Archives for posts with tag: celebration

I love how the more I work in the community, the more it becomes a process of mutual sharing. Sharing a song with the youth in a study circle is so much lovelier when they teach me one in return. A gift of my time visiting a neighbor in her home is quite literally sweetened by the tea she serves me. A word in English traded for a word in Spanish, or in Nepali, or maybe just a loving smile.

It sounds so selfish, I know. We’re taught that we should give selflessly, without regard for reward. But I can’t help the feeling that what I’m experiencing isn’t something as petty as tit-for-tat, it’s an emerging environment of equality. We’re just neighbors. Collaborators. Friends. There are no martyrs here.

So I know a prayer in Sanskrit now. I’ve learned to make chatpate from a group of middle school girls and to make origami flowers from a talented boy who used to curse at me in the street. I hoard a collection of construction paper cards that say “I love u Mis Cat” and “Thank you for being a awesome friend.” I’ve been invited to saints’ days and birthdays and dinners and festivals. And I’ve come to understand, most people love the opportunity to share what they have. Knowledge. Art. Stories. Passion. Faith. It brings people joy the same way it does for me. Silly not to have known it all along, eh? But I’m so much richer for having discovered it now.

Celebrating Holi with the some fabulous youth.

Celebrating Holi with the some fabulous youth.


Three years ago, before Jef and I knew we’d end up married (but were starting to think we might), we were driving west on Clifton Avenue in Cleveland when we suddenly had to stop. There was a barricade in the way. And music. And lights. And drag queens. One look and we knew we had to stop and find out what it was all about. So we parked and walked towards what was clearly a fantastic party.

We’d stumbled upon Dancing in the Streets, a fundraiser for the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland. Now, a few pertinent facts about me:

  • I cannot resist an opportunity to dance. Any style, any time.
  • HIV/AIDS advocacy has always been a central issue for me, since high school.
  • “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas is my theme song.
  • I’m a really good dancer. So naturally I wanted to show off in front of this potential spouse.

So we donated, entered, and started to dance.

The sun went down. The DJ kept playing. We kept dancing.

There was lightning in the distance. But the DJ kept playing, so we kept dancing.

Rain poured. People were running for cover under awnings and in nearby bars. But the DJ kept playing, and dozens of us were still dancing, in the middle of a summer thunderstorm.

It was like that obligatory wet sari scene in every Bollywood movie ever, and it was absolutely magic.

To this day, both Jef and I consider it to be the best date either of us has ever been on.

That was 2009.

In 2012, I went back to Dancing in the Streets. Same corner of Clifton, just where Cleveland turns into Lakewood. But there were differences:

  • The stage was smaller.
  • Cleveland’s new food trucks were parked nearby.
  • The weather was perfectly clement.

And at a little after 7:00 in the evening, a drunk driver crashed into the barricade, hitting five people. Two would die.

Two days later, Jef and I attended a candlelight vigil for Mitch and the other victims. Not because we knew the victims (although Mitch was a friend of a friend), but because the event itself had connected us. Mitch chose to come down to an event in order to celebrate and support life in the face of difficulty. We made that same choice on that same day. It made us part of one community, one family. And while that might seem a flimsy connection to those who prefer to focus on more traditional bonds, there is nothing stronger in this world than the power of choice.

Yes, I cried at the vigil. Not so much for Mitch, but for the pain of those who knew and loved him. I recognized a lot of faces from Dancing in the Streets that night. Some had come with him to the event, as his friends. But many others were like me, people united only by a choice to come, to support, to celebrate, and to dance.

Dancing is the epitome of vitality. Every part of you moving, breathing, beating, full of life. I’ll be back next year, to support the living and to honor the dead. For the HIV+ clients I treat weekly as a massage therapist. For Mitch, killed at 27 by a drunk in an SUV. For community and family and survivors and friends.

I promise I’ll be back.

And that I’ll be dancing for you.

I’m 29 years old today. Here are 29 things that make me happy, right now.

1. There’s some blue in the sky today.
2. Two new people at the study circle last night. Our community keeps growing.
3. Birds chirping outside.
4. Victoria is at the hospital. Milo is going to share a birthday with me!
5. My family is really cool.
6. Vegan eggplant bake. Thanks, Heidi!
7. Making cinnamon toast for breakfast.
8. I have so many opportunities to be of service.
9. I live walking distance from an amazing public library.
10. (And also walking distance from a vegetarian cafe.)
12. (Which has the most fabulous Mexican cocoa ever.)
13. I sometimes get paid to write. This is a childhood dream come true.
14. I have amazing friends all over the world.
15. I’m married to one of them.
16. My children’s class is learning to sing “O God, Guide Me” in Chinese. Or rather, they’ve already memorized it, and I’m struggling to catch up.
17. I can do 20 push-ups now, up from only 8 in mid-December.
18. The days are getting longer!
19. Ayyam-i-Ha is coming up. Then the Fast. Then Naw-Ruz!
20. I’m having Thai food for lunch with my dad today.
21. There are so many people in Lorain county who want animator training that I might have to start two separate study circles.
22. Reliable heat, water, electricity.
23. I’m a prime number now!
24. I have copies of the new Ruhi Book 3s (grades 1, 2, and 3) to pore over!
25. I plan to teach myself all the songs in Book 3 on the ukulele this year.
26. Because I’m getting a ukulele!
27. The fact that we don’t have a lot of furniture in our living room means there’s enough space to do handstands.
28. I live a mile and a half from Lake Erie.
29. It’s my birthday!


Yep, that’s a kazoo. It’s identical to the kazoos that my husband, father, stepmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins also received. The jam session that ensued was a brilliant specimen of superior musicianship. Our kazoo orchestra then called cousin Betty and played happy birthday to her.

Some other highlights of the evening included a Beatles medley, O Holy Night, Hava Nagila, and the Muppet Show theme song. The William Tell overture might have been in there too.

We don’t do individual gifts in our family. I know some people like to feel special and agonized-over, but I’ll take ridiculous family fun over a dozen just-for-me gifts any day. We only get to see each other a couple of times a year. Why not put your effort into making that the most special part of Christmas?


Today is Day 2 of my 31 Days of Community project.

I did a lot of things today (the dishes, the laundry, the floors, the toilet … it was one of those days) but my community-building exercise for today is that I am attending a reception for a local artist. Time to get off the internet now, because it’s starting soon.

Have a happy weekend!

Today was the first gathering of our junior youth group in 2011, so we made resolutions.

Each of us made:

  • one school resolution
  • one spiritual resolution
  • one fun resolution
  • one resolution for our group.

We talked a lot about how we decide upon and meet goals, played an active game about maintaining focus, and read the story of the rabbit and the turtle from Walking the Straight Path, which fit perfectly.

Most of the school goals involved reading more books; our kids get pretty good grades, on the whole.

Fun goals were mostly about sports.  Shakur’s fun goal was to play more basketball, and Jordan’s was to play more football.  So Shakur’s goal was to help his brother get better at football, and Jordan’s was to help Shakur get better at basketball!  It was pretty adorable.  All of us collectively resolved to play outside more this year.

Other spiritual goals involved being more thankful and courageous (these guys are pros at using the language of virtues now).

But the group resolutions!

We resolved to do more service projects (they were especially excited by the idea of visiting the local nursing home), get together with other junior youth groups, do more skits and art projects, and go on field trips around Cincinnati.

But they (not the adults, the 11-14 year olds in the group) decided that they really wanted to get back on track with memorizing their long quotation again.

Let me repeat: the self-determined New Year’s resolution for 2011 as a junior youth group was to MEMORIZE MORE.

They love it.  They love how smart it makes them feel.  The love the pride and accomplishment.  And they want that feeling every single week, not just willy-nilly, whenever we’ve got the time.  We’ll make the time.

This group has been through a lot of challenges in the last year.  Moves, new schools, dividing families, uncertainty, and confusion.  There’s no end in sight for these challenges in 2011.  But I know it’s going to be an amazing year for us, too.

Here’s the long quotation we’ve been working on.  The section in bold is what the group already knows by heart.

“Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility.”

This is heavy stuff, definitely not written with 13-year-olds in mind.  It takes a lot of discussion to even understand what the individual words mean, and then the concepts and metaphors require more discussion on top of that.  But they get it.  And they want more of this in their lives.

And when I look at these young people, I see a breath of life to the body of mankind, I see a luminary above the horizon of virtue, and most surely a shining light in the firmament of their generation.

They’ve got the resolutions, and they’ve got the resolve.

Now it’s my job to help them make it all happen.

Happy Gregorian New Year, everyone.

It’s Christmas.  I’m not a Christian.  So of course, when word gets out, I become the Official Spokesperson for Minority Religions on the Incredibly Important Question:

Is it offensive for me to give you a Christmas card?

There are variants, of course.  Can I wish you a Merry Christmas, or does it have to be Happy Holidays?  (Nobody bothers asking me whether Baha’is celebrate any holidays in December.  We don’t.)  Can I get you a gift?  Offer cookies? Do you mind if I hang up ornaments in our shared space?

Sometimes it’s cute.  One parent of a student handed me a card, saying quickly in one flustered breath, “I know you’re not Catholic or anything, but I got you a Christmas card.  I couldn’t remember if you were Jewish or Muslim, I know it’s one or the other; I don’t mean it to be offensive or anything but here’s a card for you.”  So awkward and adorable.  And so unnecessary.

Here’s the thing: I don’t care.

It doesn’t bother me that you were thinking of me during your holiday season.  Why on earth would it?  I have no objection to having my next week being happy, merry, joyful, blessed, or any other adjective of your choice.

Please don’t expect me to display your card on my door, because I won’t.  It will probably get donated or cut up for collage materials.  And please don’t expect me to return the favor and get a Christmas card for you, because that is unreasonable in this diverse world.  In return, I promise not to care that you don’t bake me Ayyam-i-Ha cookies in February, even though I’ll make them for you.  Don’t worry about remembering the date of Naw-Ruz, because I’ll have a happy one whether you tell me to or not.  Really!  It’s okay.

Holidays are such a tiny part of what it means to have a religion.  The other 360 days of the year, you don’t worry about offending me by not understanding my habits of prayer, meditation, study, or service.  Why start now?  Please consider that for a moment.  Why does this matter so much to you?  How much is about your faith, and how much is about advertising?

To let you in on a secret, I adore caroling.  All those old songs about the birth of Christ make me happy.  I’m so hardcore that I can sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” in Latin. No kidding.  I love singing alto with a group, I love taking evening walks with people, and I love sharing music with others.  I love being around people who decide to pick up their religion and paint the world beautiful.  If this is what your Christmas is about, why on earth would I be offended?  A little beauty?  A little hope?  A little peace?

For me, I’ll take the day off work and gladly spend the time eating with my half-Jewish, half-Christian, sprinkled liberally with “other”, family.  Happily.  Merrily, even.

Have a lovely weekend, whether you’re celebrating miracles or marmalade.  I’ll try to do the same.

What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

Well, of COURSE I’m going to have to say that my own wedding was the best party of 2010.

Planning it was a beast.  Jef was still living in Cleveland, while I was in Cincinnati.  We got permission to marry over Halloween weekend, and set the date of our marriage for January 16th.  Two and a half months to get ready.  Jef and I both really wanted things to be simple, small, and inexpensive.  Both of us have big families.  It was nerve-wracking at best.  I didn’t realize how much pressure people were going to put on me to make this “THE BEST DAY OF YOUR LIFE, OMG!”  Why on earth would I want the one event that’s never supposed to occur again be the highlight of my existence?  Why would I care more about a party than about my impending marriage?  Luckily, I discovered A Practical Wedding, which helped me keep my head on straight while engaging in stressful activities such as

  • turning down my mother’s offer to buy me a $300 wedding dress, and buying a $30 white sundress at the mall instead.
  • explaining that not only would there not be free booze, there would be no alcohol at all.
  • talking to the dozens of incredulous women who couldn’t believe that I actually preferred not having an engagement ring
  • helping people understand that we were marrying each other, no officiant would be “marrying us”

But the wedding!  The wedding itself was fantastic.

The ceremony was short.  Really short.  I’m talking 5 minutes.  We came up the aisle.  (No music or ceremony, we just let ourselves in.)  Jef talked a little.  Then I said a prayer.  He said one.  Then we both recited the Baha’i marriage vow: “We will all, verily, abide by the will of God.”

My sister untied the ribbon that held both our rings (made of rosewood) from around my neck.  We exchanged them, kissed, and headed out.  Everyone followed us into the other room.  Since we had the whole building, (the College Club, an old mansion in Cleveland Heights), people wandered around to the different food stations in different rooms, chatting and getting to know each other.  We wanted our families to mingle and become friends, so we didn’t set out lots of tables for people to get tied down to.

The food?  There were spring rolls, sandwiches, cheese and crackers, coffee, and WEDDING PIE!  (Cake is so overrated.)  I honestly ate so little of it that I can hardly remember!  I do remember that there was soda; my sister came up behind me while I was reading the guestbook-sketchbook, and I spilled Coke all down the front of my dress.  Right before taking pictures.  But it came out with a little scrubbing in the bathroom.  Nobody could even tell.

The entertainment?  We had an open mic type reception, complete with hilarious stories, ukulele sing-alongs, and selections from the Mikado.  My father played the Grieg nocturne that I learned for Solo and Ensemble Contest in 12th grade.  Gabi talked about how the first time she ever met me I told her I didn’t think I’d ever get married.  I told the story of how Jef and I came to be a couple (it involved the classic line, “What the hell, wanna marry me?”).  It was fabulous.

The people were our families and close mutual friends.  And a ton of my favorite little girls!  Both our families and friends are total goofballs, so a great time was had by all.

Was it the best day of my life?  Hell, no.  The best day of my life is, by definition, one not spent in shiny shoes.  But was it the best wedding I’ve ever attended?  YES.  The best party of the year?  ABSOLUTELY.  We kept true to ourselves while making our loved ones feel welcomed and at home, and accomplished our goal of bringing our families together as friends.

January, 2011 will mark one year of marriage for us.  Definitely a great excuse to keep up the celebrating!