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In memory of...
Hard as I have tried to put Bam and its victims behind, they have been with me all along

March 25, 2004

Every year Norooz seems to pass quicker than before and the post holiday depression sets in stronger and stays longer.

I wonder what could be the cause of this downward mood. Is it because the older relatives are no longer around? Or could it be that I have a hard time accepting that now I AM the older relative? Is it because there is no sign of a Persian new year out on the street and no one gives a damn if we celebrate or not? Do I miss being among the majority in a society? It could be any combination of these reasons. All I know is that once I'm through with what I'd like to call a celebration, my mood is anything but celebratory.

It's small comfort to know that I have tried. I cleaned my house and grew the lentils and bought the outfit. Not just seven, but my "haftseen" had nine "seens" and I managed to find all three colors of hyacinths. I painted the eggs as if they were about to be entered into an art contest. I made my own baklava, giving it two colorful layers of almonds and pistachios. The table looked good, my kids looked great, and the radio played my favorite Norooz music of the oboe and kettledrums. Perhaps the "narenge" did move in the bowl of water and the gold fish flipped as the year turned. We laughed, we hugged and Norooz arrived with all its glory. So what was that ache in my chest? Where did the melancholy come from and why the hell did I want to cry?

"You need to be among people," the wise inner voice said.

I decided to break the habit and attend the Iranian community's gala event. The feast was prepared in a most tasteful fashion. Many people had worked long and hard to make it a memorable evening. I saw many friends and everyone seemed to have a good time. The dance-school's performance was delightful. We ate, drank, and left the party after a sweet dessert. But what was that bitter taste in my mouth? What the heck did I want from this holiday that I was so disappointed in not finding it?

The flowers on my table have now welted. The overgrown "sabzeh" is ready to be tossed in some remote stream. The baklava is almost finished. The candles are burned to the end and my goldfish is dead.

Then it hits me like a rock.

Hard as I have tried to put Bam and its victims behind, they have been with me all along. I have tried to mask the pain, to move on. I wanted to be festive and not let anything mar the joy of the occasion, as if I held the torch of a tradition. Afraid that if I did not celebrate it would be the death of an ancient heritage! Oh how hard I tried to isolate myself from the disaster that had given me sleepless nights.  But the grief had remained in my heart all along. Every gathering, every feast, and all the fun and laughter had been a facade that failed to mask my deep pain. I wondered how many others must have felt the same, yet we all refrained a discussion for the fear of ruining the day for others who seemed to have a good time.

"No one has forgotten," my daughter says. "Did you not hear them talk about it during the opening announcements?"

I had not.

It makes me feel good to know that Bam was mentioned. But it does nothing to ease my guilt.

I wonder if I'll ever know how it feels to be a child deprived of his single day of celebration, a day he has waited an entire year for. Having suffered the loss of a few loved ones in the past, I can't fathom how it feels to lose everyone at once. I wonder if all the financial aid in the world could heal that pain. The indelible images of orphaned children burn scars in my soul. I had pushed them away, but now realize they never left.

When the dance school brought little girls on stage with their colorful village costumes, it also brought the image of Bam's children to life. Is that why I wanted to cry? How could I have missed it? How could I enjoy a feast when I knew of families in mud houses whose simple dinner would never be enough? "Oh, but we understand the loss. We have done so much to help," a friend says. I suppose it depends on one's definition of "so much" and the true understanding of the word "loss."

The bitter taste of a chocolate dessert shall remain in my mouth for a long time. How easy it had been to bypass a focal point, to blend in with a society that considers the rest of the world "somewhere out there." How inevitable it is to rot when you are one apple thrown intoa large bushel of rotting apples!

The revelation feels good. Like opening an infested wound and letting it drain, it makes the pain more tolerable with a promise of healing. Once diagnosed, the pain becomes part of me, a sore and bitter part that helps me to forgive myself. I know that none of the phone calls I shall make, no amount of donation, and none of the hand holdings across the globe will be enough to stop the pain, but all I can do is try. It is the only way I know to feel human.
>>> Come see Lian Ensemble's April 24th Bam benefit concert in San Francico


Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance writer, poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.

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By Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani




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