Appreciate, Befriend, Co-create
See ye no strangers
“You were talking as if you’ve been friends whole life”, Sofia, my 11 year-old daughter commented as we were walking to Northside Social for coffee and afternoon snack before our makeshift Bulgarian lesson at the library. She was referring to the pleasant conversation she, her sister and I had had with a beautiful half-Japanese/half-American graphics designer, Deborah, and her dog, Bentley, whom we met on the street.
I smiled and answered: “Isn’t this what the Baha’i Faith is about — to treat strangers as friends?”
Just a a few minutes earlier, driving to the library from a choir rehearsal in the DC Baha’i Center, my girls and I were singing along “Let All Associate” (come, see us sing together on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday celebration at the Ventures in Community 20th annual concert).
I do proactively try to model in my girls the attitude that we can be friends with anyone:
“O ye lovers of this wronged one! Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness.”
~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
I do believe that such an attitude is serving my girls well: just a few days ago Sofia was telling me that her 5th grade classmates were starting an unexplainable war of the genders, and she was among the very few ‘neutrals’ — the other camps being of girls vs boys…
I do believe that such an attitude — focusing on unity instead of prejudice and division — would serve our troubled, and estranged, world as well. How estranged? It is a well-known fact that in the metropolitan Washington, DC, area, you talk to strangers on the street only if:
a) they walk with a baby stroller, and you comment on how cute their baby is;
b) they walk with a dog, and you comment on how cute their dog is;
c) all of the above combined.
But when you get that rare chance to talk to a stranger, why not talk as if to a friend? So we did talk about… Roxana Saberi, the half-Japanese/half-Iranian Miss North Dakota who ended up in Iran’s Evin prison with two outstanding Iranian Baha’i women and lived to tell her remarkable story in her book “Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran“.
Be thou patient and quiet thyself
Synchronistically or not, a couple of hours later, before driving them home, my girls and I sat to share prayers and the one Sofia chose was a Baha’i prayer for those in prison:
Glorified be Thy name, O Lord my God! Thou beholdest my dwelling-place, and the prison into which I am cast, and the woes I suffer. By Thy might! No pen can recount them, nor can any tongue describe or number them. I know not, O my God, for what purpose Thou hast abandoned me to Thine adversaries. Thy glory beareth me witness! I sorrow not for the vexations I endure for love of Thee, nor feel perturbed by the calamities that overtake me in Thy path. My grief is rather because Thou delayest to fulfill what Thou hast determined in the Tablets of Thy Revelation, and ordained in the books of Thy decree and judgment.
My blood, at all times, addresseth me saying: “O Thou Who art the Image of the Most Merciful! How long will it be ere Thou riddest me of the captivity of this world, and deliverest me from the bondage of this life? Didst Thou not promise me that Thou shalt dye the earth with me, and sprinkle me on the faces of the inmates of Thy Paradise?” To this I make reply: “Be thou patient and quiet thyself. The things thou desirest can last but an hour. As to me, however, I quaff continually in the path of God the cup of His decree, and wish not that the ruling of His will should cease to operate, or that the woes I suffer for the sake of my Lord, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, should be ended. Seek thou my wish and forsake thine own. Thy bondage is not for my protection, but to enable me to sustain successive tribulations, and to prepare me for the trials that must needs repeatedly assail me. Perish that lover who discerneth between the pleasant and the poisonous in his love for his beloved! Be thou satisfied with what God hath destined for thee. He, verily, ruleth over thee as He willeth and pleaseth. No God is there but Him, the Inaccessible, the Most High.”
Only a couple of hours earlier, my girls and I had been watching an interview between Oprah and Rainn Wilson where one of the topics was creativity as an act of worship. But creativity, particularly in a moment of quiet reflection, can be also an act of freeing oneself from prison cells — whether the self-imposed prison cell of fear and solitude or the forced prison cell of oppression, like the one Mahvash Sabet inhabits, and through her “Prison Poems“, transcends.
Appreciate, Befriend, Co-create
I have had my share of solitude — some of it self-imposed, some of it necessary. It weighs in on me sometimes and my girls have surely noticed it. Their response has been pure and sweet: my 9 year old Juliet, having likened me to Gru from Despicable Me insisted I create a Match.com account; her older sister very subtly comments on who of my lady friends she really likes.
The reality is, I am of age where being true to myself is of paramount importance which, while not negating the necessity of flexibility in life, narrows the pool of possible soul mates. I am also aware than not every person I might like would like me back but there is a virtue in every interaction and an ongoing opportunity to self-discover and self-refine. As so many others around me make lists of New Year resolutions, let me offer an ABC of a sort, and resolve to:
- Appreciate solitude for the hope of wholeness and the opportunity to reflect on who we truly are;
- Befriend strangers for the hope of deeper relationships and the opportunity to interact with who we truly can be;
- Co-create art for the hope of a better world and the opportunity to imagine our true role in it.