Kaveh’s Path to Origin through Self-Understanding
By: Kaveh Nazemoff
Date: June 18th, 2009
It is difficult to value things like spirituality and what role it has in our lives. Questioning value is what has made me look back into my past and see why have I been void of title when it comes to spirituality and absolutely fulfilled when referring to my conscious. I have been blessed with many things throughout my life, including the life itself that was given to me. The family that I have spent most of my years with aided in my self-realization in so many ways that only with age would I realize their worth. I had to stop believing to understand religion and its purpose; this started with Santa.
I was at the age of six or seven when I went running down the halls of my grandparents house screaming, “There is no Santa Claus!” Of course, the household regime put my protests to a halt before the other kids gathered around the tree would come to their own conclusions. I was taken outside and interrogated, gently of course, “What makes you think that there is no Santa, Kaveh? There are presents and no one was around the tree while you kids were sneaking around all night waiting for Santa. How could you believe there is no Santa?” My response was then simple,”It is not that I believe, it is that I started not to believe.” Why I found out is another story on its own, but, at that moment I understood the value believing in certain things has and it is relative to the person doing the believing.
This same family of mine had decided to send me to a private Catholic elementary school. As I attended this school I quickly learned that I was behind. I felt behind because there were so many rituals, prayers and mannerisms that seemed foreign. I quickly learned the ‘Hail Mary’ and the ‘O Father’ prayers so that I could stop mumbling about when it was time for the morning prayer. I mastered the order of facing from the American Flag to the statue of Mary planted in every homeroom and I began to feel a little more at ease. Little did I know what was to await me on our first Friday.
That Friday, I visited Friday mass. The ceilings were high and I could feel the heavy weight upon me as I entered the enormous doors and looked at the twelve statues (the Apostles) staring right back at me. We were walked into our pews, in order of course, and sat down. Before the two hours were up, the class moved back out of the pews to receive communion. This communion ordeal would be one of the first life altering changes that I cannot help but laugh at now. I was not Baptized and what that means is that I was not supposed to receive communion nor did I know that I was not supposed to. After two or three weeks of going through the same ordeal every Friday, I turned to a teacher and asked, “What is this bread and wine about exactly?” It was at that time that I was pulled aside and asked if I was Baptized. At my honest response, I was told that I could just sit in the pews from now on until the other students receive their bread and ‘wine’ and return to the pew. Thinking back now, segregation never felt more lazy.
Of course, my Persian-American family did not just send me to Catholic school, that was only for the weekdays. My grandparents insisted that I learn their mother language. During the weekends from that fourth grade and for the six years that followed, I was sent to a Farsi language school. My language school was embedded with Islamic teachings. This time I was already prepared for the American Flag, but, I still don’t know which way we were facing for the morning and afternoon prayers. Only two things I remember from the short time I spent there and that was that I could not order pepperoni on the $5 slice of Domino’s pizza and that recess was very ‘lame.’ Running and yelling was much ‘quieter than my weekdays in the Catholic world.
What surprises me now is why did I go to these religious schools when my entire family is agnostic? The choices were few as far as safety for an elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia and Farsi languages schools in the 1990s. The experiences I acquired in both of these schools had me deeply understand why my family did not attend church, nor wear the Islamic outfits and why we had pepperoni on our pizzas. Religion just did not matter nor did it play a role in my household. As well as the Christmas tree and playing Santa really had no religious significance. At this point I was already not believing, but, it would take me a few more years before I would start ‘playing’ with the idea of religion.
It was in high school when I moved to Stafford, Virginia that would bring me back into a church. Stafford was a predominantly white county in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, about 45 minutes south of Washington D.C.. It was also home to many military folks that worked on Quantico, the largest Marine base. The condensed situations of these factors into one county made it hard to escape the church and its role in the families around me. My first girlfriend came around the same time I moved into the Stafford area and began my high school career. I made the mistake of becoming close to her family and as a result I was invited to a family Sunday trip to church. This Lutheran church was different in its design from the Catholic church I remembered, but, in concept it was the same. When it came time to receive communion, the priest came around the room and shared the bread. The priest got to me and I took a look around at the family I came with and nicely said, “Amen.” Now whether that was a lie, avoiding awkwardness or because that lie was as good as pre-marital sex was, I am not sure.
The next significant step was when I came to Japan, or more specifically, Tokyo. A place where many come with an orientalized view of a land of spirituality. When that glass stereotype wall fell after my first few months, I realized that I had found a place where the conversations of politics and religion were in the decimal of percentage. Spirituality was all around in the nature around me, within myself and hardly forced upon my heart. Taking my first Intellectual Heritage class, I was asked to investigate my own world view and not the title of it. Refreshing myself with Socrates and the Allegory of the Cave reminded me that my own spirituality can be as simple as discovery. What religion was forcing me to understand was different from what I wanted to be left to be discovered. The journey I wished to take towards finding my own answers is left open to me in Japan.
Finding those answers is an entirely different topic and one I am sure I may be able to write about on my deathbed if I am lucky. My strange encounters with strange rituals of strange religions has really made my outlook on life more simple. Finding out that some people need Santa as much as the desperate need the church was like finding out that crackheads just need a fix. Once that fix is handed to the person, the soon forget the teachings that are symbolized in the holy books and the holiday rituals. I forget about Santa once we packed up the tree and soon I became a bad boy, yet, I do not forget the experiences and what invaluable ability to see and provide insight into my own life has brought.
In current events I find myself able to relate to a people I am related to by blood, yet, not by time. The Iranians of today are not the Persians I associate myself with. My experiences with religion and understanding their role in my life is different from understanding religions role in the life of many. I do feel that Iran would be a good place to understand why many have been forced to change over the past forty years into an Islamic state built on non-Islamic land. It will be like finding my own origin before my origin began and going there for the first time may feel like going back. I wanted to conclude with my forecast of the next step in my journey to self-understanding and I find that this paper and the events in Iran could not be timed better.