Thursday, August 23, 2007

Visit to Edirne, Turkey

32 of us piled into the bus. We had met not but a little over 24 hours prior, yet it was as though our hearts and souls had been connnected for all time. The bond was inexplicable. I just merely gazed upon the sweet face of my Ameh and tears were all I could shed to express the feelings of my heart. She held me in her arms and we wept - not a sad, mournful weeping, but 'ashghayeh eshgh' as my grandfather put it, tears of love.

Our bus ride to this place of pilgrimage was the most inspiring my life had experienced. Brushed up against each other on a hot, sticky day, we payed no mind that the whole of our group could not fit in that 27 passenger bus. We were determined to make it work. Had we not all travelled for hours on end, using all monetary belongings we had to make this journey? A moments seperation was out of the question.

For 4 hours we sat - conversations taking place from seat to seat - the murmer of stories and the sharing of experiences over the last 20 some years filled the car with gentle excitement, only to be broken by one voice raising up in song until others slowly ceased conversation to join in the melodies.

Songs, prayers - joyous and mournful - filled the interior of that car, leaving the driver wondering what bond could be this strong to unite all these people together.

Stories of the history of the place of our destination occupied time and emotion. Tears, laughter, and pure, genuine, and sweet love filled the air.

To be anything but moved denies the existence of God in that moment.

It was this journey that solidified our group.
Connected my family.
Engraved a place for them all in my heart.

The Reunion

If I were to explain to you in mere words the account of this journey
- I would. I would fill pages with letters and sounds to try and
adequately express the thoughts and experiences of this precious time.
But feelings - emotions felt by the heart and resonated in the soul,
are never appropriately expressed by words alone. An attempt follows:

We spent five days surrounded by our family. My grandparents reunited
with all seven of their children after 34 years of separation.
Cousins meeting and embracing for the first time. Like two cultures
colliding and instantly spinning into a whirlwind of love. Initial
reactions were minimal, too overcome with pure joy to analyze the
personalities and put any deep thought to the pure love and sheer
happiness. A few days passed before I started to realize I had her
eyes, his sense of humor, and her knack for management. Soon, all
characters fused into one. Soon, love was deepened by understanding,
communication, and simple listening.

Hours we would spend sharing stories of the past, recollecting
experiences and explaining circumstances. Realizing commonalities and
awed by differences.

I live a life of absolute freedom. I choose the way I wish to live,
who I want to love, consort with, and connect with. I not only have the
luxury of choosing my own field of study, but I am blessed to have had
the opportunity to learn at the most prestigious of Universities - to
acquire knowledge by those trained and experienced for many years to
bestow understanding.

I live a life of comfort and ease. A life I easily take for granted
and appreciate the value of on occasion. I could venture to say that I have
grown up in a state of ignorant bliss. I understand that people
suffer - have travelled near, far, by car and by plane to experience a
myriad of cultures and ways of existence. Each interaction has
brought with it growing opportunities, a chance to re-evaluate myself
and begin to understand the purpose of my existence. But all of these
experiences, however powerful and influential in character, never
shook me to the core until I was face to face with one of my own.
Brushed up against my own reality.

To know their struggle is to know a life that could have so easily
been mine. Had circumstances not let my parents to the 'land of
opportunity', their oppression would be my story. To be covered from
head to toe, bullied and scrutinized for your beliefs, denied access
to higher education, not allowed to work, and refused a bank account.
How are you expected to survive?

"They call me 'kaseef'", my 15 year old cousin explains to me, when I
asked him what school is like for him as a Baha'i, "and sometimes they
separate themselves from me, but it's ok." Had he said this with the
slightest hint of anger in his voice I would have reacted differently
- but to hear the sincerity and see genuine love in his eyes, I could
respond in no other way but to weep.

For three months my 70 year old grandmother was placed in prison
because she believes that 'the earth is but one country and mankind
its citizens'. Treated like an animal, situated amongst prostitutes
and drug dealers, she lived, without her husbands knowledge of the
state of her existence, and without contact with her family. She
lived and suffered because of the Faith she professes.

If I could write pages and pages of books, I would write of the lives
of these souls - so rich in experience, latent with struggle and
saturated in love have their full lives been. But until the heart
connects with theirs, and eyes lock, do you grasp the severity of this

They are stripped of all human rights while I live here a life of
freedom. They are oppressed, beaten, and scorned for their beliefs
while I am able to openly express my love for my Creator and explain
the way I worship and the ideas I possess.

Yet could I explain the love in their eyes with the scratchings of my
pen and offer it to you as a gift, I would. It is a love so intense
it burns at the edges of the soul. A purity so untouched that you
fear that speaking any word from your mouth would defile it.

It is the most uplifted I have ever been. The most moved, the most touched.

Indeed God has a great plan for us all...the reason for this
serendipitous meeting, this crossing of paths across the ocean, will
become evident in time.

All I can do is remember...and hope that their effect remains engraved
on my heart forever. That my actions may align with the spirit of
that encounter and my life be moved accordingly.