Tests: All in the Family


Thou hast written concerning the tests that have come upon thee. To the sincere ones, tests are as a gift from God, the Exalted, for a heroic person hasteneth, with the utmost joy and gladness, to the tests of a violent battlefield, but the coward is afraid and trembles and utters moaning and lamentation. Likewise, an expert student prepareth and memorizeth his lessons and exercises with the utmost effort, and in the day of examination he appeareth with infinite joy before the master. Likewise, the pure gold shineth radiantly in the fire of test. Consequently, it is made clear that for holy souls, trials are as the gift of God, the Exalted; but for weak souls they are an unexpected calamity. This test is just as thou hast written: it removeth the rust of egotism from the mirror of the heart until the Sun of Truth may shine therein. For, no veil is greater than egotism and no matter how thin that covering may be, yet it will finally veil man entirely and prevent him from receiving a portion from the eternal bounty.

(Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 371)

I don't know if I qualify as a heroic person, but a part of me honestly feels more comfortable dealing with the idea of going to battle for a bonafide just cause, such as the one that ended Hitler's inhumane devastation of Europe during World War II. There are those times when war is necessary to halt the onslaught of tyranny. Those efforts under those circumstances, represent the epitome of courage, strength and nobility. I would gladly suit up and give my all for a cause like that. The Dawnbreakers during the early days in the history of the Baha'i Faith, and the early Babi's who gave up so much in their lives in order for the Word of God for this age to go forward are nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Unfortunately, I'm not going to talk about that kind of test. I'm experiencing the one test that I have yet to pass--family.

I don't live in the middle of a Norman Rockwell painting. Perhaps some of you can relate. For the past two weeks, I've been living what would could best be described as a Tim Burton rendering of family life, complete with the grumpy daughter who yearns for the perfect parents. It's no wonder to me that Burton portrayed those perfect parents as ghosts in "Beetlejuice". Only the living are left to crawl through the sticky morass of family relations. In my case, the grumpy daughter is my own oldest offspring, Clarissa, the pregnant diva. The rest of the denizens of that haunted home sweet home that Burton caught on film are very similar to the rest of my family members.

Okay, maybe that's unfair. I do love my family. It's just that, well, they drive me crazy. The pregnant diva makes Bellatrix Lestrange (if you don't know who that is, you've never picked up the last three Harry Potter books, and my suggestion is that you remedy that situation with the quickness) look like Glinda the Good. She is literally a shrieking, hormonally insane harpy right now. Part of me can understand, after all, I went through three pregnancies, two of them during the unbelievably hot Sacramento drought years of 1981 and 1982. She doesn't even have to contend with triple digit temperatures while trying to negotiate very difficult third trimester necessities, like walking. But does the pregnant diva care? No. She uses her ultra-swollen condition as an excuse to upbraid me about every single mistake I've ever made as her mother.
And of course, she remembers every single detail of my maternal missteps. She has unlimited gigabytes of storage space in that lightning-fast brain of hers, especially when it comes to that folder labeled, "Mom and How She Has Never Gotten It Together".

Enter Guilt, who visits me regularly. Guilt is a hideously disfigured (and rightfully so), foul-smelling, Hagatha-looking female of humanoid origin. And the origin part is very much debatable. She constantly reminds me of my numerous faults and defects, highlighting them with bold, garish-looking gothic lettering that she has seared into my consciousness, lest I forget how imperfect I am. My daughter seems to sense the prominent role Guilt has played throughout my life, and she has adds fresh coats of paint to the disparaging letters. Guilt says, "You're fat and you need to loose weight." Daughter says: "Mom, what's wrong with you? All of my life you've had this eating issue. When are you going to stop? When you die, and we have to buy a special-sized coffin for you?" Guilt says, "You are never organized, and you have no mind for business." Daughter says, "Mom, take care of your business! You're always paying bills late, you have stacks of unopened mail...get it together!" Guilt and Daughter Number 1. They make a great tag team.

And of course, when Daughter Number 1 whips out the verbal cat-o-nine tails, One and Only Son and Daughter Number 2 join in for a night of Mommy flagellation. "Yeah, Mom, you need to quit spacing out all the time. You sit at your computer for hours and forget about everything else." That's my son. "You've always done that! You're either spacing out or obsessing over something." Daughter Number 2. At that point, Guilt retreats back into the shadows. Her work is done; my kids can slash deeper than she ever could.

I take it, of course. I've done enough fourth step personal inventories to know that they are absolutely right. Those are my behaviors, and I have done those things. I still do them, sometimes. I've gotten better, of course, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. From their point of view, I've never had enough money (single parents rarely do, but they have never taken that into consideration), and I'm a major slacker/procrastinator when it comes to financial matters. And when I get too stressed out because of the mess I've created in my life, I head for the high fat/high sugar-laden food for a temporary fix. My kids know all that about me. They've seen me do it, over and over again. I can't honestly say that I blame them for being tired of it. But that doesn't help me feel any better. Right now, I feel pretty much less than zero. Give me a sword, put me in a TARDIS and transport me back mid-19th century Persia, where I would gladly fight alongside Mulla Husayn against the wild-eyed zealots who felt the Babis were heretics. That would be infinitely preferable to enduring the barrage of criticism from my children.

But that's my test, isn't it? The Babis (see the excerpt from this amazing story posted at the end of this blog) loved God so much that they stood up to those who tried to oppress them. Now, my children can't oppress me unless I allow it. And I don't have to do it (thanks, Cindy, for being there and listening to me vent), just because I feel that I haven't been the most responsible mother in the world. I can say to them, "That's enough. No, I'm not Mrs. Cleaver.
But I DON'T need this. I've done the best I could with the knowledge that I had at the time. If I could have done better, I would have moved heaven and earth to do so. But I'm not a superwoman. I'm just a mere mortal mother, otherwise known as a flawed human being just like everyone else."

Besides, I could have done much worse. I've printed out the following excellent piece of journalism for my kids to read. Please take the time to cut and paste the story into your browser and read it for yourselves:

Like the parents in that story, I raised my children in the roughest neighborhoods in Sacramento. We lived in the Meadowview area when the Crips and Bloods first arrived in the area. I spent one night on the floor of my living room with nothing but a table lamp for a weapon as a full scale gang war raged in front of my town house. I made my kids stay upstairs, which terrified them, but it was the only thing I could think of doing to keep them safe. We also lived in Oak Park, not the renovated parts, but where prostitutes conducted their business in the shrubbery lining the sidewalks, and crack heads stood on nearly every corner. Yet, they came out of all that. Maybe not unscathed, but they didn't join a gang, stayed off drugs, never went to jail and didn't have any babies during their teen years. In fact, Daughter Number 1 is 26, and this is her first. Thank the Lord. The thought of her being pregnant as a teenager is nothing short of a fearsome image. She would have been worse than one of Hell's Furies.

The point is, it wasn't "perfect", but all things considered, they didn't fare badly in life. Clarissa runs her own office management consulting business in the Bay Area, and she's still working, even though she looks like she's going to drop my grandson at any second. My son Marc just graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and he is working full time (paying student loans off), and doing gigs all over Beantown. Chenelle works as full-time day care provider, sings and plays guitar at gigs all over Sacramento, and takes early childhood education classes at Sacramento City College. All that from three kids growing up in the 'hood with their impoverished single parent mother. I've never been able to buy new furniture when they were growing up. It was second-hand or hand-me-down. But they were always immaculately clean, well-mannered and dressed, and received good grades in school. I want to say that to them one day. I think that day is coming soon.

One final note: On top of all that drama, my parents have moved back to California from Moss Point, Mississippi, and they are temporarily living with me. Believe me, this will be temporary. I love my parents, but after over thirty years of having my own lifestyle, it is very tough to deal with parents who are now elderly and have numerous health issues, none of which I am qualified to cure. But they seem to think I can.

You see now why I would rather be with Mulla Husayn?

(Note: the following excerpt might seem confusing because the names, places and style of writing is unfamiliar to most Westerners. But trust me: the story is better than "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" if you ever have the opportunity to read and absorb it. And it's all true.)

In Mazindaran amongst other places the people of the city of Barfurush at the command of the chief of the lawyers the Sa'idu'l-'Ulama made a general attack on Mulla Husayn of Bushruyih and his followers, and slew six or seven persons. They were busy compassing the destruction of the rest also when Mulla Husayn ordered the adhan to be sounded and stretched forth his hand to the sword, whereupon all sought flight, and the nobles and lords coming before him with the utmost penit'ence and deference agreed that he should be permitted to depart. They further sent with them as a guard Khusraw of Qadi-Kala with horsemen and footmen, so that, according to the terms of the agreement, they might go forth safe and protected from the territory of Mazindaran. When they, being ignorant of the fords and paths, had emerged from the city, Khusraw dispersed his horsemen and footmen and set them in ambush in the forest of Mazindaran, scattered and separated the Bábís in that forest on the road and off the road, and began to hunt them down singly. When the reports of muskets arose on every side the hidden secret became manifest, and several wanderers and other persons were suddenly slain with bullets. Mulla Husayn ordered the adhan to be sounded to assemble his scattered followers, while Mirza Lutf-'Ali the secretary drew his dagger and ripped open Khusraw's vitals. Of Khusraw's host some were slain and others wandered distractedly over the field of battle. Mulla Husayn quartered his host in a fort near the burial-place of Shaykh Tabarsi, and, being aware of the wishes of the community, relaxed and interrupted the march. This detachment was subsequently further reinforced by Mirza Muhammad-'Ali of Mazindaran with a number of other persons, so that the garrison of the fort numbered three hundred and thirteen souls. Of these, however, all were not capable of fighting, only one hundred and ten persons being prepared for war. Most of them were doctors or students whose companions had been during their whole life books and treatises; yet, in spite of the fact that they were unaccustomed to war or to the blows of shot and sword, four times were camps and armies arrayed against them and they were attacked and hemmed in with cannons, muskets, and bomb-shells, and on all four occasions they inflicted defeat, while the army was completely routed and dispersed. On the occasion of the fourth defeat 'Abbas-Quli Khan of Larijan was captain of the forces and Prince Mihdi-Quli Mirza commander in the camp. The Khan above mentioned used at nights to conceal and hide himself in disguise amongst the trees of the forest outside the camp, while during the day he was present in the encampment. The last battle took place at night and the army was routed. The Bábís fired the tents and huts, and night became bright as day. The foot of Mulla Husayn's horse caught in a noose, for he was riding, the others being on foot. 'Abbas-Quli Khan recognized him from the top of a tree afar off, and with his own hand discharged several bullets. At the third shot he threw him from his feet. He was borne by his followers to the fort, and there they buried him. Notwithstanding this event [the troops] could not prevail by superior force. At length the Prince made a treaty and covenant, and swore by the Holy Imams, confirming his oath by vows plighted on the glorious Qur'án, to this effect: "You shall not be molested; return to your own places." Since their provisions had for some time been exhausted, so that even of the skins and bones of horses naught remained, and they had subsisted for several days on pure water, they agreed. When they arrived at the army food was prepared for them in a place outside the camp. They were engaged in eating, having laid aside their weapons and armor, when the soldiers fell on them on all sides and slew them all. Some have accounted this valor displayed by these people as a thing miraculous, but when a band of men are besieged in some place where all avenues and roads are stopped and all hope of deliverance is cut off they will assuredly defend themselves desperately and display bravery and courage.

(Abdu'l-Baha, A Traveller's Narrative, p. 22)

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