Thursday, March 26, 2009

Air, Food, Water and Words

In the summer of first grade one day my mother said to me, “You know Soheila, now that you have finished first grade and you can write what do you think of writing about your experience in the first grade.” I thought about it, smiled and said, “OK”. My mom gave me a notebook that had a red plastic cover and shortly after that I started to write in my own little words about my first year of school. I explained everything in about three pages at about five words per line, since I wrote in really big letters those days. My handwriting was crooked, the sentences simple and the thoughts conveyed childishly cute. Hence, my mother planted the seeds of desire for writing in my psyche. She was also the first person in my life that encouraged me to read and read with me until I was able to read on my own. She cultivated the love of reading in me. Reading became a major part of how I spent my free time as a child. My mother was and is a passionate person. She, herself, wrote at times and was a reader. My uncle, my mother’s brother, was a poet and a writer. My mother’s father had had a reputation for his eloquent speech.

My father had a great love for literature and poetry. He, often, recited poetry when he would speak in order to drive home a point. His father and uncles had been educators.

When I was in fifth grade, one afternoon I was in my father’s library. I picked up a book titled, “the poets of the first century of the Baha’i Faith”. I started to look through it. Although I was only ten years old, my Persian was good enough to understand most of the poems. I liked what I was reading. As I was going through the pages I came across a poem by Solaymon Khan Afshar one of the early Baha’is who lived in the 19th century. He was executed in Iran
because of his religious beliefs. Prior to his execution nine holes were made in his body. Nine lit candles were put in the holes. He was forced to walk in public for people to see and then was executed. I knew the manner in which he had died, but I didn’t know that he was a poet. I started to read the poem. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever read. The words were put together so beautifully. It was melodic. The poem was a mystical poem about being one with God, about finding the Divine within and about an all encompassing love that has brought the creation into being. I was moved to the core of my being as I read the poem. I understood every word and I felt all the emotions and feelings that were meant to be conveyed by the poem. I stood there unmoved while I read the poem over and over until I had it memorized. That was my first experience with words as a means for transformation. I had been changed by those words. I felt something that I hadn’t felt before. I learned something that I didn’t know before. I knew at that moment that there was something in the world that had this amazing power over me. It was something that my being was deeply attracted to. It was language in its most beautiful form. It was the power of words. It was language as a work of art. From that moment, I knew with certainty that my life would always intertwine with language not just to speak it or use it to communicate the basics, but to use it as a tool to experience something out of the ordinary.

When I was fourteen years old, I went to a talk given by an Iranian Baha’i scholar and author. To this day that talk has been the most powerful speech that I have ever heard. I listened to this man who spoke, passionately, about the responsibility that we bear as human beings to keep the humanity within us alive and contribute to the advancement of humanity however that we may be able to. He used the Baha’i writings to explain the sublime station that we as human beings have been endowed and the unlimited potentialities that lay hidden within us. "Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit there from." He ended his talk by a poem by one of the great contemporary Persian poets, which touched me deeply. During the talk, I was afraid of breathing too loudly and not being able to hear every word spoken. Everyone present was very quiet. There was no other sound heard except the voice of this most eloquent speaker. Those words, those amazing words were building my identity and shaping my destiny.

When I was 16 years old and in 11th grade, my Persian literature teacher walked into the classroom one day and said, “Today you will hear the best of the best, a poem by Rumi.” Rumi is a mystical Persian poet who lived about a thousand years ago. He is the most read poet in the world today.” His poetry has been the foundation of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam which believes that God is within us and nearness to God and being one with God and the universe is within our grasp. My teacher read the poem beautifully and dramatically. My soul was stirred. Breathless, I listened to those powerful words which melted my heart, brought tears to my eyes and took me to a different world.

When I was 17 years old, I left Iran with my parents due to the persecution of the Baha’is by the Islamic Republic of Iran. I left not knowing if I would ever see my country again. Within a matter of hours my life was turned upside down. I gave up so many things when I left my home. One of them was my ability to read, write and to speak. Within hours I arrived in a country where my ability to communicate was no more than a toddler‘s. During the early years of my life here in the US, I grieved the loss of my culture and language. I missed being surrounded by the Persian language and its rich literature. Reading and writing to me had always been a necessity of life like food. My love for language and understanding the subtleties of it was a gift that had been passed on to me by my ancestors and the rich culture in which I had been raised. So many times through the years the words “I have lost my gift” were echoed in my mind with a profound sense of loss and sadness. Years passed. I struggled with my new life in the US. I learned to speak, read and write. Eventually, I was able to read and understand the English literature and its diverse forms of expression. Gradually, I was able to express myself in English both in the written and spoken form. And then one day I realized that I had reclaimed what was taken away from me by my destiny. I realized that I loved the English language as much as my own. English was now as much a part of me and as precious to me as Persian. It had shaped my thoughts and it had opened up a new world and culture to me. Its literature had, also, touched my heart.

I, now, consider myself very fortunate to be able to understand and appreciate the differences and nuances of both languages. Each language is a door to an incredible culture and a way of thinking and life. I can travel through both worlds with ease, comfort, appreciation and understanding. I love both languages. Both languages have enriched my life and that is God's gift to me.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"4-3-2-1 I'm letting you go."

This piece was originally written on 10/08/2008. The title is from a song by Ben Folds.

I’m sitting on the sofa in my living room on a fall Sunday afternoon. I'm listening to one of my favorite songs by Gypsy Kings. The song is so full of emotion so full of soul. It makes my heart ache. Memories flood into my mind painful memories of love, pain and despair. Tears roll down my face. Memories of five years ago when I first started to listen to this cd, when I was still married. I remember sitting on this same sofa and my husband talking to me. I remember his face, his smile, his voice and his love for me, my crazy husband who was my heart, my love and the cause of all my suffering in life. The voice of this brilliant, articulate and sensitive man still resonates in my ears. A year later, we were separated and the next three years were pure hell for both of us as we tried to untangle our lives physically and emotionally. Neither one of us had felt so much pain before. For three years, I walked around feeling like there was a knife in my heart. I could see it. I could visualize it. I could see the blood dripping. My husband’s suffering during that time nearly killed me. It was unbearable to see him in so much emotional pain, but I could no longer be with him. Our separation and divorce marked us both in ways we had never imagined. Life did not make sense anymore and it has not made sense since.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Traveling Friend

I have been wanting to make a three day weekend trip in April. My friend who wanted to go with me bailed out. She is having money problems at the moment. So, I decided to ask my public (all six of you who read my blog :) if you know anybody who would want to go with me. Of course, we'll split the cost. The two possibilities that I had looked into were Boston and San Diego, but I'm open to other possibilities. I know, I'm grasping at straws here. It really sucks to be single, no one to do things with.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My mom the General

My mother is a Persian woman whose character is a mixture of Jewish mother, although we're not Jewish, Persian mother and a bit of insanity! I love her with all my heart. She has been referred to by people who know her as a "force of nature" and a "pistol". In my family sometimes we, affectionately, call her the General. She is going to be present in some of my writings, as she is a major part of my life.

My mother speaks very little English, but she is not afraid of engaging in conversations with people even when they don't understand what she is saying. I, always, feel like rescuing the person on the other side of the conversation when the conversation goes on for more than two minutes. She is getting up in years, so she has a lot of health problems. She has a family physician, a Cardiologist and an Ophthalmologist that she sees on a regular basis. I, always, arrange for a cab to pick her up and bring her back home for each appointment. When she gets in the cab, she monitors which way the cab driver is taking to get her to her doctor's office. If she doesn't recognize the streets, she starts questioning the driver. The thing is that she doesn't know the roads very well and she is usually wrong in her assumptions. There were, actually, a couple of times about two years ago that the drivers called me and complained about her, telling me that they didn't want to pick her up again. Apparently, she was arguing with them and they thought she was too aggressive. That was during the time that my sisters and I were trying to convince her to take an anti-depressant. We all thought she really needed it. She was way too grumpy all the time. It took us about a year to convince her to take the pills. Of course, for a while she would tell us that she was taking them, but she really wasn't. Only after her doctor told her that the anti-depressants would help with the pain that she has in her legs, as the result of her diabetes, she decided to take them and, boy, we did notice a difference in her. She needed to be on them forty years ago.

This afternoon, she had an appointment with her Ophthalmologist. He always wants me to be present for her appointments, because he has a hard time understanding her. So I arranged for the cab to pick her up and I was going to meet her at the doctor's office. I left work and when I was about ten minutes away from his office. I got a call on my cell phone from my mom. She, excitedly, said, "I think the driver is going the wrong way and we are lost. Talk to him. Give him directions". I said OK knowing that she probably was mistaken and I had received similar calls before. I talked to the the cab driver, a very polite man with an African accent. He told me that he had a GPS system and knew where he was going. He also had the correct address and was very close to the office. I thanked him for his patience and hung up. A minute later, I got another call from my mom. She, again, said "This area doesn't look familiar. Are you sure he isn't lost". I told her what I had told her a number of times before. "Mom, there are many ways to get to a place. He knows where he's going". I explained to her that he has a GPS system and then I had to explain to her what that was. I hung up assuring her that they weren't lost. Ten minutes later, I got to the doctor's office. I saw her tiny 4'11'' figure sitting on a chair in the waiting room smiling at me. I burst into laughter and said "So, you didn't get lost after all". She replied "No, he, actually, got me here quicker than you usually do".

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My exciting evening

Last Thursday was one of those days that I felt extremely energetic and didn't know what to do with all that energy. I was having one of those restless days, which I sometimes have and I really wanted to do something, something exhilarating, fun and all consuming and, of course, sex was not an option. So armed with my credit card, I decided to go shopping!! All my favorite stores were having these amazing sales, seventy percent off of a lot of clothes and shoes and then another forty percent off on top of that. Those prices could not be beat. I could actually afford to buy some really cool stuff, the benefit of having a recession, really low retail prices.

I went to two of my favorite shoe stores. At the second store I found this great pair of suede clogs for $17.00. The original price was $70.00 and I found another pair of great shoes for $28.00. The original price was $90.00. They fit perfectly and were so comfortable. So, I bought them! Then I went to one of my favorite department stores, so many great sales. I spent two and a half hours there and tried about 30 different tops, skirts and jeans. I bought a pair of jeans, five tops and a skirt all for the fraction of the original price. They were all so cute. I bought a cashmere top for $23.00. The original price was $120.00. Cashmere feels so soft on the body. I never knew. No wonder everybody likes it. I was so excited. This was the most fun I had had in about three years, really! It felt so good. I was in bargain heaven.

During my 3.5 hour shopping marathon, I thought of nothing else. Nothing bothered me. I had no other cares in life. It was a total and all consuming escape. I doubt if I had ever been happier!