Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Iranian School Ground

What have you learned from your kids?

That is one of the questions asked in the Grant Survey of Harvard men – a survey that began in the 1930’s and is still continuing. The purpose of the study is to find out what makes people happy, not what makes them sick. I am interested in the findings of the study. I am reading the second book that Vaillant published.

So back to this question, what have you learned from your kids? Well, a long time ago I learned that even as an adult, Rebecca is still studying me and sometimes she shares with me exactly what it is that she is seeing in me.

In one such moment she said, “Arta, you don’t need to travel to hear people speak. You wait in Calgary; eventually these people pass through on speaking engagements; you find out a way to get there; you have saved yourself time and energy, because you have already read the texts that they have written; now you don’t listen so much to the content of what they deliver but you drowned yourself in the sound of their voice, at the way they work their audience, you watch the gestures they make; you see the way they move their bodies and capture the expanse of the stage.

Rebecca was telling me this in conjunction with a speech Gloria Steinem was giving. I didn’t know Steinem was in town, but some dear friend, appreciating my interest in her work, pressed a ticket into my hand. The talk just happened to be given at my lunch hour. Just one of those days when the stars all lined up.

Do I really do what Rebecca said? All of that work, and then get the bonus of hearing someone speak in person? Or listen to them in a podcast? Or hear a first hand experience about this person from another of my friends.

I like the idea that the world is available to us if we will just be still and listen. So, here is how I got a chance to see recess in an Iranian elementary school. We were celebrating Amir’s birthday with an extravagant form of a cupcake. A cake mix all jazzed up with sour cream, extra eggs and oil, and more chocoate than usual. The party was small: Amir, Sahar, Richard and Miranda's family (Michael, Alice, abd Betty Blanche) and me.

Amir couldn’t really get at the cupcakes to blow the candles out. The kids were too busy helping him with that job.

I saved the last few cupcakes for Michael to ice. He is in earnest about that task. He added a dollop of icing to the top of the cupcake. Then he licked one side of the knife, a long lick from the base of the knife to its tip. Now the knife was ready to smooth out the icing on the other half of the cupcake. Michael licks the knife again. I am thinking, I a going to make sure that he gets this cupcake to eat.   He adds another dollop of cream cheese icing to the othr side of the cupcake, licking the spoon and knife a second time.

By the time Happy Birthday has been sung, and Michael has licked just the cream cheese icing from the top of another cupcake, he has discovered he is full. He takes some colour chalked and decorates the cement patio with stick figures. He adds some roads and vehicles.

Amir picks up a piece of chalk as well and in a comfortable squat which he must have used in his elementary school days, he decorates the rest of the patio with vines and leaves. “This is how we used to do it in Iran,” he said, pointing to the twigs, the trunks, the branches, and the leaves, now intertwined with complicated patterns. “Our teachers would tell us that we can learn how complicated life is if we look at nature in this form.”

I enjoy looking at the patterns from far away and trace some of them into my mind, wondering if I will be trying this the next time Michael and Alice bring over chalk. Amir had covered our patio with his chalkwork.




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