(1385 words – 10 min read)
Part 2 of 2 – America
I arrived in America in March of 2004. With a broken heart, I had to leave my daughter in Iran for an unknown amount of time until I could take care of all the permissions and paperwork, to have her join me. I believed my dream of freedom in the land of democracy would come true.
Despite my husband’s serious disagreement with bringing some of my books, because of the extra weight they would add to our bags, I still managed to bring a handful of my beloved favorites. I was not able to imagine living without those specific books.
Within the first week of my arrival, the need to learn more English skills and my love for books dragged me to the libraries. It was fascinating to walk in the public library and find all different kinds of books, walking among the aisles, and grab any book I liked. In Iran, local libraries had very small collections and as a member I was only allowed to go through the index cards and see if the book I was looking for was available. Usually, it was not. If the book was available, then the librarian would go and bring it for me. Due to a fairly dysfunctional public library system in Iran, I was very used to buying the books I wanted. Here in America with the big collection the library system offered, I was able to find all different sorts of books in the library.
Iran’s Islamic government had several mandatory Islamic courses to be taught every year at school. I had to learn about Islamic rules, the history of Islam, and Arabic as part of the curriculum. Few people were interested in those courses at school, but all of us students had to pass them with good grades if we wanted to maintain a good GPA. Because of all those forced, boring courses at school, I had never been interested in spending more time on religious books, but surprisingly found myself reading about different religions here in America. It felt like I was not forced and could expand my knowledge about different belief systems. Isn’t that what America is about?
Reading all those books did not change my agnostic view however with a lot more information, I felt confident I could express my opinion, without being arrested by the government (as would happen in Iran), and without being severely judged by a lot of people. That certainly felt like freedom.
I also found myself interested in reading about America’s short but rich history. I read stories about how democracy was formed in less than 2 centuries as a result of people’s belief in freedom. The beauty of having all different ugly and pretty pieces of its history together. The history of how people of all races fought hard and gained human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and how all different ethnicities came along to live together to build a country called “The United States of America”. The history of becoming one of the world’s most powerful countries.
Like all other immigrants, to settle down, I had a busy few first years but I never stopped reading. Cultural shock, learning a new language, missing my daughter who was still in Iran waiting for me to bring her here, marriage problems, working as a retail associate in store while trying to find a job to use my professional experience from Iran, and trying to go to graduate school were amongst the main challenges. Reading was the fun part, the me-time part, and the joy part, especially with the unlimited resources I had access to. Not only would reading take me to a different world outside of the reality of my life, it also gave me hope and triggered my motivation to move forward stronger than ever. This felt like freedom too.
Over time, I brought my daughter to my side, found an understanding partner, completed my Masters degree with a good graduate school and found a professional job. I was intellectually stimulated at work and living in a nice home, but I found myself confused, questioning the PURPOSE of life. Now what? I was happy but not content. Something was missing in my life. In fact, something big was missing.
My lifelong dream was to become an independent woman and manage my life under my own supervision rather than following others’ possessive control. I did become independent, enabling myself to use my own logical and emotional intelligence to make life decisions. Didn’t I get all I wished for? What was missing? I was puzzled.
My interest and passion for books has always had a major focus on Philosophy, Sociology, and Psychology. Around 2009, I found myself drawn into Psychology, specifically the concept of “Self-actualization” introduced by Abraham Maslow. I attended seminars, read books, and talked about it almost all the time. I have this obsessive behavior that my husband politely calls “Passion”. When I get excited about one new subject, I change the lenses of my life glasses to that particular subject. Even trips to the grocery store are seen and analyzed through these new lenses.
Reading more about it and living with this concept for a while, I got to the learn that Maslow thinks the ultimate goal of being is to become self-actualized, to use one’s potential fully. Along with this, studying about altruism helped me to understand to become self-actualized, one needs to become compassionate first.
Well, I always tried to have good intentions towards others around me, but this concept was asking a lot more than that. Not only did I need to learn to be less judgmental and to avoid jumping to conclusions about others’ behavior, I also needed to be compassionate towards myself. I needed to stop criticizing myself and become gentle with myself. WOW! I thought. As a woman raised under the authoritative government and culture of Iran during the 1970s and 1980s, I believed I was never “good enough”, which to me is the major outcome of being controlled by possessive behavior coming from Government, spouses, and parents.
I had to re-wire everything in my head. It took me a few years to digest this new concept of being self-compassionate. Living in America and having good company around me and not being under possessive behavior helped tremendously and made the process possible.
Reading books has helped me expand my knowledge and form a broader point of view. It has helped me to develop less judgmental and more empathetic behavior every day.
In this mental journey from Marxism to Mullahs to living in the land of democracy and beginning the path to self-actualization, I have learned to investigate many great thinkers through their books, and then use my birth-right of freedom to interpret their words to my life circumstances. I learned there are unlimited paths to freedom. Everyone creates their own unique path, but we are all in this together.
I have come to learn that with compassion towards others and ourselves, doing the best we can at every moment of life is “the PURPOSE of life”.
On the journey to self-compassion, I learned writing even more than reading brings out all the passion and joy of life in me. While writing, I feel the freedom in my spirit. When I am writing, I don’t feel the passage of time. Jane Friedman explains those moments very well, “Time stops; you’re in the flow”. Writing also helps me feel the most compassionate to others.
When you write stories, you need to see beyond the surface of what happened. When you write, you learn each person has strengths and flaws. Under different circumstances, people do the best they can and making mistakes is a natural part of life. Everyone needs support to improve. When you write, you learn that in fact, to accept the imperfect nature of being and improving it is another way of expressing “the PURPOSE of life” and the ultimate FREEDOM for humans.
Last but not least, I learned having freedom is not the end of the journey, it is the journey itself. The beauty of this long journey is that it is never-ending. There is always deeper freedom in life to explore. Life is limitless.
And finally, there are always more BOOKS to read and to write.
Editing Credit: Mike Curtis
Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com