JoAnn Gometz

Writing | Editing | Content Strategy

Speaking English

I don't have any great words of wisdom today. No grand reflections on the state of affairs. I could share Bahá’í writings and prayers about the oneness of humanity or the realization of unity that's required in order to solve the world's problems. But I won't.

Instead, I will say that when I interviewed one of Mr. Khánjání's former cellmates a year or so ago, we talked about the way the men kept themselves busy in their cellblock at Evin prison in Tehran. The group was varied, he said, from the few Bahá’ís, to ethnic minorities, to health workers like himself, to people who had fallen out of favor with the government, and beyond.

Among themselves, they determined that their time need not go to waste. Keeping their minds active was key to their well-being. So after lunch each day, they gathered in a circle on the concrete floor of the cellblock for classes they arranged and taught themselves. First three or four people, then eight and 10, then nearly all of the 12 or 15 who shared that common area. 

Mr. Khánjání offered lessons in Persian history and culture. Someone else stepped up to teach Arabic (the language of the Iranian people is Persian, so Arabic is a foreign language there as it is here). This cellmate volunteered to teach English, since he had completed much of his higher education in the U.S. and spoke the language fluently. 

Each of the teachers supported the others' informal sessions. When the English classes began, there sat Mr. Khánjání, nearing 80 at that point and intent on taking part.

Knowing Mr. Khánjání's advanced age and the length of his sentence, a few of the young men in the group asked why he wanted to learn English. After all, the question was left unspoken, when would you have the chance to use it? 

"My grandchildren know English," Mr. Khánjání answered. "I want to learn!"

As I took in the story, it made me think. When do we focus on our own present circumstances? When do we look beyond them? What choices do our perspectives color? What would I do?

I have no answers. I just know that reflections like those have once again tweaked the direction the book is taking. So today, I'll share with you the new working title, which won't appear on my website or my social media channels formally for a couple more weeks. For you, my gift this snowy Tuesday is ... Mr. Khánjání's Roses: My Love Lessons From an Iranian Bahá’í