Amity, Andy and Azadee

I spent the past three days in Phoenix, attending a gathering of Baha’is and friends of our Faith, billed as Grand Canyon Baha’i Conference.  This has nothing to do with the great geologic symbol of Arizona; rather, it has everything to do with bridging the chasms that often exist between people.  The Baha’i Faith’s essential purpose is unity among all peoples and nations.

A hundred years ago, the eldest son of our Faith’s Founder, Baha’ullah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, traveled throughout North America and Europe.  We have spent the past nine months commemorating the North American portion of His journey. (This was largely the impetus for my own travels of this past year, but enough of that).  He came here primarily to engender and nourish the seeds of social unity in the United States and Canada.  Amity was His message- love for one another.  Racial equality, the rights of women and justice in labour were all themes of His talks, as was the true meaning of Christ’s Message, which ‘Abdu’l-Baha saw as the primacy of love as a propelling force in the Universe.

We spent these days contemplating and discussing the legacy of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit.  From His encouragement, the Baha’i Faith has grown, a House of Worship has been built, and is in full flourish, in Wilmette, IL, north of Chicago.  Other such edifices have followed, with at least one Baha’i House of Worship on each inhabited continent, and several more in progress.  Our communities are also works in progress.  We go forward, in amity and in honest communication.

Among those in attendance was one of our brightest young lights.  He came unannounced, sang his delightful, light-hearted tunes and made several young girls scream.  He’s Andy Grammer and he has many more years of artistic life ahead of him.  I’ve known Andy since he was five, and he is now a Facebook friend, so I wish him love, prosperity and continued growth as an artist.  Rainn Wilson, of The Officeand Soul Pancake was also in attendance, and was a prominent presence.  I have met Rainn’s father, and appreciate the offbeat humour of both of them.

Rainn was MC on Sunday night, and introduced a drama troupe, who performed one of the most moving performances I’ve seen in many years.  It is Azadee (Persian for “Freedom”).  As many know, Iran is not exactly a Poster Child for human rights- especially for the rights of women and religious minorities.  Four beautiful young ladies, aged 11 to 17, portrayed women who have been imprisoned in Iran, for various reasons. One photographed a women’s soccer match.  Another was an attorney, representing others who were accused of crimes.  A third was a Kurdish human rights activist. (She has since been executed, and the moments leading up to her execution were referenced in this portrayal).  The fourth was a woman imprisoned for being on the Baha’i Administrative Council in Iran, known as Yaran.  A  poem by this woman, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, follows.

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An English Translation of a Poem by Mrs. Mahvash Sabet

No Boundaries[1]
No boundaries:
     face to face,
         knee to knee,
                eye to eye,
away from all that was and is.
We gaze at the water in dingy sinks,
     at water-smeared mirrors,
          looking for a reflection,
                looking for the Light of the world,
                     that eternal glimmer of Light,
                          the spot where there is sun –
                                   a jeweled crown at the Apex of the world –
                                        a bride on the Mountain of love
                                            enthralled by the Mountain of love,
                                                 transported by the scent of red geraniums and green meadows.
And those women:
just letters —
each separate from one another,
sitting around us all, their faces . . . ghastly . . .
no sign of connection,
merely letters,
not sentences,
not even
words.
And yet it is together
          that we achieve that two-letter meaningful word “BE”:
              and become transported by the scent of red geraniums and green meadows.
No boundaries,
     knee to knee,
         eye to eye.
We didn’t know it,
          yet we unleashed
                chaos into the clamor
                         through our silence.
We didn’t know it,
           and the reflection of
                  the Light of the world,
                      in the water-smeared mirrors and dingy water –
We disturbed the silence.
We didn’t know it,
          and yet we would smile
                in the interstices of pain.
We would smile at those women –
           their feet swollen,
          mad ones with cold eyes,
          sick ones with yellow faces.
          no longer women, not even  men,
          old ones in death’s grasp, no matter the age
          and icy hungry ones
          hair shaved and faces razed
          and the ones with missing teeth
          and the young ones with yellow, swollen wounds
          and rotten thoughts
          with the paralyzing tang of decay,
          rusty voices
          and innocent women with entreating glances
          with hands like ivy
                   seeking love,
and there we were, shedding love
         in that limbo of tribulation
              speaking of sacredness
                     of Humanity,
and those isolated letters glorified us
for some time in secret
and then openly.
When that one dear woman
         flipped through the pages of a book
                for the first time
                     and saw the letters of text
                           in the simple association of meaning
                                her eyes began to glitter
                                    her smile radiated with connection
                                        and her words radiated herself.
We didn’t know it
     and those lost delusory souls —
         unaware of love —
         unaware of us —
         unaware of Plus – addition and connection
         tending toward Minus — subtraction and division–
         tried to remove us from the glossary of words.
And so,
       everyone saw the connectedness of letters
            in the simple association of meaning
                 flipping through pages
                     no boundaries
                          between one another
                              knee to knee
                                   eye to eye.

___________________________

([1] This is an English translation of a poem by Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, one of the seven members of the Baha’i leadership group in Iran, now serving their 20 year prison sentences. The poem is the story of why Mrs Sabet and Mrs Kamalabadi were transferred within the notorious Gohardasht prison. The original Farsi poem can be found here.

With special thanks to dear Ms Roxana Saberi and a beloved Baha’i friend for their comments on the translation draft.)

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Other than the course and outcome of my late wife’s physical suffering, there is no event that has moved me more, emotionally, than this dramatic performance.  Seeing an eleven-year-old girl portraying a brave woman who is about to be executed threw me back, in full emotional ricochet, to the events of December 14 and was only amplified tenfold by the singing of the words to the poem, by the girl’s mother.  The further link to the rape victims of India, and the brave girls of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the DR-Congo was not far from anyone’s mind or heart.
On this Christmas Day, commemorating the day, actually in Spring, when another brave young girl brought Light in to the world, two days after a fine young man paid tribute to his own late mother on the stage of our conference, might we not dedicate the coming year- the next DECADE- to bringing womankind to her rightful place as the EQUAL of   the males of our species.  The well-being of women and girls is the saving grace of men and boys.
No boundaries………knee to knee, eye to eye” , shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart.

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