Closer Than I Knew

I was studying abroad and more homesick than ever. Then an inexplicable coincidence proved I wasn't so alone...  

By Natalie Garibian, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

As appeared in

I was a college junior on my year abroad in Paris. It should have been wonderful. It wasn't. Everything was so different: the clothes, the food, the language. I longed for something, anything, familiar. My tight-knit Armenian family was in Florida, thousands of miles away.

One Sunday I called to say hi. Their voices on the telephone were the first familiar sounds I'd heard in weeks. I cried after I hung up. I'd never felt so homesick before. If only I were close to someone here, I thought.

I took a walk across town. I'd passed the Armenian church in Paris many times before, but had never gone in. I realized that back in America, my family would be going to church too. Maybe being there now would make me feel closer to them.

I took a seat in the back pew just as the service started. I looked around. The priest, the prayers, the faces in the congregation—this church was a lot like my family's church in Florida. For now, these people will be my family. Please, God, let me feel that.

I looked up and saw an old woman coming slowly up the aisle, leaning heavily on a cane. I asked her in Armenian if she wanted to sit. She nodded and I slid over.

The old woman bowed her head, losing herself in prayer. I tried to pay attention to the service, but I couldn't keep my eyes off her. There was something familiar in her face; she could have been my own grandmother. But I didn't know this woman. She noticed me staring and smiled.   

"You're not from here, are you?" she whispered.

"No," I said. "I come from the United States."

She nodded. After a moment, she said, "I've lost touch with them, but I used to have some nephews in America—in Florida. Sarkis, Dikran and . . . "

A lump rose in my throat. I knew exactly what she was going to say.

"Ara," I finished. "Ara Garibian. My father."

The old woman took my hand. "Asdudzo kordz," she whispered—God's work. "I am your great-aunt. We are family."