98, and counting

John Markarian at his 98th birthday party. (Photo by Phil Dente)

John Markarian at his 98th birthday party. (Photo by Phil Dente)


If you’re going to be 98, be 98 the way John Markarian is 98.
Alas, we have no control over that. But, oh, if we did.
John Markarian turned 98 on June 7. He planned to play golf the next day but the weatherman did not cooperate. That’s okay, there’ll be other days of golf. Lots of ’em.
One of his gifts at his party, despite the emphatic “no gifts” on the invitation, was a picture of John and a good friend posed atop Campbell’s Ledge, the Susquehanna River and a portion of Wyoming Valley visible far below them. It was taken last summer. No, he did not hike up there. But to see him take the stairs in his home, you get the feeling he could.
I’ve written about John Markarian before. He’s Rev. Dr. John Markarian, ordained Presbyterian minister with a doctorate in theology. I met him just over eight years ago. On a tennis court.
He does not play tennis any longer but always says he’d like to get out and hit a ball around. He means it. Part of his daily workout, which begins with 1500 steps on a device in his basement, is a period of “shadow tennis,” following through on forehands and backhands, but without a ball. You should see his footwork.
But for all of his physical prowess, the most remarkable thing about John Markarian is his brain. He’ll quote the Bible, Old Testament or New, chapter and verse, and then roll into a Broadway show tune in his rich baritone voice and belt it out right to the end, whether you want him to or not.
He consumes a book a week and good luck trying to predict the genre. Yes, the subject could be deep, heavy philosophy. But he’s also the first person I knew who read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He made sure he saw the movie as soon as it came out.
He also stays on top of the news, national, international and local, and I wish I could convince him to write a regular op-ed piece or at least blog. I feel guilty that I am one of the few who get to experience his take on things.
A lot of people look back on their lives and say they could write a book. John has. It’s called “The Thirsty Enemy,” which comes from the Biblical concept that if your enemy is thirsty, offer him something to drink. John, and his wife, Inge, who’s own life would make a fabulous book, did just that during eight years they spent in war-turn Beirut, Lebanon, where John served as founding president of Haigazian University. Terrorist group after terrorist group came to their very door with automatic weapons in their hands and fire in their eyes only to be disarmed, literally and figuratively, by an offer to sit down to coffee and discuss their issues.
“The Thirsty Enemy” is a true story. It’s John memoir. But it reads like a Tom Clancy novel.
It isn’t all about those war years but the part that is begs the question: How did John and Inge survive? Life was cheap on the streets of Beirut during that time, and the Markarians were in the thick of things. But they lived.
And still do. To the fullest.
And I am lucky enough to have a front row seat.

Ed Ackerman