What kind of parents invite their 13 year old sons to join them in a little illegal spray painting? And encourage gang signs? Late. On a school night. Aren’t we supposed to be lecturing them against that type of behavior?
Mothers who miss Mazi Maghsoodnia, that’s who. Mothers who one year ago climbed this same damp, dark hill to let the world know that a great man was going to be missed. And mothers who understand that the pain of missing Mazi has barely begun and his family still needs reminders of the community who love them and will not let Mazi be forgotten. This time it seemed right to bring our sons, the boys from his soccer team, along.
We painted up our faces and commenced operation Mazi.
The moon was so bright, yet the trail still so dark. Hiking single file along the narrow cow path left us fighting for who would bring up the rear, because even before stepping over the broken barbed wire fence we saw an animal we were sure was a mountain lion. This is how much we love Mazi, we went anyway. The last two of us in the line held hands the whole way, sure each rustle behind us signaled the launch of a pouncing wild animal.
We slipped and climbed and shushed the boys and finally made it to the top of the rock (did I mention how steep those hills are? Like, a foot slips and you hear pebbles go tumbling, tumbling, tumbling down towards the sinkhole). Even though the moon was so bright the rock and surrounding hill seemed darker than last year, which of course it was. The sinkhole below the hill is still there but the lights that blazed through the night last year are gone (maybe it just isn’t in the Moraga budget to illuminate a sinkhole for a whole year. It clearly isn’t in the budget to fix it quickly).
The boys were ecstatic to be out late, on a school night, spray painting, for crying out loud. The moms tried not to ruin the fun by pointing out that they were doing this cool delinquent-like thing with . . . their moms.
Excited to begin their tagging careers the boys quickly pulled the tops off of the spray paint cans only to find that at least half of them lost the nozzles upon opening. Just try to find a 5 millimeter nozzle on a dark, grassy hillside (hint, can’t be done, you’d have better luck finding $10 front row seats to Hamilton).
We heard laughter float up the hill and looked down to see a couple of figures moving carefully up the path. It was Lida, Auveen, Kian and Nader coming to join us, arriving full of smiles and jokes. “Mom, are you talking in Farsi? While scaling the cliff?”
13 year old boys are at an interesting stage of life, simultaneously enjoying and rejecting the nurturing of their mothers. Some of the moms on this trip get at most 3 syllables at a time out of their sons these days, but this night was like stepping outside of time and stage of life. We all worked together, we talked, we laughed, and traditions were passed down from moms to sons, like the cliff hanging.
The only way to get the top of the letters painted correctly is for someone to hang out over the top of the rock, and the only way to do that with any degree of safety is for one or more people to hold onto the cliff hanger. Here is last year’s cliff hanger passing the tradition along to her son (with a mask for good measure, isn’t it just like a mom to take her son spray painting and yet insist he wear a mask?????).
The tradition of getting the soccer ball painted just right.
The tradition of an adult beverage toast was not passed along to the sons. We aren’t that depraved. They will have to discover Fireball all on their own, hopefully far in the future, in their own dark field like the rest of us did.
A new tradition of initials added to the bottom.
A new tradition of including Lida, Auveen, Kian, and Nader. Last year we painted the rock for them, this year we painted it with them and that felt just right.
A new tradition of a prayer, right after the Fireball (or was it before?).
A new tradition of a gang sign in Mazi’s honor (hand pointed downward with an “M” of middle three fingers).
Perhaps the most important tradition to pass down. An ancient tradition of gathering around a family in grief.
I want to write about grief but am finding it hard. I have not been struck with this level of loss, so my imagination fails me when I try to truly understand what Mazi’s family has gone through this past year. I feel the urge to focus on how well they have coped (they have) to allow myself to step back from looking into that abyss of pain that they still face every single day. My mind flinches when I try to think about what it must be like for Lida to wake up in the middle of the night alone. My mind rushes to reassure itself with images of her smiling and hugging us all up on the hill. See? My mind says to itself. She is okay, she must be, she’s hugging and smiling and laughing.
Even while part of me knows she must still have very dark moments.
Even while a part of me feels helpless to do anything about those moments.
It feels cowardly, like a failure of compassion, to hide from the pain, so I try again to put myself in their shoes. I try to imagine what it must be like to wake up and face the knowledge all over again, every single day. And again the sadness drives me towards trying to find something reassuring. Perhaps there is a deeper richness to life once something like this happens? Perhaps Mazi was needed on the angels soccer team? Perhaps they are stronger people now? Surely there is some meaning to this.
We all want to know that the Maghsoodnias are doing okay because we care about them, but also because we would like to believe you can survive tragedy. It is too hard to imagine the long days and nights of pain so we would like to cut to the end of the movie, the laughing, smiling family who have triumphed, who have remade their world into something good again. And people do survive, but are altered so profoundly that it is a whole different world that they are now living in. A world where the presence of the one lost has to be created in new ways, ways that will, inevitably, sometimes heartbreakingly, fall short of what they used to have.
I read Kian’s exquisite FB post about meeting his dad in his dreams. I look at the picture of Mazi’s headstone that Lida sent me, surrounded by flowers, bright sunlight shining off of it. I see a hint of the ways that they are remaking their world and it is, as Glennon Doyle Melton would say, ‘brutiful’ (brutal and beautiful all at once).
The painful moments will exist no matter how much other love and joy comes to their lives. Those moments are part of the landscape now. Part of our job as a community is to not pretend those moments out of existence. To be ready with the happy hug but also with the courage to acknowledge the pain that will never completely go away. To hold hands and stand vigil in the dark night so that no one has to feel completely alone.
So the trip up the hill this time was a way to circle around the Maghsoodnias and allow all the messy feelings to coexist, joy in the presence of grief, beautiful memories in the face of great loss, connection alongside loneliness. To say we understand that joy and grief may stay forever intertwined for them. What we tried to offer is what the poet David Whyte calls solace.
“Solace is not an evasion, nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind. Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going, appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part. Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation, through the door of pain and difficulty, to the depth of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp nor make sense of.”
Mazi’s Gang did something hard and scary in the darkness of night, our only illumination the full and luminous moon. Instead of the blazing warmth of the sun he used to be, maybe Mazi is now more like the moon, a steady, encircling presence, not always visible, but with luck, revealing himself as an incandescent glow in a dark night. And what we discovered was that the brightness of that moon was, in the end, more than enough light to get the job done.