art ~ spirit ~ transformation
e*lix*ir

e*lix*ir   #16
Twin Birthdays 2023
Voices of Iran
 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Editorial

The Art of a Loving Correspondence

The Writing Life

Trust in Poetry by Tami Haaland

Features

The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, A collaborative work by poet Sandra Lynn Hutchison, composer Margaret Henderson, and painter Inger Gregory
Writing Music for The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, by Margaret Henderson

Poetry

Heather Anne Hutchison
Victor Kulkosky
Linette Kuy

Essays

The Art of Losing by Victor Kulkosky
Yearning for Water: The Story of a Traveling Quilt by Bradford Miller

Personal Reflections on Bahá’í Texts

Fire and Paradise by James Andrews

Letters

Dreaming of a Better Iran: A Letter to Our Fellow Citizens by Eight Bahá’í Students

Translations

“I Want to Walk With You” translated by Bashir Sayyah

Comics

Ruhi & Riaz by Eira

Voices of Iran

Keeping the Eternal Garden by Maryam Afzal and Saam Mozafari
Mrs. Mansouri’s Mission by Shahrzad Mohebbi
Nothing but the Sanctity of the Desert by Nazgol Adyani
Five Days by Bahar Rohani

Interviews

Art and the Creative Process: An Interview with Hooper C. Dunbar by Nancy Lee Harper
An Interview with Erfan Hosseini, Santur Player by Mehrsa Mastoori

Arts

Paintings by Hooper C. Dunbar

State of the Art

Books for Children by Allison Grover Khoury

Looking Back on Books

Forty-eight Fragments by Imelda Maguire
The Divine Melody: Song of the Mystic Dove by Lorraine Hétu Manifold
Walking to Martha’s Vineyard by Franz Wright
Soul of the Maine House by Bradford Miller

Films

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in France by Perry Productions


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Ann Sheppard

Keeping the Eternal Garden

by MARYAM AFZAL and SAAM MOZAFARI

Standing amidst the ruins of the graveyard he worked so hard to maintain for the past thirty years, Aref Mahmoodi felt bereft. He looked at the grave where his mother lay. All the roses he had planted next to her tombstone were buried beneath broken stones and dust. Only a few walnuts remained where the walnut trees had been. The branches of weeping willows, which had once sheltered the tombstones, lay strewn across the ground. The seedlings Aref had planted with his own hands had been pulled out of the ground, every last one. The cemetery lay before him completely demolished; it was as if it had never existed.

Hearing the news on that warm July morning in 2015, Aref had rushed out of the house and jumped into his car. On his way to the graveyard, he had wondered how it was possible that someone could be so afraid of the dead that they would destroy their resting place. Yet, he knew that the Eternal Garden was not the only Bahá’í graveyard that had been destroyed in the recent years. Since the revolution in 1979, graveyards in many other cities had been destroyed. It had happened before and it would happen again. He had hoped the Eternal Garden would be an exception, but he had to admit that he had seen this coming. The new mullah in town was a fanatical man who had done all he could to harm the Bahá’í community.

As Aref reflected on those precious days when, as a youth, he had helped his father maintain the graveyard, he felt even more upset. His father was the first to dedicate his time to maintaining the graveyard. It was he who had encouraged Aref to help in the work of preserving it. Aref’s father had been his teacher; he had learned everything he needed to know from him — how to plant seedlings and flowers, how much water they needed to grow, and how to dig graves, their width, length, and height. Until his father had passed away, the two of them, father and son, had been a dedicated team who viewed their work as a spiritual duty.

Now, thirty years later, under Aref’s watchful eyes, the Eternal Garden was flourishing. The Ministry of Information had not allowed the Bahá’í community to erect a fence along the borders of the graveyard, so Aref and his father had planted trees for privacy. The walnut trees and elms bordered the graveyard and the weeping willows gave shade to all who came to pray on hot summer days. Aref had been the one to fill the twenty-liter casks with water and transport them to the graveyard in his truck so he could water the plants and wash the dust from the tombstones. Aref had also been the one who, after years of negotiation, had convinced the authorities to allow him to build a mortuary so that the bodies of the dead could be properly washed and prepared for burial.

As he looked at what remained of the Eternal Garden, Aref remembered all the mornings he had spent working in the graveyard with his father and how many of his loved ones he had buried here. In his present gloomy and nostalgic state, he could almost imagine they were still alive, speaking to him as they did in the old days, telling him to be strong. It had been about seven o’clock in the morning when the farmers who worked the lands next to the graveyard had come to his door to tell him that, around midnight the previous night, a group of people had come and razed the entire graveyard with a bulldozer. At first, he couldn’t believe it: long years of work destroyed in a single night!

Aref and his father decided to go to the Ministry of Information to find out more about what had happened and why. The officials at the ministry claimed, falsely, that the graveyard had been designated agricultural land. Aref knew this was not true. The Bahá’ís had bought this land in 1967, before the revolution. Aref and his father proceeded to write letters to the governor and then visited his office and his residence as well as the Ministry of Justice and the responsible agricultural organization, to request permission to rebuild the graveyard. Aref even filed a complaint against the agricultural organization, but when it went to court the judge ruled against him. The Bahá’í community rallied, signed the letters Aref wrote and accompanied him when he went to the authorities to ask for justice.

But none of these actions bore any fruit. For two years, the security forces guarded the ruined graveyard and did not allow the Bahá’ís to bury their loved ones there. The Bahá’ís had to transport the bodies of the dead to a nearby city an hour and a half away for burial. “The graveyard of that city was in the middle of a desert,” Aref recalls, “and in winter, it was hard for the cars to pass through due to heavy snow and ice.” After many unsuccessful requests to reinstate the old graveyard, Aref requested land for a new graveyard. The Ministry of Information gave him some, but it was very far from the city and the ground was hard and stony. Aref and his father asked to have a better piece of land on which to develop another graveyard, and after two years of lobbying, they were given a piece of land, this one forty kilometers from the city, and in mountainous terrain. They knew this was their last opportunity, so they took it.

Aref brought workers to construct a road from the highway to the graveyard. He installed pipes to bring water from the spring to the graveyard. With the help of his father, he built a mortuary and dug some graves. Since the soil was so hard and rocky, they needed to hire workers with heavy machinery to break the ground. Aref and his father were not able to get permission to adorn the graves with flowers, so the graveyard looked deserted and empty. And he was not allowed to build a fence around the graveyard to protect it, so the graveyard remained vulnerable to anyone who might choose to desecrate it.

Still, Aref faithfully maintains the new graveyard, which his community shares with another in a nearby city. The location of the new graveyard is far from ideal. It is about an hour from the city and hard to reach, especially in winter. And there is no proper road to it, only a dusty stone path often made impassable by snow in the winter. The only water available comes from a spring that goes dry during the hottest months of the year. And the local villagers begrudge the Bahá’ís their graveyard since the land once served as pasture for their herds. At first, they did not like strangers coming and going near their farmlands, though eventually they came to understand that the Bahá’ís were no threat to them.

Over the course of the many years he worked to establish the new graveyard, Aref’s father grew old and was unable to help as he had before; still, he did all he could to continue to help maintain the site. After all, it was he who had taught Aref about the importance of having a place where the dead can be buried with dignity. When in the winter of 2022, Aref’s father passed away, he became the first person to be buried in the new graveyard. Now that his father rests in that desolate place, Aref feels he must take up his struggle once again to make this graveyard into a place worthy of its name — the Eternal Garden.