What is Possible: A Woman’s Journey from Iran to America

Her daughter wants to keep bouncing on the two big mattresses that lie on the floor, but Azadeh is tired. She’s been up all night. She catches a glimpse of her child’s eyes inviting her to play. She tosses aside her weariness and starts tumbling and laughing with her little girl. It’s a scene repeated in different ways in different homes. A parent rallies to fulfill a child’s wish to be close and alive with them.

Who we know shapes our world: our children, our parents, our partners and their families, the neighbors and friends we create community with and the boss we work for. Sometimes our most life-changing relationships are not the ones we “chose” to have, but the ones that chance causes us to build.

I met Azadeh while visiting an old friend and so began our “unplanned” twenty-five year friendship. Getting to know one another has been a chance to see life freshly through another’s eyes. I grew up Catholic in Buffalo in a working class home with many siblings and little money. Azadeh and her brother grew up Muslim in Teheran in a formerly wealthy family. She heard Farsi and the poetry of Rumi. I heard Yeats from my Irish mom. But despite our differences both our childhoods were tumultuous, difficult and fantastic.

Azadeh taught herself to be bold. She cannot bear to have anyone face a hard time alone and has had to find her voice in order to help. It has catapulted her into action and speech despite her shyness and fears of not being smart. She does her advocacy work in a language she learned at 16 years old.

During the days of 9/11 this city felt compelled to respect no barrier in our compassion for one another. People tried to lend a hand in whatever way they could: from the heart-stopping courage of first responders to the simple act of offering water to the dust covered and dazed who streamed from downtown. We all met and loved complete strangers that day.

Azadeh too, went out to lend whatever comfort she could that day. She found herself at one of the Centers helping those who were searching for their loved ones. A young blond man, a carpenter’s belt around his waist, was waiting for word of his brother. He had heard news of the attack, jumped into his truck and raced from Canada. His face was rigid with rage. No one would go near him. But it was cold and Azadeh saw that he had no socks. Softly, she came over and stood next to him. A few moments passed, and she started speaking to him, feeling foolish and inadequate. He said nothing. She kept talking. She asked if he needed socks. No reply. She kept trying. Finally, she asked him gently about his missing brother. His face contorted, he bit his lip. She was afraid, wondering what he might do in his grief and anger, but refused to leave his side. Then, in a sudden movement he turned towards her, eyed her squarely, wrapped his arms around her and sobbed.

Azadeh is a Shia Muslim. It took quiet courage to walk into that center, on that day. But there is a true kinship that drives all people whether they were born here or arrived later.

Who we know, whether for a few minutes or for a lifetime, shapes our world: Azadeh, her daughter, the broken-hearted stranger, the rescued and the rescuers of 9/11, the friendship of two people from a world apart. We all try to meet one another in that place of human possibility. What is possible there we don’t really know yet, but it will take a world of different minds to find out.

K Webster is a community organizer in New York City’s Lower Manhattan. She is the Co-Chair of an activist community garden on the Lower East Side and the Chair of the Chinatown Working Group’s Education and Schools Working Team. She is an artist, organizer, former construction worker, mom, wife and daughter and proud of her working class Buffalo roots.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Park51.

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