The gentle sun
Mercy and compassion are not the languages of our time but...
July 10, 2001
There was a very simple story my mother used to tell my brothers and
I when we were children. It went something like this:
The Sun and the Wind struck up a conversation one day as they looked
down upon earth and each began to brag about their power. The Sun insisted
that because he gave light to the world and helped the plants grow, he
was the most powerful. The Wind insisted that because he could destroy
everything in his path and position storms anywhere, he wished that he was
the most powerful. Then, as they looked down at the earth below they saw
a traveling man wrapped in a heavy cloak against the cold.
-- "Aha" said the Sun.
-- "What?" asked the Wind.
"Well Wind, do you see that man down there, the one wrapped in the
heavy cloak?" asked the Sun. "Let's settle this once and for all
-- if you get the cloak off that man then you shall be the most powerful,
and if you fail and I succeed. Then you will agree that I am the most powerful."
The Wind agreed and thought this a wonderful suggestion; he had absolute
confidence in his supreme ability. So the Wind took a deep breath puffed
up his cheeks and blew as hard as he possibly could. Trees were uprooted,
waves grew tall and the sky grew dark. The traveling man hurried along
in the howling gale and gathered his cloak more tightly around him. The
Wind puffed harder, buildings fell over, ships were wrecked and people huddled
in their homes with fear but when the Wind looked down he saw that the man
had pulled his cloak tighter still.
The Wind let out a sigh and said to the Sun, "I can't get him to
remove his cloak; you try."
The Sun smiled and with his warmth melted the clouds away. People came
out of their homes and hung out their washing, children played in gardens
and at the beach. The Sun smiled some more when he saw this. The man in
the cloak had reached a field through which a river flowed. He looked up
in the sky and smiled. He took off his heavy cloak and lay down in the grass
and basked in the warmth from the Sun.
I always think of this story when I hear a lot of huffing and puffing,
and I remember the futility of the wind and the sun's gentle victory. There
is so much huffing and puffing about Iran. The elections at home, the death
of a princess, the lengthening of trade sanctions, the implication of Iranians
in more terrorist activities, the desperation in Afghanistan, the desperation
at home, the tragedy occurring in neighboring enemy Iraq.
And with all of that, as if those challenges were not enough, it sometimes
seems to me that some unseen hand took a large knife and carved Iran and
her people apart with scars so deep, and seemingly unforgivable that they
will never be healed; never be whole again.
I know that mercy and compassion are not the languages of our time but
I find myself aching to speak them and to hear them spoken around me. In
every problem facing Iranians today, the quality we most need is mercy and
the one we lack most is compassion. Mercy like relief from a howling gale,
compassion like warmth from the sun.
I try and keep in mind that Iranians in Iran have not experienced the
world as those who left. They have not witnessed how small the world has
become, how interdependent we all are. Isfhan is still nessfe jahaan and
when we go back we are swept up in the largeness of family, the overwhelming
concerns that make up daily life that if they occurred to us away from Iran
they would appear petty and trivial compared with life's larger problems.
So when I hear arguments that we should help poverty-stricken Iranians
instead of Afghan refugees I try hard not to recoil with disgust. I try
not to condemn this as a terrible poverty of spirit, the kind that will
bankrupt our country's finest attribute, the simple generosity of her people.
I try to excuse it because life is harder there than it is on the outside,
but how much harder will it be if we give up our small kindnesses to one
another and to those more desperate than us? We cannot choose between lives
we must find a way to help them all and if we find the way hard going, then
we must try harder.
I try and keep in mind how cruel the Shah's regime was to so many people,
how many people died, how many people imprisoned and tortured, how many
people went hungry while grand parties for thousands were thrown with entire
banquets flown in from Paris. I try to remember this while I read about
the suicide of a woman my own age. It seems she took her own life in grief,
heartbroken for a country she knew she would never see again. Because of
who she was, and more importantly who her father was, she could expect no
mercy from those who opposed her family.
I reason that perhaps it was because her father made sure no mercy was
shown to those who opposed him. But what a waste to visit the sins of dead
fathers upon their dead children. What a waste of life, of possibilities,
of the chance to forgive and be forgiven. How poor we are when we don't
see the loss of young life as wasted opportunity, how blind we become when
even the most pathetic death fulfills our vengeful yearning to take an eye
for an eye.
It seems the knife cut too deep and too well and our country is carved
irrevocably into pieces. Pieces of lives that are fueled by anger, hate
and contempt for anything that opposes them. And so divided we fall. We
fall prey to the interests of countries more coherent and together than
our own. We fail to lobby for an end to sanctions against our family and
friends at home because we are still allowing foreign interests to dictate
our level of involvement in our country's affairs. With regard to U.S.
sanctions, Israel once more seizes the opportunity to have the greater say
in what happens to Iran than Iranians themselves.
We are so desperate to lose no ground that we gain no ground, we are
fast approaching the place of no tomorrow. Power is never conceded unless
it is demanded. If freedom and power have to be clawed back by Iranians
one inch at a time, then let's claw them back one inch at a time and in
the process carefully and painstakingly ensure that it can never be snatched
away again. Such careful reform is slow. Iran is an ancient country that
has been invaded and occupied, once glorious and then defiled, to think
that we can rebuild our future and our place in the world overnight is naïve
So we have reached the unenviable position of judging the suffering of
our neighbors as unworthy of compassion and we are proud to withhold mercy
from the children of our enemies. We are in such disarray that we are willing
to mortgage the future of our country and our children to the interests
of countries like America and Israel, we will not stand up and behave as
citizens and accept our mistakes of the past.
We are so impatient for change that we would willingly threaten a glimmer
of peace, stampede over the chance for reconciliation. We will not forgive
and we will not forget and we will raise our children to hold onto our resentment
and our rage so that they can fight our battles for us another day. We are
arrogant in the extreme, and foolish into the bargain because now we are
truly more impoverished and bankrupt than I thought possible.
And so the Wind blew himself out and the people sighed with relief that
his fury was spent. "Now it is my turn," said the Sun...
I pray for a common ground that will lead us away from the place of no
tomorrow and toward reconciliation. In my mind's eye it is a sun-drenched
field filled with honey scented flowers like those that lie to the north
of Shiraz, rather like the field that Rumi described when he wrote,
Out beyond the ideas of wrong doing and right doing,
There is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
Doesn't make any sense.
It is an invitation from another time, another Iran. I want nothing
more than for her people to find that field, and roll around in it laughing
with joy. To feel mercy like relief from a howling gale, compassion like
warmth from the sun. For old enemies to take hands and to show their children
that tomorrow does not have to be filled with the bitterness of the past.
It is a silly dream but one that I will keep dreaming, one that I will
whisper to my children as I tell them the story about the wind and the sun.