baha’i

If I Have Time, Don’t You?

Memories of my grandmother..

Each year, unfailingly, we received a heftily substantial box of homemade cookies and treats around Christmastime.  My sisters and I scavenged ravenously for our favorites, most often your frosted sugar cookies that made a swift departure to our bellies.  Love in cookies.  Love absorbed by our bodies and satiating in your absence.

After Grandpa died you started spending winters with us.  Every morning at the crack of dawn at which you naturally (inhumanly) arose, you set the thermostat heat on high so we were all warm by the time we (humanly) awoke.  

You love the sun. I wonder if you remember us lying in the reclining chairs by the pool or in your backyard at your new condo here in California.  You would bake to a dark tan while I would burn to a bright red.  But that was not important.  Of importance was the time spent with you.  Time.  A commodity rarer than I could ever anticipate.

Christmastime again.  You formed the sugar cookie dough deftly and with secrecy.  None of us to this day know the exact intricacies and ratios of the flour and leavening you combined to create cookie magic.  A cookie magician.  Trees, angels, bells, reindeer.  All frosted in reds and greens and blues and whites.  What simplicity and innocence spiked with a little shortness, but we overlooked the thorns.  

We got you a dog to keep you company.  Elsea had a serious issue with barking that drove you to insanity, but you took one step further the day she ate your dentures.  We have forever joked about this famed event, even commemorating it with a Hallmark card portraying a dog with human teeth.

You started to hear music – Elvis, the Star-spangled Banner – things we could not hear.  At first we chalked it up to eccentricity and a little senility.  We took you to the doctor multiple times.  Mental status exams repeated, one after another.  You could never draw the clock, but you remembered “Obamack” as the President with little difficulty and marked distaste.  

Your driving worsened.  We became physically afraid to be in a car under your direction.  You left the stove on and forget details and events.  You stopped your activities of daily living – bathing, styling your once impeccable permed curls.  We had no choice.

I created the shadowbox hanging next to your room door at Sunrise Assisted Living as artistically and artfully as I could muster. I believed you deserved the best shadowbox on the floor, in the building for that matter.  The deep crimson duvet we bought for your bed paired well with the luscious green carpet running wall to wall.

I moved to Oregon a little while after your move into Sunrise.  My memories stop here.  I have heard stories of your decline from Daddy – hoarding, inattention to care of yourself, a move to another assisted living facility, misconceptions about our lives.  Stories.  I neglected to delve deeper.  

Last Wednesday, the teacher overseeing our memoir independent learning class graced our presence at our weekly meeting with several activities designed to stimulate our creative thought and writing capacities.  The activity I chose involved reading “All My Relations” by Linda Hogan.  I was enamored by her telling of how before and after collective prayer, the constituents gathered to pray would intone “all my relations.”  The repetitiousness of this utterance inspired me to write a short piece about my experience on Baha’i Pilgrimage in Haifa, Israel, using Allah’u’Abha as my refrain.  Our teacher also supplied stationary and cards upon which to write messages to people whom we loved or wished to thank, also conceptually spawned from the Hogan piece.  I had some time left in the hour and decided to write a card to my grandmother.  I have minuscule handwriting and attempted to write as largely as I could so that she could be sure to read it.  I knew enough to keep it simple with a loving update of how we all are in Oregon.  My teacher supplied a stamp, and I texted my father for her address in Los Angeles, letting him know I was sending her a card.  I received a heavier return text than anticipated.  As anticipated, her address was listed, although it was accompanied by a I do not think she will be able to read it, sweetie.

Tears began to flow copiously, and I tried to staunch the flow before my classmates noticed, albeit unsuccessfully.  I lost it.  I was bombarded by feelings of selfishness.  If I have time, does she not?  Can’t time stand still?  Aren’t we still baking in the sun like the cookies in our oven?  I have not seen her in five years, nor have I spoken to her more than a few times.  Life has encapsulated me, and I was ignorant not to ensure her concurrent encapsulation.  Time on this plane is linear.  How can I expect life to continue for me, but to freeze as a crystal in a cube for her?  Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease.  I fear I have missed my window to connect, to say goodbye before the disease speaks the words for me from my lips.  In the card, I promised to write and to visit this fall.  There is a possibility that I may find an empty, unmade bed, hoarded newspapers, and disarray in place of the tanning, baking curmudgeon I have known my entire life.  I pray to God our worlds collide at least once more.  Please do not leave this earthly plane before I have planted a kiss on your cheek, listened to your stories, and present you with my closest interpretation of your Christmas frosted sugar cookies.  Grant me this.  I promise to commit you to memory in memorial of the memories, the skills you loose each month, each week, each day.  If you remember one thing and only one thing, let it be this: You are loved.

Connection and Disconnect

At my weekly Wednesday group therapy sessions, I often zone out, floating amongst the clouds far above reality, only coming down once a comment or concept piques my interest. This past session, in rare form, I was actually half-paying attention to the discussion of the group. There was a new man in the group, and he posed an interesting question: What in this world fosters connection between individuals and what fosters disconnect? Other participants listed answers involving meeting people at church, having similar interests/hobbies, attending gatherings, etc. As people continued to discuss the prompt on a more superficial level, my mind started to churn as I truly pondered the question.

I believe that, in life, connection between members of humanity lies far deeper than sharing interests and meeting individuals at gatherings. Yes, those things certainly bring individuals together, but is there permanency? A transcendent component? The strength and vitality of our connection as human beings does not end, does not die, at the end of human life. While it is relatively simple to create more superficial connections between individuals, in order for humanity to thrive and flourish, we must reach within ourselves and delve into the deep.

The Baha’i Faith is a world religion that centers upon the belief in the unity of all mankind and our shared, collective existence as members of one human family. The Faith strives to foster this unity and bring together the different races and peoples of the world. Baha’u’llah, whom Baha’is recognize as the Manifestation of God for this Dispensation and the Promised One of all Ages, says:
“That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.”

The reason I reference the Baha’i Faith is because it, like many faiths, is an effort to delve into the deep. As a Baha’i and a member of our collective humanity, I have experienced much of my life a feeling of connectedness with other members of my Faith and with others in my life – not just because we share a fondness for crochet and Apples to Apples (which very well may be true!) – but because we share a common goal, a common endeavor: an effort to unite and better the world in which we live, both for the brief existence we spend on this earthly plane and for time immemorial as humanity flourishes and progresses.

Our connection as individuals is dependent upon our shared causes and goals. Disconnect manifests through the discard and lack of acknowledgment of our common purpose, and also through invalidation – not paying attention to or ignoring the needs of our fellow members of humanity.

Keep attending your knitting circles and playing video games for hours on end with your best buddies, as those certainly foster connection and camaraderie, but also be aware of our higher purpose in nurturing connection between members of humanity. That is where our true connection can be found, eternal and transcendent.

Finding Peace

My soul has hungered for years, starving and craving a source of sustenance to ease the pains and growls of an empty stomach.  After years of searching and seeking, I have come to find a sustenance incomparable to all worldly materials and desires that quenches the thirst and satiates the hunger of my aching soul.  It has been a long, tumultuous road, but spirituality has offered me a solace that has been both soul-enriching and a remedy, a salve, to the sickness and perpetual instability of my mind, rocking me softly in the arms of an all-encompassing, infinite and ever-loving God.  A bringer of a peace my being could never have imagined nor attempted to comprehend.

My path towards finding peace and solace within my being and my soul began years and years ago.  I was raised a Baha’i for many years, but for various reasons our family became inactive in the Faith.  Though I was not actively participating in the activities of the Faith, my thirst and desire for meaning and to feed the growth and enrichment of my soul never waned.  Subsequently I embarked on an ardent journey to find these qualities within my life.  I studiously researched the religions of the world and attended religious gatherings at various faith institutions, including Jewish temples and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches.  I went so far as to sing in a church choir, which, in retrospect, was a poor choice, as I have no singing ability nor talent.  I am surprised I was not gently asked to cease my participation in the choir for the wellbeing and safety of those listening during church gatherings.  In my searching, I attended confirmation classes at two separate churches.  The first class did not satiate my hunger and left me with a multitude of questions and uncertainties, so I attempted to address my growing discontent and uncertainty by enrolling in another confirmation class.  Still my soul was not entirely content.

By work of what I consider a miracle, I was reintroduced to the Baha’i Faith in my mid teens.  In our home we had a massive, towering book shelf, so tall it required a ladder to reach the upper shelves.  As the years had passed in my life, I ventured shelf by shelf, seeking and discovering book after book.  It seems that with the passing of each year, my search advanced higher and higher. When circumstances permitted, my family and I had the opportunity to return to the Faith.  It was around this time that I discovered the shelves containing a multitude of Baha’i books.  I soon began to devour the content within these blessed pages and attend Baha’i gatherings with my family with such fervor, that my soul ignited a burning flame within me that consumed all inquisitiveness, confusion, and discontent that had danced through my mind.  I had found my source of sustenance, of solace and peace.  What a wonder!  With this flame, I could not be stopped.  I began to love the Faith with such intensity, a love and connection incomparable to any I had ever experienced before.  My searching concluded, and I found a home within the Faith.

The Baha’i Faith has nurtured my soul, but has also attended, with the care of skilled physician, to my ailing mind.  When my mind battles demons, the Faith disarms them with swift and deft ability.  When loneliness ensues, prayers enable me to converse with God, providing a listening ear and an eternal companionship and friendship.  I do not believe I would be alive today had I not found and been fed the sustenance that spirituality – and the Baha’i Faith – provide me.  My illness is life threatening and debilitating, yet the Faith is my bringer of eternal life and the opportunity to one day transcend the pain and suffering I experience in this world and live forever in peace and solace in the next world.