Stop or go?
Thoughts on identity and change
By Kayvan Alikhani
September 21, 1999
A couple of days ago I was talking to a friend and all of a sudden,
a vivid memory of my grandfather flashed before my eyes.
He passed away almost a year ago from Parkinson disease. I tried to
remember what brought memories of him back to me. Today at 30, I compare
my life with his and the changes brought on by political movements and
Growing up, my grandfather worked pretty hard. I see his walk through
life as a landowner, tailor, tour-guide, teacher, father, patient and a
friend. A tough and solid character. Ever so serious, religious roots ran
deep in his veins. He married at a young age. He ws only 20.
As a man, he learned to survive, traveled the world, managed vineyards,
became a tailor and taught the Koran to his neighbors and friends. In the
middle of all that, he built a great home and raised seven children with
my grandmother Khanoom-Jan (rest in peace) whom I so dearly loved.
And I? Will I ever hold my head up high and stop living like a guest
in someone else's house? I'm facing constant dilemmas as to what tomorrow
will bring. Small and insignificant issues mostly add to one -- and only
one -- thing: Conformity.
Some of the problems are real. The social and structural changes in
our country have dictated a way of life that's beyond our control. Or is
it? Are we victims of the changes in our homeland? Didn't Carlos Kastaneda
say "You should assume full responsibility for any situation you're
in?" Where do we draw the line?
What will I leave behind as an Iranian? Will it be a dull story that
goes something like, "He was the one who left Iran to live in America
so that he could have a better life?" Or will my identity as a person
be like my grandfather's, an ever-changing, hard-working, proud Iranian
who was very much ALIVE?
I know one thing for sure. When I have kids, they will be revolutionaries.
To make sure of that, I'll teach them history. My own history and then
some more from others in this world.
I saw a documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright's life the other day. He came
up with the design of New York City's Guggenheim Museum when he was in
his 80s. He didn't care about what colleagues and legends of his time thought
of his work. He left a rich heritage of completed buildings of almost uniform
But, unlike Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and others,
Wright nurtured few disciples. Wright can be considered an essentially
idiosyncratic architect whose influence was immense. He changed the way
we live forever. Why didn't he think about retiring early? Why not think
square like the rest of the crowd?
Take Hafez, probably the greatest Persian poet ever. He lived nearly
500 years ago and today, still, his poetry dazzles the in its complexity,
beauty and originality. But during his lifetime, people did not think much
of him; they ignored him as a radical.
To survive, Hafez was forced to write forgettable poems in praise of
contemporary kings. He constantly read, meditated, fell in love with faith,
lost his young son, memorized the book of god, and of course wrote and
wrote till he died. Never retired, never content.
Gandhi's passive resistance, Mossadegh and Allende's "No"
to dictatorship, and Mandela's struggle for liberty, emphasized the fight
for change. They were all bold, progressive, and different.
While my grandfather didn't reinvent art or write the last poem to be
read, his life is a book that fascinates me. He lived a life his grandchildren
can proudly look up to and say "Yeah, I'd live like that ..."
Have faith in accomplishing the unaccomplished and you'll have a worthy
story to tell.
This makes me anxious about the future. But my children, our children,
will do better. They'll be the one. They'll bring the change this world
needs. They'll defy borders. They'll live the life.
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