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Life in a letter
Such has been the life of the pre-Revolutionary Iranian youth

January 21, 2005

Dedicated to the memory of Shirin Bakhtiar, Jahanshah Javid's mother.

My eyes are only half open. The strong coffee I just took hasn't reached my brain yet and my muscles seem to have a mind of their own.

I check my messages on the Internet and respond to a few. In one e-mail I'm informed about a new article in the I usually delete those messages, but something about this one motivates me to read it. Is it the phrase, "Dear Mom," which I never had a chance to use? Or, could it be the "Besmellah-e-Rahman-e-Rahim", which again, I've never begun my writing with? I click on the link and submerge into a life that sounds familiar, yet it was never mine. I am conscious of how little I know about such a life.

The depth of this sorrow I feel makes me wonder about the pain a mother must feel upon receiving such a letter. Moved by what seems to be a few pages out of volumes, I am compelled to write about it, right now, and before my second cup of coffee.

The letter in all its peculiarity takes me to a phase in my childhood. The familiar yellow hue of the paper with blue lines across the page takes me back to my school days. The thin notebooks marked "Forty pages, including the cover"; the clear Bic ball-point pen that sometimes bled and smudged the pocket of my denim uniform, my pencils with their chewed-up ends. I remember my home-works, how I spent entire evenings to carefully write them just to see the teacher carelessly cross each page with a red pen the next morning.

Written--no doubt, with a ball-point Bic -- the young writer ignores the lines and sends his spontaneous message. The only time he tries his hand at a calligraphy attempt is the heading, "Besmellah-e-Rahman-e-Rahim" -- a sacred phrase often misused for all sorts of ungodly acts.

In his introduction of the article, he concludes that he is a messed-up moron. I'm curious to know what causes such a self destructive comment. Furthermore, as I read his harsh comments about what the Islamic Revolution has done to his birth country, I'm wondering where he reached the turning point. I feel his frustration and can't help but compare the hardships he has endured with the easy life my own children have experienced. It astounds me to find out he has emerged the better for it.

There is a certain drive, a thirst for life, in him that seems to be missing from the lives and minds of the new generation. Perhaps hardship does make for a stronger character. I don't see a messed-up moron at all. Instead, I see a unique form emerge from a shapeless mound.

Indeed, such has been the life of the pre-Revolutionary Iranian youth. This letter could have been written by any one of them. Its path could be reversed -- for many a young people left their mother at home in pursuit of a life in the free world. Even the baby is one among many who was deprived from the joy of having her permissive grandmother around. Regardless of the variations, the story remains as one and the pain is the same.

What happened to this generation should have not only messed-up their minds, but sent them all to a mental asylum. But, look how they survived!

In a society where strong family ties were the only means to overcome the many existing obstacles and bring about a semblance of sanity, these bonds were broken ruthlessly through war, fear and distrust. A wave of strong propaganda managed to brainwash the young and push them into behavioral modes entirely foreign to their generation. At a time in their lives where laughter and joy was their birth right, they were forced to pray like monks, practice abstinence, and mourn the loss of lives. To meet their natural needs, they married and had babies while still children themselves. To add insult to their injury, there were few jobs available and what was there happened to require yet more restrictions.

The only remaining means of connection were letters on yellowing paper written in a bleeding ball-point Bic. It were as if through these letters they managed to come up for air each time they were about to drown. Through the simple packages of baby clothes and dried food, mothers and children exchanged their devotions before the chance would be lost forever. But most importantly, it was their strong characters that took most of them ashore before the harsh waves had swept them away.

I saw a life in this simple letter. No, let me rephrase that, I found traces of many lives in it. The effortless words carried an incredible weight. Look at the young man who struggles between a shaky job, a questionable marriage and a newborn, and yet, what are his immediate plans? He is going to fix a leak in his father's home. I wonder how many of the privileged youth in this country can handle one such day.

I am reminded of a question I heard over and over during my last visit to Iran. "Do you live on the other side?" Something in that simple question sounded as if they meant, "Are you among the lucky ones spared from this pain?"

Not only is this author not a moron, neither are the authors of a million more such letters. These men and women have lost their youth in the harsh current of a storm and experienced dark times that history is made of. They are the unnamed heroes. They are indeed the metal that has seen unbearable heat and been pounded more than its share. Such an unfair treatment that can only be justified if one takes a moment to appreciate the end result.

They have every right to be angry at the world. I only wish they would stop being angry at themselves.

.................... Peef Paff spam!

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