The Exiled Heart: Nazila Fathi in Vogue

Her son Americanized his name, changing Chayan to Jack. Her husband felt suicidal for the first year they were in exile in Canada, walking the streets in search of purpose and understanding. They escaped Tehran by sheer luck – the mullahs camping out in front of their building surely wanted to jail, or kill, her.

This is some of the story in Nazila Fathi’s Vogue essay, “The Exiled Heart.” Each month when my Vogue arrives, I know I’m in for a treat. Rich, detailed, provocative writing that I’ll sail through and of course gorgeous clothing that I will probably never wear but wish I would.

So this month, when I peeled open the November 2014 issue and began to read the Up Front essay, by journalist Nazila Fathi, I had no idea how much it would make me think.

There is this notion we Americans have of Iran: big, scary, terrorist-driven, a terrifying place to be although we’ve heard stories about how beautiful it is, and how many intellectuals and entrepreneurs once called it home. In my vision of Iran, it is a big hulking monolith that has as one of its main focuses a desire to eradicate the state of Israel, and it’s a place every intelligent, driven individual fled.

While there may exist forever a longing for home, in my vision of Iran, no one who escaped ever desires to return for fear of reprisal or death. And so it surprised me when I read of Fathi and her family’s happy life in Tehran – her husband returned as a twentysomething and had a thriving family business, she worked as a New York Times correspondent, freely and openly, and all of their family live there.

It just didn’t match up with my vision of the country. Just like so many people urge you to “be safe” when going to Israel: theirs is a vision of a war-torn, dangerous place against which the whole world has turned and remains opposed.

On the contrary. If I can honestly tell you that Israel is the best place on earth and I’ve never felt safer anywhere else, then I must believe it when this talented, striking woman laments having to flee her native Iran and seek safe exile in Canada, and then the U.S.

She writes: “For me, leaving Iran was perhaps easier because I was still telling the story of what was happening there. Within weeks, I stopped thinking about our sunny apartment in Tehran with its view of the mountains, or the tribal carpets I had bought during my trips around the country.”

She and her family constantly yearn to return, knowing they cannot.

In a way, we are all yearning to return to some place, even if we reside in our native land. Return to a simpler time, a more peaceful time, an easier time. A time of youth, a land of dreams. The vacation that brought clarity and contentment, which disappeared mere weeks after returning home.

The past two nights, I’ve had odd dreams. They were dreams of being oddly placed and trying to return to what was familiar, but not being able to. Tons of people surrounding me with different visions and different directives, and me swimming against the current of pressure toward a different outcome, a quick exit.

This morning, I awoke at 5:15. It was a still darkness and my house was silent. I couldn’t get back to sleep but surprisingly, I didn’t want to get out of bed either. For anyone who knows me, an early rising is a gift I gladly accept, starting my day with gusto.

But not today. I burrowed into my layers of blankets and stacked pillows and just let my mind go where it wanted to wander. I knew there would be time enough to get things done – the chicken in the crockpot for tonight’s dinner, the children’s lunches, a shower and an outfit for my day of meetings ahead, preparations for the writers workshop tonight.

There is always time to get things done, and not enough time to reside in the soul. Are we all in a self-imposed exile of sorts, away from who we truly are, not sure the straightest path to take us back?

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