I’m sitting here in my apartment in Chicago, thousands of miles away from Iran, scrolling Twitter for the latest news. An hour ago, the irrational and reckless leaders of a nation retaliated with a missile airstrike for the assassination of General Soleimani, the work of another irrational and reckless leader of another nation. “We are not done,” they say. “This is just the beginning,” they say. I never realized I belonged to two nations, both seeking destruction of the other. I never realized a beginning could feel like the end.
I won’t pretend to know the intricacies of foreign policy between the US and Iran. I know what I’ve been told my whole life (a coup, a revolution, an embargo, a nuclear treaty, a reversal) and what I come across in the news these days and what the commentators say on TV and what all these newly-minted experts spout so freely on social media. One thing feels for certain: War is coming, war is inevitable, war is here. And I feel very alone.
I have many aunts and uncles still living in Tehran and in northern Iran. I am scared for them and for what they may have to endure in the coming months, or even years. But I’m overcome with a feeling that I can’t even fully understand—something akin to patriotism, but the true sense of the word. Not in the way it’s used in the United States now—racism and jingoism and hatred.
But rather, the patriotism of feeling part of a beautiful heritage that welcomes others, that values poetry and art, that demonstrates a generosity that is in the very genetic makeup of its people. I recall the Tehran of my youth, the summers I spent visiting thousand-year-old palaces and picking mulberries off the trees and popping them into my mouth and sipping tea brewed from fresh leaves and buying barbari bread fresh from the stone oven and the sound of the busy Shemran streets and the streams of Karaj. Did the president of the United States ever watch from his grandparents’ balcony as the neighborhood erupted into a bright festival for the birth of a child? Did he ever run his hands along the sun-worn stones of Persepolis where kings led a great empire? Did he ever listen to the music of the Persian language as his grandfather recited Hafez and Saadi? Did he ever let the taste of rose water faloodeh tickle his tongue?
People are always dying. My three grandparents are dead. My parents will follow, and then so will I. More will die. And then even more. We each take with us a part of our culture, a piece of our homeland. We carry with us the memory of Iran, and she carries with her the memory of us. When she is gone, we will all be gone.
I know this feeling after all; it has a name. Or rather, a not-name. It is erasure.