In response to Nazy Kaviani’s “Iran, freedom of expression: an invitation to write” series:
We breathe again when we see a fire. We hadn’t necessarily known that we were waiting to breathe again, but the memory of fire is there when we see it, back to some first notion of fire as a tool, as a tool for survival, but also as a tool to know ourselves. I knew it, we think when we see a fire. I suspected it all along. Earth and sky, water and air, all are well and good, but also: Fire. The only one that can hurt in its tiniest form. Pain? we say when we see a fire. It is nothing new. Still we respect it and do not place ourselves above it. Even when we jump over it at eid, we laugh at it like children laughing at a grandmother. Let the children jump, we think. They are the ones who do not know that this same fire will outlast them. Meanwhile the grandmothers stare at the fire and see childhoods they did not know they still had.
We breathe again because we see the colors we knew were there. They are joyful and deathly at once. Let something else hold those two together for a while, we think. We are only one man or one woman, and we get tired. And then we see the fire, and the way those flames intertwine is a place we want to be. I would like to be a man or a woman who can hold those two together, we think, and any second when I did so is a second I am proud of.
It gets into us and it feels like we are made of it and we are. We don’t know who we would be without tea, without kabob, without the sun. Fire doesn’t come as a surprise to us. It comes to each of us differently, but none of us can look honestly at ourselves and say we didn’t know it was there. How did we think our faces got burned into the expressions they carry? The defiant ones, the knowing ones, the faces of stone and clay. The faces that began in fire and will end in fire. The faces so sure of their beginning and end that in between they can smile without a trace of fear, without a need for anything in return.
Where would we go that we could go without it? Nowhere, and we wouldn’t go there even if we could. One man or one woman by themselves would carry all of it with them to the new place, and it would be the first thing they would cultivate once they got there. They would know it is the place from which to start.
Give each man and each woman’s fire a chance first before you start, we say to each other in our greetings and goodbyes. Perhaps they are one of the ones whose fire is their own, the burning essence of humanity, the same thing that has stood up to guns and tanks and said, I don’t need to see that kind of fire because I already have the other kind. I’m sorry that you do.
We see it in each other and hope that it is like our own. And yet the presence of fire remains unquestioned. It is too much to ask, to believe that they could be born of this country, that they could be born into this tongue and this people and this land, and that the fire that attended their birth could be extinguished by anything other than death. Even then, they have the power to make the living more reverent and humble, more appreciative of the next fire they see.
We meet the fire in our life directly. It is better than running from it and it is better than running to it. It is going to be there whether or not we run, whichever direction. It is our only chance to make it our own, to meet it directly. And we are never done because that fire is a living thing, but so are we, and we keep striving for a time when we can sit by that fire and tell it our story and listen as it tells us its, and to see that those stories are the same, that we are old friends after all, and that as a people we have been living honestly enough to be deserving of that friendship.