That is a photo of me at 7 years old, in my First Grade class, with my sister in my arms. I loved getting to wear the navy coat and white head covering because it meant I was growing up. Right now, I am working on growing my eyebrows back out to the way they were then.
I have recently made new friends with my body. I don’t mean this in the trite way it is usually expressed when people say “I have learned to love my body.” I mean that I recently had an experience of viscerally being in awe-some gratitude of the physical existence of my body. A few weeks ago, I wept in shame and regret for all the times I pushed it too hard, or neglected it. I felt sorry for criticizing it as a daily practice, rather than marveling at its fantastic functional abilities. I have a good, good body, I thought. And this time, I really felt it.
I spend time remembering my childhood: From the beginning the seeds were sown for me to feel somehow different, strange, unlike the masses. Outside home, I heard a great deal about God and the importance of God in one’s life. I thought that I loved God, and imagined her as a benevolent “she.”
At home, my parents challenged my feelings. They told me about the atrocities committed in the name of religion – about murders and hangings of their own friends. Sometimes, I just wished they would believe in God like everyone else, so I could feel normal.
At school, I was taught to chant “death to America.” At home, I was told that this hatred was a consequence of governments in conflict, and not a statement by or about the people.
At school, I learned to read and write in Farsi. At home, I recited poetry, danced, and sang Persian songs.
At bedtime, I delighted in my father’s voice recounting the narrative of evolution, where tiny floating cells became fish, birds and mammals. Everything had worldly import.
Before my family and I left for Canada, I remember my mother’s sister saying to me: “You’re so pretty, when you go to Canada all the boys will fawn over you.” Nobody knew about racism and internalized oppression. Everyone looked forward to our perfect, amazing life in the West.
Besides, my parents had given me too much understanding to believe that whatever could be purchased by good looks would be enough for me. They made sure I would want more, for better or worse.
Friends, your love and affection so powerfully contradict the hateful terror of everything, that I am moved to sudden, violent tears. These tears heal broken pieces of my soul. I am grateful for the ends of tree branches in the dead of winter, and for earth that I can walk on. As long as these things exist, I will make it.