In Loving Memory on Father’s Day

Absence and death are the same thing- only that in death there is no suffering. 

The summer solstice begins in June and marks three month you left us baba joonam. June marks the first father’s day without you.  June marks my birthday….without you.

Heavenly angels, If Orchids grow in heaven, pick a bunch for me and place them in my father’s arms. Tell him they’re from me and  when he turns to smile, place a kiss upon his cheek, tell him I love him and miss him lots.

In my thoughts, in my heart, in every part of my life, you are always with me and always will be…and yet there is an ache within my heart that will never go way.

Happy Father’s Day Baba Joon…..Missing you today and everyday.

March 21, 2019~  Laying there in the hospital room, with his eyes closed just waiting for that imminent moment. I sealed my eyes imperviously to catch a quick glimpse of what his stunning brown eyes looked like. I cherished every last caress of his soft skin as I felt his struggle relinquish.

The desperate cry of disappearance filled the funeral room, silent, yet spoken. I could feel tears bursting from my eyes, and the whole world had felt as if it had stopped. 

Was this what was to become of my dad? 

I couldn’t help but stare at that cruel, cruel casket, laying open there, for me to view my angelic dad. His fragile body allay, alone. My heart had been torn once 7 months ago when my maternal grandmother, maman Sara, passed. 

It was the same cruel void and emptiness all over again. 

“It’ll be alright,” whispered mom, sitting beside me. ‘NO IT WON’T!’ I wanted to shriek, but instead, I cried my broken heart out. As more tears came, and more thoughts whirled about every thing I had done and said to baba. 

Was he really gone?

Nothing physical was left of him. That bitter spring day, laying in an open casket, I witnessed my dad’s physical body drenched in nothingness.

No. No. No.

“Baba”, I half-whispered in his delicate ear.

“You are with me still. You will forever be with me…. like you always said, death is just a change of address.  Our souls find new clothes in a different physical body” 

From where you lay down in eternity, flowers shall grow and you are in them and that is Eternity. 

April 21, 2019~  There’s a void. An emptiness.  My Intellect knows life and death have their determined appointments but the void in my heart seems clueless. 

Are pain and suffering the same thing?

I can become indignant and numb myself or I can deeply comprehend that I’m my father’s daughter. As he always said, “Nora joon, baba, we don’t have a soul. We are a soul and we have a body.”

Grief is really just love.  It’s all the love you want to give but can’t.  All that unspent love gathers up in the corner of our eyes, the lump in our throat, and in that hollow part of our chest. Grief is just love with nowhere to go.

It took me a month of grieving and mourning to realize though that it is love, not reason, that is stronger than death. 

Loved. I loved you baba. 

No… I can’t use it in the past tense. Death does not stop love at all. 

A tear trickles down from my eye…

Baba you weren’t loving. 

YOU were Love. 

Your destiny rang its dreadful alarms on your physical body but your soul is right here next to me as we talk every day but specially every Thursday morning before you go to lunch with your childhood friends, Mr Morovati and Dr Sayah, as we enjoy our afternoon coffee together, as you chant Hafez’s poems by heart and use his ghazals as proverbs and sayings…oh the joys of love, wine, ecstasy and freedom from restraints. 

Baba joonam, you are immortal as I reach the highest spiritual realm as I dance with you in my meditate to Ana B’Ko’ach, as I hear your voice in every one of Hafez or Shams-e-Tabriz’s themes… you are free of your worldly restraints and now you are the immortal voice of divine love influencing my life. 

Memory is an elusive seductress, hard to pin down. All my childhood memories….

All my adult memories…

Death changes everything.  Time changes nothing. I’m angry. 

I miss the sound of your voice. The wisdom of your advice. So, NO, time changes nothing. 

I just miss you. 

What are we? What is life? Grant me understanding . Help my heart trust In god to grant me peace. 

My thoughts will never go back to default. they will never become like the spring snow… they can’t thaw away as soon as they hit the ground. 

How does one deal with this pain, this relentless void?

This strange and foreign sensation?

This constant tightness in my chest that feels like a constant adrenaline rush and after awhile it becomes painful but it wont stop….

My heart is on fire, I am restless and awake

O soul you have a pact with the Divine, I know.

But ask how should I my life manage?

I’m good one minute or for a nice long stretch of time and then a memory comes and hits me like a fist to the gut and the tears come uncontrollably rolling down. 

Some days, I’m numb and feel like I’m on a far away surreal cloud… on autopilot…

I’m here and I see and feel everything but it doesn’t feel real. 

Does that make sense?

Sometimes I don’t even realize how disconnected I’ve gotten from my pure essence.  Life happens and sometimes it hurts badly.

And yes I’ll move on….I laugh and cry in the span of the same day, even the same hour, even the same moment…I’ll move on but I’ll never be the same.

But like you always said dad, life may give us what we want.  Or life may never give us what we want. But we can always give life who we are.

In this moment of rediscovery I feel gratitude and warmth again. 

Warmth in knowing that caring for someone without expectation seems impossible. and yet time and time again dad, you were that for us…always filled with gratitude and humility.  Always appreciating what you had rather what you lacked.  Always soul-oriented. Unshakable wide perspective.  Shrunken ego.  Filled with an organic attitude. 

You are Free.

I’m reminded again and again through all your acts that you didn’t just care… you loved purely.  Deep was your love for us. Your tender compassion boundless. You were love personified. It’s never been separated from you.

June 11, 2019~  As the sounds of the waves finds its own rhythm so does my breathing…. as I listen, seagulls hectically circle the warm sky above the pacific ocean, just like the thoughts circling in my mind.  As I listen to the sounds, my mind is at peace.  

Baba you are in light now.

Only the most precious are kept deep inside our hearts…as most valuable things are unseen to the naked eye

Words fail to convey the true magnitude and purity of emotions we possess for someone. Perhaps, that’s because the bliss can’t be expressed, it can only be experienced and felt in ways beyond the description of words, an inaudible language. 

On friendships-

Dad always said friendships come in many degrees and we have friends in many different contexts. Some are acquaintances, some casual, others (the fewest) very close.

And they are all people important to us for more than just what they can do for us. Meaning, we value them for themselves.

And then there are those whom are within our circle of trust. Those whom allow us to feel safe with them when facing our vulnerabilities.

What distinguishes a true friendship is LOVE. A feeling that is independent of how useful the person is to us. A feeling that the relationship will never be over regardless of wether the benefits or pleasure they provide is exhausted. 

In the end, we give our closest friends the power to influence us, change us and help us become the people we are. 

And those rare individuals are what it’s all about. 

I am blessed with those rare and priceless gem of friends whom never left my side and checked up on me daily for the past 3 months.

I am forever in your debt an humbled by your love…

Things unspoken….

My beloved Baba…We live in a world of time and space but you don’t. You can see me. I know it.  You are present. 

Baba joonam, your candle may have burnt out but your light will forever shine 

I light a candle because I know your soul is present in my world.

I light a candle because I know your soul isn’t ephemeral. 

I light a candle as I remember your wise words:

Nora Joon”, you would say, “When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. You cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destiny of others. You must either learn to carry and flow with the universe or be crushed by it.  You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.   Sometimes we ride the waves and sometimes we almost drown”. 

Oh baba, how I miss your words of wisdom…..

This is life… 

we persevere. 

We persist. 

We are relentless. 

We keep going. 

We love. 

People we care about never go away.  They are in the shadows of our hearts.   Even in the silence, we hear them.  Even in wind across the endless sky, we hear them.  Even in the clouds from behind the mountains, we hear them.

Baba I have so much to tell you still. I won’t physically pick up the phone to call you and tell you of all the events of my day but I won’t have to as you’ll be right next to me witnessing them.

As in life and now death, you wouldn’t want us to focus on the sadness and sorrow but to continue to love and support each other no matter the situation. 

I am reminded again and again through the way you lived your life that love does not need an object. 

Love is simply a quality. Love is not about what you do. Love is the way you are.

Love is simply life longing for itself.

Essentially,  It is only when love becomes all-inclusive that we touch the boundless.

And that is when we realize a simple truth: the soul is eternal, infinite and forever. It has always been.

It is pure love. And it is boundless.

Love you forever and a day dad.

Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a 1000 winds that blow

I am a diamond glint on snow

I am the sunlight on ripened grain

I am the gentle autumn rain

When you awake in the morning hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

of quiet birds in circling flight

I am the soft starlight at night

Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there, I do not sleep

Do not stand at my grave an cry

I am not there, I did not die.

~Mary Elizabeth Frye

Honey, that’s just life!

Copyright 2019, all rights reserved

 

Dim Sum Resolutions- Designed in Brunei 🇧🇳 Made in Hong Kong 🇭🇰

Departure Gate 2017—-Arrival Gate 2018

“Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

I realized this more so this year as my family and I took the journey through Brunei Darussalam, a Malay Islamic monarchy with about 500,000 population- a country of unexpected treasures and surprises.

We were searching to enjoy some peace and quiet in a relaxing location. But travel pushes your boundaries, risks the unknown and in the end it transforms you!

And let me tell you Brunei is quite different than most memorable trips you might take in Asia….

A country compromising over 70% of pristine glorious rainforests and a rich loyal heritage and traditional culture.

A country where you’ll probably count more oil well pumps dotted about the fields next to the road (Some are even placed in the middle of housing estates, an unusual sight unless you live in Texas I presume), than you will see liquor stores…matter of fact, you won’t encounter even one as alcohol is strictly forbidden.

As we drove and passed by gas stations, I noticed some citizens in their fancy cars guzzling the cheap petrol and diesel on offer here (astonishing at 53c a litre  – US 40c) which is about half the price per litre of a bottle of mineral water!  I guess they do have plenty to go around given the wells dotted about the kingdom.

We made our way to the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque situated on the water in the main town centre, perched on a lagoon. The golden domes and the white exterior lend themselves to being photographed from every angle.  You can’t help but notice as the glinting sun brightens the 24 carat golden domes of the Islamic architecture. The mosque comes alive and it is absolutely compelling.

And as I’m standing staring at a particular design accent, my attention drifts to the faithful believers of Islam as they hurry to shut down their shops for the Friday afternoon prayer. The entire city closes and all congregate to collectively pray. I stare at the women in their hijab and the men with their white attire and caps with the same friendly curiosity as they stare at my exposed skin and uncovered hair. My eyes lock with one of the village women, Akira, and instantly we both smile at each other. It’s as if our souls recognize each other and for just one moment we are one. Religion-less, race-less, resistant-less.

Just two conscious souls. She generously offers me a sample of a curry puff filled with fish balls. And I’m catapulted and carried into the ebb and flow of my sensations. I am one but I am all. Suddenly right here becomes everywhere. I’m not limited within the confines of the penthouse of my thoughts. Suddenly, in a quiet resolute way, the borders of my identity soften and expand. A Jew within a plethora of Muslims. I experience myself as directly connected to the minutest molecule and the greatest galaxy. I imagine she feels the same as she doesn’t unlock her gaze. I look down and smile at her three year old daughter Fatima. As I bend down to shake the young girls’ hand and give her a hug, Fatima takes the back of my hand and kisses it.

I’m shocked at the immense respect she shows me as her elder. Inside, I feel tremendous awe for their culture as I contemplate the west’s Generation Z with the environment in which our kids are being raised and shaped.

And yet now, more so than ever, inside my soul, I feel, contains the whole universe. I see my kids, the Bruneian kids and all kids as one. Literally, in that mystical moment, I became what I beheld. And for that instant I experienced true bliss and nirvana.

I look around me and can’t help but take notice that everyone’s probably fighting some sort of battle. Just like you’re fighting yours.

And lasting serenity comes from the most profound surprising sources. Through all of life’s lessons, all its ups and downs, all the mountains and valleys, are lessons demonstrating that at any time, we can find presence, passion, kindness and abiding joy.

I can’t help but look around and see so much kindness around me from the Bruneian.

Folks, Kindness is a universal language.

As humans, we all feel pain at one point or more in our lives. No one is sparred that emotion. Unfortunately though, most people today want to run away from pain, can’t listen to pain, can’t be in the presence of pain. We need to realize only kindness, a smile, a hug or a listening ear can be a powerful force to lessen the pain and give a much needed support. We never know the impact we have on another’s life. Akira and her daughter’s gesture warmed my heart and exemplified the good that still exists in the world.

The important life-altering things hardly ever knock… they just surprise us and sweep in from under our feet….things like kindness… things like love…. things like a calling….a gesture….things like humanity.

Fish ball kabobs, ostrich balls, prawn balls, all parts of cow kabobs!!(Fish balls, Ostrich balls, Prawn balls, all parts of the cow kabobs!…)

(Gelatinous chicken feet)

Further along we see more of the sights and smells of the Gadong Pasar Malam (night market) where we mingle with and meet lots of charming Bruneian and workers from the Philippines and India living very modest means. Matter of fact, we learned from our driver Azeem, that even the most affluent Bruneians live almost modest lives.

Interestingly enough, the Soltan may have a plethora of exotic cars, grand palaces, worldwide hotels including the Beverly Hills Hotel and The Dorchester amongst the few, but then you might meet and greet his majesty the Soltan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah himself during Friday prayer. And the beautiful thing is that he’s not even surrounded by a plethora of bodyguards. He and the Soltana and the crown prince will walk the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan Darussalam as normal as one of the civilians.

Sadly, in the states, I find myself living in an “always on” world. More emails, bzzz, there goes my mobile, Facebook updates, and on and on….

One of the simple pleasures of Brunei life was to be able to step off the roller-coaster of life and discover an inner calm. Challenges fade from my consciousness and for at least a little while I switch off from reality.

And although the people here seem bored and a bit lifeless, it’s not so at all. Once we engaged in a conversation with them, we realized in a country where there are no clubs, pubs, or gambling, one can actually pay attention to the simple pleasures of life…. which incidentally end up being the most important!

As our journey in Brunei comes to an end and we board the plane to Kuala Lumpur and later to Hong Kong, I take a few moments and think about how to live life better this year. A life filled with health, peace, harmony, good friends. A life that takes the ordinary while defining the extraordinary!

My journey through Brunei Darussalam, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong, made me realize life is a collective festival of beautiful cultures and heritages.

Incidentally, as soon as we felt slightly homesick, fate had us meet up briefly with dear friends from back home and we experienced a bit of sweet familiarity.

Asia, brought it on- we experienced a magical offer where we left our stresses at the doorstep and got caught up in the blissful whirlwind of a serene, fun and exciting time.

Albeit, I admit, there were moments of family disagreements, challenges, anger and hurdles along the way. But there were moments of tenderness, understanding and resolutions as well. It’s all part of life and this thing we call family!

And as we coursed through the rough waters on the ferry back to HK from Macau, I was reminded of the Portuguese mosaic patterns etched in the cobblestones in the Senado Square meant to represent the waves of the Mediterranean Sea and it reminded me that sometimes we must ride the challenging waves of life instead of fighting against them, and maybe then, just maybe, we’ll feel less inclined to be nauseous and can actually safely rise above the vertigo-inducing jolt.

And only then do you realize your tenacity, perseverance, and strength. After all Macau is the perfect example of the fusion between east/west coexistence. And magically I find my balance…

Magic exists. Who can doubt it, when there are rainbows and wildflowers, the serene blue-azure glistening oceans, the music of the wind and the silence of the stars? Even the waves against the current hold magic….

And if I may be brutally honest with you all, anyone who has loved has been touched by all this magic. It is such a simple and such an extraordinary part of the lives we live. Poor is the soul who cannot see, give and accept this love and speak the universal language of kindness.

My two week journey through Asia reached its finality and as I’m on the plane, resting back and relaxing in the depth of my being, behind even my own consciousness and psyche, the captain impishly broadcasts through the speakers: “Ladies and gentlemen we are now passing through the international date line. For all those unsure of your New Years resolutions, we have just traveled back into 2017 and will once again start 2018”.

The irony isn’t lost on me and I can’t help but consider how poignant the captain’s message resonates.

Imagine if you could travel back in time? Now imagine what you would do different? Would you say something different or perhaps you wouldn’t say anything at all?

Was it Khalil Gibran who said “between what is said and not meant and what is meant and not said, all of love is lost”?

As I head into 2018, Brunei, Malaysia and Hong Kong put things into perspective. And it’s rather disturbingly simple. More than anything else, one complex challenge is brutally true. If I can adapt my mindset, accept and respect the messages of extreme cultures & etiquettes, different customs & laws, personalities and priorities, overpowering culinary standards then I can surely extend the same courtesy to myself and my well-being to adapt and explore positive strategies to whatever circumstances I find myself in.

Compelling? Um yes!

Devilishly Humorous? Hell ya!

Everything comes full circle.

From that vantage point it’s rather quite accessible to go beyond self-doubt and achieve fulfillment in any situation. Life is too bloody short to waste doubting ourselves, doubting our purpose. We don’t have the slightest inkling how life will turn out.

We need to wake up to the possibility of a different way of life. We need to regain control of our well-being, happiness and sense of purpose. We need to let the people we love know we love them and that they are important to us. Say the things you want to say, you never know how the conversations would have panned out in light of a disaster.

We need to live a life motivating ourselves and others, into putting love and productivity at the center of everything we do.

We need to stop living life in the rear view mirror as it does not allow us to move on. It gets us shackled to the blasted past. Living with yesterday drags us down for today.

I take a few deep breaths, look around me and immerse myself in my surrounding ( which happens to be on Cathay Pacific Airlines crammed between my husband Jack and a Chinese-American young man continuously sneezing and coughing… hope I don’t catch his cold virus!!!) and I make my New Year’s Resolution.

So my dear readers, what’s my New Year’s resolution?

It’s to leave the past in the past where it belongs.

As for Tomorrow….the word hangs in the air for a moment, both a promise and a threat. Then I let it float away like a paper boat that’s filled with faults and failures, not the part filled with my passions but the part that lacks my control of them.

And the present…. that’s where I belong.

I want to truly live my life & live it fully. Live it in the present and live it aware. If we learn by living, then I will live ….with all those who love me and show they want me in their lives. And love all those who don’t all the same and wish them clarity. Finally, to accept myself with all my flaws and attributes….and know if it was any other way I wouldn’t be living the extraordinary life I am and I wouldn’t be Nora Yaghoubian Amin!

Indeed, sometimes we do get second chances, even if only briefly, even if it just whispers. All we need to do is to be aware to hear it. And I hear: it’s time for more laughter, less stress. More healing, less pain. More resilience. Stronger friendships. It’s time to eliminate everything that gives me conflicted feelings. Accept everything that resonates with my soul. And express more gratitude and of love….I’m filled with a throw of bliss and I float in peace!

And It’s discovering the Dim Sum of life (Cantonese for touching the heart).

It’s taking the vast selection of handmade bites of edible art made for sharing amongst friends to sharing a life full of love and kindness with friends that touch my heart.

And just as it’s a surprise to find what’s inside a Dim Sum, the moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.

It’s not that we seize them, but that they seize us.

Honey, that’s just life!

Copyright 2018, all rights reserved

Daughters of Tehran: A Story of Friendship, Loss & Discovery

Daughters of Tehran: A Story of Friendship, Loss & Discovery

Salam” I said over Telegram.

Aleyke Salam” the next voice followed suit.

Salam be rooye mahetoon“, said the third melodic voice.

It’s the familiar voice of our dear friend, Shima, greeting us back from 7000 miles away. 

From Iran.

Our birthplace- the sweet soil that has suffered so much and was left bereft of us, her daughters who resentfully fled to far away lands seeking safety, security and autonomy.

Neither rose nor nightingale are spared the pain of love and separation.  One rends its garment, the other crying yearns.

My Iran, known for its delicious epicurean gastronomical delights, beautiful handwoven carpets, detailed miniature paintings, collections of Poetry handwritten in calligraphy, breathtaking architecture decorated with exquisite mosaic tile work,  haunting chant of the muezzin calls, Sufism alongside Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and The Baha’i faith.

It’s of ancient Iranian instruments, the Donbak, Sitar, and Kamancheh playing soothing, almost hypnotic melodies of classical Persian music meant to help listeners escape their thoughts and emotions and feel closer to their spirituality.

It’s from a bygone time in our childhood where dreams and hopes have been replaced with unforgettable memories.  Memories engraved into the hard drive of our mind’s data base.   Can we even remotely and coherently articulate nostalgia?

Honestly, conjuring memories to language seems too linear and flat.  It’s a relentless challenge similar to trying to write a novel with half the alphabet.

Shima is visiting her family for the next six weeks in Tehran. The mere thought of her back home makes me longingly ache, yearn and  hopelessly crave to be there with her. 

Shima makes us an offer we can’t refuse.  She asks us to join her.  Sure, why not?

Indeed,  Azita and I decide to travel along with her.  Well much to our dismay, we are not exactly physically traveling with her to Iran. But we will be going on a virtual trip and exploring the next six weeks vicariously through her and visiting all the sites, smells and tastes of our childhood motherland. 

Join us on this dreamy tale as we tour and implore the Iran of our youth as we knew her and as we get to know her all over again.

“OMG, describe what you ate…every bite, including the faloodeh. Tomorrow I want you to have kabob with rice and the egg yolk mixed in and then Pashmak for dessert, then the grilled balal. After that go and have the gerdoo khees,”  Azita breathlessly demands.  Her excitement exceeding her usual calm demeanor.

I’m silent.

My brain completely turns into mush as I’m transported back to when I was five.

What seems a simple salutation amongst three friends has in actuality far more profound implications.

It’s of fond vivid, if also selective, memories of my distant past being a carefree child, playing and enjoying life in a fluid, flexible manner.

From time to time, we tend drift back and reminisce our precious childhood memories and it hypnotically engulfs us.  It reminds us of the simple joyous things  when we were buoyant, elated and full of life.

Our mind, like a video, begins with recollections of the most innocent phase of our life and we sporadically get these flashbacks of the past and suddenly we’re in the middle of our old school conversing with our best friend. 

My oldest memory is of my best friend Roshanak.  It’s the first day of school filled with magic and wonder as eight year old Roshanak and I jubilantly giggle and hug each other.  I still lucidly remember as we would show each other our newly bought school briefcases filled with school supplies and smell the multi arrays of new fruity erasers we had discovered.

Unfortunately, Roshanak joonam, you’ve also taken residence in my memories as I lost track of your whereabouts back in 1980.  I heard you emigrated to France.  I terribly miss you #Roshanak.   Do you remember as we used to trick the Lycee Francais security guards to pass and go across the street and eat the most delicious pizza at Shahram’s Pizzeria?  How about the Maltese with her puppies under the temporary built classes?

Alas…..

Shima snaps me out of my reverie by sending us a picture of  her lunch “Kaleh Pache” (a Persian delicacy similar to Menudo only with beef) and captions it “ Don’t judge me! I only had the Zaboon (tongue)”.  I pour myself three fingers of  of 18 year old Macallan,  give them a virtual cheers, gulp down the dignified smoky spirit and reply back “Don’t judge me as I take this shot with my virtual Kaleh Pacheh!!!”

Meanwhile, Azita altogether and might I add, exhaustively negates the entire “Kaleh Pache” and has her heart and soul well-endowed that Shima will deliver us with a better menu. I’m guessing she doesn’t care much for that delicacy!!!!

At this point, Shima sends us a photo of organic green olives marinated in olive tapenade and pomegranate molasses. As I’m salivating and thinking how I can possibly replicate the recipe, Azita, clearly agitated by not seeing the menu she desires, responds in farsi, “maan zeytoon doost nadaram (I dislike olives)…this picture does nothing for me…why are you not eating the stuff Nora and I talked about with you…..I never mentioned olives…..tou een hameh cheez rafti zeytoon mikhoree (In all that you could eat, you found olives to eat)?? ey vay, boro baba”

At this point, I’m dying of laughter, rib-tickleling-rolling on the floor-belly-ache laughter, thinking along the same thoughts as Azita but still excited about the new and improved Iran.  Shima has other ideas…..she cooly responds “those things don’t exists any longer.

Oh that irked Azita as she responds, “ ehem, what?? what do you mean, it doesn’t exists anymore….get with the program girl…where’s my toot, my corn, my kabob and my gerdoo khees? Of course, it exists.  oh my god, I feel ill! Nora, looks like I’ve got to get up right away and go to Iran myself!!!!”

She half-jokingly says, “what have they done to my country?” 

As if on queue, I’m once again regressed back to long ago.  Now, I see in my mind’s  eye, a wistful movie of family pool parties.  They were an immense source of pleasure to me.  The AC is broken.  It’s too hot and humid to stay indoors so we all decide to jump in the pool.  Sitting on “Dayee’s” (Maternal uncle) shoulder as he flips me backward into the pool was probably one of the most diverting, entertaining buffoonery of my childhood.

Innocent mischief clear in my movement as I cunningly steal a succulent piece of chicken kabob marinated in lemon juice and saffron, right off of the skewer on the grill.  Afterwards, as the heat of the glistening  sun scorches, we take refuge under the shade of the Senjed tree while enjoying mouthfuls of sweet and refreshing Faloodeh and Akbar Mashti Ice cream.  The savory delectable cream disolving and melting on my taste buds.  While I’m enjoying the soft lingering taste of ice cream heaven, my sister Terry is grabbing a piece of cold, crunchy watermelon, (famously  to be eaten on during the feast of Yalda, the longest night of the year).  I hear the cracking noise as she tears into a piece of the melon and the aroma hits my nostrils. To this day, every time I bite into a watermelon, I’m reminded of those tender amiable days…..those childhood days, when we felt fully alive.  When we felt the unconditional pure love of our family.  Sweet are the recollections of childhood, filling our minds with joy, passing its days in the midst of affection of grandparents, aunts and uncles, where anxieties did not trouble our innocent minds.

I snap back to the present and realize I have 34 missed texts on telegram.  As I update myself to the current text, I see the fast and furious inquiry from Azita dictating to our friend Shima, that she should absolutely and without a doubt, bring us Sohan (honey saffon brittle) and fresh Lavashak (fruit rolls) but only the most sour type and the real ones, not the “ashghalee” pseudo-distasteful one we expatriates buy here in US. 

We realize we have a lot to cover.  We reminisce visiting Shemroon at night while munching on Gerdoo Khees ( fresh walnuts) and white toot (mulberries) or better yet let’s go down the third alley off the main drag in Tajrish, and visit a traditional teahouse adorned with Shirazi themed paintings.  I can see in my mind’s eye as we recline, sip tea and eat a traditional Persian omlette.  I’m suddenly transported back in time to 1940’s cafe Naderi, the infamous intellectual hangout for the A-list literati exchanging fresh ideas.  I inhale a deep breath and think to myself “I was born in the wrong era”.  I realize I forgot to exhale.

I snap myself back to the present and ask Shima if she’s had a chance to visit kasba and Chatanoga restaurants where our favorite pastime culinary dish was chicken Keeveeskee and Cafe Glasse for dessert. 

Azita adds, “ Don’t forget to visit Bazarreh Safavieh and please please take a picture of our schools and Yousef Abad street”.

I excitedly add “ and Parke Shahanshaheee (king of kings park circa 1979)”.  Shima informs us that Parke Shahanshahee, the beautiful acre upon acre of lush green land and aviaries at the foot of the Alborz mountain; my childhood playground, where I spent my friday afternoons absentmindedly rollerskating and scratching my knees from falls, is now called Parke Melat (literally, the Nation’s Park).  And now includes a cineplex with four grand theaters called “cinema Pardeesan”, and “Bashka Shahanshahee is now Bashka Varzeshee Enghelab”, and  “Khiyaboon Pahlavi is now Khiyaboon Vali-Asr”.

Shima continues on “also, They (meaning the new theocratic non-secular Islamic ideology) destroyed “Shahr-e Bazi” (The City of Games- the largest amusement park in northern Tehran)  and built “Niyayesh Highway” in its place and renamed it “Rafsanjani Highway” in honor of the late president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani”.

Dejectedly, we realize the Iran of our childhood is just that…..a beautiful sealed chapter of our past….a remote distant cousin of present day Iran.  Our memories are replaced with images of new highways and old streets named in honor of Ayatollahs.  Albeit, amid the media portrayal and the news of the Trump administration setting to sign sanctions against Iran and it’s nuclear missile that is reportedly capable of carrying multiple warheads, Iran is one of the oldest civilizations and Iranians remain the most friendly, considerate, generous, hospitable people in the world.

I once heard, the only thing that is constant is change.

This couldn’t be more true of Iran.

For many Iranians, shopping has become an obsessive ritual.  Marketplaces have been replaced with mega modern shopping malls 150,000 sq meters with over 200 shops, restaurants, Hyper markets, an Atheletic center and movie theaters to complete it.  Some malls cater to the elite and carry only luxury designer brands such as Lalique, YSL, Chanel and more.   Street vendors of the past in Hassan Abad next to the Bazaars, have been replaced with food truck straight out of Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach, California. 

And Asian Fusion- yes, you read correctly! Tehran has one of the best super trendy Sushi restaurants with impeccable food presentation and  complete with loud, dark ambiance perfect for a night out with friends.  Mother, may I?

And let’s not forget the broadway style shows and concerts entertaining people with the likes of “Shahnameh, Rostam-o Sohrab, Ayenehayee Rooberoo, Zal-o Soodabeh” with Shajarian singing in the background.

At this point, we ask if Shima had a chance to see the new and rising stars of Iran,  Reza Golzar, Hooman Seyedi, Farzad Farzin, maybe Shahab Hosseini!!

Nah baba, they are vacationing in Kish” Shima calmly responds.

Um, does that mean we are going to Kish next to see Reza in concert?..” is my and Azita’s sassy rebuttal.

Tehran seems quite the seductress with its ideals of old and new so beautifully juxtaposed , where you will find Michelin style restaurants and little hole in the walls, both of whom have seen reigns of kings, prime ministers and clerics pass by its windows and dine elegantly inside.

Everywhere in Iran seems to be equally, a place where you go for both a friendly banter or for deep political discussions.  One things for sure, with Iranians, don’t forget to bring your social skills and intellectual wit as it will surely be a test in cerebral fitness!!

We get a text from Shima….. “Girls, I’m at the Dubai airport awaiting my flight back to LA”.  It’s a text but I know she has bittersweet feelings.  She longs to be back in LA and resume her routine and life.  And yet, she will crave, yearn and long to be back with her mom, dad, relatives and just the pure aroma of home.  Her heart is in her stomach.  Separation is miserable.  Distance sucks.

Just like my childhood Memories…..

And yet, right behind the wall of pain, of getting our edges bumped, is growth- Both for Shima separating from her parents and her life and also for me, separating from my memories.

In retrospect, I did not always notice or appreciate my happiness as I was happy in the moment.  But those bygone days left a deep impression on me.  As an adult, I find, in the hometown of memories, the key is to be fully connected in the moment, paying attention to the details of ordinary life, and rejoicing in them. 

Shima, Azita and I collectively understood from this journey into our past, that living itself has a deadline.  Our lives are strung on moments, making memories and of one discovery after another that one day will become cherished memories.

Life itself is one great metaphor.  It’s always a journey.  Sometimes, it’s a 3-ring circus, sometimes a roller-coaster, or a puzzle, a dance, a river giving way to the ocean, or a poker game.  Most of all, life is like cooking.  It’s all about what ingredients you add, how you mix it, follow a recipe or wing it, and be careful not to burn it.  And even more important, don’t tell me what you cooked but who you ate it with and what conversations you shared.   

All the ordinary seemingly meaningless realizations: working, cooking, playing music, traveling, writing, loving, helping, bonding, friendships, listening with empathy- they all make us feel that the fabric of our lives has purpose and meaning.

Our lives are our novels.  We are the authors and every day is a new page.  Our memories are the photographs we capture and develop from the negatives.  Our stories- yours, mine; it’s what we carry with us on this trip we call life.  We owe it to ourselves to respect our stories and learn from them.  While we may not always notice and appreciate it, there is always beauty around us.  We’re surrounded by natural beauty of the mountains and oceans, magnetic sunrises and sunsets, and good people with good intentions.  We owe it to ourselves to discover this connection.  There’s certainly something indescribable when we make a connection with someone and the beautiful energy and vibration rooted deep inside their soul.

And as if magically, we realize soul is more important than the physical, and love, faith and authentic relationships are not only a luxury but an absolute necessity.

At the end of Shima’s journey, we three women discover we were actually on a pilgrimmage.  A Pilgrimmage to the green heart of Iran. Our itinerary was to revisit the tastes and smells of our childhood.  Instead, we traveled back in time only to discover the best time to be the present.

We realized our memories are our stories of the past….if we’re not careful, these stories can become fences, restricting us…imprisoning us.  If we respect them and leave them in the past, they can offer us a serene sense of security and when we want to go further into our future, they won’t block our way.   These stories we tell ourselves and call them memories shouldn’t shackle us but give us the space we crave for unlimited expression and growth.

We debunked the myth, made full circle and realized the hardest part of leaving our hometown, wether as a child or an adult, wasn’t leaving our childhood memories behind in a distant land, it was understanding that our hometown was a land from the past.  And that the past itself is a foreign country and they do things differently in the past.  We will always remember, even though the past is prologue, we don’t belong there.  And we’ll try to  remember the past only to learn and grow from it so we can enjoy the present and leap happily into the future.

Let’s also remember, in the oh so wise words of LM Montgomery, “Nothing is ever lost to us as long as we remember it”.  In the end, we are our choices. And we will build ourselves a great story!

Hopefully, in the not-so-far distant,  Shima, Azita and I can visit Iran not via virtual reality but indeed via physical reality!

Honey, that’s just life!

Copyright, 2017, all rights reserved

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Serendipity

cropped-screen-shot-2017-05-25-at-4-27-01-pm1.pngSome people sit around waiting for “serendipity” to strike. But let's strive to be different. Let's create our own opportunities and actively seek out what we know we want.
There comes a time in life when we learn that principles such as hard work, honesty, kindness and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which we must build a life.
All the while trying to achieve our goals- a fundamental aspect of life.
Through lessons and experiences, we learn, grow and evolve to the amazing human beings we know we can be.
One things for sure, change is the only law in the universe, and the only way to deal with it is to embrace it with open arms.
Of course there's insecurities. Doesn't everyone have them?
The rule is we must refuse to let them control our lives.

We learn that we don’t know everything, and we are not entitled to our opinion only our informed opinion (after all no one is entitled to be ignorant, right?)
We learn, it’s not our job to save the world and that we can’t teach a pig to sing. We learn the only cross to bear is the one we choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

We realize we only get life once and that ‘alone’ does not mean lonely.
We learn to embrace it fully.

So we learn to take more time to rest. To travel. To just sit and inhale and ponder the moment. To know it's happiness when we are happy in that moment. And, just as food fuels the body, laughter fuels the soul. So you take more time to laugh and to play.
Then we learn about love. We learn to look at relationships and friendships as they really are and not as we would have them be.
We get hurt and we ache and we reminisce the memories but we love nonetheless and learn to never demand, never assume and never expect.
We learn to simply accept.

So Suck it up buttercup! If you keep waiting for serendipity to strike you'll never be at the right place, or the right time or the right situation, all you’ll find is yourself waiting on your deathbed with a list of regrets about things you never did.

So live, love, laugh and this thing called serendipity—the process of "stumbling" toward discovery is an illusion for those waiting for the big-win.
There's no accidental stumbling.
Dahling, you gotta go out and "claim" your own luck!

Honey, that's just life!

Copyright 2017, all rights reserved

Turning 48- An Ordinary Day Sprinkled with Stardust

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Turning 48- An Ordinary Day Sprinkled with Stardust

I recently turned 48. Did I just admit that? I demand a recount!

Yes, I’m truly grateful to add one more summer to the total summers of my life…blah, blah, blah!!

I’ve got to tell you, this annual open tab on the years of our lives just shockingly lurks on us, strikes us with a bullwhip into a double whammy and we are jolted into a rude awakening with a whisper that says “hey you… the busy years just passed you and you didn’t even realize it”.

“Excuse me for being bold, but if you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?” asked a lady at a seminar I was attending last week. She was trying, desperately, to place the decade I was born.  After stumbling for what seemed forever, I finally succumbed, “I will be 48 in a few days”.

Why, oh why was it so difficult for me to admit it?  Was it possibly because on the inside I felt closer to 25ish and reality dictated otherwise?

 I look in the bathroom mirror above the sink, I see my sudden aging.  I see it on my facial features one by one.  I specially notice the creases in my forehead and around my eyes. And yet to my full shock and horror, I’m not dismayed, saddened or resigned.  No, instead I feel a certain sort of interest.  No beauty on earth lasts forever except the beauty that comes from the inner journey of love.

Cheesy right? And yet what can I tell you about this newfound profoundness! I swear it’s this aging thing!

Last night, at a dinner party, my closest friends and I along with our husbands ruminated on this aging phenomena.  As the women were nostalgic about our lost youth, the men were exceedingly, and it seemed rather pleasantly, entertained by our agitation.

They were quite candid that wrinkles bother women more than they do men. (Hmmmm…Interesting I thought…Do continue….) In fact, more guys find a few lines on a woman’s face extremely attractive.  (Deliciously compelling….)

I happily succumbed to their alluring notion. Those meticulous wrinkles are the etchings of our experience, maturity and the wisdom  we’ve sporadically acquired throughout the years to help us become the women we are today!

It certainly hasn’t been easy but as I’ve had to accept the things that are changing and unpredictable, I’ve learned that every journey is a journey within.   And to me, that surpasses all the physical beauty and fallacy of youth.

But then, on the one hand, I’m getting older (a forbidden word here in Los Angeles- where plastic surgery, Hollywood and a youth-envy are intermutual and equally cherished). On the other hand, my journey within starts. 

On the one hand, I can still party as though I were still in my 20’s.  On the other hand, my joys with solitude have begun (very non-LA!). 

I can honestly say I appreciate the benefits of occasionally being alone.  It increases my creativity, productivity and leads me to a better mental health. I just need to keep that incessant chatter in my head at bay!!!!

I realize I’ve survived so much and thank God, have always been able to blend right back in (extensively an LA-thing!).

Do I sound Confused? Ok, maybe just a little. But let me clarify it by quoting Voltaire.  He put it well when he wrote, “God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living it well.”

So far so good Monsieur Voltaire…  I’m feeling witty and enlightened I deduct, as I shove the last piece of chocolate into my mouth before my conscious has time to catch up with my greed!!

Isn’t it true, after all, how we play our role is the great test of our character?   And that, I believe, is how we defeat aging….(and by eating chocolote!)

I love that I’m getting older.  I’m not going to battle against it.  I mean, let’s be honest, what’s the alternative?

So instead of infinite agony shivering down my spine and washing over me like a sudden wave of sadness and anxiety,  I rather enjoy the beauty of a few distinguished lines towards knowledge, virtue, kindness and divine intuition.  I’ve earned my stripes!

There’s an entire landscape of the other side of youth that has more depth and meaning.  It has to do with our attitude.  It has to do with being conscious and authentic, listening to others with a caring heart, having persona, presence and confidence.  It’s about accepting who we are and celebrating it.

Age is only a number and part of life’s little ironies!   I will not stop feeling young at heart and I will continue to live life with the idealism of youth and the experience and clarity of age. And time will continue to feel limitless and making sense of the world will continue to be effortless. 

More than ever, now, I continue to marvel at God’s love and have faith in the universe. I find myself rethinking family, life, spirituality, and Love.

“Love is the water of life and A life without love is of no account” (Rumi). Love has no definitions and no labels. It is pure and simple.  It is that whispering voice that has helped me to climb to the summit of the proverbial mountain and count my blessings with every challenge and blister of life.

So for my 48th birthday, I’ve decided to get myself a gift.  The gift of feeling every age as I live it and finding beauty as it is now in my present age. 

And so I’ve decided from this day forth that I DON’T have birthdays… I LEVEL UP!… In matters of the mind, the heart and the soul! ( and ok the years as well!!!!!)

But I’ve promised myself this one thing (ok 3 things!)

I will LIVE life fiercely, LOVE passionately and LAUGH profusely!

I will continue to find joy and a life of meaning and satisfaction even in the midst of suffering.

I don’t know from day to day whether I’ll be alive or not but I know that I’m alive today and made stronger than yesterday.  As long as I’m breathing and above  ground, I will continue to grow, learn, improve and LOVE.

And I know that wherever I go in life, I’ll go with dignity. It’ll be apparent through the way I talk, the way I walk, the way I treat others, and yes, the way I dress and display myself.

And I realize, everything is a life lesson.  Everyone we meet, everything we encounter. They’re all part of the learning experience we call ‘life.’ Let’s remember to never forget to acknowledge the lesson, especially when things don’t go our way.  And the lesson just learned is the first step towards mindfully living life.

So as I embrace 48, it’s clear to me that those who improve with age embrace personal growth and replace the vanity of youth with wisdom, and innocence with understanding, all the while maintaining creativity and talent without losing an ounce of hope and enthusiasm they bring to their life and the life of those they love.

And I will celebrate  life, family and friends as though there’s no tomorrow….all those who want to be a part of my life are welcomed… And those who don’t… Well, that’s fine as well. Because no matter how I look at it, some things just won’t ever make sense!

So my dear friends, I now declare birthdays as Level Up Days….

All those in favor say “I”…..

Honey, that’s just life!

Copyright 2017, all rights reserved