With his tricolor eyebrows (black, gray and white) that grew in all directions on and away from his face, my grandfather was pretty short and his feet were so small (smaller than my size 8 feet) that he was occasionally spotted in the women’s boots section with his wife who kindly did not wear high heels to not be taller than her husband.
My grandfather was also a tough man. Holding onto his white coat until his 70s, he served in the army as a heart surgeon. He was one of the first people in the country to successfully conduct a heart transplant. During his first, a camera captured his small hands holding a beating heart.
When an earthquake hit northwestern Turkey in 1999, he dug the ruins of his older sister’s summer house with strangers. Under the brutal August sun of the Mediterranean, he — this tiny 80-year-old man — pulled and pushed debris until he found the corpse of his sister. After hours without a drip of water, he flew back to Istanbul with her motionless body.
Shortly after, his kidneys collapsed. Yet, even on his last days where he couldn’t move away from all the machines that kept him alive, he made fun of my butt. Even when he didn’t know where he was, that man made fun of my butt.
When he passed away, I lost the only Ottoman I knew. He was the only person I knew who was old enough to be a citizen of a fallen empire. My mom thinks he would have been proud of me for what I’ve achieved so far though he might have wanted me to eventually settle down in my home country.
But, he also left us in 2000.
Almost twenty years later, I see that Turks take a few sips of alcohol and all of a sudden everyone is saving the country. “I would do this…” “I would do that…” Then everyone gets into a car, a cab or a bus and goes home. Promises, ideals and dreams remain on a table in Taksim Square where for an entire summer, the “Albanian pavements” (that’s what a certain type of stone-sidewalks are called) absorbed the obscure chemicals of pepper spray in addition to thousands of years of history.
In a park that was later paved over and renovated to look like a modern garden, my grandpa taught me how to swing. He refused to push my seat. He stood right across from me and told me to start wiggling in my seat, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And then I moved higher and higher and higher. He laughed as I made careful jumps of joy in my seat until I fell on my back. That feeling of not being able to breathe for a few seconds, I remember pretty vividly. The tiny stones that poked me in the back, the dust in the air, and the flush of panic over my body.
Grandpa picked me up and pointed at the swing. I did go back.
Empires fall, countries make terrible mistakes — but for once, I wish we had a shot at redemption. Live that moment of breathlessness so that an atom of air gives us hope to move forward. A glimpse of hope that brings us back on the swing to go higher until we cannot anymore.