Here is my recollection of the first meeting with Mehrdad: At Iranshahr office, a dinky, dusty outfit at Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia. Mehrdad and a colleague visited us to show their concern about the "right wing leaning" of our newspaper . He was a young sociology student with a pleasant face, great hair, and resolute and self righteous as most of us were in those days. He was a revolutionary. He knew what was right for Iran. After that meeting, we crossed paths quite often, and he seemed to pursue unswervingly his dream of revolution, and a free Iran.
Then came the news of his terminal cancer. I heard it in disbelief. Mehrdad would have been the last candidate for such a heinous diseases. He was healthy and very much into sports. He told me once that his interest in the countries of the world was originally spurred by his love of soccer teams, and their home countries. Why Mehrdad? But one could ask rhetorically, why anyone else? We all meet our demise not based on what we plan, but our lot in the straw poll of death. One of Mehrdad relatives who knew early on about the severity of his illness told me that the cause of Mehrdad’s cancer was probably the incessant worries he suffered about Iran. In fact Mehrdad himself once confided in me that it was very disconcerting to pursue Iran's political upheavals, and that it was impossible to remain calm or objective .
And our last meeting: It was Mehrdad's birthday, which turned out to be his last. He came in, emaciated but dignified. His father, a physician in his nineties, recited a poem he had written years ago for his “outspoken and popular” son. An air of grief coated in celebratory mood had filled the room. Guests talked in low tone, as in a funeral. I was standing nearby when Mehrdad asked me to pass him his glass of ginger ale "would you pass that to me?" I did . Our glances crossed. His gaze was the gaze of a man who has looked into the abyss; subdued and bashful in a way. He didn't seem to be in pain, or being out of control. This always impressed me about Mehrdad during his ordeal. He seemed to be impervious to his impending finality.
Throughout his rather long struggle with death, Mehrdad never lost his composure or dignity. Customarily, as death nears, patients lose their equanimity first, then they dive deep into depression and fear. A large number of dying people turn religious. Some seek solace in God, while others try to strike a bargain and get his favor by praying incessantly, lamenting, and humiliating themselves. A minority of terminally ill people may turn against God after enduring a long period of pain and suffering. In fact this is the theme of Book of Job: Satan and God are wagering on a pious man, Job, and whether or not he would swear God after losing everything he had, and suffering a long term illness while worms falling off of his degenerating body. Job did not succumb to pain, but mildly complained to God. All of these concerns however belong to the religious man. Mehrdad did not profess any religion. He was a humanist, pure and simple. Was it the source of his strength? Is it likely that Mehrdad was facing death so boldly because he knew that his journey on this Earth was ending, with no chance for negotiation, return, or being punished in a brutal nether world?
That evening, in Mehrdad’s last birthday, I passed him his glass of ginger ale, thinking for a passing moment that I should warn him of the newly found fact that soda drinks nurture cancer cells. Then I found that thought absurd. It was too late. Let the man have his favorite drink. Then I heard some guests wished Mehrdad a long life. But he knew and we all knew well that we were engaged in a make belief game. The specter of death was looming over Mehrdad's head like a halo. He was our saint, our sacrificial lamb, going to meet his end. I was looking at him as if he belonged to another world, the world of shadows. That was it; one of our teammates was leaving the team for good. We were there to bid him farewell. Then I said to myself that it was the last time I was seeing Mehrdad alive. He would soon slip into darkness. This realization came to me at a moment of clarity: "I will not see Mehrdad again."
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