Monday, August 13, 2018

Deeds Not Words

My father never told me: “I love you” or “Happy birthday!”.  But not for one moment did I ever doubt his love and devotion to me. He was a man of deeds. I’ve written about how he demonstrated his love by helping me with my school work, spending time alone with me and showing me the world. I’ve also written about the life lessons he left me as a legacy.  Tonight, on the eve of yet another anniversary of his passing from this physical plane, I want to write about how he loved his grandchildren.  





For eleven years, his grandchildren lived outside of the US and would only visit for a month or so during summer vacations.  But for those few weeks, my parents would transform their house into a children’s zone.  All decorative items, furniture with sharp edges and dangerous objects would be removed.  My father would clear his calendar of everything except his afternoon nap.  From sunrise to sundown and beyond (because these kids never went to sleep) he would play with them.  The days would start with him preparing morsels of bread with butter and honey, served with sweet tea.  One after another, they would sit on his lap or on the chair next to him and he would feed them.  This practice continued until his death when the children were way past feeding age. 


 A performer himself, he loved and encouraged their theatrical antics. There are numerous videos of them jumping on furniture, dancing and singing in three languages.  Pillows and blankets would pile in the middle of the living room for all kinds of pretend play.  I don’t remember him ever buying them a toy, but he did rescue a play kitchen from somewhere, cleaned it up and spent hours playing restaurant or store with them.   


What he did treat them to were fruits.  There were always several snack breaks where he would serve them cut up apples or oranges.  But his speciality was watermelon.  He was known for his talent in picking out the best watermelons.  Often he would be seen in the produce section with two shopping carts, one to put the watermelon he was going to buy and the other to place all the other ones he had to remove to get to the good one.  The children especially loved the bowl that would be left over after the watermelon was cut.  They would dig into it with a spoon to get the last available flesh.


One of my father’s wishes was to put together a dance performance that involved the whole family.  In 2004, a few months before his passing, he choreographed a Persian folk dance that included him, my brother and my four children.  (He knew not to ask me!) My mother sewed the beautiful costumes and they performed at a Naw Ruz (Baha’i and Iranian New Year) Celebration.  I know that at the time, my children aged 14 all the way down to 5 years old, did not particularly want to participate in such a project. But they good naturedly went along.  It is one of the most precious memories we have of my father in his final days.



This morning I sent an urgent text to all four of them, now living in all four corners of this world.  I asked them to tell me in a word or two what their Baba Joon meant to them.  I expected to hear reminiscences about eating noon ba kareh ba asal or playing with watermelons.  But this is what they said: 

“. . .from him I learned about integrity and hard work, doing the right thing without expectation of recognition.” 

“ . . . He represents what it means to be dedicated to your family and make sacrifices for them to have a better life. I think most about what it took for him to bring you all from Iran and to start a new life.” 

“He taught us about integrity and justice.  He also demonstrated the importance of having an upright character and how people remember you for it even after you pass away.” 

“Baba joon taught me to be happy and joyful.”

My father left us fourteen years ago.  It warms my heart to know that my children have such profound memories of him. As the years go by, I continue to feel his presence in our lives and his promise to care for us and watch over us.




Thursday, August 2, 2018

Manners


I recently took my dog to a puppy manners class.  He is a three month old goldendoodle named Moose. Sweet as pie, and highly spirited.  Right now I am able to walk him no problem, but once he gets older and bigger and stronger, he might be a little more difficult to control.  I figured in the long run it would help me help Moose live his best life, plus everyone needs to have manners.

After the group introductions, we learned how to use a clicker to teach our puppies to sit.  Moose was a star student because we had already been working on that at home. (Proud momma!)  As we were practicing the clicking the behavior, and then rewarding the behavior with a treat, the instructor said something that made me feel a little guilty.  She said that we, as adults, are so used to saying no. No and don’t are typical responses when the pups do something we don’t want them to do. It’s easier to focus on the negative aspect than to change our language to something more positive and productive.  For example, when Moose is barking constantly I tend to tell him no or stop it. As opposed to, quiet Moose or calm. Same outcome, different technique.
I started feeling guilty because I know I tend to do this to myself as well.  I tend to focus on negative aspects, rather than change my language to something more productive.  I say things like, “you can’t do that.” “You will never be able to do such and such.” “Why can’t you get it together?”  When I am struggling with something a “you’re stupid” sneaks in. Yes these are actual things that come into my head and even out of my mouth at times.  How sad, and how horrible to have the person who you are around most of the time, yourself, be so negative. Even if they are not verbalized, and it’s all in your head, it is still exhausting to carry that around.  I have a daughter and a son, and I would be broken-hearted and irate if they did that to themselves.
Years and years of doing this isn’t easy to break in a day, but if we switch the language we use then that’s a start.  

I can’t can become I am working on it.
Why can’t you get it together can become I am doing the best I can.


My friends, be kind to yourself.  Nothing is perfect. Life gets hard.  Things can seem overwhelming. Let’s plants seeds of positivity within ourselves.  After all, it’s good manners.

~Esmeralda

Monday, July 23, 2018

Oops! by Carolyn

It had been a long day of no adult conversation; no one to talk to except a 4-month-old child. Again.

Most of my days were that way, so when my husband called to tell me that he would be late coming home that evening, I decided I had to get out of the house. I settled the baby into his car seat and headed to the mall. Not really because I needed anything, just for something to do out in the real world where there were other people. Sometimes the four walls of a house can get a little constrictive.

I shopped for a while, window shopping mostly, and then decided to head back home. By that time it was dark, bringing some welcome relief from the sizzling heat that August in Texas brings.

The huge mall parking lot was mostly empty by then. As many women do, I felt a little uneasy about my vulnerability as I pushed the stroller down the lane, but I reached my car without mishap. I unloaded the baby from the stroller into the car seat and buckled him in. I closed the door to the back seat and pulled on the handle of the driver's side door. It didn't budge. I ran around the car and tugged on all of the other door handles, hoping that one of them would be unlocked. No such luck. As I peered through the window, I could see my keys on the front seat, taunting me.

Now I had a dilemma. Should I leave the baby in the car and go find help, or should I stay with the baby and wait for help to find me? Understand that these were the days before the widespread use of cell phones - I had no way to call anyone. I dithered a while, looking anxiously around me at the vast, almost empty, dark stretch of asphalt - partly to see if I could locate help, partly to keep an eye out for possible danger.

After a few minutes, the baby realized he was alone in a dark, hot car. He opened his sweet little angel mouth and screamed and screamed and screamed. That, of course, shattered my tenuous hold on calmness and made me cry, too.

Finally, help arrived. A man walking out to his car saw (or maybe heard) my distress and asked if I needed help. After he heard my story, he offered to go get the security guard from the mall to assist me. A few minutes later, the security guard tootled up in his little cart. He pulled out a slim Jim and began working it slowly through the gap around the car window to reach the door lock from the inside.

Throughout this delicate operation, the baby continued to scream. He had worked himself into a fine frenzy. His pudgy little face was bright red, his cheeks were tear-soaked. I crooned useless reassurances to him through the car window. He continued to be mightily angry.

The security guard worked and fumbled and tried again and again, but could not get the slim Jim to work. Finally giving up, he offered to call the police to see if they could help.

So, added to my fears about how hot the baby was - literally and figuratively - I began to fear what would happen when the police arrived. My fears were two-fold: Would I be arrested for child endangerment? Or would a news crew show up and shoot video of what a bad mother looks like to be the top feature on the 10:00 news? Maybe both?

Well, I am happy to report that neither of those fears came to pass. The police arrived, had a good chuckle or two at my predicament, and had my car unlocked within a few seconds.

I wasn't chuckling. I was hugging my baby, crying tears of joy and remorse, and thanking God.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fill Me Up by Andrea



It seems
You took up most of the space in my heart
At times and
Throughout my life
And it seems you still do
You're filling me up
Just not like you used to
Now with longing

At times
My chest feels as though someone
is squeezing it into a too-small space
When I least expect it
In the parking lot before an early morning meeting
Eyes filling and flooding
a flow I cannot stop
Standing over a sink of suds and dinner dishes
Driving along the road
There it is the void opening again
Filling me up with emptiness
Grasping at memories of what used to be
you, actually you

I hear your voice inside my head and
am not soothed as all the times before
I smile and remember but
there is no end to the hollow sound bouncing around my ear 
as I hold the phone with no
“Hey! That’s my baby!”
filling in the space across the distance

Heaven is only a few heartbeats away
Right?
Closer than the Carolinas
So why can’t I call?

My mind is still full of questions
About you, about life, about me
I need to know all the things you knew
There are so many things I need to tell you
So much more I know you wanted to say

I need you, lady,
to pour into the empty spaces
to fill them to overflowing
With you
With all of you

I thought you knew
You were how I knew who I was
And if you are not here filling me up
How will I know
Who I will be

 -Andrea

Monday, July 9, 2018

Decisions, Decisions



I am not comfortable with making choices.  It isn’t often that I deviate from my norm.  I like to stick to what I know. There is comfort in the familiar, and I am all about the comfort.  I love my comfy “ I like big cups and I cannot lie” t-shirt. I have a favorite pair of comfy sleepy pants to wear during winter, and some comfy shorts I wear during summer.  When I go to a restaurant, I already know what I am going to have. Chick-fil-A with all of its options, I know I will get a number 3 with a lemonade to drink. No need to upsize unless it’s been a day that requires some supersize fries.

It’s not the decision itself that scares me, but more choosing wrong.  Making a wrong choice will lead to a bad outcome and then where does that leave you?  Life ruined forever. Ok… ok.. A little dramatic. While there are certain situations that can highly alter your life, most don’t warrant the stress and worry we tend to cause ourselves.  I have been making some decisions recently that have kept me up at night wondering whether or not I took the right path. Did I choose the road less traveled like Robert Frost suggests? Or is Jerry Seinfeld right and is the road less traveled less traveled for a reason?   
Regardless of what quote you subscribe to, or what path you take, it’s all about how you handle a situation when the decision is made.  The decision does not define your outcome. Only you can do that. You change jobs and it might not be exactly what you thought it was, but you can still have a positive outcome.  We can make the best of any situation, and see the beauty in the paths we do choose. The journey doesn’t end after one choice after all. We keep going, keep moving, keep choosing.
~Esmeralda

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

To Be Brave

By:  Susan

She would have been 53 years old this year.  If she had lived.  But Mona Mahmudnizhad was hanged in 1983 when she was only 17.  Her crime was practicing her Faith in a country that did not allow it.  Mona had a choice.  She could have recanted but she refused.  She was taken to the execution ground along with ten other women accused of the same crime.  She asked to go last, so she could pray for the steadfastness of the others.

I think of Mona as one of the bravest people I know.  I have been brave too.  I get on airplanes even though I am convinced I am going to die every time there is a turbulence. I talk to strangers on the train. I teach fourth graders every day. I send my children out into this world.

Being brave makes us the best version of ourselves.  We do or say something that may bring us harm or cause us pain because something more is at stake. What more could be at stake than avoiding pain and harm, than self-preservation?  Isn’t that what we have been told about our species? That we are basically selfish and egotistical and in it to survive at whatever cost? Maybe what we really try to preserve when we act bravely is our true selves: Our dignity, our humanity.

Once, years ago, in that pre-cell phones, pre-Google maps time, before I could speak Spanish, Ben and I were travelling in South America.  We arrived in Puno, Peru,  a small town where our friend Tom lived.  We had not had direct communication with Tom but hoped he had gotten the many letters we had sent about our visit.  The bus depot was really just the front of a store. I volunteered to wait with our suitcases while Ben tried to find Tom from the vague address on one of his envelopes.  I sat on our suitcases, feebly protecting them, and waited.  I only felt brave in retrospect, when in telling the story of finding Tom, I realized I had been in a place where I did not speak the language, had no way of reaching my husband or anyone else and basically was at the mercy of strangers around me. I had looked around and seen people going about their business and realized I was with other human beings.  My small act of bravery consisted of not seeing myself among strangers.

Bravery is a form of self-preservation, preserving our nobler self.  Bravery is examining our lives, looking our fears, our biases, our likes and dislikes in the face and doing something different.  Bravery is asking questions and questioning the answers we have always been given. Bravery is not giving in to traditions and customs that define who we are as women, as men, as young people deciding how to start our lives, as older people trying to live fully to the end.  To be brave is to trust, trust that others are just as afraid, just as fragile, just as much in need of connection.  To be brave is to admit to our mistakes. To be brave is to trust that there is more to this life than preserving our bodies and our egos. 




When I tell Mona’s story and that of many other Bahá’ís persecuted for their Faith in Iran, my friends ask me why don’t they just leave?  I am always surprised by such a reaction.  I figured as defenders of democracy, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we would be outraged and want to do something to stop these acts of repression. My favorite line from the National Anthem, the one I get choked up on, is where it says this is the home of the brave. Are we brave enough to stand up and speak out for justice for everyone? To not see others as strangers? To be brave is to love, because it’s easy to hate.