read at least some of the right books like Brooke Warner’s Green-Light Your Book. I even bought My Social Media for Seniors and downloaded a Social Media packet, all of which were outdated by the time I finished revising my manuscript and began dealing with a website and promotion.
Sometimes I wanted to run away from the marketing tasks and hide in my former routines and pastimes– writing, seeing movies, plays, and operas, going out with friends, playing with grandchildren, inviting family for celebrations, reading, planning a vacation. I even found myself sliding into self-examination and melancholy, which always sends me to my book shelf. Old friends there are Viktor Frankl, a gifted psychiatrist who developed the theory of logotherapy, Rollo May, a psychotherapist who wrote Man’s Search for Himself and The Meaning of Anxiety, Paul Tillich, a world-renowned theologian who wrote The Courage to Be. My first grab from the book shelf was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. All quotations here are taken from that book.
Frankl, a victim of the Nazi concentration camps, writes that we can discover meaning in life in three different ways. First, first by creating a work, doing a deed, achieving, accomplishing. The second is through love, which he calls the “ultimate togetherness” … “sex is a way of expressing the experience of that ultimate togetherness which is called love.” (134) the third avenue to meaning is the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. Frankl encourages us to acknowledge our suffering thereby viewing it as an experience in which we can see meaning.”
Frankl’s point is that “man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.” (154).
Frankl “presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words what matters is to make the best of any given situation.” (162).
Frankl brings up the frequent typical American command to “be happy” but explains that “one must have a reason to be happy. Once a reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically.”
Lastly, Frankl asserts that the old need not envy the young nor would they want to. The older individual might say “‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. Those sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud….’”144)
In probing the meaning of life according to Viktor Frankl, I have at least heeded the Socratic injunction that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” and lightened my heart.
In the process I have also learned that if am to be a “self-determining” person, I must make the grand effort and push the work that I have created through whatever means I can.
Viktor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning. A Washington Square publication of POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY 10020.
What are you? is a question that I raised in my website biography (Rose Ann Kalister.com). When I was growing up that was the initial question that a new friend would ask. What are you? In that blog I complained that no one knew how to react when I said I was Syrian. Trying to explain by identifying Syria geographically was next to impossible. Nowadays the geographic identification is considerably easier. Most people can at least place Syria in the Middle East because of the horrific war in Syria and the plight of its innocent people.
Like other ethnic groups, Syrians immigrated to the United States more than a century ago. And like other ethnic groups, all of them have famous people. Jerry Seinfeld and Danny Thomas are our beloved comedians. Danny made us laugh for many years then built the famous St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital “where no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.” The hospital was opened in 1962 with Thomas saying “no child should die in the dawn of life.” (www.stjude.org) (I have always loved that saint because 27 years ago when I had endocarditis, I received the St. Jude mechanical mitral valve which augmented and saved my life. Ironically my best friend’s name is Jude.)
Steve Jobes is one of us as is Paula Abdul and Paul Anka. Athletes Brandon Saad and Johnny Manzel. Diana Al-Hadid, contemporary artist of sculptures and installations. Neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Debakey. You can explore any nationality in this country and come up with a list of persons who have made major contributions in all fields and endeavors. The list can go on and on, no matter if you are writing about the Irish, the Poles, the Chinese, the Italians, or any other racial or ethnic group.
Now what we are has taken on countless answers, interpretations, alternatives, and designations. Racially we are white, black, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian….
Sexually we can identify, if we choose, as heterosexual, homosexual, queer or asexual….
In terms of age we have the Boomers, the Millennials, and probably what is to be Gen Z.
When it comes to labelling the no-longer-young, however, we must take care. “Old” is barely okay. “Elderly” is a no-no because it connotes feeble and dependent. “Older adult” is considered the tolerable alternative. Older adults just want to be known as who they are.
The categories are seemingly endless. What disturbs me however are the new stresses on the political categories, perhaps not new but used to emphasize a history, a point of view, a way of life, a belief, a philosophy, or a stance – we have the Right and the Left. The liberals, moderates, and conservatives, and all those sub groups that appear in the news, some of which can promote prejudice, misunderstanding, or contempt. Of course I acknowledge that there are inevitable factions in any group, whether the group is a political party, religious group, a trade union, or, as in our day, the present political climate. Those factions are a part of our democratic constitutional structure.
But wouldn’t it be great if “what are you? could be what you might Want to Be and express a desire for a value, a commitment, a goal or an ideal?
As all the world knows, Britain’s Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle will marry on Saturday, May 19. All the world seems sure that the event will be as grand as the speculation and publicity that have surrounded it,
Most likely Prince Harry’s bride is going to glide down that aisle with her mother rather than her father. As within any wedding worth the bother there seem to be some problems. In this case speculation and changes about the father of the bride’s actions, health, and attendance. With good intentions, the bride’s stepsister has contributed to the confusion. But not to worry, NBC is flying in Savannah and Hoda to cover the event. I have no doubt they will ferret out the truth and present it with the utmost fairness and delicacy. Britain and the rest of the world are going to coo, smile, and cheer.
Reporters and fashionistas wonder how Ms. Markel will adorn herself and consider who might be the wedding dress designer. According to reports that speculation is now at fever pitch! On Google I reviewed many of the wedding dress possibilities and their staggering costs. Whatever Ms. Markel wears, it had better be spectacular because the royal children could well steal the show. Ms. Markel will have no adult attendants. She could not decide between her friends. Instead she will be accompanied by children as page boys, bridesmaids, and flowers girls. There will be 10.
All the world will be watching.
Me? I’m buying a Fandango ticket to watch the Pope hold forth in the new documentary –“Pope Francis—A Man of is Word,” directed by Wim Wenders. Francis will be seated on a bench in a garden, speaking in Spanish with English subtitles. No notes, no wardrobe, no make-up. I want to hear what he has to say.
It’s not that I don’t want to see the bride in her gorgeous gown and jewelry. I do. And I am also curious to see the handsome royals in Uniforms and Morning Coats and their pampered ladies in colorful Day Dresses and hats. I especially love the hats! But I’m little closer in age and physique to Pope Francis so I’m going to watch the documentary at AMC. Having been educated by the Jesuits (some would say tortured) and then employed by them at John Carroll University, I’m automatically a fan.
When Francis becomes the 1st Jesuit Pope in 2013, I never left the TV. I thought to myself, it’s a new world. Catholics have elected a smart tough guy. “Fearless” is the way the documentary producer Wim Wenders describes him. We all know that he is fearless. He has been critical of the Vatican’s immense bureaucracy and the traditionalists have pushed back, accusing him of neglecting spiritual matters. He has also been vilified by some victims of the sex scandals. Though most of us love him, he is no stranger to opposition and criticism. He may have brought tears to John Boehner’s eyes, but some Catholics cannot abide his orthodox views of same sex marriage, contraception, and refusal to support women as priests. But I am glad that he has supported social outreach rather than doctrinal battles. He has taken on the global issues of climate change, poverty, and immigration.
Most interesting to me personally is that Time magazine’s decision to choose him for person of the year “was his ability to alter the minds of so many people who had given up on the Catholic Church in such a short period of time.”
Of homosexuality the compassionate conservative said “Who am I to judge?”
This is the man who used to ride the bus to work, who now lives in the Vatican guest house rather than the papal residence, who wears white cossacks instead of a red mozzetta, who chose an iron pectoral cross instead of a gold one. He has always been a patron of the poor; he criticized priests who were “rigid and afraid to communicate.” He worked with a “psychoanalyst for six months,” he spoke of childhood sweethearts and adolescent girlfriends, saying his relationships with women had enriched his life. “I thank God for having known these true women in my life… [Women see things differently from men] and it is important to listen to both.” He has shown his human rather than pontifical side.
It’s the mix that I like—he chose Francis, the saint who cared for the sick and the poor, for his papal name. Grandeur is not his style. He has demonstrated his human rather than his pontifical side. He likes being around people. He smiles, kisses, embraces, and laughs. He used to take the bus to work—what can I say? I love the man, as many do, Catholics or otherwise. I’ve followed him around the world. I have seen him fall. He walks like I walk. I can tell when his feet hurt.
Many years ago, in the second year of my marriage, during a shopping trip when we were meandering along the aisles, my mother asked “Rose Ann, when are we going to have a baby?” Turning on my heel, I faced her, saying “Mama, we are not going to have a baby!” End of discussion.
Yes, I had other plans, one of which included a year abroad and new experiences, especially since birth control pills were available. I bought 400 before my husband and I left for Ireland and England. Yes, I am a cafeteria Catholic and have no guilt issues regarding it.
Well, Mom evened the confrontation score three years later, when I was expecting my first child. I had invited her to help me set up the nursery. I was happy. Silently but dutifully, she looked over the nursery, picked up a couple of cutesy things, then began peeling price tags off the onesies. She was cool. She said nothing while I chirped happily. Well, I finally realized, she’s evening out the score. Cool, cool on the edge of cruel.
Cool on the edge of cruel was transformed when that three-weeks late baby emerged— a 6 pound, 9 ounce girl with big eyes and plenty of black hair. My first child. Mom’s second grandchild. Eventually there would be four, three boys and a girl.
My mother came from a family of eight children, six daughters and two sons. Except for two daughters, all immigrated to the United States from Syria.
Now how meaningful that mother-daughter encounter seems when I reflect on the loss of my mother and my memories of the joys she had with her grandchildren. Her smiles, laughter, teasing banter, and nicknames she pinned on them (Little kizzab, Mr. Steve). And the food – the fresh Syrian bread, the cabbage rolls and grape leaves she had ready for cooking the day before we arrived, the lamb shish kebabs threaded with onions awaiting the grill. On Easter in the dining room, baskets crammed with good chocolates and pecan studded nougat eggs that Baba bought.
Her standing in the door watching for us. And on our departure, my father always, always saying “You’re leav ing now?!”
American Mother’s Day is celebrated in May and is some version of cards, gifts, flowers, or dinner out. In Arabic countries mothers are celebrated on March 21.
The mothers of war-torn Syria are often alone, their men missing, enslaved, or engaged in a civil war that seems to have no end. The mothers of that war-torn nation pray that their homes will not collapse under the frequent bombings and their little ones not hit by mortar shells. If their government detained sons are lucky enough to escape, mothers tell them not to return for fear of reprisals. The women conserve what little fuel they have, they search for fresh vegetables, which they seldom find. They hope the bakeries will have bread. Many women have to leave their home and nest their family in one of the many camps. In those settlements they are at the mercy of predators who prey on women and children.
Syria’s never-ending civil war has broken the hearts of its mothers! Let’s pray for them!
Mother’s Day is May 13!
Need a good and different gift? Buy your Mother Sister of Saidnaya. The book is guaranteed to make your Mom smile, cry, and laugh!
Forget pita! Don’t even say the word! It’s Syrian bread! You won’t find it at the big supermarkets. Look for it at the Mediterranean stores. The nationality doesn’t matter as long as it is Mediterranean. It will be soft and pliable. With a pocket you can stuff with anythung or everything. Which is what Nadra and Aurelia do in Sister of Saidnaya. They feast on their sandwich while they prepare tuna fish for their boys.
In the Sister of Saidnaya, a historical novel and family saga, the children are often gobbling pastries that Nadra makes for happy occasions. Now the anguished children gasp for breath.