Thou hast endowed every hour of these days with a special virtue,
inscrutable to all except Thee, Whose knowledge
embraceth all created things.
Today is Naw Ruz*. Meaning “New Day” in Persian, it is the first day of the first month (“Bahá”, or “Glory”) in the Bahá’í Calendar, ushering in the 168th year of the Bahá’í Era. In some parts of the world, it is the first day of spring. It’s a time of renewal, rejoicing, and reflection. And for me, today, it is a day characterized by profound gratitude.
The annual 19-day Fast ended last night. This means that I’m drinking a cup of coffee—in broad daylight—as I type this posting. As much as I am (thoroughly) enjoying this coffee, being able to now eat and drink while the sun is up is not what evokes this feeling of gratitude in me…rather, it’s the abundant blessings conferred by this year’s period of fasting. Bahá’u’lláh has proclaimed that every hour of these 19 days—surely the richest and most treasured days of the year—is endowed with a special virtue, that these hours excel every other hour. Thus, as today is a day of reflection and giving thanks, in the process of recounting the blessings of these past 19 days, I have selected 19 of their choicest hours…each of which was the bearer of enduring bounty.
[It’s a good practice, isn’t it, to call to mind that for which we are grateful. Yesterday, some of the youth showed me a You Tube clip of a man with no arms and no legs who can’t stop smiling, because he has so much to be thankful for.]
So friends, while I’d delight in sharing the story of each of this Fast’s 456 hours, the period of fasting is meant to assist us in the cultivation of restraint…so I will limit myself to 19.
HOUR 1: Requesting consent
March 1st, 11pm (the Bahá’í day commences at sunset, so “officially” the Fast had just begun)
The wonders of modern technology connect our computer in Martinique to computers and phones in Moose Jaw, North Battleford, and Lyle…and, via skype, Luke and I ask our parents for consent to be married. After a merciless practical joke played on one set of the parents (they knew we were calling that night with an “important question,” but just to make them squirm we pretended that the purpose of our call was to consult with them about the possibility of our purchasing land in Guatemala to become goat farmers, and spend the remainder of our days making delicious cheese. Of course, they had answered the skype call wearing mullet wigs, so the clowning came from both sides). Gloriously, our request for consent was granted…and, giddy with elation, we (drumroll, please) changed our facebook statuses to ENGAGED.
HOUR 2: The forging of our wedding bands
March 2, 9am
It just so happens that the family Luke stays with in Martinique are jewelers…and dear Patrice devotes the entire day to making the rings with us. Well, he does most of the work, but we get to lend assistance here and there, and observe every step of the process with fascination. As Patrice fires the simple gold bands with a blow-torch, he recites the words of Bahá’u’lláh: “With fire we test our gold, and with gold we test our servants.”
HOUR 4: Pre-dawn prayers with Luke
Every morning, 5am
On the 9th day of Luke’s visit to Dominica, the day the veil is lifted and the luminous possibility of a life of service together appears before us, we sit under a tree in a little park by the Roseau bayfront, and make a prayer pact. We will, we decide, rise every morning at 5am and offer two special prayers for guidance, which we select that afternoon. We begin carrying out our pact the day after Luke’s boat departs across the channel. As the mornings pass, although we are on separate islands, this shared prayer time feels like true reunion…like our spirits are meeting somewhere in the middle of the patch of ocean that separates Dominica from Martinique, and are communing with one another, as we commune with our Creator. These 5am prayer sessions become the most treasured hour of the day. So, imagine the blissful joy that is ours when, during the first week of the Fast, we are able to offer our pre-dawn prayers together (in person)…united not only in the spiritual realm, but seated side by side.
HOUR 4: An airport visit with Holly
March 4, 6:00am
What an unexpected gift this was. Counselor Holly Woodard—the dearly loved coordinator of the Caribbean Initiatiave and wellspring of support, guidance, and inspiration for the Bahá’ís of this region—passes briefly through Martinique on her way to French Guiana. Which means we are able to see her! And pray with her! And hug her! We sit on a bench in the Aimé Césaire International airport in the early hours of Friday morning, Holly, Luke, and I, and though the minutes are fleeting, the visit fills and warms our hearts.
HOUR 5: Breaking the Fast with butter bread
March 4, 6:15pm
Few fast-breaking dinners have tasted as sweet as Josette’s “pain au buerre”—butter bread—dipped in thick hot chocolate. Josette, Patrice’s wife and the CEO of their jewelry business (he insists women should always be in charge), works magic in the kitchen. During that week in Martinique, mine was the privilege of sampling her mouth-watering tortes, cakes, quiches, pies…but the crème-de-la-crème was that butter bread. Imagine the richest, butteriest, flakiest croissaint you’ve ever tasted, but in bread form (so there’s more of it!). Then imagine it dipped into creamy, peanut-buttery chocolate. Yeah, it pretty much transports you to heaven. Josette disclosed her secret family recipe to Luke and me, but swore us to confidentiality…or else I’d happily share it with you here. But if you come visit us—wherever on earth we land in the coming year (still a big question mark)—we will make some for you. It won’t hold a candle to Josette’s, I’m sure, but I guess you won’t know the difference.
HOUR 6: Dinner with Lydia and Rahim
March 6, 6:15pm
Lydia and Rahim are newlyweds, and have begun their life of service together in Martinique. They have found a colorful, cozy home in the center of Riviere-Salee, but as it’s currently experiencing some, er, challenges with the plumbing system, the couple is staying with us tonight, in the home of Patrice and Josette. In my newly inspired efforts to be a student of marital unity, I learn much through observing Lydia and Rahim, and am grateful for the time I spend in their company. I notice their attentiveness to one another, their gestures of affection, and see in their eyes the deep respect each holds for the other. This evening, they have expressed that they want to be of service to us by cooking dinner, and doing all the cleanup afterwards, so that Luke and I can have more time to study our marriage book and consult about life plans. From the living room, I steal glances into the kitchen every so often, and watch the two of them boiling rice, slicing tomatoes, setting the table. It is a beautiful sight, those two—one so tall, one so tiny—at work in the kitchen, operating almost as one body, carrying out each task with harmony and grace. As I watch them, I think to myself, “What a wondrous thing marriage can be.”
HOUR 7: Breakfast in Brooklyn
March 9, 5:30am
I awoke yesterday morning in Martinique…and now, suddenly, I am in Flatbush Brooklyn. Life can be funny, eh? I suppose I don’t need to go into all the details of how I ended up here, but suffice it to say that an 11-th hour surge of inspiration, and prayerful cosultation with Luke, resulted in my booking a next-day flight to the Big Apple for a job interview with the New York City Teaching Fellows. I will spend roughly 24 hours in the city, but what a bountiful day it will prove to be. And it begins with breakfast in the company of Kate, Bruce, and Bahiyyih…three of my most favorite people. The sun has not yet begun to rise over Flatbush, but the Digby-Grover kitchen is infused with light. We gather around the table and partake of berry smoothies, toast with almond butter, porridge with raisins and sliced apple. We fill our bellies, we smile at each other, we pray together—Bahiyyih is barely two, and can already recite “Blessed is the Spot” by heart—and the first rays of morning sun appear at the window, to greet us.
HOUR 8: Raiding the neighbors’ closet
March 9, 9am
There is something very special about this particular pocket of Flatbush. Directly across the street from Kate, Bruce, and Bahiyyih is an apartment previously inhabited by Caity and Luke Bolton (read about their experience in Egypt and Kenya here and here), who are subletting the place to three wonderful siblings: Martha, Stephany, and Jorge Martínez. Now. Please remember that I arrived in wintertime New York City directly from a tropical island, my suitcase filled with the typical Caribbean attire of shorts and flip-flops. Who knew that I’d end up needing a winter coat and interview clothes? Thankfully, Luke had lent me his jacket, but it wasn’t quite enough for the frigid commute from the JFK airport to Flatbush the night before…so I padded myself with several layers of tee-shirts, pajama pants under my jeans, and two pairs of socks with my flip flops. What a sight I must’ve been….but at least I stayed warm(ish). This getup, however, will not exactly suffice for a job interview. So I call Martha, who graciously invites me across the street to raid her closet. We select a lovely interview ensemble, and Kate tops it off with a colorful scarf, a wool coat, and a very warm hat. Jorge hands me a parcel of homemade cookies with which to break the Fast later. If I get this job, it will be thanks, in part, to the loving care of these dear friends. If I don’t get the job…well, perhaps the powers that be have a different destination in store for Luke and me next year. It will be interesting to see what unfolds.
HOUR 9: 48 West 10th Street
March 9, 1:30pm
A New York City pilgrimage site. It is the home (well, the one-time home) of Juliet Thompson, the early American Bahá’í, whom ‘Abdu’l-Bahá loved for her sincerity and freedom of spirit. It was here, at this very address, that Juliet painted ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s portrait, here where He received visitors such as Kahlil Gibran, and—most significantly—here where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá proclaimed Himself to be the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, and gave New York the blessed distinction of “City of the Covenant.” When I lived in New York, I’d often stop at this sacred site to pray—situating myself on a stoop across the street so as not to disturb the current reseidents of 48 West 10th. One day, inshallah, this home will become a Bahá’í property once again, and friends will come from East and West, and North and South…and will offer prayers in tribute to Juliet, to Lua Getsinger, to all the holy souls who passed through this door, and to the City itself, whose destiny is, undoubtedly, most glorious.
HOUR 10: 53 East 11th Street, and a visit with Aunty Clyde
March 9st, 2pm
Yet another Manhattan pilgrimage site, just a few blocks from Juliet Thompson’s house: The New York City Bahá’í Center–site of Sunday devotional gatherings, open mike poetry readings, performances of the Children’s Theatre Company, meeting place of the Local Spiritual Assembly, and myriad other gatherings open to all, and for the upliftment of the entire neighborhood. It is also the workplace of my beloved Aunty Clyde, and my heart spills over with tenderness and joy as I ascend the stairs to her office. During the two years that I lived in New York City, some of my most cherished moments were spent with Aunty Clyde. I would often do my work at the Center, and in between phone calls and faxing and folding letters, the two of us would share prayers, stories, heirloom tomatoes from the Farmer’s market, bowls of her homemade soup…and, of course, laughter and tears. There will be no homemade soup today, as we are fasting, but we partake of an even richer feast: collective prayer. I wish I could spend the entire afternoon here, praying with her…but it is time for my interview. As I’m putting on my (well, Kate’s) hat and coat, Aunty Clyde reminds me that I have nothing to be nervous about—because if my getting this job is God’s will, it’ll happen…and if not, well, how wonderful…because something else awaits. “Whatever God hath willed hath been,” she recites, quoting the words of The Báb, “and that which He hath not willed shall not be.”
HOUR 11: Sleepy-eyed prayers in Bed-Sty
March 10, 2am
Liz, in yet another sacrificial act of true friendship and sisterhood, has—despite just finishing up her midterm exams and basically running on fumes (well, fumes and prayer) for the past week—takes a Chinatown bus up to New York from Virgina, so that the two of us can have a couple hours of shared prayer time during the Fast. Everyone should have a friend like this. And now, to add light upon light, we “accidentally” (though I wonder how much in life is really accidental) encounter our dear brother Mokay, who is just about to leave for Sierra Leone, at a Starbucks’ in Union Square. After soul-filling conversation, and several peppermint lattes, we part ways with Mokay and head back over to Kate and Bruce’s to pack up my suitcase, return my interview clothes, and hug our friends goodbye (I’m really hoping it’s a mere “see you soon” and not a goodbye…though I guess every parting is, in the end, a “see you soon”). It is now nearing 1am, but there will be no sleep for us tonight (well, I wasn’t planning on sleeping), as I have to be back at JFK by 4:30. So we head across Brooklyn to Bed-Sty, where our dearly loved friends Parisa and Jason (fellow members of the Caribbean Initiative) now live. What a beautiful devotional gathering they host for us in their living room. They feed us bowls of homemade chili, and steaming cups of tea, and the four of us then settle onto the sofa for some 2am prayers. I am able to murmer maybe three words of gratitude before I lose the battle with my eyelids, and sink into sleep. But it is a sleep that is blanketed by prayer, for on either side of me, these precious friends are offering devotions on my behalf. Liz and Parisa recite marriage prayers for me and Luke, prayers for guidance, prayers of thanks. Around 4am, the taxi honks, the call of the horn mingling with the chanted prayers…and I open my eyes. It is time to head South.
***Quick interruption. Friends, I feel this entry is becoming too long, and I’m getting antsy to just post it already. Less really can be more…most of the time, in fact…and I feel that these entries are so much sweeter when I can keep them concise. I can’t very well stop at Hour 11, though, but what I can do is use a different medium for the next 8 hours. The photographs (with the aid of the titles) can do the sharing.
HOUR 12: Touching back down on the Nature Island, on a tiny runway nestled between clusters of verdant mountains…and knowing, of a certainty, that Dominica will ever be one of the homes of my heart.
March 10, 3:45pm
HOUR 13: Holding “Lara’s” healthy, beautiful baby boy in my arms for the first time since welcoming him into the world two days before I left for Martinique
March 10, 6pm
HOUR 14: With our special guest from Barbados, Siila (an honorary member of the Carib Territory Bahá’í Community), the study of the illuminating 28 December Message from the Universal House of Justice
March 12, beginning at 9am
HOUR 15: Breakfasting (BreakFEASTING) with Siila: think piles of pancakes, corn on the cob, pork sausage, tater tots, slices of papaya, omelettes, coffee, and 2 litres of water, all before the sun comes up
Any morning between March 12-17, 5am
HOUR 16: Beholding the “Hummingbird tree” in full bloom, for the first time since last year’s Fast, and pressing its brilliant pink blossoms between the pages of my prayer book.
March 18, dusk
HOUR 17: Planting flowers and prayers at the dear baby’s gravesite with the girl’s mother, father, sister, and cousin, followed by a bath in the sea.
March 19, dawn
HOUR 18: The Supermoon (or “the moon that came fat,” as they say in Dominica)—the closest it’s been to Earth in the last 18 years.
March 19, 3pm (though the photo must’ve been taken sometime in the evening)
HOUR 19: Celebrating Naw Ruz at the St Cyr Bahá’í Centre, breaking our Fast with pink cupcakes and song
March 20, sunset
This is the hour, O my Lord, which Thou hast caused to excel every other hour,
and hast related to the choicest among Thy creatures. I beseech Thee, O my God,
by Thy Self and by them, to ordain in the course of this year what shall exalt Thy loved ones. Do Thou, moreover, decree within this year what will enable the Daystar of Thy power to shine brightly above the horizon of Thy glory, and to illuminate by Thy sovereign might, the whole world.
*Well, “today” is now March 22nd the day after Naw Ruz. But when I wrote the first half of this posting, it was still March 21st.