by Susan Leem, associate producer
On this first day of spring, Persian families around the world are greeting each other with “Sal-e No Mobarak!” and “Happy New Year!” in celebration of the holiday of Nowruz, a day of beginnings. Translated as "new day," the solar-based holiday marks the first day of the first year of the Bahá’í calendar and the falls on the vernal equinox.
The holiday has wider cultural and national significance for modern Iranians who often celebrate with family and friends by sharing meals together, cleaning their homes, buying new clothes, and performing contemporary expressions of ancient customs. Rooted in Zoroastrianism (the prophet Zoroaster himself is credited with creating this festival) in pre-Islamic Persia, Nowruz is also celebrated in surrounding geographic regions influenced by the Persian empire in the countries of Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan.
"Everyone lines up, and, one by one, each person jumps over the piles and sings, 'zardi-ye-man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man,' the special song means ‘my yellowness is yours, your redness is mine.’ Iranians believe, people give pain and negativities to the fire, and receive the warmth, the health and strength from the fire.”
The traditional haft-seen table is an important part of Nowruz celebrations. Iranians prepare these settings in their homes by gathering seven items that start with the letter “s,” which have positive meanings: the spice sumac for sunrise, seeb (apples) for beauty, and sir (garlic) for health, among others.
Goldfish also make an appearance on the haft-seen table. They are symbols of new life and the end of the astral year associated with the zodiac sign Pisces. They are sold in markets along with other Nowruz accoutrements.
Sabzeh is sprouted wheat grass, symbolizing rebirth and renewal of nature. On the thirteenth day of the celebration, it is customary to throw these sprouts away into running water, as the sabzeh is thought to collect negativity and illness in the household while it grew there. This purging represents purification and new beginnings.Comments
by Becca J.R. Lachman, guest contributor
Photo by Daniel Peckham/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0
February 1. 65 degrees in SE Ohio. Our minds shift to “April” “earth,” “skirts.” We check lawns for daffodils-in-the-making, our laundry remembering how to flap. No one checks the 10-day forecast. We don’t want to know.
On my way to play piano for a ballet class, I spot a sunflower the size of my palm on the sidewalk ahead. Escaped from a bouquet? I think, excited, Or a sign that spring’s settled in? I reach down to be its rescue—find out it’s plastic. The rest of my day feels the same.
A college town openly displays its secrets, especially when snow finally melts. Crushed green glass and leopard bikini briefs, abandoned; an open pizza box with a necklace inside; cigarette butts, the tail-ends of conversations never finished. This time of year, the ground can reflect us.
For seven weeks, I gently build up to two questions, give my poetry students hard homework: What does it mean to be a writer in a time of war?, What would you ask a soldier if you could ask anything? Only half the class shows up to answer. I come home and pull covers up over my head, just another bulb.
The full moon pulls out dreams like silk pajamas from open drawers. For weeks, my sleep’s been filled with characters in plain dress, actors in bonnets or suspenders pretending to be something they’re not. I am the one who calls them out, reveals their false identity. Exact accusations from these dreams: “Who’s your bishop?,” “What have you given up?,” “What’s your favorite cheese?” The question I get most often about my upbringing: “What makes you different from me?” Sometimes, it also feels like accusation.
Last night, I was going to build a house on the edge of my grandpa’s farm—but in the dream, I didn’t recognize the land. I wake up frightened.
The wind stirs up more questions, allergies, afternoons under the quilts. How long can a Mennonite last without community?, Have the squirrels eaten all the daffodil bulbs?, Could my students spend a whole day in silence? Could I?, Who will shake our lives gently, tell us, ‘Shhhh—You’ve just been dreaming’?
Even Thoreau kept secrets hidden by the louder things he said, had his mother do his laundry. The wind blows our socks from the clothesline and into the woods. The president gives a speech. We forget what we’re funding. It’s too warm to care. I may never know what my students have learned from me.
Accepting the shape of one life takes practice. Remember asking for someone to help you trace the outline of your body on a sheet of torn-off paper? Did you recognize yourself as only border? I swear, just now, I smelled what the garden could be.
Becca J.R. Lachman is a poet, college writing instructor, and singer-songwriter living in Athens, Ohio. Her first book of poems, The Apple Speaks, investigates her Swiss Mennonite roots along with being an “AMK” (adult missionary kid), and is slated for release in April 2012.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.Comments
Shari Motro, guest contributor
Krista’s interview with Bill McKibben inspired me to write this, so I thought it would be fitting to post it on this blog.
Last spring, the Obamas planted a White House vegetable garden. This year, why not follow up by cutting the air conditioning and opening the windows? They might also set a temperature range for the White House within which neither artificial heating nor cooling is used — recognizing that for much of the spring and fall what nature provides simply cannot be improved.
I’m no fan of indoor refrigeration even in summer. I realize I’m in the minority. Nevertheless, year-round climate control is surely not what most people want. During these glorious weeks, I cannot believe the office and retail workers who crowd every outdoor café and park bench at lunchtime appreciate returning to their airtight posts. I cannot believe the guests of most major hotels prefer stale recycled air over an April breeze. I cannot believe the bedridden sick and elderly prefer the drone of forced air to the calls of nesting birds. Novelist Henry Miller called the United States the “air-conditioned nightmare.” He had a point.
The ubiquity of windows that do not open may cause some not to notice what they are missing. Sealed spaces divide, they alienate, they blind us to what is happening beyond our threshold. They rob us of the goose bumps you feel as the sun sets at the end of a balmy day, of the sounds of crickets and children, of the smell of freshly mown grass, honeysuckle, earth. A different kind of comfort emerges when we tune in rather than anesthetizing ourselves to our given reality, and with this comfort comes a different kind of compassion for ourselves and our surroundings.
In the end, of course, this isn’t only about us. Americans make up 4% of the world’s population and we produce a quarter of its carbon dioxide pollution. I don’t know where you draw the line between personal comfort and responsibility, but treating our air 12 months a year, 24/7 is on the wrong side of it. This isn’t comfort, it’s gratuitous waste.
Who stands to lose from an open-window revolution? The multibillion dollar HVAC industry. I’m okay with that.
It’s been a long winter — let the sun shine in.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
It’s Easter weekend and a lot of people are away for the holiday. When we sent out our e-mail newsletter this week, one listener’s auto-reply featured this quote:
"Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems."
—Rainer Maria Rilke
Indeed the telltale signs of spring — green shoots, the earliest hints of flower buds — arrived a bit earlier here this year in the upper Midwest. This new-found greenery, combined with the approaching Easter weekend, reminds me of a beloved program we aired this time last year with Vigen Guroian, an Armenian Orthodox theologian and master gardener. Here’s one of his quotes from “Restoring the Senses” that I particularly like:
"…the garden was a place where things came to life, you know? It was in point of fact a reaffirmation of life and, and something to sustain faith, hope and to go on living."
I’m a novice grower of green things but an experiment last summer with cultivating seeds in a window box on my fire escape spurred my thinking about “garden lessons” that have larger life resonance — like how you have to harvest what you sow and cut away the decaying stuff so that new growth can emerge. How true.
All of this has us wondering about the spiritual wisdom others have gleaned from tending to their gardens and growing things from the soil. Show us what you’re cultivating and observing in your garden plot!
We’d love to see your photos of garden spaces and places that serve as sources of contemplation and inspiration for new ways of looking at and thinking about the deeper meaning of things.
Submit your images here, along with a brief reflection, and we’ll be featuring your images and words in a gallery on this blog in the coming weeks.
(All photos of Vigen Guroian’s gardens in Maryland courtesy of the gardener.)Comments
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
Last week when I was going through this week’s program with Vigen Guroian, I was listening to some of the choral music for the first time in two years. Later that evening, I put on an old Cocteau Twins CD, Heaven or Las Vegas (which must have been on my mind since SOF had recently been picked up by KNPR in Las Vegas!), and I was struck how some of the lush harmonies were seemingly reminiscent of some of the Orthodox Russian repertoire, or at least Kitka’s Bulgarian folk styling of Nikolai Kedrov’s Otche Nash — “The Lord’s Prayer” in Russian.
"The Lord’s Prayer" performed by Kitka and composed by Nikolai Kedrov
The harmonies in both of these pieces are saturated and lush, and I could swim in them for hours.
For all of you CT fans, I know there may be better examples, so what tune, if any, would you have suggested? “Iceblink Luck” always reminds me of spring and little daffodils popping up everywhere, and I am really ready for that up here in Minneapolis. Also, another spring/flower reference, kitka means “blossom” in Bulgarian. So, here is the pairing, back to back.
"Iceblink Luck" by Cocteau TwinsComments