The Silver Angel

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We are driving to Santa Barbara to a wedding of a student who did some of her clinical training with me about 20 years ago.

“How come you are so quiet today?” My husband asked.

“In a three hour drive, you have not said a word. That is unusual.”

“How do you feel about going to this wedding?

“It is amazing that she has invited you to her wedding.”

“Yes, that was exactly what I was thinking. To me, this is a miracle of human love and affection.”

My mind took me back to almost two decades ago. I was working at a clinic serving high maintenance clients with chemical dependency, mental illness, serious health challenges, none or very little support system and frequently transients. As a seasoned clinician, at times it was challenging to manage a heavy case load of clients who did not seem to get better. They were wounded souls, survivors of severe childhood traumas, violated in every way. What they had experienced was heart wrenching .Frequently the light of life was pretty much gone and the physical body was aimlessly living a purposeless life. Suicidal ideation and attempts to end the pain were frequent. One must only feel a “calling” to choose a path of service to those who hate themselves and everyone in the Universe related to deep pain and unresolved grief.

We had interns in training. I was cautious to protect them early in their training having chosen a sensitive path of service. One day, a beautiful young intern with the kindest eyes and the most radiant smile approached me. I felt as there was an angel visiting. Her outer beauty was breath taking yet it was her loving eyes and warm energy that attracted me.

“Hi, I am the new social work intern. I understand you do several groups. I checked with my supervisor and I like to know if it is possible for me to attend you groups.”

“Of course, you are welcome to join any group you wish. I’d like to share with you how I run the groups, introduce the clients ahead of time and the dynamics of each group, it that is OK with you.”

“Thank you. I’d like to help in any way I can.”

“What is your name?”

“Seimeen.”

“Are you Persian?” I was surprised.

“My father is Persian and my mom is American.” She had a warm smile.

“Do you speak Farsi? and do you know the meaning of your name?”

“No, not really – only a few words here and there yet I love my Persian side of the family. Yes, my name means made of silver. My father named me  and my twin brother.”

The emotional connection had formed instantly and her Persian heritage was the icing on the cake.

She came to all of my groups. I wanted her to feel welcomed, safe, valued and participate when she wished without any expectations on my part. Soon, every member of the group bonded with her. Her presence, her warmth, her honoring manner with the clients and her sincere desire to be of service was felt. She seemed to have a natural healing energy enabling her to connect with the clients who were much older than her; giving them hope and energy to live.

I was concerned that the deep wound and sufferings of our clients may be overwhelming for this young intern. She was petite, slim with an endless energy of love and compassion.

I looked forward to every group. Her presence was like fresh air. She became a co-leader much sooner than I expected. I was amazed about her wisdom and understanding of human psyche. I thought to myself where does she get such deep level of intuition as she is reading the mind of our clients and knows what to offer to lift their broken wings.

I was surprised when I learned that she is the mother of a two year old handsome boy. She looked younger than her biological age. When it was time for her to leave, all the staff and our clients were grieving her departure. She was not only one of the kindest human beings I had met in my life; she was a precious gift to the field of social work.

We exchanged information and I hoped she would stay in touch yet the reality was that she was in a highly demanding and vigorous training program, had a family and a young child, all major priorities in her life.

When I heard her son was diagnosed with Autism, my heart ached for her. I thought to myself, an advanced soul with advanced life lessons. I imagined her in my mind with her beautiful son as my tears were rolling down wondering about her aching heart.

Years passed, it was Christmas time and our doorbell rang. There was a package, a gift from Alaska. I read the name of the sender and my heart smiled. I opened the package. It was a beautiful angel made of wood, hand painted with a red heart on her chest. The angel had send me an angel for the holidays. The warm feeling of love went through my body. I felt she was the manifestation of unconditional love on Earth. The angel is on top of our fireplace at all times helping me thing of her daily.

“Hi, I have good news to share with you!” she called.

“It is so good to hear from you. I am ready for the good news.”

“We have a daughter now.”

“What a blessing. I am so happy for you.

“Guess what I named her?”

I paused; didn’t know what to say. I intuitively knew that, this was a mark in her life and so important to call me.

“I named her Ellie.”

Now, I was crying with tears of joy. This was such an honor. I was speechless. My tears spoke louder than any words. We were laughing. My words of gratitude could hardly express my inner landscape. I asked for a family photo knowing every moment in her life was precious. She was still working as a social worker and pursuing her passion with country music. She was a Wonder Woman.

Ten years passed. We were in touch with each other every now and then. I received a call from her.

“How would you like to come to Alaska and meet my family?”

My immediate response was “of course, I love to see you and your family.”

“I have been telling Ellie, I named her after you.”

“I would love to meet all of your family. Let me consult with my husband and I will get back to you.”

The possibility of seeing my dear friend filled my heart with much joy and excitement. Before I knew, we were on our way to Alaska with our daughter; a first time experience.

After so many years, she was just the beautiful young woman I remembered. It was hard to imagine she was the mother of two children. I feel, having been able to witness her with her son was one of the sacred times in my life. No one can imagine the daily life of a mother with a child with unique needs, unless being present with them for a long period of time.

She was patient, respectful of his boundaries, and in tune with his psyche. They lived on the water where at times could witness the whales passing through. Her son spent a good part of his free time on the water, soothing his soul. She bathed him with love; read him bedtime stories as he was entering puberty.

Ellie was a beautiful, active, energetic child who successfully took me on their huge trampoline. That was a first time experience for me next to this 10 year old acrobat doing cartwheels.

For the whole week, she and her family showed us the beautiful nature of Alaska, the breathtaking wilderness. We had many first time experiences including seeing wild Salmons in natural environment spanning. A boat trip to a beautiful island with natural mineral baths was a memory to cherish for a lifetime.

When we were alone, we had a heart to heart talk. Yes, she was concerned if her son would be self-sufficient as an adult. What would his life be like? He was a gentle soul. Caring for him was the first priority, taking much of the parent’s energy. They seemed to be able to manage the high stress of life. I was wondering how they nurture one another throughout the challenges of life. They sent us home with packs of frozen wild Salmon that would last us for a year.

“I have something to share with you.” When I got the call, I could feel the sadness in her voice. I made a prayer for her instantly.

“We are in the process of a divorce.”

“How do you feel my friend?” I knew her loving heart was aching.

“We are simply very different people. We love our children. We are still living together. We have different paths.”

The parents’ commitment to the well being of their children was remarkable, even though they were no longer a couple; their priority was being there for their children. How often, when parents divorce, the pain of the loss of marriage consumes the adults and the children get hurt in the process. I felt deep respect for the parents with all the grief in their journey together. They wanted the best education possibility for their son that required a move to Austin, Texas.

“Hi, we are in Austin and spent the Summer in Alaska.”

“How is your life post divorce?”

“The father of my children has a girlfriend now and they seem to be really compatible being in nature, hunting together. I am happy for them.”

“How are you doing?” Is your heart open to a possible partnership?”

“Our children are my first priority. Any possibility of having a man in my life would mean accepting the whole package. I don’t know if that is a possibility.”

I was thinking to myself, her love is deep as an ocean and any man who would have the honor of having her in his life, will feel the spirit of this angel. It would be a matter of finding her soul mate.

A few years forward, I got a call.

“I am engaged! Her voice was filled with deep joy and happiness.”

“Who is the lucky man? I like to hear all about it.”

“We met at a fair. I was there to promote our country music radio program. It seemed like a coincidence at first, a casual encounter.”

He lives in Hawaii, works for the Coastguard and has a daughter. Our connection was amazing. His family is from Sweden. We are going to have a wedding in Sweden and one in Santa Barbara. I like to invite you to come to our wedding and meet him. Oh by the way, he is a Pisces too.”

My heart was filled with gratitude. I sure wanted to meet him.

“We will be there my friend.”

If you have one friend with whom you can be totally yourself without any veil, you are blessed.

I feel, regardless of the frequency of our visits, phone calls, emails; the beautiful angel in our living room represents her presence in our family, always. She is a friend forever.

I Gave You Life

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My brother is 5 years older than me. When I was in elementary school he was in 9th grade. He was a handsome, charming young man who had just started going through puberty.

He was a true entertainer, a natural. He had a voice like Julio Iglesias; he was the life of the party. When he would sing, he put his heart and soul in his selection of songs. He had charisma and knew how to charm and capture the hearts of beautiful girls. He was a talented dancer and when he was able to go to the night clubs, he was recognized as the best dancer and received several awards. He entertained the family and relatives frequently by imitating actors from the movies. When the dance” The Twist” became popular, I don’t know how or when he saw and learned it, yet he seemed to do it better than Chubby Checkers. It seemed he was a born entertainer. It was in his DNA.

In our huge family gatherings he was frequently asked to entertain. He could do comedy, drama, sing and dance to very serious recitals. I recall a specific piece about a 12 year old revolutionary boy being captured by the military soldiers. When he performed this piece, one could feel the silence in the room and everyone was mesmerized by the delivery of the powerful message of bravery and courage. In the story, the head of the firing squad gave the young boy an opportunity to deny his association with the revolutionaries and escape execution. The courageous boy said he was proud to be part of the revolution and was willing to give his life for what he believed would bring freedom for others. He became the revolutionary young boy in front of our eyes. Everyone was crying when he finished as if the tragedy had occurred in front of our eyes.

He was also a great athlete in many sports including soccer, volleyball, basketball, swimming, wrestling and boxing to name a few. He received many awards in competitions. He was muscular, strong, fit and he knew it.

What got him into trouble was even though he was intelligent and bright, he simply was not interested in academics . School seemed to be boring for him. He was a fun loving person. I wonder how his life would have turned out if his natural gifts would have been recognized and nurtured.

Our father, a colonel in the army, a left brain mechanical engineer was a different story. He seemed to believe there was only one way to discipline a person, army style. His motto in life was “health and education” and education to him was only the hard sciences!  In our household doing well in school was a must. There was no negotiations and in my perception anything less than an “A” was not acceptable. He was an educated man and got his higher education with no family support and we were to meet his expectations.

The challenge between the father and the son started early and became more intense when he became a teenager and started 9th grade. My brother would do the minimum to pass a class and that simply was not good enough for our father.

Our father tried to shape my brother the only way he knew, by force, intimidation and physical punishment. I wonder if he believed that force would make a “man” out of his son. My brother, was not going to take it and the older he became, the more he rebelled. He turned to smoking, drinking, playing cards, girls and dating and whatever he could do secretly. Our parents were also fun loving people and loved to go out frequently to their social events. This gave my brother the opportunity to leave the house as soon as our parents were gone. He knew how to avoid getting caught.

One of the issues drove my father up the wall was we had one phone in the house and one line and when my brother was home he was always on the phone talking to his many girlfriends. When my father would call from the office the busy signal made him angry and over time became so sensitive, his reactions went from anger to volcanic rage. He believed  the telephone was only for necessary and important matters.  A call should not exceed a maximum of two minutes.  My father getting the busy signal, at times would call our neighbors and ask them to come to our home and give us his angry message “get off the phone now!”, leaving us feeling embarrassed. I felt the shame even though it had nothing to do with me.

The more force my father used, the more rebellious my brother became and the more tension it created in our household. I witnessed many of the beatings which left me almost paralyzed with fear. I was so afraid I did not dare to challenge the authority of my father. However, my brother was an interesting character.

My father loved his car, his prime possession, his pride and honor. He took good care of the car, always took it in for service ahead of time, changed parts frequently. He seemed to have a love affair with his car and would not let any one drive it. One time, I saw my brother hot wire the car and took it for a joy ride.  I admired his courage and risk taking, while my fast heart beat was making me recognize how anxious I was worried about the consequences if he was caught.

When my brother got older, our father tried to motivate him to study by offering him money for each “A” he received. It didn’t work. As he physically became stronger, a man, he stood in front of my father showing his big muscles and our father then considered other alternatives.

The story begins when my brother was starting 9th. My father pulled many strings to enroll him in the best private school for boys in Tehran, Alborz, which was widely recognized for academic excellence. I wonder if the principal accepted him as a personal favor to my father.

Parents who were able to register their son in this school would share that with great pride. I think my father was hoping that my brother may become motivated being around students with academic excellence.

The school started and soon it was evident the curriculum was demanding and required hard work even for the bright and studious students. However, my brother had other priorities: girls, girls, girls. I remember him saying once he had an important final exam and his whole year depended on this grade. He had a date and was not going to be late. He said he did a few of the problems, enough to get a passing grade of “C”, then turned in his test and left to meet his date.

As expected, his estimate was not valid and he failed 9th grade. All hell broke loose in our household. My father was so angry  I could imagine steam coming out his nostrils and ears to prevent his volcano form exploding. By now, my brother was physically too big for beatings, money did not motivate him to study, I think my father was out of tools. What should he do now?

A family consultation was in order. The whole family intervened to defuse the intensity and prevent my father from creating serious harm to his son. The wisest and most honorable members came with practical suggestions, namely to hire a private, professional tutor to help my brother with his subjects. Everyone begged my father to give my brother one more chance.

One might think after all this, my brother would seriously think about the consequences and make a different choice. As a witness, I was anxious, feeling butterflies in my stomach, wondering what was going to happen? I could not believe after a few weeks things went back to normal, my parents went to their parties and my brother continued to make the same choices as before. I felt it was not a matter of if, but a matter of when the volcano would explode.

The educational system at the time was that students had about 20 subjects, each quarter, throughout the year. If a student could not pass one or two subjects, they would have a chance to study and take the exam again by the end of the Summer. If the student failed several subjects, they had to repeat the whole year even though the student may have passed other subjects.

My brother, as expected failed the 9th grade again and he knew he was going to face harsh consequences. The day the students were going to receive their report cards, he did not come home after school. After a few hours, somehow, the family was informed he had failed. Suddenly, I saw my father, like I had never seen him before, there was something in his eyes that scared me to death. He wasn’t himself. He seemed like he had made a decision in his mind. His mind seemed to be somewhere else. As an army officer, he had a gun that was locked in a cabinet. I recall  one time, my brother got hold of the key, got the gun, and put two bullets in the wall. I don’t remember how old he was, I know as a child I recall how frightened I was and vaguely aware  he could have killed me, himself or someone else. My father was to report every bullet used to the army.

Imagine, how an officer would look like if his young son had access to a dangerous weapon like that? I don’t remember his punishment, perhaps I have blocked the memory for a reason. After that I did not know where my father kept the gun.

Now I saw my father with his loaded gun, looking like a mesmerized person, under the influence of some hypnotic substance. I was shaking like a leaf inside. Is he really going to kill his son? My thoughts were disturbing to me. I saw a tragedy in process and I did not know what to do to stop it? I felt powerless, helpless and frightened. I thought my father was in an emotional state, that his judgment was impaired. I was trying to guess what was going on inside him. I thought, he is perhaps feeling ashamed, disappointed as if his honor had been taken away and he had to eliminate the source of the shame. He did not want the son who had shamed him!

I recalled a powerful scene from a classic movie, Taras Bulba, with Yul Bryner and Tony Curtis as his son. The scene was the father and the son were both in war armor on their horses, facing each other. The son had done something the father did not approve. The father said “I gave you life and now I take it away” and with that he shot his son with a bullet in his heart. The son had metal armor on and today, after over 50 years, I remember the scene vividly. The image of the bullet going through the metal directly to his heart. The son did not resist, or protest as he agreed the father had the right to take his life. He fell from the horse. I could see the pain in the father’s eyes as he did the toughest choice in his life.

I felt in my heart my father did not know any other way to face his pain and disappointment and felt he had to take care of his shame and restore his honor. He took the loaded gun and left the house. I felt an emotional earthquake in my heart. What is going to happen? What can I do about it? Later, I heard my brother had gone to a cousin’s house in our neighborhood. They had a four story building and he was hiding on the roof. He had decided  if our father found him, he would throw himself down. The whole family was on alert, determined to protect the son. Thank God, my father did not find him in the heat of his anger and when he cooled off he came to his senses.

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I have wondered about the impact of this event on my brother. He got his degree in accounting and a Master’s degree in management from University of Houston. We all knew he was capable of doing anything he chose. I believe if his gifts and his passion was recognized and nurtured, he could have been a successful and fulfilled human being. I have a deep sadness knowing  he became dependent on chemicals to cope, a path of self-destruction.

Today, I am truly grateful for this experience. When a few years ago, our beloved son said he wanted to become an actor, an entertainer, I recalled this whole story in my mind and it helped me see he is a gifted and talented actor willing to follow his passion . Based on this experience, we were able to give our full support to our son. I wonder if my brother may be inspired and go after his passion now. My heart smiles thinking about that possibility.

The Sufi

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“I lived in a cave on top of a mountain for several months in a jungle in Sri Lanka in order to meditate”. My newly found Sufi friend shared calmly.  I was hooked.

I wanted to know this man and to hear his story. There was a stream of endless questions going through my mind trying to imagine him living in the cave.

My husband started asking the obvious questions immediately.

“What did you eat?”

“We picked berries, wild fruits and leaves, some rice and beans mostly.” He seemed to be used to endless questions.

“How did you know if the berries were edible?”

“We followed the monkeys; they knew which ones were edible and ripe.”

“Where did you sleep?”

“In the cave.”

“Any danger of animals?”

The questions were endless coming from a person living in a comfortable home with a warm bed and having enough to eat.

For me, on the other hand, I longed to know how this Caucasian American man, born in Michigan became a Sufi. He  was a pilgrim who had traveled to India, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan.

He was willing to share the whole story with me after “breaking bread” and had a vegetarian Persian meal at our home. To begin with, he took his shoes off as a sign of respect, a tradition I had forgotten after living in the U.S. for over 4 decades.

“Please share with me about growing up in St Mary’s Lake, Michigan?”

He shared he was the oldest of five children, his parents did not teach (or follow) any kind of religion. He was close to his maternal grandfather who took him for walks in nature and in silence, listening to the sounds of nature. That was his first introduction to nature and connection. He skipped school and spent the whole day in nature alone. He didn’t like school and rebelled against authority. He was both athletic and intelligent, being able to pass his classes without much studying.

When he became an adult, he was nearly drafted for the Vietnam war. He was a war resister and was certain he did not want any part of the war. He appealed to the local Board, stated he was a “Conscious objector”. He was informed only priests and preachers were qualified; thus he was denied. It was in late 1960’s. He wrote many letters of appeal to the local and regional boards. He got educated in the law and aware that he had the right to see his file. He wrote to the State Board and was informed “nothing” was in his file. He realized the staff did not file his letters. He never heard from them again. This resulted in a “bad” feeling towards the government in his mind.

He started reading, meditating and met some spiritual teachers that opened his eyes to the vast endless universe, “impossible to describe in words”.

He had come to understand “Oneness”

We are all connected and a part of one another.

He had an introduction to the Sufi path and met his first Sufi teacher in Los Angels who was trained by a teacher in Turkey.

He took a week and went to nature alone in the mountains, meditating. In April 1975, while meditating in Santa Barbara area, on a full moon, drinking only water, he heard an inner voice. There was a clear message “It is time for you to go to India.”

He had no interest in traveling yet he knew he must go. He bought a round trip ticket to Europe with a return ticket from Delhi in 6 months.

Soon he was on the Orient Express to Turkey. He arrived in Konia in the middle of the night on a bus with other Western travelers, knowing only a couple of words in Turkish. He was last at the bus station in that cold early morning. A young man was working. He greeted the group and said he’d be off work at 6 a.m. and would show them the way. They thanked him and assumed that he was going to take them to a hotel. When he got off work, he took them on the bus traveling to the country side to his home. His mother and sister welcomed them, brought them food and made bedding for them to rest. There were a few Westerners there. He stayed with the family. They took him to Rumi’s tomb. They assumed any Westerner who came there, comes to go to the tomb.

“I can’t describe the feeling when I went to Rumi’s tomb. There was an overwhelming feeling of joy. I cried like a baby for a long time.” His kind blue eyes were filled with warm affection as he shared about his inner experience.

He stayed with the family for a few weeks, helped picking veggies from the orchards and building a mud, dung, and straw chicken house. When he wanted to leave, the hosts cried asking him to stay longer. They felt connected to him.

He went to Lake Van by bus, 200 miles away; the deepest lake in Turkey. They checked into a hotel and two days later they heard an earthquake had destroyed the town of Van.

*He met an English man and they started traveling together.  The border police was looking for drug dealers. Foreign travelers were taken to a “Drug Museum”! The police studied their faces attentively to see what drugs they recognized. He became aware of the conflict between the government and the Kurds around the border of Iraq and Syria.

“Oh, Tehran is a “crazy” city! I think the Shah, at the time, had left the Sufis in peace. I met two Sufis on my way to Shiraz province.”

On the bus from Iran to Afghanistan, the bus was too crowded – no room for elbows. In the Afghan territory, in the middle of nowhere, about 1 a.m., there was a road block. Suddenly, men with masks and automatic weapons took over and ordered everyone to get out. He thought it was the end of his life. He was physically exhausted, emotionally drained and had no understanding of what was going on. Fear was in the air. Everyone was holding their breaths in. They ordered everyone to put their valuables and luggage out. They were looking for valuable items. When they took an item, they checked with the owner who gladly agreed to offer the valuable item as a “gift”, hoping to survive the deadly attack. After taking what they wanted, they gave the signal to passengers to get on the bus again. It was a moment of rebirth for all.

They arrived in Herat province by 3 a.m. He was exhausted as his body had gone through an extreme adrenalin rush. All he wanted was a room and bed to sleep for a few days straight, hoping to gain his strength. He was just falling sleep when there was a big bang on the door. A voice ordering him to follow him and the voice took him to a very dark room. He could not see anything. He sat on the floor. His eyes were adjusting to the dark. It was a circle of men drinking tea and smoking hookah. There was a guy who kept looking at him, smiling! With broken English, he asked “Do you remember me?” He looked intently at the man but his mind was blank. “I was on the road, when you were on the bus.” Oh yes, he was one of the armed men. He explained they were with the border police. They are not paid and this was how they made their living!

He got to know the prison system in Afghanistan well through his English friend who smoked hashish and in an attempt to buy some from an undercover agent, he was arrested and put to jail.

The jail in the cold winter was a cubby hole with no door. No one dared to escape from the prison. One had to pay to leave – or – die in the cold, sleeping on the concrete with no blankets.

In Kabul, he met his teacher Baba through playing chess. He stayed with him. The Master had a routine of going to the market after morning tea and biscuits. One day, the Master did not return. He stayed for two weeks and then went to town to look for him. He was nowhere to be found. It was time for him to move on.

“Was that your Sufi Master?” I asked.

“My Sufi Master is Bowa Moheyeddin.”

“Oh, I have heard of him. Coleman Barks who translated many of Rumi’s work, was also a student of him.” I thought to myself I needed much more time with this friend to capture his life story.

During his visit in Southern California, we got to go for a hike with another Sufi friend. He came to our home, graciously offered to help my husband start mediation for only 5-10 minutes. His patience, his kind eyes and soft spoken words were like fresh air.

The night before his departure to Ashland, Oregon, he stopped by with his younger brother for a short visit to say farewell. He gave me a book, “Road to Heaven, Encounter with Chinese Hermits” by Bill Porter.

Farewell Sufi friend, may our paths cross again very soon. Perhaps, we will hear his whole story on our next visit.

HAPPY, HAPPY  BIRTHDAY!!!