When I was growing up, I heard two phrases that my parents used quite often, and up to this day, the effect of these words has remained with me. The first one, my father's favorite, was ‘the next year.’ The second one which strengthened the imagination was ‘watch the clouds.’ I heard this phrase mostly from my mother. I realized later that these phrases and their application saved my parents from spending unnecessary expenses on their children.
My father taught science and mathematics in High school but being a philosopher at heart in every equation and phenomenon, he saw the mystery of life and its sacredness. His students loved him for his ease of explanation of any subjects. This ability to encourage the students and uplift their minds was one of his gifts. He used this skill at home and practiced it with his children too.
With his teacher’s salary, my father had to navigate keeping the balance between unreasonable and endless demands of his children and his income. My mother, a true partner to my father, helped him raise an ark to sail the turbulent sea of their life. I can still hear his gentle response wrapped with ‘the next year’ to my every irrational want.
At the age of four, I wanted a pony, and a year later, I asked for two. Lack of logic in my demands encountered the futuristic and hopeful reply of 'you’ll have it the next year,’ followed by ‘God willing.’ With having no clue of the concept of time, the next day or the next year meant the same to me. I could hear only the reassurance in his answer. And not knowing the meaning of ‘God willing,’ I could only assume it was part of every sentence. I found out later that reliance on God and exertion of efforts were wedded together and played as one force in my parent’s life.
Life's moments bond together through the thread of love and hope in childhood. Thus, it makes the children the master of living. The lingering question remains why do we leave these two qualities behind when we get to our adulthood? The next year business never arrived, and my expectations never died. Being ever hopeful and waiting for a pony or other things kept me busy. I never heard a negative response or disappointing reply from my father. His love and my hopes weaved together and formed patience in me.
My happy childhood did not entail possessing many toys and dolls, much less a pony. Besides, we lived in the city, and the yards in Tehran houses did not lend themselves to keeping any animals. The demand for a pony which preceded by many others, followed only by even more. None of them came to reality. But I remember riding my pony many times. I see my four-year self playing in the yard with a few dolls and my imaginary pony captured from the clouds. How easily children find forms and shapes in them, and how they let their imagination fly without any fear. I found my pony and many other wishes in the clouds of the Tehran sky. My mother taught me, her restless firstborn, to gaze at the clouds and find the things I want. This, I did and learned to be a cloud gazer fast.
Time passes, and I find myself on the other side of the world on long walks on the seashore in Northern Ireland. Early November- cold makes its presence known to my body. When I left Tehran at the beginning of September, the pleasant air and abundance of flowers, and the language of nature did not convey cold weather. Also, lacking common sense, I packed one suitcase allowed to take with textbooks. But none of these books can keep me warm now in the chill of November in Northern Ireland, and I need a warm jacket. But I have to travel to another city to buy a winter coat.
The picturesque village where I live has a drug store and a Pup. Then, there is a post office. This place is the village hub. When you enter this small place, you see some cans of green beans and a few other grocery items. But more importantly, it operates as the Central Intelligence in the village. They are aware of any news or events. When people are not in the pub, they are in the hub. I never venture to the first one, but I start to frequent the latter.
I hear conversations such as:
Obrien has gone to Belfast today.
Mary Sullivan has her hand-made mitten and sweaters sale next week.
Donovan is getting married.
Murphy, and O'Leary, are going to business together.
A foreigner has moved to the village! Hay that is me!
This unknown territory to me becomes my new home. Forced transplantation brought me here. I find the gift of safety and abundance of care in this land. I had to leave Iran, the land of my ancestors who lived there for thousands of years. I had to leave my country where the systematic life-threatening conditions for the Baha'is, wealth seizing, and pillaging of their homes uprooted many such as my family.
Isolated in Northern Ireland and far from home, I find a familiar scene looking up. I see the moving clouds in that quiet corner of the world. Their inviting movements resemble the clouds in the Tehran sky. I am not four years old, and I do not look for a pony anymore. So why am I still attracted to the clouds? Is it that the clouds are still capable of intriguing my imagination? What can I get from this patchy white stuff? I sit on a small rock and pull up my shawl, wrapping myself to stay warm. The sea has no objection to this wayfarer invading its solitude. And I look up. Then, suddenly I find myself flying on a falcon's wings, and before I know it, I am up in the air. My voyage begins.
Looking down, I see the lands and the seas. I pass the mountains and the valleys. I can stop anywhere that I wish. I wish to see my parents. The roads appear one after another, and the doors get open. Then I enter my parents' home. I see Mom serving the Persian tea to their company and my father helping her. Their faces portray happiness. The living room looks ornate, just like the time in the past. The soft breeze scatters the aroma of the running roses in the yard into the living room. I hear the laughter of my father with his friend playing backgammon. Why am I worried about them? Nothing has changed! We are still together. Then, I feel everyone's faces fade into the background. I can't hear my parents' conversation anymore. They seem to be distant.
I blink, and I cannot find the falcon in the clouds. I am back on the rock, thousands of miles away from my parents. Immersed in sorrow, I find solace in my heart. My heart filled with joy I gaze up again and do not find anything this time in the clouds anymore. Did my soul journey to a far-off land, leaving the time and space behind through the clouds? Rumi comes to mind:
There is a life force within your soul, seek that life.
There is a gem in the mountain of your body, seek that mine.
Don't look outside, look inside yourself and seek that.
Wake up Lovers, It is time to start the Journey!
The ebbing sun casts its crimson light on the sea and turns the clouds into the burning bushes. Thus, nature writes another mystic tale of love and life with its mighty pen in the book of existence. It is time for me to return home. It dawns on me that no matter where our homes are and what land we dwell in, on every sunrise, we behold the clouds having a dance and the sea surging for us. The theater of life and its opera belong to us. Can we say then that gazing at the clouds without being in danger on the ground proves the claim of having a better world? I catch myself following the clouds and riding on them quite often. What a delight being childlike again, even for a few moments.
Hearing the news about the American hostages in American Embassy in Tehran creates another level of anxiety and worry. A place where I had frequented the near places to it many times. The quiet neighborhood and tree-lined streets surrounding the Embassy also had the American Institute for learning English, where many Iranian students furthered their second language, including me. Listening to the news means anxiety, and I hear from my father, who has stayed behind to support us less and less. In the absence of his support, I have to find a way to sustain myself. I have no place to turn and no one to ask for help.
My life in Northern Ireland folds up after a while. I breathe its pure air with every breath and remain grateful forever to that land of lush green with its kind people.
In pursuing my livelihood, I follow the trail to London and make my home there. What will happen to me there? Should I still look up and gaze at the clouds? What do I find in the London sky?
Can I hope to find any falcon in the clouds to take me back home to see my father one more time?