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Stop or go?
Thoughts on identity and change

By Kayvan Alikhani
September 21, 1999
The Iranian

A couple of days ago I was talking to a friend and all of a sudden, a vivid memory of my grandfather flashed before my eyes.

He passed away almost a year ago from Parkinson disease. I tried to remember what brought memories of him back to me. Today at 30, I compare my life with his and the changes brought on by political movements and socio-economical conditions.

Growing up, my grandfather worked pretty hard. I see his walk through life as a landowner, tailor, tour-guide, teacher, father, patient and a friend. A tough and solid character. Ever so serious, religious roots ran deep in his veins. He married at a young age. He ws only 20.

As a man, he learned to survive, traveled the world, managed vineyards, became a tailor and taught the Koran to his neighbors and friends. In the middle of all that, he built a great home and raised seven children with my grandmother Khanoom-Jan (rest in peace) whom I so dearly loved.

And I? Will I ever hold my head up high and stop living like a guest in someone else's house? I'm facing constant dilemmas as to what tomorrow will bring. Small and insignificant issues mostly add to one -- and only one -- thing: Conformity.

Some of the problems are real. The social and structural changes in our country have dictated a way of life that's beyond our control. Or is it? Are we victims of the changes in our homeland? Didn't Carlos Kastaneda say "You should assume full responsibility for any situation you're in?" Where do we draw the line?

What will I leave behind as an Iranian? Will it be a dull story that goes something like, "He was the one who left Iran to live in America so that he could have a better life?" Or will my identity as a person be like my grandfather's, an ever-changing, hard-working, proud Iranian who was very much ALIVE?

I know one thing for sure. When I have kids, they will be revolutionaries. To make sure of that, I'll teach them history. My own history and then some more from others in this world.

I saw a documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright's life the other day. He came up with the design of New York City's Guggenheim Museum when he was in his 80s. He didn't care about what colleagues and legends of his time thought of his work. He left a rich heritage of completed buildings of almost uniform splendor.

But, unlike Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and others, Wright nurtured few disciples. Wright can be considered an essentially idiosyncratic architect whose influence was immense. He changed the way we live forever. Why didn't he think about retiring early? Why not think square like the rest of the crowd?

Take Hafez, probably the greatest Persian poet ever. He lived nearly 500 years ago and today, still, his poetry dazzles the in its complexity, beauty and originality. But during his lifetime, people did not think much of him; they ignored him as a radical.

To survive, Hafez was forced to write forgettable poems in praise of contemporary kings. He constantly read, meditated, fell in love with faith, lost his young son, memorized the book of god, and of course wrote and wrote till he died. Never retired, never content.

Gandhi's passive resistance, Mossadegh and Allende's "No" to dictatorship, and Mandela's struggle for liberty, emphasized the fight for change. They were all bold, progressive, and different.

While my grandfather didn't reinvent art or write the last poem to be read, his life is a book that fascinates me. He lived a life his grandchildren can proudly look up to and say "Yeah, I'd live like that ..." Have faith in accomplishing the unaccomplished and you'll have a worthy story to tell.

This makes me anxious about the future. But my children, our children, will do better. They'll be the one. They'll bring the change this world needs. They'll defy borders. They'll live the life.

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