ONE THING BEHNAM HEDAYATT COULD NOT seem to drive from his brain, whether working on a dig, talking with a friend in the marketplace, or driving in the streets of Tehran; one reality that was lodged in his consciousness like the most stubborn of splinters, digging into his spirit every moment of his life, was that he was dead.
Well, not actually dead.
It had been just two years to the day since BehnAm’s friend Farid had saved him from death by faking his execution. BehnAm remembered the time.
He had been sentenced to death for an act which his country considered to be treason. Okay, well, most countries would have considered it to be treason. He had taken pictures in a top secret area, an area deemed essential to national defense, and he had sent those pictures to a foreign government. What country wouldn’t consider that treason?
BehnAm hadn’t wanted to do it, at least not at first. He wanted to believe the leaders of Iran were being truthful when they told the world they were only enriching uranium to develop nuclear power for peaceful uses; for helping their country to develop without exhausting their oil reserves, without contributing further to the greenhouse gases which threatened the well-being of the planet. Those were important goals.
His friend Jessica Santiago had planted the doubt in his mind, the doubt which eventually called him to question whether those goals represented the true motivation of the leaders of his country. That doubt had been planted as a seed, which when full grown had led him to the nuclear facility at Darkhovin; and there he had found the “smoking gun,” a nuclear bomb being built.
What else could he have done?
The evidence he had provided sparked new efforts to eliminate nuclear weaponry worldwide, but his action also nearly got him killed. Farid and his friends had posed as witnesses against him, and as a result were given the task of executing him by firing squad. They had been such good actors, they had even fooled Afsaneh and their American friends. Everyone had believed he had been executed with real bullets, rather than shot at with blanks. Afsaneh, even now sometimes would remember it all – and hit him really hard.
So now he was supposed to be dead. When those doing archaeological research searched his records in relationship to possible employment, they found him listed as dead. When he sought to vote, he couldn’t. Even in Iran they don’t grant that privilege to dead people. Being dead was starting to be a considerable inconvenience.
BehnAm felt two soft arms curl around him from behind, and a small head rest on his back. He turned from the window and enveloped his wife in his arms.
“What is it that is in your heart my husband?” asked Afsaneh.
BehnAm cupped his wife’s face in his hands and looked into her eyes, taking just a moment to enjoy their clearness and the rich mahogany of their hue. “Nothing, my love. It’s nothing for you to worry about.”
BehnAm stroked the softness of Afsaneh’s long jet-black hair, as he continued to gaze into her eyes. In the privacy of their home she wore western clothing, blue jeans and a soft white sweater, and she left her beautiful hair and face uncovered. BehnAm still could not believe her beauty, and his own good fortune in being the one she had chosen. For such a long time she had followed the traditions of their faith and culture, and had hidden so much of her incredible allure behind the chador, but BehnAm had always known it was there. He could see it in her eyes. He had first seen it more fully in their mountain Eden, the timeless paradise nestled in a hidden valley by Mount Sahand, near the crystal clear river called Adji Chay. There he had surrendered his defenses as a battle-hardened Iranian male, and she had dropped her chador. Two weeks later he had married her underneath the sofreh on that very spot. Now he could enjoy the fullness of her beauty each and every day.
BehnAm noticed that Afsaneh’s eyes were starting to tear over. “Tears in such gorgeous eyes? What has caused this outrage!”
“They are because you have lied to me, my husband.”
BehnAm furrowed his brow. “No, no, my dear! I would never--”
“But it is so, my husband,” Afsaneh whispered, trembling. “You lied to me when you said that nothing was troubling your heart. I know that to be untrue. I can see it in your eyes, in the way you move with so little energy, and the way you look out the window, staring at nothing.”
BehnAm sighed and pulled her close. “I should have known better than to try to hide the truth from you, even though it was to avoid burdening you with my troubles.”
“We are married. Your troubles are my troubles.”
BehnAm nodded, released his embrace of his wife, and turned to look out the window once again. “I feel like I am no longer free in my own land.”
“I too have this feeling, BehnAm,” Afsaneh said. “I can no longer go to my home city of Tabriz because of what I did. That’s why we live here on Tehran, remember? But even here I shiver when a police officer is near.”
Even as his wife spoke these words, BehnAm shivered also. The time when he had rescued her from the jail in Tabriz remained fresh in his memory. She had been taken there for killing a police officer who had tried to rape her. If BehnAm had acted even one day later, she might not be alive today, and he knew that for the rest of her life Afsaneh would have to be wary of Iranian police.
“Perhaps we should have listened to our American friends.”
“And escaped to a country that is strange to us and not our own?” Afsaneh said. “I know that is not your way, my husband. Of course, I would go with you anywhere, but you are not one to run. You said we should stay here, rather than escaping to America, so we could – how did you say it at the time? – so we could ‘clean up our own house.’”
BehnAm nodded. “Yes, yes, I said that. But sometimes it no longer feels like my house. It feels like I have come to a house of my childhood and found it occupied by strangers.”
“You know they are not all strangers,” said Afsaneh as she picked up a sponge and started cleaning a spot of something she had spied on the countertop. BehnAm gently pulled the sponge from his wife’s hand. “Stop that. Must you always be cleaning?” He wrapped his arms around her again. “Besides, it interferes with me thanking you for being such a comfort to your old, neurotic husband.”
His kissed her gently on the lips and smiled.
Just then something small rushed past them and attempted to jump up on the counter. BehnAm turned and saw Amina struggling to reach a container where Afsaneh kept some pastries.
“Amina, no!” Afsaneh said in Arabic. “I do not want you to ruin your dinner.”
The little Iraqi girl whimpered, stomped her foot, bent her brows, and came forth with the best pout she had learned in six years of intensely studying adults. BehnAm saw an idea give new spark to her eyes, and she began undulating her arms and hands in the air, while wiggling her hips in an Arabic dance. As she danced, she smiled at her Iranian father.
“Not bad for no music,” said BehnAm, again in Arabic. “Not good enough to get pastries, but still, not bad.”
Amina stopped and the pout returned to her face. “I am not having a good day!” she declared.
Afsaneh laughed. “I’m afraid we are not responsible for whether you are having a good day or not! But if you play in your room until dinner is ready, perhaps your day will get better.”
Amina did as she was told.
“You know that every day she is with us will make it harder to take her back,” BehnAm said, returning the conversation to Farsi.
Afsaneh nodded, still gazing as she did in the direction of the little girl’s room. “It already gives me pain when I just have to be away from her for a moment.” As she turned away to tend a pot of fesenjan she was preparing for supper, BehnAm saw a tear trickling down her cheek. “Of all of us, she is the one who does not fit in here the most. The other children tease her for being Iraqi, and they tease her all the more when she tries to speak Farsi.”
Afsaneh seemed to be getting more and more distracted as she struggled with what she wanted to say next. She stirred the fesenjan, an Iranian stew, more than BehnAm knew was necessary. She turned suddenly and faced her husband.
“I need to tell you that I have found and contacted some of her relatives in Iraq, an uncle and an aunt.”
BehnAm felt a sudden tightening in his stomach. “Are they Shiite or Sunni?”
“Does it matter? They’re her family.”
“You know I don’t trust Sunnis!”
“Yes, but if we are to be working to make Iran better, and to bring more peace to the world, as you told Evan and Jessica we would be doing,” Afsaneh said, raising the volume of her voice to a level BehnAm seldom heard, “shouldn’t we both be trying to trust Sunnis a little more?”
Afsaneh threw her arms up in the air in frustration, and then returned her attention to the preparation of their dinner. But she was not done with the conversation. “Besides, as I said before, they’re her family; and as YOU said before, every day she is with us will make it harder to take her back! Did you not just say that?”
BehnAm returned his attention to looking out the window. A conversation which had started to make him feel a little better began to drag him down to even lower depths. “What I should have said is, it is already too late. When I heard Carmen had picked her from the battle zones of Iraq, I thought it a bad idea. But then I made the mistake of letting her into my heart. Now I think of her as my daughter! I cannot think of her as anything else.”
Afsaneh looked over at her husband and her eyes softened again. “I too have let myself think of her as our daughter,” she said. “But I was wrong. These people in Iraq are her family. Of course, we need not take her back to them right this moment, but you know it’s the right thing to do.”
BehnAm shut his eyes tightly as he leaned against the window. “We said we would take her back when the war in Iraq ended. It has not, you know that!” He opened his eyes again as he thought of another argument, and pointing his finger at his wife, he sought to drive it home: “And those Iraqis, they hate our American friends – Evan, Jessica, Carmen. They would teach Amina to hate them, and that would not be fair, especially to Carmen, when she rescued Amina from the terrors of war.”
Afsaneh just stood there by the stove, looking at her husband. Her look said to him you know this isn’t going to work!
BehnAm still wasn’t ready to give up. “And besides, how would we get her into Iraq, and get back to this country? I am supposed to be dead, and you are wanted for murder! So, there, we are back where we started.”
The tears returned to Afsaneh’s eyes. She spoke softly. “Amir’s contacts will help us, as they did before. The Fellowship of the Fish, remember?”
BehnAm remembered. He had not been present when his friends had first spoken of this fellowship, but he had been told of it on the way to the place they called Eden. It was based mostly on an old Christian symbol, a fish used to reassure persecuted Christians in the years after Jesus’ death on a cross. When Christians were a persecuted minority, the fish reminded them they were not alone – there were others out there, equally wounded, but equally dedicated to bringing about God’s kingdom. Of course, this was about Christians, while he and Afsaneh were Muslim, but it didn’t matter. The Fellowship of the Fish was not a religion, but a fellowship of those willing to step beyond religion to find community. BehnAm and his friends were defining this fellowship, and they had decided that those in the Fellowship of the Fish were persons who knew what it was to be treated as an enemy because of their faith, treated as an enemy sometimes even in their own country, and among their own people. And it was a fellowship of those fighting to bring back Eden, a place where those who were thought to be enemies didn’t have to be, where life was good, where God brought people together instead of dividing them, and all of life was at peace with the life around it. This fellowship included Christians like Amir and his friends in Iraq, Jews like Doctor Carl Goldman, and Muslims like Farid, Ahmad Sahimi, and himself.
BehnAm reached for a tissue and began softly dabbing the tears still trailing down his wife’s face. “Well, it would be good to see Amir again. But if we get into Iraq and find these people, and I don’t like them—“
Afsaneh wrapped her arms around her husband, and finished his sentence, “—then Allah will show us both what the right thing is.”
BehnAm frowned and headed toward their room. “And now I am not having a very good day.”
Salim Rahim had always loved coming home. Of course, that was when his home consisted of more than twisted metal. In those earlier times his home did not include concrete blown into grey powder; broken, exposed pipes, and shattered glass, all under a tottering roof. And the door in front, the door which kept out nothing because of the gaping holes in the walls to either side? Surely that was not the same door from which he had burst forth as a child, as he ran to meet neighborhood friends. Surely not.
Salim walked up to the house, stepped over a piece of twisted sheet metal, and ventured a few steps into its interior. Debris crunched underneath his shoes. Over to his left he saw a torn corner of what he knew to once have been a family picture. He could still see an image of the lower part of his left leg, as it had been when he was a young teen. He looked away. Nothing else even looked familiar, as it had all been blown away, crushed or covered with parts of the ceiling that had once sheltered them.
The young Iraqi sensed movement behind him, and he turned quickly, pulling out a 9 mm Beretta automatic pistol as he did. But then as he saw the face of the one approaching, he relaxed a little and smiled.
“As-Salaam alaaikum,” said the familiar face of the one now standing in the street in front of his former home. The man had gained some weight, and his beard had a few more flecks of gray, but even in the haze Salim had no trouble recognizing the face of his brother.
“And peace be upon you too, Dabir,” Salim said as he stepped out through the crumbling abode and gave the man an embrace.
Dabir kissed him on his cheek, and pulled back to arms length to look him over. “You appear well, my little brother! Your arms are like pillars of rock, your cheeks are rosy and your eyes shine as clear as the stars. Four years of schooling in the West has done you no harm.”
“Yes, well, I trained and studied at the same time,” said Salim. “And you, you also look well. It is good to be home.”
Dabir gestured toward their former home. “Ah, yes – home. It is not exactly the same, is it my brother? American bombs have taken our childhood away from us. But then again, that is why you went away, and that is why you have come back.”
“Who is left?”
Dabir shook his head. “Just me and my wife Atifa. Mother and Father, along with our sister Fatima, were killed by the bomb that hit near the house. But you know that. Habib, along with his wife and children were murdered by US and Shiite soldiers. It is the same story throughout Fallujah, my brother. Destruction all around. And the American infidels have robbed us of our power and given it to Shiite whores.
Salim nodded, and he began slowly strolling down what was left of the street, as Dabir walked beside him. Salim could quickly see that his brother had not exaggerated. Rubble was all around him, and even in the street he had to walk around fallen utility poles, burned out cars, and debris from bombed out buildings. On a side road a few hundred meters away he saw a tank, and several foot soldiers on patrol.
“Shiite whores!” said Dabir.
“Is it really so that none of our family is left?” asked Salim.
“I am afraid so, my brother. Just some cousins. Oh! I forgot. It seems that little Amina is still alive. You remember her? Habib’s little daughter, just a baby when you left.”
“Yes, I remember,” said Salim, stopping and looking at his brother as he spoke. “Delightful little child! She is alive? Where is she?”
Dabir scowled. “Some Iranian family picked her up after the soldiers killed Habib and the others. She must have been wandering lost along the highway.”
Salim showed his anger not by a raised voice and violent movement, as many in his family did, but by freezing in place and hardening his whole body as if it were a sculpture of stone. “And Iranians just took her like she was their own?” he said through barely parted lips.
“Yes! I couldn’t believe it myself,” said Dabir. “But when this woman told me this on the phone, I controlled my anger. I didn’t let the Iranian bitch know how outrageous I thought their actions to be. She said they would bring her back to us, and I didn’t want to do anything that would make her change her mind.”
Salim looked askance at his brother. “Iranians will bring her here to Fallujah?”
Salim’s body was starting to relax just a little. “They must have more guts than most Iranians. Maybe we should let them live.”
The younger brother’s body tensed up again. “Then we should toast their bodies and hang them from the bridge.”
Dabir laughed a full-throated laugh. “I thought you would say as much!”
Salim strolled on a little further down the road, but he was no longer looking around him. Rather he was envisioning the baby girl he remembered from his days before the university. “It will be nice to hold an Iraqi child once again,” he said quietly. “To have a family, if only for a while.”
Dabir nodded as he kicked some broken boards out of their way. “Yes, Allah has not seen fit to bless Atifa and me with one of our own. But to hold Habib’s child, that would be good.”
Salim stopped walking and turned to face his brother. He spoke in a low voice. “Well, it is good you have informed me of all these family things, but they are the past, my brother. We must talk of the future, of why I have come back. Have you and your friends found what I need?”
Dabir glanced down the road, where the tank was now disappearing over a hill. He motioned for the young college graduate to follow him over to an old car Salim thought must belong to one of his workers. His brother owned an auto parts warehouse which did quite well, and he always drove the best. The passenger side door of this vehicle stuck when he tried to open it, but he kicked it with his boot; and using the full force of arms made strong by work in a warehouse, the door creaked open. He reached into the glove box, pulled out some pictures and handed them to his brother.
As Salim studied each picture carefully, a smile slowly grew across his face. “I hope you took adequate precaution when handling this big brother.” He looked into Dabir’s eyes. “Because this is not like what you normally handle in an auto parts warehouse, you know.”
His brother scowled. “Of course,” he said. “I might not be the one with the college education, but I am not stupid about these things!”
Salim gave him his most disarming smile, and touched him lightly on the arm. “I know, I know, my brother! Do not feel offended because I urge caution. I know that with different breaks you could have been the one to go to the University of London.”
Dabir nodded and looked down at the ground, somewhat ashamed by his quick outburst.
“It’s just that with such things, you must use caution on every step, if you are to succeed,” he said with continued gentleness. Then he looked at one of the pictures again, one of a substance made familiar to him by four years of study in London. “After all, highly-enriched U-235 Uranium, well, you can’t be too careful. Where did you get this?”
“Iraq,” Dabir said with great pride. “But of course you have heard they are signing that treaty with the US, so they were going to have to get rid of it all anyway. We felt obliged to help them out.”
Salim smiled again and nodded. “How much do we have?”
The younger brother handed the pictures back to Dabir, and took one more look at the devastation around him. “That is enough, my brother. Soon, inshallah, some American city will know what it is like to have their home town turned into Fallujah!”
CARMEN JORDAN STRUTTED JAUNTILY down the sidewalk and into the front door of Lincoln High School in downtown Portland, Oregon. Her broad smile and the sparkle of eyes which focused straight ahead, were so unaffected by those she passed – the jealous glares of the girls and the lecherous smiles of the boys – that one would have thought she was totally oblivious to her human surroundings. But anyone having such a thought would have quickly been proven wrong. A tall, rather awkward, Hispanic boy entered from a side hallway, and she started dancing and twirling.
The boy blushed. “Hey, Carmen!”
Carmen now skipped up to her friend, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him playfully on the cheek. “You beat me here!”
A powerfully-built blond-haired guy wearing an athletic jersey and flanked by two similarly-clad young men stopped next to them. Ignoring Alex, he looked Carmen over from her lustrous black hair to the smooth, slender, cinnamon-colored legs that flowed from her red leather mini-skirt.
“I’m tellin’ya’, Doll, you can do better!”
Carmen gave the interloper a coy smile. “You know, Brian,” she purred. “I think you’re right!” She turned back to Alex, threw her arms back around his neck, and with parted lips, kissed him warmly. She lingered on his lips for three or four seconds, giving out a low, soft, moan as she did. When she finally did pull away, Alex was looking at her wide-eyed.
“Whoa!” he said, breathlessly.
Carmen put her left arm around Alex’s waist and turned back to Brian. “Hey, that WAS better! Thanks for pointing that out to me.”
Just then a brunette in a cheerleader outfit edged herself in next to Brian and took hold of his arm. “Come on, Brian. Once a ho, always a ho. You can find hundreds of Spic hos like Carmen down in Mexico when Daddy sends us down there on break.”
Alex acted like he was getting ready to say something, but no words came out of his mouth. Brian and his friends laughed. “You’re right, Brittany,” he said. “So, too late, Carmen. I’m outta here, and you get to keep your scrawny dork as a booby prize.”
“He’s big where it counts, Little Pecker!” snarled Carmen. “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot people don’t say that name to your face!”
Before Brian could respond, Mister Callahan, one of the counselors, stepped in between them. “Okay, break this up and get to your classes, or I’m taking all of you to the principal’s office!”
“Fine by me!” said Brian. “Who do ya’ think Principal Davis is most likely to kick outta here? A street ho or the star quarterback?”
“Last warning, Mister James!”
Bob Callahan had a reputation as a man of his word, and so Brian James gave Carmen and Alex one final glare, turned away and strode down the hallway. The school counselor turned to Carmen.
“You know, Carmen, that creep is probably right about who Davis would throw out, and you don’t want to waste all the progress you’ve made by getting into trouble now.”
Carmen closed her eyes tightly and put her hand up in front of her. “Stop! Stop! I know, I know.” She opened her eyes now, but still avoided looking the adult in the eyes. “I just…you know…get mad when people bring up my past.”
“It doesn’t need to define you!”
“Yeah, Carmen,” injected Alex, finally finding his voice. “That’s not who you are any more.”
“I know, I know,” Carmen said. “It’s just –“
“Look, Carmen,” the counselor said, lowering his voice to a more confidential tone, “I have never seen a student make the kind of turnaround you have made. You missed a full semester of school, but you’ve made it up. And not only that, but you’re doing some of the best work academically I’ve seen in this school, and you are on target to graduate with your class. That’s a real miracle!”
“But so many people just treat me the same!”
“Not all of them!” replied Mister Callahan. “Not Alex here. Not the college recruiting offices, that’s for sure. “It’s just your junior year, and already some top colleges are showing interest. Do I hear right?”
Carmen knew what the counselor was trying to do, and it was beginning to work. “Yeah, you do. And you’re right.”
Bob Callahan raised a finger in the air, a movement Carmen knew from past experience meant he was getting ready to make one last important point. “People like those guys who just left are going to try to turn you back and take away that progress. Don’t let them!”
The counselor walked down the hall a few yards, but then he stopped and turned back toward Alec and Carmen one more time. “DON’T…DON’T…DON’T let them!” He proceeded down the hall and slipped through one of the office doors.
“I should have stood up to those guys for you, but I didn’t,” said Alex. “I’m sorry.”
Carmen shrugged. “What? Like I didn’t do a good enough job of defending myself? Don’t worry about it, Alex. I’m not looking for that from you.”
Carmen began heading down the hallway toward her locker, and Alex followed alongside.
“I know,” said Alex. “But, I mean – come on, a guy should defend his girl.”
Carmen rolled her eyes. She stopped and turned toward her friend. “Alex, we’ve been through this before. I’m not ‘your girl.’ We’re, like, friends who go out together. And I really do like you. But I’m going through so many changes in my life right now that I just don’t know how to make a commitment to one guy. Like I mean – you know – those guys were rude, but they’re right about what my life was before. I let guys screw me for money. There’s no other way to say it. I wish I hadn’t, but it was what it was. Now I’m trying to step away from that and find another path. I’m learning, really for the first time, what it means to love. Let me do it slowly…please!”
Alex was looking down at the floor, and shuffled back and forth a little. “What you said to Brian about…you know…my size – they’re going to think we’re already doing it.”
Carmen smiled. “Let them!”
Alex returned the smile. “And you know, one more thing. With my grades and my mom’s budget, well, if I go to college at all it will be to a local community college. I know you’re too smart for that, but…do you think you might at least go to your mom’s college, Oregon State?”
Carmen winced. “Really, Alex? The Oregon State Beavers? After what we just talked about, you want guys to be able to say to me ‘nice Beaver’? Dude, it ain’t going to happen!”
Alex’s smile grew a little more.
“Besides,” Carmen continued. “I need to be a little independent of my new parents. I love them, but I’ve got to find my own way. The University of Chicago has a great archaeology program, and that’s what I want to do. Doctor Goldman, a family friend, is still on the faculty there, and I just love the old guy. He’s pretty sure I can get in there.”
Alex’s smile turned quickly to a frown.
Carmen punched him on the shoulder. “But, hey, don’t worry about that! We’re only juniors and there is some time before that happens. Who knows what will go down in the next two years, right?”
The bell rang.
“Crap! Now we’re late,” Carmen said. “Let’s blame it on Callahan and get him to write us a pass.”
Carmen stopped at her locker, did her morning exchange of items brought from home for the books she needed for her first class, and slammed it shut. Then with Alex close behind she rushed into the counselor’s office. Bob Callahan was already writing a pass for another student; but he looked up from his desk at his new visitors, and was already starting on their passes before they even asked.
“So, you’re saying this is my fault,” the counselor said in response to Carmen’s tongue-in-cheek accusation. “How exactly do you figure that?”
Carmen rolled her eyes. “Your pep-talk out in the hall? It threw me entirely all off schedule! Duh! I mean, like I had the schedule for my morning entirely figured out when I came to school: ‘Give Alex a big sloppy one. Get harassed by assholes. Stymie them with my superior wit and intellect. Go to class.’ So, like, did you HEAR ‘Get rescued by my counselor’ anywhere in that itinerary? I don’t think so! So – your fault!”
Callahan slowly shook his head as he finished writing Carmen’s pass. As he handed it to her, he looked the young man in the eye. “Mister Perez, are you sure you know what you’re doing, running around with this female? Because I’ve got to tell you, you’re not much of a talker, and she’s going to have you blaming yourself for when she gets a bad haircut. Are you really ready for that?”
Alex stood by the counselor’s desk for a moment with a “deer-in-the-headlights” look. Carmen knew how uncomfortable this shy boy was around authority, and she considered for a few seconds that she might need to speak for him. But then he responded.
“Uh…did you see how she kissed me out there?”
Bob Callahan nodded his head reflectively. “Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did. So, enough said. Just prepare yourself for a life of being whipped.”
The counselor handed the second pass to Alex, and waved them on. But then something else came to his mind. “Oh, wait. Carmen?”
Carmen had already started walking toward the door, but she stopped and looked back. “Yeah.”
“Before I forget, I probably haven’t told you how much I admire those adoptive parents of yours and all they are doing –“
“Parents,” she said, interrupting.
“I just call them my parents. Evan is my Papa, and Jessica is my Mama. They’re my parents. We don’t do that ‘adoptive’ part.”
Callahan shrugged. “Well. Your parents, then. I admire the way they are fighting for peace. I admire the way they aren’t afraid of saying what they believe, even when it isn’t popular. I admire how they speak up for a spirit of understanding between our country and a country so many love to hate. I…I just wanted you to know that.”
Carmen smiled. “I admire them too. And thanks!”
Carmen’s smile went with her out into the hallway, and even into her first hour English class. The teacher, unaccustomed as she was to seeing a smiling student at such an early morning hour, thought it might have been due to Alex, but to Carmen it didn’t matter what she thought. She was just glad to have a life worth smiling about. Let everyone else work on the explanations.
THE CLASS BELL RANG just as Evan Jordan crossed the threshold of room 213 in the Urban Center of Portland State University. He tossed his briefcase onto the desk, and looked out over the students assembled for their first session of this Fall class. A quick count told him there were 20 students present, a few less than the list of pre-registrations had indicated. Most of them were the young adults who traditionally made up college classes, although there were also a handful of middle-aged adults, a common element of this urban commuter university. About two-thirds were male, and most of them seemed to be preening before a particularly attractive young blonde sitting toward the center of the room.
“Good morning, students, I am Professor Evan Jordan, and this is Political Science 444, ‘U.S. National Security Strategies.’”
Most of the students found seats as Evan had started speaking, but several of the male students continued to flirt with the young blonde.
“For those of you who are in this class by mistake, and were looking for something else, say ‘Human Sexual Interaction,’ that class is in another building – and it’s full!”
“Damn straight!” said a black male student Evan had had in a class before. “Cuz if this were that class, I’d have to be the one teaching your sorry white ass, and I don’t have the time!”
Evan laughed. “And I’m sure there would be a lot I could learn from you, Anthony, but for now just sit down and shut up, for once in your life.”
Anthony and the others found their seats, while Evan sat down on his desk and surveyed the faces before him once again.
“This class will be a survey of US policy as it relates to our country’s national security interests. We will be addressing issues of world terrorism, as well as our approach to various conflict areas of the world, and our military and non-military involvement in those conflicts, as they touch on our perceived national interests.”
Evan passed out the syllabus, and then went over it in detail. A young white male toward the back of the class raised his hand, and Evan acknowledged him.
“Uh…I was just wonderin’--”
“First your name please,” said Evan, interrupting. “I want this class to be on a first name basis, and we might as well start now.”
“Yeah, okay, I’m Steve Branson, and I was wonderin’…to get a good grade in this class, do we have to agree with your political views? Cuz, I mean, no offense, but I’ve seen you interviewed on TV, and I think you’re full of crap.”
There was an uneasy laughter throughout the class.
“Well, now,” said Evan after a pause, “how could I ever take offense at that?”
“No, really,” the student continued, “I mean, why couldn’t your wife teach our class? I know she thinks like you, but at least she’s hot.”
More uneasy laughter.
Evan felt irritated by this challenge, but he resisted the urge to act on his irritation. Instead he turned, went to the whiteboard and picked up a marker. He wrote as he spoke. Well, Mister Branson, there are three basic reasons why my wife isn’t teaching this class. One, she doesn’t teach at this university, she teaches at Oregon State. Two, she is a Professor of Archaeology, and not political science. And three, she is on sabbatical working with a mutual friend in Israel. Oh, yeah. And 3b, if she were up front here you would be staring at her with your mouth hanging open, and wouldn’t really hear a thing that was being said.”
The laughter in the class room returned, with more vigor.
Evan turned back toward the class, clipped the tip back on the marker and smiled at Steve Branson. “I trust you won’t have that problem with me up front!”
In the midst of the jocularity, now more at his expense, the student recovered well. “I don’t know; let me see a little leg first.”
Evan smiled. “So, what is it about my ideas that you think make me full of crap?”
Steve Branson leaned back and surveyed his fellow students for a moment, perhaps looking for signs of support. “Well, I mean, I really love this country. But there are a lot of countries around that really hate us, and you want to turn us into this big wuss country that gives up all our weapons, and tries to be nice to everybody. I gotta tell ya’, that idea really sucks!”
Three other white male students in the back row started chanting, “USA! USA! USA!”
Emboldened by his support, the student went on: “And all because you want to run the world by the Bible, and that story of the Garden of Eden. I mean, I’m the young student here, and I’m a Christian, but even I know that’s really naïve.”
Evan strolled a little to his right and pointed back toward the white board. “Mister Branson, would you mind reading what I have written on the board?”
“Okay,” the cheeky student replied, “Politics is the art of the possible.”
“And the quote is from?”
“Let’s see, reading below there, that would be Otto Von Bismarck.”
“The art of the possible,” Evan repeated. “And as we think of what we might want to do politically, how do we know what is really possible, Mister Branson?”
The student stared at Evan a moment, and then shrugged.
“Anyone?” Evan looked around the class, but no one cared to venture an answer.
Evan stood there for a moment nodding his head. “Yes, well, it is a difficult question. But that is no doubt why, even though we refer to this as political SCIENCE, Otto Von Bismarck referred to it as an ART, the art of the possible. A science is somewhat precise, but determining what is possible does not admit well of precision. How can a person really know what is possible? We have constantly seen yesterday’s impossibilities become tomorrow’s realities.”
“He ain’t shittin’ ya’ on that one, Branson,” said Anthony, omitting the formality of raising his hand. “I know that nobody in my family – hell, no one in my neighborhood – ever thought they would see a brother become President. We thought that right up to the day. Then there was Obama. I still can’t believe it happened. I sometimes wonder if it’s not like those dudes who say man never walked on the moon; it was all this big scam, set up with smoke ‘n mirrors. Come to think of it, have any of us actually SEEN Obama in the White House?” Anthony leaned back cockily with his hands behind his head. “Hey, I’m tellin’ ya’, the truth may be out there, but ain’t nobody wants US to know it!”
Evan smiled. “Yes, Obama is a good example. And so is when people walked on the moon. That used to be the very definition of impossibility. Any others people can think of?”
“That New Orleans could rebuild,” said a black woman from the front row. “My name is Alysha, and I was just a kid when Katrina came along. We barely escaped. I looked around the next morning, and I thought the world had ended. Now I go back home and I can’t believe it. The jazz is back.”
“When the Berlin Wall came down,” said an older woman with a German accent. “My name is Katarina, and I lived in East Berlin.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “You talk of not being able to believe something. We had long since given up the idea we would ever escape that oppression. My life was going nowhere. My husband was a professor who criticized the Communists, so we lived in fear that he would be arrested. Then one day--”
Katarina put her hand to her mouth, but still Evan could see the tears flowing. It took maybe a full 30 seconds before she was able to finish her sentence. “Then one day we heard it was coming down! We got out of there so fast!”
Evan waited until he was sure Katarina had seen his smile before he started speaking again. “’The art of the possible’ on that day in Berlin suddenly had expanded beyond most of our wildest dreams.”
Katarina nodded her head vigorously.
Evan went back to the board and examined the statement in question once again. Then he slowly turned back toward the class. “So we began by asking, how do we know what is really possible, in light of all these…impossible events?’ And the partial answer to that question is that we cannot find the answer through the discipline of political science alone. We must draw on other areas of learning – philosophy and, yes, religion. We must turn to the disciplines whose very function is to envision something more than what can be plainly seen. A politician, Bobby Kennedy, said it best: ‘Some people see things as they are, and ask why. I dream things that never were and ask why not?’”
The professor wandered over to a window that looked out over a small courtyard. It was a beautiful late summer day, and the birds in a tree below seemed to be celebrating the warmth and freshness of it. Evan turned back to the class.
“A person involved in politics needs to have a source of dreaming. And, yes, for me that source has become the biblical story of a garden that is said to have existed at the beginning of our history as a human culture. The Garden of Eden. I went searching for it because my 14-year old daughter had died of cancer, and I needed to find if life could be good again, good like the Bible said all of creation once was.”
A vision of Sarah’s face came to Evan’s mind, but it was okay. It wasn’t a haunting vision. His daughter was smiling. She was smiling about gardens, gardens found and loved. She was smiling about him and their continuing connection in an ancient story.
“I found this garden in Northern Iran, in a high valley, walled in by mountains near the city of Tabriz. Was it the ‘real’ Garden of Eden? I don’t know. Did a ‘real’ Garden of Eden ever exist? I don’t know, although I like to think that something like it did at one point in time. What’s important is not what was long ago, but what can still be. Whether the Garden of Eden was one of those things Bobby Kennedy and others envisioned that never was, but could be; or whether it was an ancient memory of what we once had before we turned away from it, the point is that it is a vision, a vision of the possible.”
Evan now found an energy pulsating through his body, an energy which made it hard to stay in the confines of a classroom, an energy which made him want to get out and run. But of course, he could not do that right now. All he could do was pace, pace quickly back and forth between confining walls, while pulling forth what was in his heart and mind and painting a picture of it for students who had yet to see it.
“What I found in that garden – well, what WE found – echoed the vision of the biblical garden. It gave us a vision for what we wanted to see happen in our world. Let me tell you about this vision: it was a world where nothing appeared as an enemy. Can you imagine a world like that? Well, if we can’t we need to learn to! Katarina who just spoke? – She is German, and in World War II she was our enemy. Anthony and Alysha? Ever think of us with lighter skin as your enemy?”
A hand shot up from a muscular young man toward the left side of the class. “I am Vladimir, and my family is from Russia.”
“Russia! Everyone else hide under your desks!”
A petite young Asian girl now waved her hand. “I am Kameko, and my grandfather fought in World War II…” She blushed. “…and not for this country.”
“In this very class,” Evan said, “we have lions lying down with the lambs.” Evan strolled a few paces back toward his desk, and then he stopped and looked back at his students. “That is, by the way another biblical metaphor for those of you who were wondering.”
Several students laughed.
“And for those of you guys who want to take the ‘lying down with’ part literally? – again, this is Political Science 444, and not Human Sexual Interaction.”
Now everyone was laughing.
When the laughter died down Evan smiled and went on. “So, believing in the vision of Eden is believing that just maybe we can see each other differently BEFORE we fight the wars, instead of just after. We talk about national security. Wouldn’t we all feel a little more secure if we could see each other as we are learning to in this class?”
Steve Branson just shook his head. “Yeah, well, I don’t see any frickin’ Iranians in this room!”
Evan nodded. “Well, maybe one day.” He went on. “You see, Eden is life in harmony with itself. It’s not ‘dominate or die’, whether we’re talking about dominating each other or dominating the natural environment. I may be full of crap, but I think it can happen. And Eden is believing we can all have all we need. In the story of Eden, everyone had all they needed. It was only when they had to have more that it fell apart. A politics led by a vision of Eden says that we will all be more secure when every child in every country has enough to eat, when every child feels protected from violence, and when their parents don’t have to watch them die. Believe me, I know what that is like, and we want to have as few people as possible doing that in our world.”
Evan looked up at the clock. The bell would ring any minute, and he had more to say. “A vision of Eden means we have to learn to trust again. We have to trust each other. And we have to trust something bigger than ourselves. Eden was where all was in harmony because it was all unified by that something bigger, that entity which people chose to call God. Trusting God was trusting life. When they stopped trusting, Eden got lost in the jungle.”
Evan paused to mentally review what had happened in the class to that point. “Now, I was asked whether you have to agree with me to get a good grade in this class. You don’t. I value good questions as much as good answers, and Mister Branson’s question gets him an ‘A’ for the day. You don’t have to believe in the vision of Eden I have outlined. You don’t have to believe in nuclear disarmament. You don’t have to believe in God. But what I challenge you to do is to find a vision of something better that you do believe in, and let that vision guide you in determining what is possible.”
The bell rang, and students started gathering books, but Evan had a few more words to say.
“I once heard it said by a psychologist, that it is impossible to have a meaningful goal you are working toward and be depressed at the same time. I believe that is true. That is true for individuals, and it is true for our world. Our world is in a depressed state because no one is giving us a vision of where we are going. In this class we will be talking about how to change that.”