Lightness of simply being
Spending Sunday mornings in a restaurant without one's every move being dissected by the state

April 14, 2003
The Iranian

A couple of years ago, on a gorgeous August Sunday morning, my mother and I were having an early lunch in a Chinese restaurant in the beautiful downtown Vancouver. Having cooked and consumed Tehrani food all her life, and this being her first trip abroad, I was certainly taking a chance shock introducing her to a foreign cuisine; but to my pleasant surprise she demonstrated remarkable cosmopolitan zest as she chomped on shrimp cannelloni, slurped shark fin soup and greedily eyed turnip pudding.

The restaurant was alive with the bluster of brunch crowd; families in small and large groups; two, three generations packed into each other feasting on colourful plates of steamed and deep fried dishes as they gossiped between bites and devoured in between stories.

In one of those comfortable silences while we were waiting for the next round of delicious dim sums to arrive, I noticed my mother deep in reverie, smiling to herself as she scanned the panoramic length of the large dinning room. I was curious what had caused her whimsical smile. The ease and lightness with which everyone existed in their skin, responded my mother the philosopher; carefree families on a Sunday brunch forgetting their daily problems, simply enjoying themselves. 
This past Noruz, having nailed a too-good-to-be-true long distance plan, I was busy on the phone. With the American invasion of Iraq looming ever so closely, I was anxious to speak to as many family members as possible. As is the case with large families, the view one gets of goings-on is often a parallax one. Mindful of the distance and your helplessness in affecting their lives directly, each family member tries to put a different spin on life. It's good and dandy according to mom, not so rosy according to dad, etc. 

This time around though I couldn't help notice certain heaviness in everyone's voices, a tone of fatigue. No, battle weariness is the more proper word, for what passes for life in contemporary Iran, is often best described as a battle. And I remembered again that Sunday August morning.
Having been away for a long time, it'd taken me a couple of days to grasp that moment of epiphany, to realize how life in Iran more than ever exerts a weight on its people. It's not so much the high unemployment, the desperately overcrowded educational institutions, the basic living shortages, the constantly devaluing currency, the housing crisis... Although they're all significant contributors to the general sense of malaise which seems to permeate the polluted haze hovering over the inhabitants like the sword of Damocles.

In a traumatized society where every aspect of life is scrutinized and individual freedoms are questioned on a daily basis, living can certainly be wearisome. The line between private and public sphere is ever shifting, mostly in favour of the state. The minutes of everyday life, the simple unremarkable rhythm of daily existence is overwhelmed by the epic scale of politics. The artist may be able to sublimate this unbearable heaviness of being into poetry but the ordinary citizen is crushed under the weight of it all. 
Where uncertainty is the rule, predictability of routine becomes an oasis. The comfort of routine, of spending Sunday mornings in a restaurant without one's every move being dissected by the state, the simple passing of time, of the certainty of going to work and coming back, of birthdays and weddings and funerals and births... the unremarkable, small facts of life, the lightness of simply being. 

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