William Saroyan (Photo by Boghosian)

Breathing with Saroyan: A Message of Life


FRESNO/NEW YORK — On Monday, May 18, 2020, a community gathered — at a distance, on-line — to reflect upon the “delight & mystery of life” as expressed in the artistic objectives of William Saroyan’s literary work and through distinctive features of the Armenian faith tradition. Upon invitation from parish priest Rev. Stepanos Doudoukjian, Megan A. Jendian prepared a multi-media presentation for nearly 50 participants in the Capital District of Upstate New York’s St. Peter Armenian Church – Adult Education series hosted by co-coordinators Rhonda Boyajian and Elsie Vozzy.

Resource materials included publications from St. Nersess Armenian Seminary (Sacred Music Lab – NY, 2006) and research by Saroyan scholars David S. Calonne (Saroyan: My Real Work Is Being, 1983) and Prof. Micah Jendian (Falling from the Trapeze: Saroyan’s Challenge to the Culture Industry, 1999).

In the midst of global suffering and the current malady of despair, Jendian anchored her message in the miraculous messenger: the Way, Truth, and Life with Whom the source of grace lives and breathes within and among us. Noted as wisdom literature in the scriptural Book of Job, “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty teaches me.” In the preface to Saroyan’s first collection of short stories, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (1934), he states simply: “Try to learn to breathe deeply…; try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might.” At all times in all places, along with the perpetual yet oft-times passive practice of breathing, and through active engagement with both literary art and sacred prayers, readings, and hymns, there is the revelation of an ever-present message of life and hope.

Expressed and experienced in the timeless psalmody of the Armenian liturgical calendar, days – and even hours – are sanctified with specific themes to guide faithful in the revelation and reception of Medz Avedis – the Great, Good News; Mondays, for example, are designated as the Day of the Angels. Saroyan believed in writing, and wrote daily to uplift, encourage, and help readers focus their vision upon the “imperishable force of being” as proclaimed in his 1952 memoir The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills: “I wanted to restore the nature of man to its rightful wonder & dignity…I wanted the human being to be both a human being and something not unlike an angel, for I believed he could be both at the same time. By angel – I mean a genius, and by genius – I mean a person of ever-unfolding grace, intelligence, and creative power.” In order to live with eyes that see and ears that hear, a deeper awareness to the eternal message in the breath of life and the beat of the heart shall be vitally awakened and attuned. Through this means to encounter the “delight & mystery of life,” discussion participants read lyrics of an ancient, 8th century rhythmic hymn which references Jesus as the “Angel of the Great Mystery” and also listened to Saroyan’s own voice and words in an audio recording provided by the County Public Library.

The evening of reflection concluded with drawing inspiration from both Saroyan’s epigraph of his depression-era 1939 play The Time of Your Life to “seek goodness everywhere” and the epistle of prison-bound St. Paul to the Philippians to “think about and do anything of brave virtue.”

While May 18, 1981 marks the day Fresno-born, world-renowned author and artist William Saroyan exhaled his final breath upon the earth, his eternal spirit and a message of hope continue to breathe throughout the world.

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