A day without a smile is, well, kinda boring...
Today was a pretty normal day for me at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. At least, that's how it started.
I got my coffee and found a place in the fairly crowded coffee shop to sit, to write, and to read. At the same long table with me was my friend Arnold, who creates amazing flowers out of napkins and little else. Also, a group of about three or four people gathered 'round him, watching with awe and getting him to chat with them while he worked.
At long tables, you often get to meet new people. Today was my lucky day. Sitting across from me, also watching Arnold do his thing, was Ali*, an Iranian photographer and artist, visiting family in the US, along with his wife, whose name, I fear, has fled my memory, though I do remember thinking it was such a lovely name.
Anyway, I asked Ali about his camera, how good the video capacity was, and so on. We began to chat. I was amazed.
Ali lives in Tehran. He told me it's a big city, about 14 million strong. He said he loves his country and that he hopes we never have to go to war with each other. He also said that, in Tehran, and in Iran generally, the people really like America. Much more than, say, Europe or Australia. Why? I asked.
You seek big dreams here, he pointed out. And we do the same in Iran. Our peoples are, in many ways, much alike.
Yes, I agreed. I've known a number of Iranian ex-pats over the years and I've always been impressed with their warmth, humor, and intelligence.
It's our governments, he remarks. They often just want to stir up trouble.
I know, I say. But we also have the big oil companies who would like nothing more than to get Iran's huge oil supply.
Yeah, we get that, he is quick to add. But we have ties with Russia and they want the oil, too.
We chatted a bit more and then realized how similar our spiritual paths are, even though he is Muslim and I'm not. I told him I was spiritually progressive, that I believe in the social equality of every human being. He agreed. I told him I didn't believe in an angry god, that any god who is supposed to live in heaven or Paradise could never be angry. He laughed.
I agree, he said. Then I added, If you are angry, you cannot be in Paradise and if you are in Paradise, you just cannot be angry. We laughed a bit more, discussed Iranian food and Persian rugs, and then he departed, handing me his card, wishing me the best. I returned the gesture.
About an hour later, I was in the local market and sure enough, there was Ali with his lovely wife. First thing he said to me was, My wife believes as you do. She asked with humor, What is this I believe? I told her Ali and I had been discussing spiritual things, that we agreed the Source of the Universe was Love, not anger, not hatred. She said, Oh, yes. That is so true.
We again separated with good wishes and blessings.
There has been so much in the news lately about the nuclear agreement between the US and Iran. So many are convinced that Iran is part of the Axis of Evil, that all they want to do is take over the world. Sadly, many in Iran feel the same way about the US.
I will never be in a position to keep the world from being angry, from hating, from warring. But I am in the position to clean up my own act, to recognize the humanity--and spirit--in every person, to share active, compassionate love with each creature I encounter.
It seems Ali and his family feel the same way. They want to live in peace, raise their kids, have many happy meals with grandparents, uncles, aunts, neighbors. Just like us.
Perhaps there really is hope.
I am grateful to Ali for the conversation. But more important, I am grateful for his kind, warm and caring heart. We are Family.
*Ali is not his real name. You never know who may make an issue out of an article like this, so best to use an alias. Too bad, but that's how things often can be.