I was 12 when my mother was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I remember the confusion that reigned in our household, which my mother used to manage with utmost precision. The perfectly maintained yard, the beautifully decorated and maintained house, the well-stocked pantry and kitchen, the pristine guest bedding, and all that went into the affairs of a family with eight children, all of it fell by the wayside and took a second seat to the health of my mother who, at only 40, was alternatively in excruciating pain or under heavy medication. For several months, all of us, along with the household staff, who were with the family for years, looked confused and dazed, in need of instructions, which used to be issued by my mother in frequent orders but which all of a sudden had stopped. My father was the first one to realize that my mother was not going to "get better" soon.I remember the day he called me and four of my sisters into a room and closed the door. He said that while he was going to be looking for the best possible medical attention for our mother, he was looking to us to make sure that the household would remain in good shape, so that my mother would not be saddened by the chaos, which had become an everyday occurrence in our home. So, I learned how to cook when I was 12. I learned to set the table, cut fresh roses from the yard and put them in vases, and I learned to do the mundane things, to even tell my younger sisters to make sure they brushed their teeth every night.
As the degenerative disease claimed more and more of my mother's abilities and health, I, along with my father and my sisters, learned to throw parties on my mother's behalf, cook huge meals, and entertain, all so that my mother would not miss her happy and bustling household in which frequent parties were held. I think we did quite well.We also learned to take care of my mother. We tried to do everything we could do for her, everything from massaging her aching body to handing her medication. We gradually learned to bathe her, change her clothes, feed her, and care for her. I don't know why taking care of her never felt like a chore to me. I mean, I was doing the physical work, but somehow, she never felt like a sick or disabled person, an invalid, to me. Taking care of her became an extension of our love for her, to the point where in our comings and goings into a room, for example, we also did my mother's maintenance without thinking about it. It must have been her sharp mind and the bigger-than-life presence of her soul in the middle of our lives that kept us from noticing or remembering her growing physical limitations. When I look back, all I can remember is light and lightness, laughter and immense fun in her presence. I am aware now that somewhere in between the words and the laughter, I must have brushed her hair and changed her clothes, but I can't really remember the details, they were unimportant.Some of the best memories I have of my mother are from the mid-1980's when my father and she used to come to stay with us in the US six months of the year, spending the other six months in Iran near my other siblings. I remember one time I made an optometrist appointment for her at UC Berkeley's Optometry School. On a gorgeous spring day, she and I set out for the doctor's visit. We left my tiny cottage near downtown Berkeley to "walk" up to UC Berkeley's Optometry Clinic. To be more precise, she was in her wheelchair and I was pushing her up a steep sidewalk in Berkely. It was a serious effort, which grew harder and harder as we entered the campus and then had to navigate more and more hills, but we were talking and laughing and having a good time despite my huffing and puffing.When we finally made it to the clinic they gave my mother a thorough eye examination, including the part where they dropped something into her eyes to make them dilate for a thorough check up, and then gave her one of those disposable paper sunglasses that are supposed to help protect the dilated eyes against bright light. The two of us then started our trip back home, this time mainly going downhill. At first I was enjoying the ease of it, remembering how hard it was to push the wheelchair up the hill. But then the hills started getting steeper, and it was a chore to control the wheelchair from taking off! Moment by moment, the wheelchair picked up speed and I had to push the emergency break a few times to slow down its momentum. My sweet mother was sitting in the wheelchair, saying nothing, but laughing to my jokes as I was struggling with the task at hand. She had her paper sunglasses on and our speed had already blown her headscarf back to her shoulders and her gorgeous curly hair, which I had dyed myself, was now in motion in the wind.So, we went down one hill and up another and then climbed it up to the top, till finally we came to the top of the steepest one. Looking all the way to the bottom of the hill, I knew it was going to be near impossible to control the wheelchair. I looked at my mother and I couldn't see her eyes behind the paper sunglasses, but the rest of her face seemed peaceful and a smile remained dancing in the corner of her lips. I said: "Mom, are you ready for this ride?" And she simply said: "Yes." I took one more look at the open space ahead, all the way to the bottom of the hill, jumped on the back of her wheelchair to make it heavier and hopefully weigh it down some, and let it go. The moving apparatus glided down the hill and the two of us were screaming our heads off with exhilaration and joy, the wind blowing our hair and energizing our smiles. I remember laughing and I remember my mom making noises people would make on a roller coaster! We finally made it to the bottom of the hill in one piece, totally euphoric.My mother passed away in 1996, due to complications caused by taking cortisone for years. If I must remember her illness and caring for her, this is the memory I most profoundly remember--my mother and her wheelchair, which became a toy, an extension of the two of us in celebrating how beautiful our lives were together. She never was a burden, my partner in joy, my mother.First published here, in response to an invitation to write about caring for elderly parents.
Khayam, if you are intoxicated with wine, enjoy!
If you are seated with a lover of thine, enjoy!
In the end, the Void the whole world employ
Imagine thou art not, while waiting in line, enjoy!
In life devote yourself to joy and love
Behold the beauty of the peaceful dove
Those who live, in the end must all perish
Live as if you are already in heavens above.
And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in--Yes-
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be--Nothing--Thou shalt not be less.
I went to a memorial service for Iranian (Assyrian) artist, Hannibal Alkhas last evening. I listened to his son, Buna, and his daughter talk about their father, among a dozen other students, friends, and admirers of Hannibal Alkhas. Buna's speech particularly moved me. He spoke about his father in the same style as he does his writing and drawing--simply, honestly, and poetically. I really wanted to spend more time with Buna and his handsome son, but time was short as he will be returning home tomorrow.
Since I heard of the great painter's passing, I have had a certain sadness, a sense of personal loss, which has been hard to fathom and convey. I mean I never met him, even though several months ago I had asked Bella how to go about finding him and talking to him. I am so sad I didn't do it. My sense of loss may also have something to do with the painting above. This is a small painting he did in Berkeley in 2001. This sketch and another have been two of my most prized possessions for the past several years. This one has been particularly dear to me, because I believe it to portray me, "The Asymmetrical Woman." He has written at the bottom of the sketch, "Who said only symmetry is beautiful?"
After last night, I feel closer to the artist who drew me without having ever met me, The Asymmetrical Woman! People just couldn't stop talking about how kind and loving and fun he was. My sense of loss at Mr. Alkhas' passing grew last night. But I felt privileged to have listened to his son and daughter talk so lovingly about him. Those of you who have read Buna Nameh have already seen Buna's love for his father, while the great artist was still alive. Those of you who have not read Buna Nameh must absolutely read it. It is probably one of the most original and fantastic things that was ever published on Iranian.com. In a part of his poignant eulogy for his father, Buna read this poem (page 189).
Rest in peace Master Alkhas.
I’ll have to warn you--this may look like I am showing off! I promise I can’t help it this time! This Saturday, July 10, 2010, I am going to a very special event. Three of my friends are reading Copenhagen, a play by Michael Frayn, translated into Farsi by another friend of mine! What’s more, the venue for the event is Central Stage, which is managed by another one of my friends! And guess what?! In all likelihood, the cozy and warm theater will be filled with many of my other friends!
Showing off aside, for those who live in this area and have a chance to come join me (and my friends!), there is something really special in store. Director Hamid Ehya’s translation of Copenhagen won the award for “Best Translated Play” from Iranian Playwrights’ Association in 2009. The readers will be Ari Siletz, Bella Warda, and Behzad Golmohammadi. Actor and director Mansour Taeed will be hosting the reading at Central Stage at 5221 Central Avenue in Richmond, CA 94804 at 8:00 p.m.
I hope you can join us if you live in this area. It will be a night to remember!
Copenhagen is a highly acclaimed two-act play by Michael Frayn, about a discussion among the Danish physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962), his wife, Margrethe Bohr, and the German physicist Werner Heisenberg.
Niels Bohr received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 for his contribution to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics. Werner Heisenberg was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics for the creation of quantum mechanics and its application. Niels Bohr was a prominent scientist in Denmark whose life was in danger because he was half Jewish. Heisenberg was a high-ranking physicist in Nazi Germany. Both men had the theoretical knowledge of how to create a nuclear bomb. They were once on the same side of the scientific pursuit, but now stood on opposite sides of the war. During the course of the play, the two scientists go through what went on in a meeting at Bohr’s home.Please see the reading's Facebook page.
On the eve of Iranian presidential elections in June, a black cat showed up to our household. He sat on our front porch and refused to leave. More than once he followed the incoming crowd into the house whereupon I screamed "Get that cat out of my house!" I was not interested in having a new pet and I knew that the cat which seemed loving and comfortable next to perfect strangers was a house cat which must have gone AWOL on a loving family who must now be frantically looking for him. I told my son to let him stay outside, so that his family can locate him if they went by our house. My younger son kept feeding the cat and naturally, he would not leave. I made "Cat Found" signs and posted them in the neighborhood and the neighbor next door posted a "Cat Found" announcement on Craig's List. Nothing doing. No one came looking for the cat. I made my son take him to the local animal shelter to see if anybody was looking for him. Nobody was, according to my son, who had decided to return the cat upon receiving the news.During this time, the elections had happened in Iran, people had shown up to street protests, and Neda and some other protesters had died before my very eyes on YouTube. I can barely remember a sadder time in my life. Sitting at my dining table, working and writing, crying tears of loss, confusion, and anger, suddenly I did not mind seeing the black cat come in and sitting on the floor next to my feet. I reached for him and he immediately hopped on my lap, where he sat and made me fall in love with him through my tears.I named him Mir Hossein.The cat became a member of our family. Loving, peaceful, and low maintenance, he quickly surpassed my last cat, Asghar, in popularity and familial love. He followed me everywhere and always sat where he could keep an eye on me. In many ways he was like a dog, attentive, kind, and loving. My friend Maryam said later that he is a Maine Coon, a particularly loving species of cats.In January, I went on a three-week business trip to Washington DC. Staying away from home, I was missing my family, friends, and Mir Hossein so much. I couldn't wait to get back. I returned looking forward to having my cat by my side to remind me about the simple joys of life and all that I love and hold dear in the Bay Area.Alas, things were not that simple. My son informed me upon my return that Mir Hossein had gone missing for 48 hours and that he had been actively looking for him in the neighborhood, without any positive results. After a couple of days went by without spotting our black cat, he posted "Missing Cat" signs in the neighborhood and told all the neighbors to be on the lookout for him. By the week's end, he had visited all the animal shelters in our neighborhood and the next ones over, to see if anybody had turned him in. Nothing doing.I refused to put his food bowl and bed away, waiting for him to return. "He will come back," I kept saying, but feeling less and less hopeful.Yesterday, the next door neighbor called to say that she could hear a cat in the vacant house next door. We went to the door and could see Mir Hossein's black face with the one tiny round white spot right under his nose through the side glass window. Oh My! He was alive and well! We located and contacted the real estate agency which had listed the home. The firm's office manager showed up with a key and let Mir Hossein out. She said he must have quietly walked in behind the realtor the last time he had shown the house some sixteen days ago.The cat had lost considerable weight and was anxious. For the first time since I had met him I found out that he had very sharp claws which he used on anyone who came close to him. He must have been able to drink water from the toilet bowls in the house, but naturally, he had not eaten in sixteen days. He ate and ate and ate and I was standing by, waiting to take him to the vet if he started getting sick, which he never did. Later in the day he finally calmed down and went to sleep.As I write, my sweet cat is sleeping in his bed next to me. When I finish posting this blog and turn off the lights to go to bed, he will follow me and curling up in my bed, he will put his right paw on my face and go back to sleep, as he is used to doing.I am one lucky woman today. I have found Mir Hossein.