Cheers for Gratitude in 2017 from Haifa, Israel by Shadi

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Shrine of Bab & Baha’i Gardens can be seen by the Israeli locals and tourists

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Rochester Baha’i Center, 693 East Avenue [Photo: David Kramer, 12/26/16]

With all the craziness recently — an immoral, racist becoming president in 2017, the Dakota Pipeline access controversy, and Aleppo deaths to name a few — If you believe in a higher power or God, you probably want to connect to that stronger source. We all need hope, regardless the source, to drive our energy into acting for what’s right, spreading awareness of what’s wrong or at the minimum, to fill a longing for inner peace.

The crises in the world have brought me anxiety, along with being by myself in Rochester’s cold winter this holiday. So I am happy I booked a trip to Haifa, Israel three months ago because of a natural desire to deepen the connection with my higher power. The trip was a nine-day Baha’i faith-based pilgrimage to all the holy sites of the Baha’i faith.

I became a Baha’i in 2011. The tenants of the faith about unity of mankind, equality of women and men and independent investigation of the truths in all realms of academia and science, drew me to the faith. I am not into religious dogma that is black and white. The Baha’i faith gives me the freedom to live a life that is not in contradiction to my morals, while allowing me to freely make many choices where science and religion have no answers yet. I don’t agree with everything 100% nor have I studied everything 100%, but it’s the faith that makes most sense to me with what I know about it in the past 5 years.  The Baha’i faith represents people from 235 countries worldwide — Colombia, Cameroon, Nigeria, France, China to name a few — and over 2,100 racial, ethnic and tribal groups.

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Israeli shekels

My journey to and through Haifa, Israel started out being the most chaotic trip I have every taken in my life. First, due to severe winter weather, I was delayed two days  and re-booked through two additional cities, London and Paris. Then, when landing, my U.S. passport was taken by Israeli customs, given back after conducting a background check, typical protocol for most Iranian-Americans entering their country. And the airlines lost my luggage!

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soupa fasoles

Then a local taxi driver accused me of stealing his services because I couldn’t count the correct change to give him. He decided to taunt and stalk me for the next hour and a half in the streets.  I wanted to give up and go back home, totally counter to my attitude in any situation.

In each of these struggles, a person or circumstance showed me there is a strong balance of positive forces that overcome the negative. A random man in the street came up to me and gave me 50 shekels and a holiday card. Another woman in a bank befriended me and walked around the city with me for about an hour to show me directions. My Airbnb host made a delicious local soupa fasoles to welcome me and had clothes laid out for me when I arrived. These things don’t happen by accident. I am not just lucky.

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Baha’i gardens

The trip itself came with deeper spiritual reflections as I meditated in the shrines of founders of the Baha’i faith, Bab and Baha’u’llah and spent time in the Baha’i gardens.

I made amazing new friends from Denmark and Vancouver, Cameroon and even Rochester, New York. One new friend is an up and coming filmmaker and the other has a beautiful shared vision with me of opening an arts-integrated school in Rochester. I don’t think it was a coincidence we met across the globe.

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Faranak from Vancouver and me

In the end, I learned that we choose the path of love because it allows us to open our eyes to the good that is happening to counteract the bad. We realize the reasons why the bad is happening and we can remain steadfast in our purpose — for me to remain with a pure heart and spiritually deepen through meditation.

Whether your are an optimist, pessimist, realist, religious, spiritual or non-believer, if our heads are not stuck focused on the crap that goes wrong and we take a breath and look, there is a silver lining in just about every single situation.

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Entrance to the Shrine of Bab where there are prayer books outside and you take off your shoes before entering

The old cliché “it all happens for a reason” I believe is true. Even if crap like having a racist president makes no sense in the moment or the next decade, there is a reason for it all. If you think about it, we may actually appreciate more the next non-moron to enter office or female to run. Or, maybe more people who didn’t go to the polls thinking this could never happen, will actually get involved.

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Baha’i gardens

When I bring these concepts back to the U.S. while writing this story, sipping on hot Persian tea and homemade Christmas cookies on Christmas Day, I feel a lasting love not just because of the spirit of the holidays all over my Facebook feed but because I am confirmed that choosing love over hate, continuing to be steadfast and successful in our own variety of causes through our daily lives and doing what we can with what we have right where we are, truly wins.

As a Baha’i writing explains:

Anybody can be happy in the state of comfort, ease, health, success, pleasure and joy; but if one will be happy and contented in the time of trouble, hardship and prevailing disease, it is proof of nobility…be extremely patient under disastrous circumstances and in the place of complaining give thanks.

A universal message of gratitude we can all connect to for 2017.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

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