This is a story that begins at the end. This is a story about learning to not pour from an empty cup, and in the process, filling 40 plates.
I celebrated Nowruz, the Persian new year, with 40 people — not under one roof, but on each of their porches. As a green, mountain town in Iran welcomed spring, my mother and her siblings opened the door to a violinist on the street. They asked him to play the violin for my grandmother in her final moments. When limbs let go, vocal chords fray and flesh sinks, if a heart still beats, however slow, it will crave song.
My grandmother rose in her deathbed to clap and dance. She sent the violinist away with full pockets. Even as she drifted into the arms of the dead while holding the hands of the living, she thought about giving. She thought about giving the boy assurance that he would have bread on his table that night. The hourglass of life dripped, and all the way in Ithaca, NY, I chopped dill.
I come from a long line of women who do bold things. My grandfather says whenever my grandmother planted a seed on her farm to feed a village, the crop always grew green. My mother went to medical school at age 39, one year after we moved to the U.S. When she touched a ground of opportunity, she turned the soil beneath my own feet fertile. The women in my family were born to only ever give, not as symbolism, a transaction or a path out of debt, but to just give.
So, on Nowruz I did as those women do — by giving myself in totality, not in parts. I celebrated people. I celebrated the sun. I celebrated the pomegranates picked an ocean away by hands just like mine. They were distilled into thick molasses and poured into a jar that would sit on the top shelf of my fridge for eight months. The ripe fruit waited for me as I waited for spring, waited for the day I would trust that I can simmer down its concentrated nectar into a warm stew that tastes as nourishing as the one given to me by the women who raised me.
Three weeks and three loads of laundry after a cooking project that started on a Thursday and ended on a Saturday, I still smell like onions. And I still feel triumphant. To cook herbed rices, crisped tahdig from oiled pots layered with potatoes, kuku sabzi, sweet saffron delicacies and walnut broths takes a village. As a child, I watched women turn every surface in the home into a cutting board and cook from sunrise to sunset. I enlisted roommates and friends to remove stems from fine herbs, stand over simmering rice for two hours until it turned into pudding, sanitize tupperware, ration ten pots of food into dinner for hungry masses and drive me from address to address, leaving spring on people’s doorsteps.
Some people I shared my Nowruz dinner with were friends who have seen my growth over four years as I have seen theirs. Some, I had not spoken to since we shared a Freshman Writing Seminar. Some, I met in passing through exchanges with friends of friends in Olin Library. Some, I met at Zoom tables. Some heard a girl was giving out dishes they had never tried and thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask for a bite. I saw their smiles in their eyes as they said emphatic thank yous through a mask. They taught me that when you give from your heart with both hands, you must, in the act of giving, take what you need too.
On the Persian holiday, I needed family, I needed jubilation, I needed to declare an arbitrary beginning in a way that only declaring a new year can. If I didn’t put in the effort to celebrate Nowruz, no one would. If I didn’t turn my cheek at grief and invite it to my dinner table as I celebrated my grandmother, I would have crumbled at its cold intrusion in a place called rock bottom. In a year and in a life that takes so much that, in fact, it steals, I stood in the checkout line of Wegmans staring down eight bunches of parsley, six bunches of cilantro, four bunches of dill, tarragon, chives and a chicken. What’s a holiday, anyway, if not an excuse to eat and be in good company?
Cornell is filled with givers — of cookies, greetings, dinner parties, problem set answers, friendship, space and perhaps most valuable of all, time. I think about the people who entered my life at Cornell. Those who stayed are givers. I think they, too, must come from women who do bold things. But epic anecdotes are not realities we unknowingly walk into. If what is brave, beautiful and daunting is what we yearn, we must seek it out ourselves. If what is new and neighborly serves us, we must knock on neighbors’ doors and wish them a happy new year ourselves. The violinist would have never entered our home if my family had not requested him to be a character in the story of my grandmother’s end. I would not have celebrated a holiday with more people than anyone of any culture in a pandemic year if I hadn’t considered that maybe I would burn it all, maybe it would taste bland, maybe I could only make food for a dozen and not 40.
Some stories write themselves. This is one. On the morning of the Thursday I ended up at Wegmans, before a mile long receipt and frantic apologies to my cashier for the cart of produce I didn’t weigh myself, I turned to my friend in conversation. “This sounds like one of those things you say before something terrible happens,” I said. “I think I have lived every day since March 2020 to the fullest.” I don’t stop. “I know there will be more grief. But if I can, after this year, say I’ve sucked the life out of every single day, I think I may have cracked the secret. I think, maybe, I can do anything.”
My friend mentions that she likes a tradition in Islam in which the only thing you can do for the dead is give charity in their name. My phone rings. It’s my mom. “Pick it up,” my friend says.
“Pari, I need you to order me an Uber. Please,” my mom said.
“Where are you going?”
“Miami International Airport.”
“Why are you going to Miami International Airport?”
“I’m going to Iran to see Mamani, your grandmother. Oh did Baba tell you? She’s in the ICU. I’m going home. I’m going to go say goodbye. I hope I make it.”
This is not a story about loss. This is a story about spring. This is a story about giving at Cornell only when you stop expecting. This is a story about celebrating Nowruz on friends’ porches, and in the weeks after, finding chocolate croissants, Passover Seders, Easter cakes and loaves of bread at my own front door. We will, we will make it.
Paris Ghazi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. La Vie en Prose runs every other Wednesday this semester.