Bring out your dead.

You might say the sky was crying during the morning commute. Paul McCartney was crying out “The Long and Winding Road” on the car radio. Some memories from years back replayed in my head, and before I knew it, dammit, I was crying too…

My daughter’s teacher recently covered Helen Keller, and my daughter developed a keen interest in Helen Keller and braille. This inspired me to order a braille stylus, slate, and paper from Lighthouse for the Blind in the City.

Braille slate and stylus

So there we were with the equipment and supplies. And there she was with her blind grandfather (my father) up there in Washington. The rest was, as they say, academic.

She didn’t know what to write. Was his birthday coming up? No. We looked at the calendar. It was Presidents’ Week. Happy Washington’s Birthday? No. I knew of one date that would be on Grandpa’s calendar that she had never heard of. I hesitated, then I told her, “why don’t you write Happy Ayyam-i-Ha.” This was a reference to an upcoming event on the Baha’i calendar, and I explained it to her.

I punched out some braille for Grandpa as well. I chose a passage that he had recited many times when I was young. No doubt you have heard it as well:

Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Yep. You guessed it. That there’s Shakespeare!

Brief candle…

I may be the rebel of the brood, but I am not the black sheep. That honor goes to my oldest sister. She left home on a mission for the Baha’i Faith when I was a young boy. Shortly thereafter, she married another young Baha’i, but other than having a wonderful baby daughter, it came to naught. They divorced, and she never had another legitimate marriage. She did marry twice more, but neither was a Baha’i marriage. Mom and Dad disapproved of my interest in going to visit her, but they held out a hope that she and her husband might someday have a Baha’i ceremony.

I didn’t see much of Duska until I graduated from college, a couple years after I privately left the Baha’i Faith. She lived and worked near Yosemite, and I was soon doing the same. I took a bus up to visit her, and after that backpacked from Wawona to the Valley, and got a ride to my new workplace.

Over the years, Duska and I developed a new kinship, and she bonded with my wife and children as well. Duska and I would sometimes sit and laugh about how our parents would avoid us. They would drive within a couple miles or so of my house when visiting a doctor or the Bosch Baha’i school, and they had been avoiding Duska for years. Duska and I would, in contrast, go well out of our way to visit our parents, in spite of our differences, and in spite of the treatment we might get during the visit. There would be constant reminders that religion came first, and we often found ourselves upstaged by what was termed “our Baha’i family”. We laughed it off. We really did.

The Baha’i religion almost never came up, but when it did, you can bet that we laughed.

Duska got some free time a few years back, and decided to fly up to Washington to see the folks and family. She stayed the night with us, and made up a game that she played with our baby boy. It was simple: she would look through the window of a Fisher Price house and say “Hi!”, and he would giggle a “Hi” back.

I was a little distracted at the time—I don’t know what about, but I managed to take her to the airport.

She spent the next night at our parents’ house, and suffered from a massive brain hemorrage in the morning. I was able to speak to her again, but the doctor said she could not have heard me.

Mom made certain that Duska had a Baha’i memorial and burial. Mom said she had once asked Duska if she considered herself a Baha’i, and that Duska had responded in the affirmative. I didn’t want to fight about it, but I was horrified. I understood: Duska was still her daughter. Could I blame Mom if she was in denial?

Still, anger was heaped upon grief: what about the Duska that lived and died? What about her? Was anybody going to remember her?

Our neighbor told me, “Dan, the dead don’t care.”

I don’t suppose they do. But regardless, I still miss you, sister. Yeah, sometimes I see you. At the filling station. I was parked in line behind that tan Ford Escort you used to drive, and I could only watch. You got out, filled up, and then you drove away.

I can see lots of things, but that doesn’t change a thing.

The Two Souths

We had moved to South Carolina or South Africa four times by the time I turned fifteen. During those four stints, we lived in seven different towns. The principal motive for all this motion was to participate in mass conversion of Blacks to the Bahá’í Faith.

Mass conversion wasn’t just something that we were drawn to because it meant bringing God’s Word to lots of receptive souls. It was, and remains, an essential component of the Bahá’í “entry by troups” prophecy. It is vitally important to the Bahá’í Faith that it expand. For this reason, Bahá’ís have been pushed continuously to relocate to new places so that they might spread the Faith.

It may be that few Bahá’í families were uprooted as completely as ours, and I’m certain that Dad’s wanderlust played a part, but I have no doubt that our displacement was a direct result of directives of the Bahá’í leadership. We were not just spreading the Good Word; we were fulfilling prophecy.

Courthouse in Albany, GA

I think, leaving some room for doubt, that we would have stayed put if we could have afforded it. Our problem was that whenever we would go to these spiritual locales, Mom and Dad could never make a decent living. Either there just wasn’t enough of a market, or segregationists would do what they could to discourage Mom and Dad from running an integrated business. In Walterboro, South Carolina, Mom and Dad caught heat for serving both whites and blacks. After Walterboro, they opened a practice in Easley, which enjoys the dubious distinction of being near to the town of Piedmont, made so infamous by the film “Birth of a Nation” as being the fictional cradle of the Klu Klux Klan. Their luck was no better there.

Though I don’t harbor any sympathies for the whole enterprise of saving souls, I respect the effort that Mom and Dad made to live by their principles. I’ve not known many Bahá’ís who were so willing to dedicate their lives to their Cause, and how many Bahá’ís had the courage to take on the twin demons of segregation and apartheid at the business level?

I say courage, but maybe there was some naiveté as well. Still, courage and foolishness are old bedfellows. What I think may have been unfortunate is the price that my oldest sibling paid for our misadventures. Sometimes kids pay a price for their parents’ ambitions, but it’s not as though Mom and Dad abandoned any of us. Speaking for myself, I was too young to notice. Even when I was a teenager in the South—or in South Africa, I was too displaced to care, even when I found myself between the racist overtures of whites and the fists of blacks.

My Black Catholic Heritage

There is a community just outside of Walterboro, South Carolina, known informally as “Catholic Hill”, with a remarkable history. Back in 1856, well before Emancipation, a Catholic church building burned down. The white membership disbanded, leaving the parish, for all practical purposes, defunct.

St. James Catholic Church
St. James the Greater

Fast forward to 1897, across the closing decade of the Slavery Era, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction. A vibrant Catholic community of former slaves and their descendants are discovered. They had been worshipping for over 40 years without a priest or any support whatsoever. Now, after 180 years, the church of St. James the Greater is still going strong.

I was not raised a Catholic, though it might be said that Dad was. As far as I can recollect, his upbringing as a Catholic amounted to being told by a priest that he was going to Hell. His mother had been raised in a very strict Catholic tradition in a Nova Scotia village where Gaelic was still spoken. She had rebelled after the priest had reported to her father that she had been seeing a Protestant boy. She married a Lutheran years later, but she still appeared to retain some Catholic allegiances. I’m told that she was excommunicated, but ultimately exculpated by the Church.

When we moved to Walterboro from nearby Ruffin, we rented a house on the edge of a black neighborhood, near St. Joseph’s, a relatively new church that had been founded as an outreach effort by the Diocese and the Trinitarian Order about ten years earlier. St. Joseph’s had a school program, so I naturally attended kindergarten there. I remember walking down the bumpy dirt road to the church with the Owens boy who was my friend at the time. I remember all the great wooden toys they had, and I remember the processions of costumed giants occasionally passing by. Perhaps I had been there for mass as well.

As far as I was concerned, it was just a great place to play. Years later, I was told that I was the only white child there. Until that time, I don’t think I had given any thought to the color of the people there.

Bishop Hallinan at St. Joseph's
The bishop breaks ground at St. Joseph’s.

Unfortunately, St. Joseph’s did not enjoy the longevity exhibited by St. James the Greater. Sometime back in the 1990s, the Trinitarians left town and the Diocese abandoned St. Joseph’s. It seems hard to see it as anything but a lost opportunity for Walterboro and the Diocese to expand on a unique religious heritage.

Welcome!

At present I am reading three books: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Jack London’s Martin Eden, and Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. I suppose they’re all books about knights-errant, be they holy fools or creatures of fate. Not entirely unlike my friend Mr. Norland. It’s slow going, but each book is holding my attention, as disloyal as it is.

I have also been renovating the Kaweah FBI site of late. FBI is an acronym for Forum for Baha’i Investigations. As might be guessed from this title, the site is a more-or-less light-hearted rant on the Baha’i Faith, my religion of birth. The renovation has been a long time coming, as many of the pages of the site are nearly a decade old now.

Continuing on the Baha’i theme, I have recently become a moderator for the Yahoo! group ex-bahai. Imagine that! Do drop by if you can.