Monday, February 27, 2012

Happy Ayyam-i-Ha

I was going to continue to write about the Dr Peter Centre, but the calendar got in the way, as did my keyboard problems. I'll continue that story later in the week.

Today, however, I want to write about one of my favorite times of the year: Ayyam-i-Ha.

Ayyam-i-Ha, in case you don't know, means "the days of Ha", and that alone means it's full of joy. In what other calendar system do you have days dedicated to laughter? It would be like calling Christmas-time the "days of ho ho ho". Hmmm. Ayyam-i-ho-ho-ho. I kind of like that.

It is a time of joyous celebration that is also called the Intercalary Days, because the Baha'i Calendar consists of 19 months of 19 days each. Do the math and you'll realize that this only makes 361 days. These intercalary days make up the rest of the solar year, so we have 4 days of celebration, except in a leap year (like this one) when we have 5.

Five days of joy and celebration. What more can you ask for?

"The days which Thou hast named the Ayyam-i-Ha in Thy Book have begun..." But just in case we want to get carried away, Baha'u'llah reminds us later in that same prayer, "...the fast which Thy most exalted Pen hath enjoined unto all who are in the kingdom of Thy creation to observe is approaching." (And yes, that's right. You read it correctly. Just after the Intercalary Days comes the Inter-Calorie Days.) (I used to put a sign on my candy dish that would read "A yummy? Ha! Happy fasting.")

It is also the time of my son's birthday. Like Shoghi Effendi (the Guardian), Shoghi (my son) was born on a Sunday during Ayyam-i-Ha. This makes it an even more joyous time of celebration in my house. And today, the very day of his birth, he is turning 7 (my son, not the Guardian).

So what is it that we do? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

These joyous days can be used as spiritual preparation for the fast, and they can also be used for hospitality, feasting, charity and gift giving.

What was that? I'm sorry, I think I mis-understood you. What is it that we, in my family, do? Oh, sorry. I thought you meant what do we Baha'is do?

First of all, we have two very different celebrations in our house: one for Ayyam-i-Ha and the other for Shoghi's birthday. Yesterday, for example, we had a birthday party at a local recreation centre. We brought in pizza, played tons of highly active games, and gave personalized gift bags to all who came. (What I mean by personalized is that we wrote their names on the bags and gave small little gifts that we thought appropriate to each child, like a notepad with music on it for the girl who loves the piano. That sort of thing.) But most important, we asked the kids to bring change for a local charity that helps children in need. This not only helped raise a bit of money for a good cause, it also helped remind the children of the importance of giving to charity. (The total he raised was just over $100.) There, at that party, I was able to talk to a few of the adults about why it is that we chose to do this, explaining both the charity aspect, as well as Ayyam-i-Ha.

At home, though, we do a few other things.

Some of the Baha'i friends like to talk about the Ayyam-i-Ha Camel in the same way that some Christian families will talk about the Easter Bunny. But not us. That poor bunny is busy enough with Easter. We don't need to make any extra work for him. Nope. We have the Ayyam-i-Ha Llama. (I think it sounds better than a bunny anyways.) I've described a bit about his activities before, but I think I'll do it again, just for fun.

Although Shoghi (both my son and the Guardian, I'm sure) is well aware that the Ayyam-i-Ha Llama doesn't really exist, we do like to have fun with it. We realized that it is no longer common to hang your socks by the fireplace to dry overnight, so "Christmas" stockings was just kind of unnatural, even though I really wanted to do them. But we do toss our jackets on the backs of chairs or hang them on the doorknobs. We decided to put little gifts in everyone's pockets. Every evening during Ayyam-i-Ha, Shoghi and I "sneak" downstairs and help the Ayyam-i-Ha Llama with this task, making sure to put gifts in our own pockets, too, because it is very important to be generous to yourself, too.

We also love to hang lights. These lights generally go up sometime around Christmas and stay up all the way through this time of year. If we're really lazy they also substitute as Naw Ruz lights. (Most years they even do duty as Ridvan lights.) We really love it.

This is the time of year when we get to pick and choose our own joyous and festive ways of celebrating. it is when we get to give all those little gifts to our friends that we've been collecting throughout the year. It is that time of the year when we get to be exuberant and celebratory, confusing our friends who are all shivering and frowny-faced, and explain to them just what it is that we are so happy about.

And it is also a time of the year when we get to think about just what it is that we are going to do during those long lunch hours of the Fast.

My friend, Lucki, who taught me the Faith, told me that she would choose a Book, such as Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, and spend her lunch time studying it. I liked that idea a lot, and so I've scraped off the serial number and stolen the idea. (I know a good idea when I steal it.) (I also know a good line when I steal it.) (<-- Like that one.)

This year Marielle and I are going to study the Kitab-i-Ahd and the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha. (I thought I'd give you fair warning.)

But for now, I'm going to go outside and enjoy the beautiful crisp, sunny day that God has blessed this area with. And I'm going to go around wishing people a happy and joyous Ayyam-i-Ha, even though most of them will probably think I'm talking about a motorcycle.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Dr Peter Centre Diaries, Part 1

Earlier this year I published an article in the local paper about  a woman I had met on the ferry around Christmas time. In the piece, I mentioned that she had been visiting her brother who was with the Dr Peter AIDS Centre in Vancouver. It was only a short time after that article came out that I received a touching and heartwarming letter from Dr Peter's mother, Shirley, inviting me to come visit and volunteer for a day.

Wednesday 8 February was that day.

It began when Marielle and Shoghi got up very early to take me to the ferry. Shoghi had wanted to come with me, and I would have loved to take him, but you have to be 19 to enter the building.

Now, I have to say, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I mean, I knew that it was a place for people with HIV, that there were some beds available for people who needed hospice care, that there was a lot of counseling and medical stuff going on, as well as that they worked with many who were homeless and hungry. I got all that from the web-site. I knew they did good work.

And I've been to many hospitals, hospices, rehab centres, care centres, and in every single one of them, the majority of the people look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. This place is different.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in, besides the beautiful and welcoming entry hall, was that everyone was smiling. That gave me an immediate good feeling, beyond what I got when I had received the initial invitation.

But perhaps I should go back a bit. What is the Dr Peter Center, and how did it begin? A whirlwind history is that Dr Peter had just finished his doctorate degree in medicine back in the late 80s when he was diagnosed with HIV. He approached the CBC about recording a weekly diary about his experience with the disease and, over the next few years, won himself a wide audience of admirers for his courage, wisdom and spiritual ideas. After he passed away, the Dr Peter Foundation was started in his name, and based on his principles. (You can find lots more info in other areas and I don't want to repeat it all here.)

There I was, in the hallway, wondering what to do. I introduced myself to Kamal, who was standing behind the front desk sorting something.

Aside: Kamal has one of the most difficult jobs in the building, as far as I can tell, and he does it admirably. His job is to greet the people who come in and make sure they get where they need to go. This is particularly difficult because he has to greet people without inadvertently offending them. Given some of the tensions that people can be facing when they arrive, it is truly amazing how well he does this.

So there I was, a stranger who had just been been given a beautiful smiling thanks by a man for whom I held open the door, and now wondering what to do.

I went to the desk and said, "Hi. My name is Mead..." and got no further than that when someone poked her head from around the corner and said, "Oh! You're Mead." That was to prove the motif for the day. "Oh", I would hear over and over again, "you're Mead." Those three words can often prove to be a disappointment, when the first word is stressed, or a blessing, when the second word is emphasized. Here it boded of excitement that someone would come so far just to volunteer for the day. Little did they know that the real blessing was mine.

It was only a few moments later that I met Shirley, dressed in her apron, serving breakfast to all who came her way. She greeted me with a warmth and a smile that made me feel even more welcome than before. And I then understood that no matter what she would think, I knew I had found the heart of the Centre.

The next few hours were a bit of a blur as I met many people and was given the tour. I want to tell you all about the people I met, and the things I saw, but I'll save that for later. As you can tell from this wildly all over the place article, it was a bit of a whirlwind for me. I wanted to give you a bit of the sense that I felt while I was there: joy, being overwhelmed and welcomed, and a sense of curiosity. Over the next few days I'm going to try and show a couple of the things they are doing there, but for now I want to share one little story.

I had the wonderful bounty of talking with Shirley a bit more later in the morning, and I told her about that line from 'Abdu'l-Baha that had confused me for so long. I've written about it here in the past, but I think it bears repeating. "The good deeds of the righteous are the sins of the Near Ones."

She seemed to really focus on me when I said that line from Some Answered Questions and asked me to share what I had learned from it. I said that, to me, it meant that many of us would feel good about giving money to support a cause such as the Centre, and that this donation would be a righteous deed. It would be a good thing to help support it in that way.

But for others, to merely give money would not be enough. They would need to get to know the actual people involved. They would need to pour out their heart and soul, the sweat and their blood. To merely give something as superficial as money would practically be a sin to them.

This, I said, is what I saw in her. With all the love that she gave her son, she gives herself to the Centre. She embraces each and every one of the people that the Centre has helped, and regards them as her own children. Dr Peter's sacrifice, for really, what else could you call his last few years on this earth, has really helped grow the tree of her service. Shirley really has become the loving mother of everyone who walks through those doors, for she has seen what they are going through and doesn't see the illness, but the dear soul trapped within the body. Of all the things I saw and learned at the Centre on that rainy Wednesday morning, this is what touched me the most: her loving service.

As 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "Service to humanity is service to God." And "This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer." I feel so honoured to have been able to see such a servant in action.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Minor Annoance

No, that's not a typo. I really is a minor annoance.

What is? Le me show you for a few lines:
I was a bozo he oher da. I was drinking some ea, and like an idio I was drinking near m compuer. Well, as ou can imagine, I spilled i and knocked ou a few kes on m keboard.

What that is supposed to say is: I was a bozo the other day. I was drinking some tea, and like an idiot I was drinking near my computer. Well, as you can imagine, I spilled it and knocked out a few keys on my keyboard.

Kind of sucks, but it got me thinking. It got me thinking about tests and just what it is that we take for granted in our lives.

For example, look at this photo of Shoghi Effendi. It's the photo of him sitting at his typewriter (see below).

He had to type every letter he wrote, and then go over each and ever one of them to make sure that they were correctly typed. It took forever.

Just imagine how much more he could have written if he had had a computer.

And me? I'm inconvenienced by a couple of missing letters.

Now let's look at 'Abdu'l-Baha, or even Baha'u'llah. They had to write each letter by hand.

Me? I have the unbelievable luxury of using a computer and all I need to do right now is cut and paste a few letters that are missing after each line. This is made so much easier by the fact that the spellcheck shows me most of the words that are missing those letters.

So besides replacing the keyboards for a few dollars, what can I do? I can recall those beautiful words of Baha'u'llah's that were written for not only the truly life-threatening things that are occurring to those believers in some parts of the world, but also to help wimps like me keep it all in perspective:
O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain.