I've never been, even at very early age, a subscriber to deterministic thinking. So any time grown-ups would say things like “it was his (or her) time” when someone young had died, or “it is not his (or her) time yet” when someone very old was still living, I wondered.
Yes, I just wondered and doubted. What is this pre-determined time? Is it assigned? By whom? What is the criteria? Why, over a 24-hour span, did Mohammad Kashfee, my seventh grade bench- and close play-mate, and mighty old Naneh Zaynab, who raised my father and his siblings, have to die? Ehsan Geda (beggar) seemed to be even older than her, and he was still alive. Cruel thinking? Yes. A legitimate question, nevertheless.
There is a story in Mawlana's famed Mathnawi which goes like this: A man comes across Ezrail (the Grim Reaper, for our Western friends) in the town's main bazaar and Ezrail gives him an unusual look. Very disturbed, the man rushes to King Solomon's court and says to him: “I saw Ezrail in the bazaar today and he gave an angry look. I'm afraid that he's after me and I don't want to go just now. Would you please spare my life by sending me as far away from here as possible, say to India?”
King Solomon complies and sends him at once to India on the wings of the Eastern Wind. The next day when the king holds his daily public court, he sees Ezrail amongst the attendants and asks him: “Why in the world did you terrify my subject by giving him such an angry look?” To which Ezrail replies: “Your Majesty, that was not an angry look but an astonished one. Because right before I met that man, the Lord had instructed me to take that fellow's life in India three days later. But when I saw him in the bazaar, I honestly thought t the Lord had made a mistake, and I said to myself there was no way this man could go to India in three days to face his destiny, even if he turned into a bird.”
What follows is not a fable. It is a true story about my brother Mohammad. It was in the Spring of 1980, at the height of the hostage crises, when the Carter Administration ordered all Iranian diplomats out of the country. At that time, Mohammad was an Iranian naval officer who was immune from this diplomatic order and did not have to leave. But leave, he decided to do.
He summoned me from Oklahoma to come to Washington DC, to take care of his affairs after his departure. I vividly remember his American counter-part and close friend, J.C., crying (I mean literally in tears) and begging him: “Don't be so fucking stupid Mohammad. Why do you have to be so stubborn? What for? Do you really think you're appreciated back there? Why don't you fucking stay? You don't have to leave, and you know that. At least let Louisa and the kids stay, the fuck with you.” Mohammad replied with laughter: “Once a dumb Yank, always a dumb Yank. I'm going back there to get ready to kick your guys' asses, when you guys decide to attack.”
Mohammad and his family left shortly afterwards. His determined face, while waiting to board the plane at Dulles Airport, is my last live memory of him.
He took his wife and two kids to Iran. They then went back-and-forth to Europe several times. The Americans never attacked and the hostages came home after 444 days of captivity. Mohammad later retired from the Iranian navy and migrated to Italy, his wife's birthplace.
Three weeks later, and still wearing a soft cast on his fractured shin, Mohammad arrived in Tehran. He was arrested only two weeks later and sent to Evin prison. Convicted as a mofsede fel-arz, “warrior against god and his messenger”, and “enemy of Islam”, he was sentenced to death and executed in November 1985, somewhere in Tehran.
I have been held at gun point in America, this land of sea-to-shining-sea, three times. I am still alive. Makes you wonder! Doesn't it?