I find my grandfather sitting on a chair in the shady part of the backyard with closed eyes and a gentle smile on his face that betrays his calm. A book half-opened rests on his chest, and glasses sit on top of his head. The almost five-year-old me gets closer and puts her head on his lap. Without opening his eyes or uttering any words, I feel his gentle strokes on my hair. But I seek his attention and especially want his eyes to be open.
Is this a storybook Grandpa? I whisper.
Grandfather smiles and opens his eyes. He removes the glasses and puts his book aside. Knowing well that the pestering child does not allow him to rest or read. Then, gently, he takes my hand, and we walk toward the garden at the end of the yard. He gets busy with doing gardening in the new section that he has created, and I see me running around and coming back to him as a touch base, as a safety point.
It is summertime, and Grandfather has come to visit and spend some time with us. In the evenings, I see him sitting with his pipe among the jasmine and rose bushes, under the apple tree with the last trace of sunlight slanting through them, taking a break from gardening. He often looks up the trees. It seems like he talks to the trees, hearing him reciting:
'Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.'
Not understanding his view of the existence or even the words he utters, I am captivated only by him, neglecting all my dolls since his arrival. The desire of this child to be around the aged grandfather with silky white hair is a mystery that we all might have experienced. Is it the language of love that bonds these two separated generations? Or is it the canopy of detachment in the last part of life that liberates the soul to enjoy the carefree attitude of the grandchild? Whatever the reason, I felt safe and loved in my grandfather's orbit.
His reflective and poetic side was a fruit of his detachment. But his gift of making anybody the center of attention came from his deep desire to bring joy to others. And in that summer, I see myself to have his attention. As his first grandchild, I am even allowed to touch his hair, to hold his pip! I find myself dwelling around him. My parents' faces are vague in my mind during those days. I see them in the distance, and my grandfather's illumined face gains distinction.
Then it comes the nights of Tehran. The cool fresh air, the star-filled sky become a lure to sleep outside. The gentle breeze going through the leaves makes them sing the song of timeless solace. Grandfather sits on a chair next to my bed with the mosquito net to tell me a story. I enjoy listening to the tale with characters made up of the shape of stars. He accompanies me to see a cluster of them that looks like the lion. Then he moves to the king with the crown, and even out of another group of stars, he guides my eyes to see the Simurgh bird of sovereignty. They all enter Grandpa's night stories. The tired man has no respite, but my childish demands bring amusement to him.
If I only knew after that visit, I would never see him again?
The next day we venture out. He holds my hand, and we walk through the alley. He chooses the tree-lined road and looks at every tree with admiration. In crossing the street, he picks me up and puts me down on the other side. What a joy ride! We walk together again. Where are we going? My feet are tired. Sometime later, we reach the corner bakery. The aroma of fresh bread makes me hungry. I hear even the sound of fire, in the big oven built in the wall. I see one of the men put the long wooden shovel with the flattened dough into the fiery oven. Another man removes the baked bread and throws it on a stone to be picked up by the third person. They sing and repeat words with a rhythm. Other workers there take care of the customers. But those two perform on their theatrical scene with the oven at the center of their acts. It is a scene to behold. The amused and pleased customers have no problem waiting. The place is too loud, and I hang tight to Grandfather.
We are on our way back home, and Grandfather has two pieces of fresh bread in his hand. Tiredness has made me forget my hunger. I stop walking. Then, I see him kneeling and helping me to climb on his back. My hands around his neck allow him to carry the fresh bread with one hand and hold my legs with another.
Later that day I see myself with my aged grandfather who plants a sapling in the backyard this time with me. I bring water from the hose cup by cup, thinking I am helping him.
Why do you put your hands in dirt Grandpa? I ask.
‘It is for you to enjoy the tree’s fruits.’ He says gently.
What fruit? I only see a few leaves on a twig.
My memory fails to remember more of that summer. Time passes. Grandfather lives in another city. Why does he not visit me anymore? There is no clear answer. I hear he will come. But he never came. Later I hear that Grandfather died after a short illness. His only request came to reality when he was buried under a tree. Sadness visits me. I long to be with him again. His short presence in my life stirs such deep emotions, which removes the time and space and puts me on his lap again in the garden that summer.
Sitting under the shade of the apple tree a decade later after Grandfather left us, I discern the meaning of the Sacred Words that a tender, wise man would repeat quite often whenever he would see a tree or plant it. It reveals his view of the world of existence. The tree was a living example for him to see the unity of humanity. He did not live to see the fruit of his labor as he died not long after planting the seeds and the young trees on that summer in our yard.
Every tree has a tale to tell. Recalling the gardener who with the hand of offering and affection planted them. Wherever on this earth, a tree grows, it sustains life, beauty and sings the anthem of reconciliation of the contraries with their universal tongue.
Remembering my grandfather, Rumi comes to mind:
On this earth,
In this soil,
In this pure field, let's not plant any seed
Other than seeds of compassion and love.
Years later, in a different land on another Continent, I find myself often retreating under the trees. The trees that other grandfathers have planted and possibly never lived to sit under their shade. Then, I hear the ode of praise of the tree. It echoes the space as its rustling leaves let the soft breeze waft through them. On hearing this, my tired soul remembers my grandfather whose planted trees far away from me now shades others, and on praising the tree these words come to my heart :
Silence of your tongue inspires me
Your indiscriminating love embraces me.
Teach me O mighty tree
The mystic rhythm of life
That ancient wisdom of yours
Maybe that is one of the reasons we, the mortals, plant the trees to be our solace and console. The mystical syntax of nature encourages the soul to read the poetry written in the Manga Carta of creation, nature, which reveals the code of love and life. Whenever I look at a tree I see the face of my aged grandfather who out of his love for humanity wherever he went, planted seeds and seedlings. He offered affection to his surroundings like all other gardeners and sprinkled the spirit of sacrifice to the world.
I continue to look up like my grandfather to every tree and perceive the unity he saw in creation. And those Sacred Words that he would recite often reveal their meaning to me. I miss my grandfather
and the trees he planted in a far-off land.