Monday, March 11, 2019


We are settling into our seats and buckling in when I hear that voice behind me. A woman and a man, first engaging in small talk, in the seats right behind mine.

"What are you going to Chicago for? Do you work there?"
"Yeah, I live in ........ but I grew up in ........." "D.C. Weather was good today..."

Then all of a sudden, I hear without wanting to, their voices aggressively drilling into my head:

"What a grumpy flight attendant!" she says.
"Hmm, yeah.." He agrees. "In Europe and other parts of the world, being a flight attendant is, like, a really big deal, but here anyone can become one I guess?" Sneering and laughter. I can almost see it, without seeing his face.
"Or maybe it's because it's United" she adds, "With the other airlines they train them really well, but with this one.." (As if talking about a dog, or a circus animal. I wince.)

The conversation trails off. I have a sour taste in my mouth. I wonder if it ever occurs to these people that the person who is serving them is a human being, might have emotions, might be having a bad day, might have had a death in the family for all I know...

I just cannot understand this mindset, this disgusting sense of entitlement, i.e. just because you have paid a few hundred bucks for a plane seat, you are owed a smile from the person who happens to be serving you. I want to turn around and ask them: "Don't you have bad days, ever? When you don't want to get out of bed? When you don't want to face people even, let alone serve them? Don't you ever feel miserable? How would you feel if I belittled your occupation? If I judged you based on a 15 seconds long interaction?"

But of course I don't turn around. I sit quietly in my seat and seethe. It is moments like this that sometimes pushes me into waves of pessimism about humans, and really damages my general love and trust in all humanity. I say to myself: "If I can teach my children to be nice and kind to the people who serve them, I will have parented well."

All of a sudden, the cabin lights go off, preparing for takeoff. I feel a dark panic take over me, as if all humanity is closing in on me. Complete darkness as we wait for the plane to accelerate, then take off.

But wait, no. It's not completely dark. Some people have turned on their reading lights overhead, and I see a few lights scattered around, and people with intent faces reading under them. I breathe a sigh of relief. As if their existence is something to hold on to in this artificially cold darkness. Their quiet focus reassuring, the rustle of the pages they turn like a lullaby.

I close my eyes, and think to myself:

As long as there are people reading in warm pools of light in this complete darkness of existence, we will be ok.

Esra Tasdelen, March 2019

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Summer of Despair and Hope

Now that enough time has passed, I am able to process the Summer of 2015 (Or the Summer of Despair, and the worst summer of my life) a bit better, and hopefully write about it in a meaningful way.

You see, despair was not an emotion I was familiar with, anytime in my life. I had been blissfully sheltered from it. Despite having encountering some difficulties in life, having gone through a traffic accident, having a major spinal condition and having to wear a brace for it through my teenage years, I had always had some kind of support throughout it all, I had not yet been tested with the major anxiety that comes with being a parent.

There are many surreal moments from the summer of 2015 that, like bubbles, come floating up to the surface and burst, vividly immersing me in the memory, making me wince, making my eyes water.

I remember waking up every single morning with my heart beating in my throat, my breath shallow and fast, not knowing what was wrong with me at first, not recognizing the signs of a panic attack, all the while thinking: "There is something seriously wrong with my child, but I don't know what it is, and I don't know what to do about it". This loop going on in my head for countless mornings.

I remember walking aimlessly on the streets, walking to the Loyola campus in Rogers Park, sitting on the grass and looking out at the lake, and listening to Mary Oliver read her own poem, "Wild Geese", and shedding silent, hot tears full of despair, feeling true despair for the first time in my life while she calmly spoke into my ear through the headphones:

"Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine."

I remember driving north to a Community College where I was teaching as an adjunct that summer, and parking there, and after getting a call from our neurologist at Lurie Children's, hearing the words "mitochondrial disease" for the first time ever, and after our call, googling it on my phone, then promptly opening the car door, leaning over and throwing up onto the black cement that was burning under the hot sun.

I remember my daughter crying "No, Mommy, don't go!" and throwing tantrums when I was about to leave for the hospital where my son was staying, and leave her with her grandmother, feeling my heart tearing into two pieces, completely torn inside, with one of my children on one side and the other one on the other.

I remember sitting at Starbucks with my daughter and having her color a coloring book to try to bring a sense of normalcy to our lives, and seeing someone I know from the neighborhood. After she asked me how I was doing, completely breaking down and starting to cry in front of the whole cafe. It was like having the thinnest of membranes hold my being together and with a single poke, everything came gushing out like a flood.

I remember lying on a makeshift hospital bed in Lurie Children’s Hospital, looking out the window and, through the haze of my dried up contact lenses, watching the Navy Pier fireworks as they exploded into colorful bursts of light in the darkness of the night, with my son burning with fever beside me, on my husband’s lap…

I remember sitting in the cafeteria of the hospital and trying to eat something, when all of a sudden my husband of seven years, a 6 feet tall man who never shows his emotions, started sobbing uncontrollably. There were sick kids all around us, and many dancers and clowns from the Circus of Puerto Rico trying to cheer everyone up all the while, dancing and bouncing and smiling in contrast to the somber atmosphere of the place. Is there anything sadder than clowns in a children’s hospital?

I remember going to the playground with my 4 year old daughter with the same dread in my heart. Looking at healthy, happy children running around with sunshine on their faces. Looking at a running kid and trying to estimate his age in months. Then, deliberately, as if determined to stab myself in the heart over and over again, every single time, approaching his mom, asking: “How old is he?” Upon learning that he was much younger than my son (who could barely sit up anymore), feeling like my heart was shattering into pieces. Every single time.

I remember descending into dark places within myself, places that I never knew existed. I remember coming back from those places as a different person.

I remember asking myself “Am I doing something wrong? Could I be doing something better? Can I stop this from happening?”

I remember blaming myself, constantly second-guessing myself.

After getting the phone call that changed our lives forever, getting the official diagnosis from the whole exome sequencing results, I remember lying facedown on the carpet. I remember crying into a pillow on the floor. I remember crying myself to sleep, secretly hoping that this was a nightmare, that I would wake up and everything would be "normal" again.

But I also remember finding strengths in me that I never knew existed. Taking my daughter to playdates, movies, birthday parties, with my heart bleeding inside me and a fake smile on my face. Trying to keep a routine, a sense of normalcy for her. Trying to keep standing, functioning, breathing and loving, for her and her brother.

I remember finding a whole community of special needs moms who are the most amazing of all, and who constantly reminded me, online and in real life, that I was not alone, would never be alone, would never ever walk alone.
I remember singing “Here comes the sun” by the Beatles to my son, basking in the glowing sunlight of his smile, his beautiful brown eyes. Even when everything seemed at its darkest.

I remember burying my nose in his blond hair, breathing in his amazing, unique smell. Telling him that I love him, without using any words, just the most infinitesimal caress, the touch. The primal communication.

The only real language of this life is love.

It was the summer of despair. It was also the season of hope.

Love got me through. It will always get us through.

Esra Tasdelen

February 2019

Naperville, IL

Monday, November 26, 2018

What do Dachau and Gallipoli have in common?

Something I have been thinking about recently is how places have their own energies.

I have been to places where thousands of people died tragically in a very short time. Like the gray, gloomy, dark former concentration camp, Dachau, in Germany. Death and destruction lingered in the air, as if something you could touch.

I could feel the same palpable sadness in the air of Gallipoli, a region in modern day Turkey where the First World War took lots of young lives, and hundreds of thousands perished in a very short time. The air is heavier there somehow, despite the tourists at the beaches, the sun shining on the blue beautiful sea, the beauty of my favorite beach in the whole world (Teke bay), where the pebbles rounded and polished by time and waves sit silently together.

I have felt different energies in different buildings and spaces all throughout my life. In some peoples' houses, there is a coziness, a great positive energy that I can pick up immediately and makes me feel at home. In other peoples' houses, I feel like I am an outsider and a very temporary guest.

Bookstores, especially those that sell used books that have touched many lives have an immense, powerful positive energy that is deeply therapeutic for me. In the summer of 2015, the most difficult summer of my life, I would go into Armadillo's Pillow in Rogers Park and just breathe and exist in between the stacks of books. I felt like nothing bad could happen to me there, like nothing bad could ever happen in a bookstore.

In our campus where I work, my building, Kiekhofer Hall, has an amazing positive energy. It has a chapel attached to it, and the quiet peacefulness of the worship space expands to fill the whole building. It has dark wood interiors which I love, and it houses the Modern and Classical Languages and English departments, so it is a building devoted to language, literature and the power of words. The front facade has huge glass windows that let in sunlight on cold but bright winter mornings. It also has a beautiful inner courtyard that transforms into a space of quiet solitude when it snows. Nowhere else on campus can I get this cozy feeling when I enter Kiekhofer. Some other buildings like Goldspohn feel too white, too sterile or bright, almost like hospital buildings. I am so happy that my office is in this building I love, somewhere I can feel at home, at peace.

I also feel a lot of positive energy in the forest of course, at the Morton Arboretum, a place that has become as sacred as a shrine for me in the past couple of years. It is a refuge from the rest of the world, and under the trees I feel like my soul is washed, renewed, rejuvenated. Like bookstores, it is another safe space for me, somewhere where nothing bad could ever happen, anxieties and the real world temporarily put on hold.

The quiet peacefulness, the sense of a goodness emanating from the earth and soil, is why I escape to nature in times of distress and anxiety, and it never fails to soothe me. I am so grateful for this brief respite from the hectic nature of daily life.

As I near the end of my 36th trip around the sun, this is my only wish: To be able to spend more time in places and with people who I feel at home with.

Love and gratitude as always, for this breath, for these spaces, for this life.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Privilege of Missing Someone

Out of all the complex array of human emotions, missing someone has to be one of the most complicated, deeply intense ones. We miss someone who for various reasons left our lives: Be it moving to a different city, not being our friend anymore, moving on from this world, or moving away from us internally, even while standing right next to us.

It is such a sweet and bitter ache in my heart when I miss someone. Missing him/her means that I had the privilege of getting to know that person in the first place. The one I miss has left deep impressions on my life, my soul, my days. It is those impressions that I crave, because they are no longer there. Yet, having had the luxury of living with someone who had the ability to leave those impressions leaves a warm feeling in me. Like a soft glow of warm light that is enough for me even when the person is not there. Something is finished, has gone by, moved on, yet what it leaves in me is enough for a sweet nostalgia that does not necessarily give extreme pain, just a light chafing at the heart.

I walk around in the places I once was with that person, with that soft glow still burning inside me like a candle, warming me and burning me from the inside out at the same time. I obsessively retrace the paths I took with that person, like a ritual that is full of melancholy and a sweet sadness.

The candle keeps burning. It might never extinguish. My heart is full of such eternal fires, each one for a different person who touched my life in a different kind of way.

Maybe this is what life is. Burning from the inside out constantly, without reprieve, days on end, until we are consumed by the ultimate darkness.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Dusk walk

I step outside to Dilorenzo Avenue. I put on my headphones. I take one step, then another step, then another. This is the only time in the day that belongs to me, in which my body is my own body, my thoughts are my own thoughts, my breath is my own breath. No little hands on my thighs, legs, arms, head. No complaining voices, no requests from me, no demands. No other voices but that of my own breathing and the music I choose. Brief though it is, it is complete and delicious freedom. It is needed as much as air and water. I breathe the freedom of my solitude in.
I walk in front of empty-looking houses, not a sign of life inside or outside. My steps get quicker, and soon I fall into a nice, comfortable rhythm. It is comforting and grounding to feel my feet on the pavement, to feel my heart beat ever so faster, to get real sunlight in my eyes, to inhale the evening as it approaches.
I look up at the sky and see multiple layers of clouds, almost sagging towards the ground. With the certainty of knowing the sun will rise the next morning, I know it’s going to rain. I look up and breathe in the slightly moist air, and quicken my pace even more, just to see if I can beat the rain to the end of my walk.
Occasionally I run into people who are walking their dogs and runners. They look at me as if I am an alien, just walking with my headphones, and not engaging in either of these activities. It is the unwritten rule of the suburbs that if you are not walking pets or engaging in cardio activities, you are not supposed to be on the pavement. I smile at each and every one of them and continue my walk. I feel like I am doing something illegal, and that feeling of stretching societal boundaries and norms is pretty delectable indeed.
I reach the end point of my loop, then start my return arc via Naper Boulevard. Just as I am passing by the pond, the wind picks up. It is the kind of “before the rain” wind that reminds one that one is alive. It plays with my hair, my clothes, the cable of my headphones. It feels nice to be able to be outside and feel such a wind. The wind is like a promise made by the rain that it is, indeed, following closely behind.
I come back to my house via Arlington Avenue, and look at the windows. No lights, the kids must be in their beds. Just as I step inside, smelling like the evening and the wind and the street, I hear thunder roaring across the sky. I come in to my bedroom and watch as a torrential shower pours suddenly, and thinking that I escaped it by a mere minute, I feel weirdly peaceful and calm. I make some tea, sit by the window, crack it open a bit, and inhale the unique smell of water kissing the earth. I am home.

Esra, August 2018

Monday, May 7, 2018

The last time I saw my grandfather

"Later, walking the corridors down to the street,
I turn and step inside an empty room.
Yesterday someone was here with a gasping face.
Now the bed is made all new,
the machines have been rolled away. The silence
continues, deep and neutral,
as I stand there, loving you."

Mary Oliver, University Hospital in Boston

December 2017.

I have crossed an ocean, many states and countries, the Bosphorus Straits.

I have taken a bus, the subway, a minibus. I am holding my Dad's hand. I am a little girl again.

I have waited patiently for hours to cross to the other side of the city. The traffic is unrelenting. The crowds are weighing on my mind. The noise is unbearable.

I enter a large, ugly hospital, and it's like entering the belly of a beast.

I push a button. The elevator comes. We go up. The doors open. Security doors. The ICU. We change into gowns. I put on gloves.

Me and Dad walk in an aisle. He looks at me apprehensively. I look at him, and I am calmer than I thought I would be.

I enter the room. My grandfather, on the bed. So thin, so frail. His eyes turned towards the ceiling. His mouth open. His face expressionless. How many months have passed, like this.. How many months, trapped in his own body and mind. Being kept alive by the machines around him. What does it mean to live? A breath and a beating heart?

Who knows the limits to human suffering? Desperation? Who can tell?

I look at him, and say "Dede, ben geldim."

Grandpa, I am here.

His head turns ever so slightly towards me. His ice blue eyes are fixed on mine.

They have told me that he has "been gone for months, no signs of consciousness, no interaction with his surroundings, no reactions, nothing."

Yet he looks at me, and in the depths of those blue eyes, I see a faint flicker of recognition. It's so slight it's barely there, and I feel it even before I see it.

My hand, wrapped in a rubber glove, finds and holds his hand. I look into his blue eyes.

"Dede, buradayim, torunun geldi."

Grandfather, I am here. Your granddaughter has come.

I came to hold your hand. I came to tell you, one last time, of how much you are loved. I came to look into your eyes one last time and know it will be the last and where did these tears come from all of a sudden? Grandpa, everything is blurry and all of a sudden I have let go of my tears, my tears that I have carried with me across the ocean, all the way here, to the city I was born, the city in which I was raised, and to your house in which I grew up. Grandpa, I am here. I am here and there are lots of tears, yet there is nothing to be ashamed of; for despite everything life has thrown at me in the past few years, I have managed to make it to here, I am finally here, I am finally holding your hand. Through the plastic of my gloves, I can still feel that you are here yet, and you feel and hear me somehow.

And I am breathing next to you at this moment, holding your hand once more, knowing that it is the last time.

Grandpa, why is time so relentless and so cruel to us?

I look into the electric blue of your eyes one last time. I let go of your hand.

A single sigh from my chest. Marking the time out of time and the space in between.

I love you, grandpa.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Saatler, zaman, insan, ölüm ve yaşam

Dedemi kaybedeli bir buçuk ayı geçti.

Bugünlerde, şimdi ona bomboş gelen bir evin içinde sessizliği dinleyen anneannemi düşünüyorum. Sessizce oturan, boşluğu ve sessizliği bir nefes gibi içine çeken canımın içi kadını. Beni ona bağlayan bütün bağları, altın renkte görünmez ipler gibi, okyanusun dibinden, dağların üstünden ve denizlerin içinden geçtiğini hissederek. Benim yüreğimi anneannemin yüreğine bağlayan sevgi bağlarını en içimde, kalbimin derininde duyarak.

Dedemin hastaneye gittiği günden beri çalışmayan duvar saatini düşünüyorum. Ki huzurlu tik-tak sesleri çocukluğumun arka planıydı.

Bir insanın gidişini düşünüyorum. Varlığımızın, insanlığın en acıklı gerçeğini.

İnsan öyle bir varlık ki, onun bıraktığı boşluğu başka hiç bir şey dolduramıyor.

İnsanın bıraktığı boşluk, vücudunun kapladığı alanın çok ötesinde. Çok daha fazlası. Her insanın gidişi, bir kara delik oluşturuyor evrende. Bir daha asla kapanmayacak bir kara delik.

Ondan mıdır acaba, varlığımızın dokusu gittikçe inceliyor, sevdiklerimiz ayrıldıkça bu dünyadan?

Ondan mıdır, kendimizi gittikçe daha yalnız hissetmemiz büyüdükçe? Büyüdükçe daha çocuklaşmamız, daha kaybolmuş, daha şaşkın, daha kocaman gözlerle bakmamız hayata?

İnsanın kapladığı yerin aslında ne kadar büyük olduğunu, bir kaç ay bizimle kalan Barış'ın ve benim sevgili anneannemiz Mazis Türkiye'ye döndüğü gün derinden hissetmiştim.

Vücudu minicik, yüreği dev, sadece torunlarında değil torunlarının çocuklarında bile emeği olan bu 'küçük ama dev' kadın, meğerse ne çok yer kaplıyormuş, evimizde ben, Barış ve çocuklarımız, tekrar çekirdek ailemiz olmaya geri dönünce anladım.

O Türkiye'ye gittiği gün, Mazis'in her zaman oturduğu koltuktaki yeri, boş bir vadi gibi göründü gözüme. Anladım ki insanın yüreği ne kadar büyükse, kapladığı yer de o kadar büyük olurmuş bu dünyada. Vücudu minicik olsa bile. Ne kadar çok insanın gönlünde yeşermişse sevgisi, onca geniş bir yer kaplarmış bu evrende. Emek ve sevgi, büyütürmüş insanı, devleştirirmiş, hem sevdiklerinin hem de bütün dünyanın gözünde.

O yüzden sızlıyor içim, kendi anneannemi düşündükçe. Dedemin bütün huysuzluklarına rağmen, anneanneme hayatı boyunca pek gün yüzü göstermemesine, içtiği sigaralarla çektirdiklerine, asla şiddet uygulamasa da sözleriyle hem eşini hem çocuklarını üzmesine, sevgi ve şefkat göstermeyi bilmemesine rağmen...

Bütün yaptıklarına RAĞMEN sevdiğimiz ve kaybettiğimizde içimizde derin kara delikler açan herkes için sızlıyor yüreğim.

Düşünüyorum anneannemi bugünlerde. Var olmasa, benim var olmayacağım, azimli, çalışkan kadını.

Çok özlüyorum onu. Elinden tutup, 'torununun seni çok seviyor anneanne, dayan biraz daha.. Bak nefes alıyoruz hala.' demek istiyorum ona.

Elim uzanmıyor. Telefona uzanıyorum. Küçüklüğümden beri ezbere bildiğim telefon numarasını çeviriyorum. Okyanuslar ötesinde bir evde, bir telefon uzun uzun çalıyor.

Hala sesini duyabildiğime şükrediyorum.