I may never figure out what makes someone decide to become a writer. Why would anyone choose to isolate themselves and keep no other company but words? Is it a choice or are we indeed driven? While many writers see it simply as a job, to the rest of us the meaning goes far deeper.
One may write for a variety of reasons: to express emotions, provoke thoughts, entertain, and yes, even to make a living. But considering that writing is one of the least profitable occupations, I am inclined to think that most do it for the love of word itself, that they come to a point in life where writing becomes their only way to reach out to the world. And, yes, sometimes we write because we fear that if we don’t, an explosion is imminent.
I remember the day I heard about my brother’s loss to a car accident back in Iran. Those who knew he had raised me, and people who were familiar with that extra ordinary bond between us, feared that the blow would finish me. It was as if I had lost an entire family at once for he had been a father, brother, friend and yes, even mother to me.
In a society without the familiar rituals of “aza”, with no relatives around and no graveside to connect me to what was left of him, I felt utterly alone.
My family stood by my side, friends offered solace, but nothing could mend my broken heart. A friend gave me a book on the unfairness of tragedies and how to deal with them. Desperate for help, I finished it in a matter of days. To realize that I was not alone, that everyone would go down a similar path at some point in their lives, seemed to offer a semblance of comfort. Through several visits to the library, I reviewed the entire row of self help books on the subject. Alas! None spoke to my experience.
Unable to find similar books in Persian, I decided to write my own in hopes of helping others. In order to reach my readers and be sincere, I had to open many old wounds. Not only did I review my own memories, but I also went through the process of mourning with other Iranian-Americans who had lost a loved one while living far away. Writing Sharik-e Gham [see excerpt: “Rooz-e azeez“] helped me to realize that in today’s world, where human contact is in short supply; there are still ways to connect.
Sometimes one writes to hold a hand across the universe and to use one’s knowledge and pave the way for others. While the art of writing seems to change into a marketable craft, I for one have learned it doesn’t have to be that way.
Years ago, a doctor who had just returned from his series of lectures at Tehran University, gave a talk in Chicago. “I was told that my visit would change nothing,” he said. “That their need for books, materials and professors went far beyond what my few lessons could offer. But they were wrong. I now realize that as long as I did nothing, my help amounted to zero. But, the minute I contributed, I became a number. Yes, indeed a very insignificant one, but nonetheless, a number! Therefore, going was the right thing to do.”
The enormous support of my readers assures me that I, too, have done the right thing. One reader wrote, “The flowers that arrived after the loss of my beloved mother have now wilted, but your book will always be here to remind me I’m not alone.”
Although my words may help only a few, but I can’t ignore the fact that when it comes to acts of compassion, I am no longer a zero. When it comes to mending the broken hearts, I'm an awfully insignificant number, but nonetheless, a number!
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California.
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