Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Deeper Basis to Invitation

Our National Spiritual Assembly sent out a letter the other day with a question: What can we do to prepare our contacts to receive an invitation to the bi-centenary of the birth of Baha'u'llah next year?

What an interesting question.

I mean, it may just be me, but when I think of a holy day, I imagine looking at the calendar and saying, "Oh, there's a holy day next week." Then I would begin to freak out and slap together a quick program, usually with a few readings and a couple of stories. Maybe there would be a talk. (One year we actually had three separate programs. We began with prayers that included lots of live singing, and then divided the room into three. One part was for food and conversation; another part was a public talk; the third part was a crafts section around the theme of the holy day. It was great.)

Oh, and then I imagine calling up a friend and the conversation would go something like this. "Hey Joe." "Hey Mead." "Uhm, we're celebrating a Baha'i Holy day on Thursday. You wanna come?" "Sure. I guess so."

And that's that.

But preparing my friends? That's an intriguing thought.

A friend and I were chatting about this the other day and we had some interesting thoughts on this.

"Ruhi Book 4", we began. "After all, it's the story of the Twin Manifestations."

Well, it is and it isn't.

We initially thought that it would be good to bring our friends through Ruhi Book 4, The Twin Manifestations, but then quickly realized that this wasn't the purpose of the book. It's actually designed to help Baha'is tell the story of the Twin Manifestations to their friends. So rather than trying to get our friends to take the book, we should take it and perhaps tell these wonderful stories over the next year.

This got us looking at the book again, and that was when we noticed something else of interest: Unit 1. You see, as I'm sure you know, dear Reader, Units 2 and 3 are the stories of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, but Unit 1 is something totally different. It's about the importance of this Day.

Then, as we looked at this, we realized that the other two units are about a lot more than just the stories. The whole book is structured around the idea of crisis and victory, and this carries through all three units, helping us recognize the pattern that is so much there in all of history.

Now, when looking at the question, "What can we do to help prepare our friends to receive an invitation to the bi-centenary of the birth of Baha'u'llah" a whole new concept begins to arise.

And this gets to the heart of what prompted me to write all this.

Do you think it is any mere coincidence that we are seeing a significant rise in prejudice and fanaticism at this time?

When we look at recent history, that of the 20th century, we can trace this pattern so clearly. The century began with the amazing victory of "civilization" having spread all over the world, but one of the inherent problems with it was the spread of the colonialist attitude. However, there was also the tremendous victory of the various peace treaties between the countries that ensured peace between the nations. These peace treaties, however, were convoluted and weak, leading us straight into World War 1. What a crisis. And from that crisis came the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. What a victory. However, this treaty was incredibly unjust towards Germany, and the League had no way to enforce its decisions. World War 2. Crisis.

From this global conflagration we saw the emergence of the United Nations. Another incredible victory. But it was tainted by the permanent members of the Security Council, a principal that says in effect "All nations are equal, but some are more equal than others." Through the various political intrigues between these five nations, there were many good decisions that got vetoed. Crisis.

This is where we are today. Basically.

So let's look at these members: China, France, Great Britain, Russia and the United States.

At the time of the formation of the Security Council, having permanent members with the right to veto any decision may have seemed like a good idea, but I suspect we're beyond that now. Of course, this is just my own personal opinion, and nothing official, but it's like a parent imposing rules on a child. There just comes a time when the parent no longer has that right.

And when I look at what is happening around the world today, with human rights abuses on the rise in some countries and prejudicial attacks rising in others, it seems to me that these five countries no longer have any possible claim to moral superiority to justify them being in this position over others.

I think we need to talk about this. With our friends.

And we need to look at what is happening in the world, the concerns that our friends rightly have, and help them see how to place this all into the context of crisis and victory. We know we are in the middle of a crisis. We also know that there is a glorious victory just ahead. We can see it.

We also know that this vision given to us was given to us by Baha'u'llah, whose 200th birthday is coming upon us very soon. We need to help spread the word about this vision, and about this Person. And as we do, we will be in a far better position to invite our friends and contacts to a celebration of His birth. And they will be far more open to receive it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Wedding Reception

"What do you mean", my wife recently asked me, "you haven't written about our time in the Holy Land?"

Marielle and I recently applied for Pilgrimage, and that got us talking about the last time we were in Israel, which was for a dear friend's wedding.

But before I tell you that story, I have to share this other one with you. Well, it's not actually a story, but more just a bit of a note. Marielle was talking with her mother a little while ago and Lise, her mom, asked her about the idea of no women on the House of Justice. Marielle truthfully said that she had no idea why this would be the case, but that 'Abdu'l-Baha had said that the reason would, in the future, be more manifest than the sun.


This, as you can imagine, did not satisfy Marielle, nor her mother, until our family went to the Holy Land.

As I mentioned, we were there for a wedding. Well, as with all good weddings there was a reception afterward. Marielle, Shoghi and I all went downstairs to it, and the room was fairly crowded.

Now, crowded means that adults couldn't just easily walk through the room. There were enough people there that we were not exactly packed, but all standing fairly close together.

This would stop an adult from running through the room

But not a child.

Say, a child of just over a year in age who was just beginning to learn to walk.

Like Shoghi at that particular time.

When we went down there, Shoghi decided that he really wanted to be on the floor. And while the room was crowded, it wasn't that crowded. When Shoghi began to squiggle like that, I usually let him down so that he could begin to explore the world around him.

That day was no different.

Except that it was.

It was different.

We were in the Holy Land.

And at this party, there were some very special people. Shoghi, at just over a year of age, was placed on the ground, and he practically sprinted across the room. I went to go after him, but there was just no way that I could keep up. He was small, able to run between people's legs. I, however, was not.

He ran straight across the room and just about dive bombed Kaiser Barnes, grabbing his leg and giving him a big hug. Mr Barnes, who was a member of the Universal House of Justice at the time, let out a surprised full-bellied laugh at this.

But Shoghi wasn't done. No sooner had Mr Barnes noticed him than he was off again, rushing across the room to give Peter Khan, another member of the Universal House of Justice, a hug, too.

Dr Khan looked surprised, but smiled down at his little "attacker", who proceeded to run off again.

This time he went to give Farzam Arbab a hug. Mr Arbab was yet another member of this illustrious institution, and by now many people had stopped to watch this little child dive-bombing certain people with his adorable little hugs to their legs.

After Mr Arbab, Shoghi went to Hooper Dunbar and then Paul Lample, the fourth and fifth members of the Universal House of Justice who were there.

Five members were present at this wedding reception, and Shoghi got them all.

When Marielle told this story to her mother, she finished with, "I don't know why Baha'u'llah would decide to limit membership to men, but if Shoghi could pick them out of a crowd at that age, I'm going to trust this decision. There must be something special about them."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bring Thyself to Account Each Day...

Once again it has been quite some time since I have had the chance to write. While there are many reasons for this, there are no excuses. If you want to see a bit of what I've been working on, you can check out another blog I've been writing:

That's one that a friend and I have been working on for some time, and it has been very rewarding. Only recently have I gone back to the beginning of it and started re-reading some of our insights into that wonderful book, the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude.

But for now, I've been thinking about a question someone recently asked me. I've talked about it before, but I really want to write about it again and thought, "Hey, why not?" It's about that Hidden Word, number 31, "O SON OF BEING! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds."

How, he wondered, do you bring yourself to account?

Well, as you know, dear Reader, this is just my own way of doing it. Nothing official. But it works for me.

To start, I'll re-tell a story of something that happened shortly after I declared myself a Baha'i.

First, let me just explain that after a long search, with lots of my testing to see whether or not I believed that Baha'u'llah was Who He said He was (and my use of capitals should give you some clue as to my thoughts on that), I decided that I would strive to do whatever He asked of me in the Writings.

And so I read, "Bring thyself to account..." Now I don't think this is just a good idea. He didn't say, as far as I can tell, "You might want to bring yourself to account...", or "It's a good idea to bring thyself..." No. To me, and it's a personal understanding still, it was a command. "Bring thyself..." Do it.

So I did. Or at least I tried.

I started off by looking at all the bad things I had done during the day, feeling bad about it, promising to try and do better, and going to sleep each night. After a few months of this, I began to feel really bad about myself. After all, I was looking at all the things I was doing wrong. I would count the sweets I had, the helpings of ice cream, or root beer, forgetting the vegetables I had enjoyed.

Then, a month or so later, I realized that if I were an accountant, and all I was looking at was my expenditures, I'd be a pretty lousy accountant. I needed to take into account all the good things I had done, too.

So began my daily look at all the good things I had done, all the bad things I had done, all the really good things I had done, and all the really not so good things I had done during the day. As long as the bad things were balanced by the good stuff, I was feeling pretty ok with myself.

But somehow, way in the deep recesses of my brain, I began to look at it all as some sort of cosmic balance. Bad things taken care of by the good? Well, if I have a few extra good things in the balance, then I can have some fun with the less than good things, right? I can enjoy that extra helping of ice cream.

Not quite.

This led to my pausing throughout the day and thinking to myself, "Oh, I'm going to have to account for this at the end of the day. Do I still want to do it?" And this, naturally, led to a change in my own behaviour.

And that, dear Reader, is when my life really began to change.

But all that was somewhere around 30 years ago.

What about now?

Well, the basics haven't really changed all that much, except that a lot of my questioning during the day is more habitual by now. I try not to judge myself, leaving that to God, but still try to judge my own actions. One thing, though. that has changed is my actual looking back over my day in a more detailed sort of way. Now, at least once a day, I try to actively recall as much as I can about my day. I think about how I woke up, whether I was refreshed or not, and what I did when I got out of bed. I think about washing up, making breakfast, what I ate. I think about walking my son to the bus, and what we discussed on the way.

I actually try to go through most of my steps, my thoughts, my reactions. I try to consciously recall my entire day and look back at it objectively, remembering what I did, what I enjoyed, and what I would like to do in the future.

And I find that I am more aware of my life. I remember more of what I have done.

For years, if you had asked me what I had for dinner the night before, I would not have been able to answer you. Today, I could probably tell you what I had a few days ago.

Taking the time to actively look back on my day has given me a greater awareness of the continuity of my life. It has helped me see where I have come from, where I am heading, and led me to a greater appreciation of what I truly value.

So many people tell me that our children grow up so quickly. And while that is true, I feel that I have had a lot more time in my son's life because I feel like I have lived it twice. While the years may seem to rush by, every day takes its time, allowing me to savor the joy of it.

Too often, I think we live unconsciously, letting the days drift by, unaware of any particular one, but taking the time to bring myself to account every day has helped me to be more aware of each day.

And that, my Friend, is a good thing.

Unless I had that extra helping of ice cream.

Monday, April 4, 2016


A number of years ago I was giving a talk on the Baha’i Faith during which I said how wonderful it was that the Bab declared His mission on the first day of spring back in 1844. I talked about the wonderful coincidence of it and how it was so symbolic.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. He hadn’t done that on that date. He had actually declared His mission months later on 23 May. I was a bit embarrassed about that mistake when I learned of it later, but felt like I had learned an important lesson in both humility and courtesy. I had to be humble and accept I had been wrong about that one fact. But I was also very impressed with the courtesy of the friends there who obviously knew my error, and refrained from saying anything. I mean, they could have corrected me later, but I’m grateful that they didn’t correct me at the moment.

That lesson, though, has stuck with me and led me to a question: Why is it that we feel the need to correct someone when we believe something different than what they say?

Recently, my son was saying a prayer, and in the middle of the prayer was the word “Sinai”. He pronounced it “sih-nie”, and someone else in the room “corrected” him, saying it was “sie-nie”. In the middle of his prayer. While he was praying. When he was finished, I told him that he hadn’t actually mis-pronounced it. His pronunciation was perfectly acceptable, just different from hers. Well, this friend proceeded to tell me that I was wrong, and that she knew how it was pronounced. Ignoring this, I told him about how different people have different accents, and that neither pronunciation is wrong. Both are correct. And, in fact, if you look at the word, you will see that the first syllable has a different spelling than the second, indicating that they might not be pronounced the same way. But the pronunciation depends on your particular accent.

Look at the spelling of some common words: Colour? Color? Neighbour? Neighbor? Again, both are fine. They are acceptable versions of the same words. It merely depends on where you grew up, where you live, as to which is considered correct. Just because one is correct, that doesn’t mean the other is wrong.

Just the other day I had someone “correct” me when I referred to a “tepee”. She said that if I was going to interact with it, I should learn how to spell it, “tipi”. What would be the intent of that? My first reaction was quite unhealthy and could have led me not write anything about that culture again. But really, that would have been childish on my part, and not worthy of that culture I so dearly love. Instead, I pointed out that there are 3 acceptable spellings of the word, and that I was using the one most common where I live. It did remind me, though, of how damaging “correcting” someone can be. After all, wouldn’t it be sad if our attempt at “correcting” someone led them to turn away from that which we love?

Perfection and excellence are good things, but courtesy is also important.

While meditating on this, I was reminded of a strange passage from Baha’u’llah in the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude. There, on page 8, He is talking about Noah, and says, “...there remained with Him only forty or seventy-two of His followers.” Why is He obscure about this, quoting two different numbers? Surely He could’ve told us the correct number, or not even mentioned a number at all. But He didn’t. He wrote both numbers. Why? Well, I’m not actually sure, but I suspect it is because He is quoting two different traditions, and doesn’t want to show preference between them. Perhaps He is saying that it is irrelevant which number we believe. And that, to me, is a worthy and important lesson.

When listening to someone else, or reading what they are writing, I often find that they say something I disagree with. But perhaps I can learn from this. Instead of presuming that I am correct, and that they must be wrong, maybe I should, instead, presume that they are right. Or maybe that we both are.

After all, how different would our interactions be if we always presumed that the other was correct, even if we are certain about our own knowledge? For like pronunciation, or spelling, there may be more than one form of what is correct.

Monday, March 7, 2016

“Can We Go to McDonald’s”: A Healthy Dilemma

My son and I were driving home, and we passed the local McDonald’s.

“Can we go to McDonald’s?”, came the 7-year old voice from the backseat.

I wasn’t sure what to say. We had never stopped in there, and I didn’t know why he wanted to now. Then I noticed the indoor play structure, and I guessed that this was the reason he wanted to stop.

To check, I asked.

Sure enough, that was it.

I apologized to the little guy, explaining that we couldn’t actually stop right then, for we had to get home that evening. I promised, though, that we would go the next day. That’s one of the important reasons to always keep your promises to your children. He knew that when I said we would do it, we actually would. And while he would have preferred to go right then, he was satisfied.

At that moment, I also let him know that we had to stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a few things. On the way there, we talked about the play structure and how much fun it would be to run around and jump and swing and play all over it. But I also mentioned that in order to play on it, we had to buy something from them, that it was only for their customers. He understood that. No problem.

At the store, we went to the meat counter, which we rarely, if ever, do. I bought a pound of the finest, leanest, organic ground beef they had. I picked up some fresh vegetables, including lettuce, onions, beets and carrots. We got some really nice cheese, the kind that melts all over the place when heated up. We got some eggs, and some hamburger buns, the good kind, not that fluffy tasteless white stuff.

For dinner that evening, he helped me make a beautiful fresh vegetable juice, cutting up the beets and carrots so that they fit nicely in the juicer. Then we took the pulp and blended it in with the ground beef. Well, we didn’t so much blend it as squish it, squeezing them together, making an awful mess with our hands, especially when we added in a couple of eggs. It was gross, and so much fun.

We made our patties, carefully wrapping them around a nice thick slab of the cheese we had bought. Then we got the barbecue going. Now, we don’t have one of those fancy dancy mutli-thousand dollar propane barbecues that make everything taste of gas. We have an old-fashioned charcoal barbecue that takes a lot of effort to light up.
And with his help, we lit it up.

In short, we made the most amazing hamburgers we had ever had, rich with many layers of flavour, cheese oozing out the middle, topped with ketchup and mustard and lettuce and all sorts of yummy goodness of things, on those wonderful whole wheat buns that were just chock full of flavour.

We were both so content, oohing and aahing over this culinary masterpiece we had created together, both of us feeling sorry that my vegetarian wife wasn’t able to enjoy it with us. We both went to sleep quite satisfied.

The next day, on our way home from his school, true to my word, we stopped at McDonald’s. And he got a burger, while I satisfied myself with an order of fries.

One bite.

That was all it took.

His expression said it all.

We played on the play structure, but we haven’t been back since.

- - - - - - - - - -

Oh, what does this have to do with the Faith? A few things, really. First, the importance of trust. My son trusts that when I say I will do something, I will do it. Second, I'm teaching him about healthy living, especially in terms of diet. I'm sure there's more it teaches him, but that's enough for now.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Baha'i Calendar

"Can you explain this Baha'i calendar thing?"

Well, that's not quite how I would phrase the question, but you ask, I try to respond.

Technically, it's called the Badi Calendar, not the Baha'i Calendar. Why? No idea.

And there are only a few things that really need explaining:
  1. The beginning of the day
  2. The days of the week
  3. The months of the year
  4. The beginning of the year
So, to "explain this Baha'i calendar thing", it's probably easiest to tackle those one at a time.

Before I begin, though, I'd just like to point out that there are over 40 calendar systems currently in use around the world, as far as I can tell (gotta love google). All of them, with a singular exception, are either based on the cycle of the moon, or somehow strive to reconcile the lunar and the solar cycles. Anyways, that said, let's go back to the Badi Calendar and the beginning of the day.

The Beginning of the Day

If we had no calendar system in our life today. and we were trying to come up with one, a basic question facing us would be when to begin the day. There are, if you think about it, four natural points at which to do that: sunrise, sunset, high noon and midnight, the last being the opposite of high noon.

Noon would likely be right out as that would mean changing the date during the most obtrusive time of the day. Midnight, while avoiding the date change thing, has a singular disadvantage in that you can't actually calculate it without some serious mechanical means. So for sheer practical purposes, we would likely discount either of those options.

This leaves us with the sunrise / sunset options.

From a theological point of view, sunset has the advantage in that it implies that we move from darkness to light. As this is also the same standard in the Bible, as well as in the Qur'an, it seems only fitting that it be the same in the Badi Calendar. And so it is: the day begins at sunset.

The Days of the Week

The Badi Calendar has seven days in the week, just like most others. The only difference is that the week begins on Saturday, and the "day of rest" is Friday, but that isn't actually being observed at this time. From what I understand, the day of rest will be observed when it is feasible within the context of society. After all, most of us can't just take Friday off, so it's not really realistic at this time to make it mandatory.

The other interesting thing is the names of the days of the week.

Beginning with Saturday, the names of the days are Jalal (Glory), Jamal (Beauty), Kamal (Perfection), Fidal (Grace), 'Idal (Justice), Istijlal (Majesty), and Istiqlal (Independence). At this time, I don't know of anyone actually using these names, much less many people who know about them. 'Nuff said there.

The Months of the Year

Now it begins to get interesting. The year is composed of 19 months of 19 days each. For those of you who are mathematically inclined, you will notice that this comes to only 361 days. What happens to the rest of the year? Do we just lose four days every year, and fall further and further behind? Nope. We squeeze these extra days between the 18th and 19th months, known as 'Ayyam-i-Ha.

The months, like the days of the week, have different names than any other calendar system, but I don't really feel like typing them all up, so I'm just going to cut and paste:
Calendar DatesBahá'í MonthArabicTranslation
Mar 21 – Apr 8BaháبهاءSplendour
Apr 9 – Apr 27JalálجلالGlory
Apr 28 – May 16JamálجمالBeauty
May 17 – Jun 4‘AẓamatعظمةGrandeur
Jun 5 – Jun 23NúrنورLight
Jun 24 – Jul 12RaḥmatرحمةMercy
Jul 13 – Jul 31KalimátكلماتWords
Aug 1 – Aug 19KamálكمالPerfection
Aug 20 – Sep 7Asmá'اسماءNames
Sep 8 – Sep 26‘IzzatعزةMight
Sep 27 – Oct 15MashíyyatمشيةWill
Oct 16 - Nov 3‘IlmعلمKnowledge
Nov 4 - Nov 22QudratقدرةPower
Nov 23 - Dec 11QawlقولSpeech
Dec 12 – Dec 30Masá'ilمسائلQuestions
Dec 31 - Jan 18SharafشرفHonour
Jan 19 - Feb 6SulṭánسلطانSovereignty
Feb 7 - Feb 25MulkملكDominion
Feb 26 - Mar 1Ayyám-i-Há (Intercalary Days)ايام الهاءThe Days of Há
Mar 2 - Mar 20‘Alá' (Month of fasting)علاءLoftiness
I love cut and paste.

One thing I find interesting is that many Baha'is think that the names of the months are names or attributes of God, somehow trying to figure out how "Words", "Speech", and "Questions" fit in there. It's great fun hearing how some try to reconcile this. ("Well, you see, God created all the words, and in every dispensation, gives them a new meaning." "So why don't we have a month called 'kittens' or 'toe jam', since God created those, too.")

The fact is that nowhere in the Writings does it say that they are names or attributes of God. Remember how I love to say "Show it to me in the Writings"? Well, this is one instance where it paid off. I learned something new, as did the person I asked.

From what I understand, the names of the months actually come from a prayer by one of the Imams of Islam. I've seen the prayer, but am not sure where to find it right now. Rather than attributes or names of God, these are more like key words guiding us through that prayer.

Why did the Bab choose that prayer for the names of the months? No clue. Sorry.

The Beginning of the Year

This is also interesting. Like the beginning of the day, there are 4 natural points in the solar cycle to select for the beginning of your year: the spring equinox, the summer solstice, the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. The Gregorian calendar, which is most used in the West, differs here, in that it begins a bit after the winter solstice. I don't really feel like explaining the historical reasons for it, but just know that it wasn't always that way.

Here, the Bab chose the Spring Equinox for the beginning of the year. Kind of nice that, in that the year begins with the rising of the flowers. At least, it does in most parts of the world, unless you happen to live in Canada. But not in Victoria, where I currently live. (Sorry, if you happen to live anywhere else in Canada. I don't mean to rub it in, but we do have our daffodils in bloom right now. And our crocuses. Croci? And the cherry blossoms are out. But I don't want to rub it in.) (To be fair, though, the snowdrops are already past. They bloomed in January.)

What is fascinating to me about this is that the Universal House of Justice recently decided that the point for choosing the equinox, since it takes a full 24 hours for the earth to pass through the actual point in space, is Tehran, the city of Baha'u'llah's birth. This year, for example, Tehran will pass through the point of equinox on 20 March, instead of the usual 21 March date. And so the first day of the year will 20 March this year, instead of 21 March.

From there, we count backwards 19 days, and arrive at 1 March as the beginning of the month of fasting.

Sounds good, so far,

But when we count forwards from the last spring equinox, 18 months of 19 days each, we arrive at 25 February. This only gives us 4 days of Ayyam-i-Ha this year, instead of the usual 5 for a leap year.


Well, simple, really. The first 18 months are counted forward from Naw Ruz, the New Year. The last month is counted back from the next Naw Ruz. Ayyam-i-Ha is sort of like the sponge that fills in the gap.

Make sense?


But why?

Well, it gives us a common point in the year, Naw Ruz. The first day of the year always coincides with the spring equinox. That is immovable. The rest of the calendar revolves around that point.

Now, remember when I said that there was a singular calendar system that had nothing to do with the moon? That would be the Badi Calendar. Our months have nothing to do with the lunar cycle. They are based on math.

Or so I had thought.

Only recently did I learn that the moon, in relation to the calendar, works on a 19-year cycle. What the heck does that mean? Well, it means that if we have a full moon on Naw Ruz, we will have another full moon on Naw Ruz in 19 years.

Why is that cool? Because the Badi Calendar is not merely an annual calendar. Every 19 years is called a Vahid. And as you might expect, each year in a Vahid has its own name. What are they? Well, let's use our old friend, cut and paste, again:
No.Persian NameArabic ScriptEnglish Translation
18AbháابهىMost Luminous

Please don't ask me to explain why these are named what they are. I will only give my famous "I don't know" response.

Oh, and it doesn't stop there. Every 19 Vahids is called a Kull-i-Shay', or All-Things. I can only presume that each Vahid has its own name, like the years in the Vahid, but I don't really know.

And, for what it's worth, for those of you like these little details, the Unviersal House of Justice formally aligned the calendar system world-wide at the end of the 9th Vahid. This year, 2015 - 2016, is the first year of the 10th Vahid of the first Kull-i-Shay'.

I just love that. It all seems to revolve around the numbers 9 and 19.

So, does that explain "this Baha'i Calendar thing"?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Talk

"Shoghi, you're almost eleven years old," I said to him the other day. "It's time we had the father-son talk."

We were in the car, on the way to the museum, and I could hear him sitting behind me. He knew that this would be one of those serious talks, and he was ready. But when I said that it was "the" talk, I could practically hear him roll his eyes.

"Now," I continued, "I'm not talking about sex. You already know a bit about sex, and love, and how character is so much more important than appearances. You know that you should look at people's virtues and values, their actions and service. You've seen Mama and I, and how we learned about each other before we decided to get married. And you've seen a lot of other people who only saw appearances, and you know how poorly that turns out." He readily agreed with that.

"No, today," I went on, "we're going to talk about death."

I told him that before we went to the museum we were going to go to a cemetery. And so we drove down to the water, parked at a beautiful little park, and took a nice walk along the shore to the cemetery I had in mind.

As we walked, we talked, like we usually do. We walked along the shore, watching the waves, enjoying the sounds of the birds, and I could tell that he was a little bit trepidatious about the end of our walk. Why was I bringing him to a cemetery? He had never really been in one. I mean, he'd been in cemeteries before, but hadn't really visited one. This just seemed a bit strange to him. And after all I've put him through, that's saying a lot.

I talked about other cemeteries, and how I really don't like most of them. They're too boring. The grass is all nice and manicured. The trees are "properly groomed". And they have so many rules and restrictions on the types of headstones you can have these days, most of which are designed to make it easier to keep it all looking nice and trim. It's as if we have taken the sterility of the hospital and transferred it to the graveside.

The one we were visiting, I said, was much more alive. Probably not the best word to describe it, but I can't think of a better one. The trees are all old and gnarled. The grass has many other plants growing throughout. Some would call it weedy, but I would say natural. And the graves come in all shapes and sizes, with many different motifs. It's awesome.

Anyways, we got there safe and sound, and the very first thing we saw as we approached, for there are no walls surrounding it, were a few graves rimmed with an outline of stone just a few inches high. They're essentially a rectangular cement outline showing you where the person is buried.

I stopped beside one of them, on which you could read the name written in moss, it was so old, and stood respectfully beside it.

"Imagine", I said, "the person buried here. Picture her lying down, you can see where she is. And she is as far below the ground as I am above it. You can practically see her lying there. What do you know about her?"

"I know her name", Shoghi said. "Oh, and when she was born, and when she died." He thought about it a bit longer, and added, "I know how old she was."

"Do you know anything else about her?"

He looked puzzled, as if he were missing something. "No, I don't."

"Me neither. But look around. You can see that the person here, next to her, has the same last name, and live around the same time. I'm sure they knew each other. In fact, virtually everyone here lived in the same area. Most of them lived around the same time. They likely knew each other. A community in life, and a community in death."

We walked around, making these sorts of connections, seeing who was buried near each other, who lived at the same time, which groupings seemed to be of similar ethnic background, and how this often changed from one part of the cemetery to another, with sprinklings of the odd ones throughout.

We spoke of what we knew of each person, sometimes gleaning their religion, or perhaps their profession. It was interesting what details we could figure out, and just how much we truly didn't know.

Throughout all this, we admired the trees, the flowers, the mushrooms, the birds; we admired all that we could. And all the while I was leading us gently towards one particular grave, that of Rebecca Gibbs. Born around 1808 in Philadelphia, Rebecca came to Canada to escape the plight of the Black people in the US. On her tombstone, she is listed as a "laundress, poet, nurse". On the back of her tombstone is her beautiful poem, "The Old Red Shirt". It's a simple poem, almost too simple by today's standards, but beautiful and relevant, nonetheless.

We read the poem, Shoghi and I, and just stared at her grave afterwards, tears in our eyes. We said a prayer for her soul, thankful for this little bit of beauty she brought into this hard world that no doubt begrudged her a place.

Afterwards, as we walked away, I asked him, "Do you think anyone remembers how well she could stitch a shirt? How wonderful she was at applying starch to a collar?"

"No", he replied, looking at me as if I were crazy.

"In a hundred years, do you think anyone will recall how well I could close a jump ring? How nice my bracelets may be?"

"No", he said, looking a bit more thoughtful.

"What do you think they will remember, if anything?"

"Probably your words."

"What will you do, in your lifetime, that people will remember? That's the question you need to ask yourself. Because we will all end up here, some day. Every one of us. Every one you know. Every one you see. And most of us will not do anything in our life that will be remembered, and that's a shame. But you and I, we're aware of this. We can make a conscious choice to do something that might be worth remembering, like Rebecca's poem."

As we walked away, there was much silence, but there was also joy. We pointed out more beautiful trees, and showed each other more nice tombstones, but we both thought about our lives, too, and what we could do to make it a life worth living.

We continued on to the museum, but I'll tell you, we both saw it with very different eyes now.

The Old Red Shirt
     by Rebecca Gibbs, laundress, poet and nurse

A miner came to my cabin door,
His clothes they were covered with dirt
He held out a piece he desired me to wash,
Which I found was an old red shirt.
His cheeks were thin, and furrow'd his brow,
His eyes they were sunk in his head
He said that he had got work to do,
And be able to earn his bread.
He said that the "old red shirt " was torn,
And asked me to give it a stitch
But it was threadbare, and sorely worn,
Which show'd he was far from rich.
O! miners with good paying claims,
O! traders who wish to do good.
Have pity on men who earn your wealth,
Grudge not the poor miner his food.
Far from these mountains a poor mother mourns
The darling that hung by her skirt,
When contentment and plenty surrounded the home
Of the miner that brought me the shirt.