The first Holy Day I attended here was the Martyrdom of the Báb, which in 2013 happened in early July. Currently, it shifts each year according to the lunar calendar, so this year, it happened yesterday. It seemed to mark my first year here coming full circle as I reach the halfway point in my service.
I recall my earlier wonderment at the crowd of commemorators filling the garden in front of the Haifa Pilgrim House, my surprise at the parasols–coming from the States, I thought people used them only decoratively and to preserve particularly porcelain complexions. And the heat. My seat last year, while initially in the shade, was soon overtaken by the noonday sun, making me itch for the circumambulation when I could finally move out of its harsh gaze.
The heat was just as oppressive this year, hitting a high of 95 degrees. By now, though, I was used to the seating arrangement of rows on rows of pilgrims, visitors, and staff, and knew the wisdom of the parasols and the folding fans. And we were careful to pick a spot completely in the shade of the pillar-like palm in front of us. In this place, bits of pollen confetti sprinkled down on us from the trees overhead, burrowing into our hair.
My first year is drawing to its conclusion, and this is the season of farewells, as many of my friends are leaving. My friend Tahirih de la Republica Dominicana flew home a few days ago. Shania, who was a senior at Mount Holyoke when I was a meek firstie, is going home. And half of my orientation group–eighteen staff–depart in the coming days and weeks, including my friends Diana and Todd. They are all off to new journeys.
Due to all the departures, this has been a week of farewells. One was quiet and devotional, another was energetic and noisy, but my favorite was last night’s. It was initially supposed to be a reunion of those in my orientation group who had lived in the faraway land of Leon Blum when we first arrived, but it ended up as a game night between Sergey, Diana, Todd, and me.
First came Scrabble, where I proved the usefulness of that English major. My winning at Scrabble is how the universe achieves balance with my athletic ineptitude.
Then came Risk–and not just any Risk, but Star Wars Risk. Now, I confess I had never actually played the game before. I thought I had, but that turned out to be my vague memory of playing Axis and Allies in tenth grade history class.
We cued the dramatic Star Wars soundtrack and then proceeded into a 3.5-hour long battle to conquer the galaxy. The game works by trying to take over as many planets as possible, and Todd acted like an extraterrestrial real estate agent, describing the notable features of each planet (“Tatooine is kind of like Akka…sandy.”) I assumed I’d lose since I didn’t have any concept of strategy, but the dice was kind to Sergey and me, and our Rebel Alliance ended up ruling the universe. Ok, just the galaxy, but still.
I guess I assume I’m going to see all these friends again. If life here has taught me one thing, it’s that the Bahá’í World is very small–for instance, two youth I knew from Louhelen, where my family lived fourteen years ago by my count, are coming to serve here. The last time I saw them they were yea tall, and now they’re full-fledged young adults.
In such an oddly tight-knit community, I think it’s inevitable that our paths will cross again.