What Omid said is a faded memory but I understood from his tone of voice and facial gesture that I was doing something bad and I stopped. We were in third grade in Tehran, Iran and I squished a couple of aunts as they were marching in and out of a little hole. Fast forward to my last year in high school, halfway around the world in the United States, Indianapolis.
I was living at my friend’s house for a semester and one day his Mom, Mrs. Beck, in a nonchalant way said that she just lets the ants come and go as they pleased. “What?” I thought, “Even on the kitchen counter?” Mrs. Beck kept a clean enough kitchen that ants visited not that often and calm enough attitude to make me aware of a force more powerful than squishing or poisoning the ants.
Not exactly the same way as how my Mom dealt with those little creatures on her kitchen counter and I don’t remember having pest poison in the house. Growing up my mother was great at many things, being a midwife, cooking, keeping the house, throwing great big dinner parties, etc. but not at being nonchalant about ants and letting them come and go a little. (Incidentally today, the day I get to publish this story, coincides with the first anniversary of my mother’s passing. God bless Ma.)
Another bunch of years went by and I was studying the application form for U.S. citizenship and I saw the question about name change. If the yes box was checked there was a line to put the new name! “It’s that easy to change my name?” I thought. The family name in my Iranian passport would take some effort to spell, especially on the phone, for the rest of my life and my brain is setup to process logic as well as compassion and ignores undefined and unexamined loyalty and social order, often unintentionally. Also by that age, 28, my character had been developing to seriously question patriarchy, and hierarchy in general. It’s also noteworthy to mention that my father once in a discussion in our 1960s VW bug in Tehran just as we were approaching Ce-rah Takhte Tovos said to my mom, “You want me to take charge? Fine. I’ll assignee you the job of being in charge”.
In any case it simply made sense to choose a simple Persian name as it did to get the U.S. Citizenship, since going back to live in Iran had become less of a reality by then. That year I met someone over the phone whose surname was Omidian. I was with an Iranian-American friend and we both said, “What a nice name” about the same time. In Persian omid means hope. Used also for boys first name. There were other short and sweet names in Persian language that I could have chosen but a voice down from my guts, or where ever those clear inner voices come from, said; Choose Omid.
A few days ago, almost fifty years since third grade, I sat down to to write my first story for Medium and the image of Omid and I sitting in the school yard along a thought that had been in my mind for few weeks: I’ve never written the story about how choosing my last name had something to do with the kid I sat next to in the first grade who also swiftly yet gently forbid me to squish aunts.
I turned out to be more than a name change story or recalling a memory but of an awakening which took place between time and eternity. Yes it did have the time and location components and a couple of nine year old kids involved but the effortless effort it took for him to reach out right through my ego and mind into my soul to wake it up and say, ‘Look at what you’re doing?’ That didn’t just come from time, space or Omid but from an eternal source through him.
Seeing how that experience shaped me and write about that would have been a good enough day but I got recall another event in high school which shaped my life. Two experiences which made me aware that ants were living souls, not little things to be squished or get angry at for invading “our” space.
Does this mean today is a sacred day or just another day in front of the screen and keyboard? What would you call a day when you realize a couple of very short and simple interactions with two people decades ago were in fact precious moments that significantly shaped who you have become? A simple but sacred day in front of the computer? A special day of grace showered by Satguru ji?
Oh right! They even have a name for that in India, Namaste, which means I bow to the divine within you. It was about someone seeing something in me which reminded me of the divinity in a soul within human body.
*Photo by Jamshid Farajvand farda جمشید فرجوند فردا (possibly in 2017–18). So it’s not a picture of Omid and I or my classroom in 1967. But I’m sure we must have smiled like that especially if a cool photographer to take a picture of us. Omid and I were about the same age, height and size and lived in the big city of Tehran. Back then there was only one picture above the blackboard and he wasn’t a man with turban but a military hat. Our blackboard was about the same and we also had the English alphabets on the wall near the blackboard: strange things to me and it took more than three years for me to just learn them for I fought hard not to. They won. Now I have the English alphabets memorized but not the Persian alphabets.