“Friends are your needs met” – Kahlil Gibran
Any friend of Gibran is a friend of mine. All my life I felt truly blessed by having trusting intimate and loving friendships. My friends are the true treasure of my life, after my family. The level of intimacy and the depth of each friendship is unique. While the blessing of these friendships have been the most valuable factors in my emotional healing, I found few who could understand the depth of my inner life experiences.
When I read Gibran’s words about the longing of the soul, I felt there was a “man” on this planet who did understand. I fell in love with his book “The Prophet”. I didn’t think I may actually meet a “man” in my life who would feel and understand the language of the psyche and I did.
I met him through his wife who is a loving friend in the garden of my life. I met her at work and she became a lifetime friend. We frequently had lunch together at work. I thought my husband was the only one who packed lunch for me and now I saw my friend’s husband was making delicious Italian food for her lunch. Somehow, I felt a touch of his soul in the food he prepared. I wanted to meet him.
When I first met him, I felt as if I was meeting an old friend, a warm, positive energy. It is said the eyes are the windows to the soul. I felt his kind brown eyes reflected a beautiful, advanced soul. I felt as if I knew him, like a soul memory. What could it be?
We became good friends. My heart smiled every time I saw him. I felt deeply touched by his warmth, kindness and thoughtfulness. One day, he gave me a book on tapes of the “Prophet”. Bingo,I knew where the soul connection came from. It seemed we had a common soul language. I saw him once in a while. I was eager for my husband to meet him.
Soon, my favorite Italian retired from his job after 28 years of service. He worked tirelessly for such a long time, many times seven days a week with minimum vacations. He devoted his life to provide for his family, wife and five children.
When he had more time he helped our program whenever he could. For instance, we had a Christmas gathering for our clients who had minimum resources for their families. We received toys from operation Santa for children. He volunteered his time to be the clinic’s Santa Claus. He gently greeted each child patiently. We took a Polaroid picture of each child on Santa’s lap and gave them the photo.
When my husband met this couple, he liked them as much as I did. The four of us got together on many occasions. We invited them for Persian dinners. I wondered if he was Persian in another lifetime. He understands the Persian culture from inside out, as if he feels the cultural traditions. I am so proud to say that he is one of the two friends in my life who took Farsi classes. I was speechless. I had many loving friends who wanted to know about the Persian culture, heritage and ask me for a few words in Farsi. Yet, he got the books, the tapes and each time we met or talked he greeted me in Farsi. I felt this is a friend to treasure for a lifetime.
The Persian New Year is the first day of spring, 21st of March. One year, he called and invited us to the Getty museum for an Iranian concert honoring the New Year. They drove from Arrowhead, picked us up and took us to the program.
I wonder if you are able to begin to see the beauty of this enlightened being.
Soon my friend retired also, and the couple bought a beautiful cabin in the mountains of Arrowhead. When our children were growing up, we had a few long term friends of thirty plus years. At times we would spend a weekend at each others’ home so our children could play together. We loved “spending the night”, and enjoyed it as much as our children did. I was never able to spend the night at a friend’s house growing up because my father didn’t give permission. For me, I needed to be comfortable with a friend to spend the night at their house. Before I knew, we were spending whole weekend with our friends. Their beautiful home was like a retreat center. We could sit on the balcony, see the beautiful blue sky, breathe the fresh mountain air, see the tall pine trees, drink tea and talk. We went to their home feeling tired,at times exhausted and came back feeling rested and energized physically, emotionally and spiritually. Over several weekend visits, I learned about the story of the life of my favorite Italian and the process of his becoming.
His father was an Italian immigrant from the region of Calabria who settled in a small town near Wheeling, West Virginia, where most of the men worked in coal mines, railroads and steel mills. It was a tough life of long hours of work. When he was ready to get married, he returned to his home town and married a young beautiful girl and brought her back to West Virginia, USA. (The marriage was probably arranged by their respective families which was not an unusual custom at that time.)
She did not really know or understand her husband, or anyone else. She did not know a word of English. The husband worked all day and she was a homemaker. Soon, they had four children close in age, three girls and one son. My friend was the last child. There was also a fifth child who was stillborn or who died at birth. No one knows what really happened that resulted in the mother having an emotional nervous breakdown. I can imagine, the young inexperienced woman must have been extremely overwhelmed by parenting responsibilities, having no support in a new environment. She was no longer able to care for the four young children. The father did everything he could hoping that doctors would be able to help her function again. Perhaps, it was too late. The sisters were young children as well and tried to take care of their younger brother to the best of their ability. We don’t like to dig into painful childhood memories. However, on rare occasions, they had shared that he as a young child, at times was not changed all day and sat in his high chair unable to move around.
The father, in 1937, having no other resources and having to work, took his wife and the children to his home town .The children’s age were seven, six, five and three. The mother needed to be taken care of and the children were left at a convent, raised by nuns of the Franciscan order of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The nuns also ran and staffed an elementary school at the convent and this is where the four children and other children of the community received their elementary education. During the day the boys and girls intermingled. At night time they were separated in different dormitories .He was all alone at the mercy of the adults he had never met before.
I have always wondered, what happens that under pressure, stress or trauma, one’s spirit breaks, another ends up becoming an addict, a criminal or in a mental institution. On the other hand, another under the same circumstances goes beyond survival and become a loving and caring human being. Is there a recipe for resiliency, survival and enlightenment?
I was able to share the story of my life after years of therapy and healing. He had no chance for healing from his traumatic childhood experiences. His survival and who he is today is a miracle. I know how difficult it would be for him to share about his childhood memories. Yet we felt each others’ soul language, shared pain even though our actual life experiences were different. Our feeling of abandonment, feeling unloved, neglected and being alone had left similar scars on our souls.
It takes a great deal of courage to face our inner pain and I know he was a brave soul and can do it in time. He did not remember parts of his childhood and what he remembered was scattered. The nuns worked hard to provide for the children. During the World War II, food was scarce and children had little to eat. One school day when the children were being let out to go homes, a ten year old classmate remarked she was famished and as soon as she got home she would get a couple of slices of bread and some salami and cheese and have a feast. He was surprised and almost did not believe her .
He asked “you can go home, open up the cupboard and get something to eat?”
He had never experienced such freedom.
“can you just eat whenever you want?”
The young girl said “sure”.
He didn’t have access to any food, even bread. Everything was locked. He had no memory of “home” ,“family” or being greeted by mom after school with a hug,milk and cookies. I felt tears were coming into my eyes as I imagined the pain in this incredible child.
He witnessed a nun beating up one of his sisters to the ground.She was not wearing any undergarment, she lost control of her bladder and urinated on the pavement. I know that feeling very well.
Once in a while, on a special occasion like Christmas or Easter, the nuns would take the children to visit their mother. They walked for miles to get to their mother’s residence, only to be rejected. Most times she would not even open the door and at times cried out that she did not have any children. She was in her own world, unable to greet or nurture the children. I imagine, they would go back wondering about their mother. How could a young child understand the break of the psyche? It would be too easy and human to believe that she does not love me or care about me. If my own mother does not care, is there something wrong with me? No one loves me. I do not matter. I wonder why I was born. What is the meaning of my life? I am only guessing early feeling of abandonment may result in such thoughts. It is a possibility to go through life carrying such emotions and thoughts for a lifetime, in the absence of active therapy and healing.
In 1947 when he was thirteen years old, the father brought the children back to West Virginia, leaving the mother in Italy. The father was preoccupied with his work and providing for the family. He was a “stranger” to my friend so to speak. Perhaps, his tough life of survival did not leave any energy or time for expression of warm fuzzy feelings. For a young boy the father is the primary role model to teach him how to become a man in any given culture. Many cultures have ceremonial rituals for the rite of passage. I wonder how my friend, not having been nurtured by his mom, felt when he met this stranger – who was supposed to be his father. I wonder how the father managed providing for his four children. I remember my friend said how much he would have loved to get a class ring when he graduated from high school. How fearful he was, asking his father for the money to buy the ring. The father refused to give him money for the ring .His older sisters who were working then, gave him the money to buy the ring.
The man who was not nurtured by either parents would lovingly invite us to his home, make delicious Italian food, taking us around to show us the beautiful mountains and forests. After dinner, he would read us poetry in Italian. I did not understand a word of Italian, let alone the poetic metaphors, yet I felt it with my heart. When he sat down and lit a candle he nurtured our soul gently and kindly. I cherished every moment of our time with them.
Early in the morning, I would wake up to go to the balcony with a poetry book, depositing loving memories in the bank of my mind. I wanted to fill my lungs with fresh mountain air, look at the majestic trees and read poetry, doing what I would never do in my own home. I would find my friend already up in the balcony. He would generously buy large bags of peanuts to feed the squirrels, huge bags of seed to feed all kinds of birds, the blue jays, the doves and fill the feeder with red nectar for the beautiful hummingbirds. All the animals came to greet this loving human being and thanking him for nurturing them. The squirrels would take peanuts from his hands. They knew this is an enlightened being and will never harm them.
Persians are known for their hospitality, honoring their guests with the best they can offer. He observes Persian traditions more than any Persian I know. He offered his cabin to us when they were on vacation or away from home. He bought a CD of classical Persian music and played it for us.
He knows Rumi and has several books of his poetry and anyone who enjoys Rumi’s poetry, is a friend.
When human beings meet in the dimension of the soul, there are no differences that can create space between them.
I have a long list of loving, intimate friends, mostly females, including his wife. The list of my male friends is short, few in quantity and deep in quality and he has a unique place on that list, always. I ask myself, how did he survive such a challenging childhood and how did his spirit evolve? I wonder the love of his wife and the love of his five precious children may have had a major role in his journey. My friend, at age 73 took a three month trip to his homeland Italy with his wife. His mother, the nuns who raised him have all passed away long ago yet the memories of “home” are there. We will always share the language of Rumi and Gibran and the soul connection beyond our physical existences. I trust that as he read these words he would feel how much he is loved, beyond his imagination. He is not only favorite Italian, he is my soul friend.
—- In Farsi Translated by Fred Alavi —-