Realizations The Autobiography
of Julian Lee / COPYRIGHT
2009 JULIAN LEE
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Chad and Emma
These were two Baha'is I met who had a great influence on my life. I changed their names at this moment so as to preserve their privacy. But my story would not be complete without covering them. If there were only three people who had a gigantic influence on my life this couple must be counted among the three, because they played a role in my marrying, and a role in who I ended up marrying. They also induced me to relocate from my home town of Des Moines.
Oh, I was so impressed the first time I saw Emma. She had what she and other Baha'is liked to call "radiance." It was a glow she had from four directions: Her beautiful White European racial inheritance, a healthy and plain living lifestyle, a shine that attended her whenever she was with people because she loved people. Fourth, her genuine spirituality. I remember it was winter and she was in a puffy, camper's style jacket filled with down that you'd see on many practical Iowa women around that time. It was at once frumpy and plain plus smart, stylish, and up-to-date and required money. If I am not mistaken she also had the latest shoes: Comfortable Birkenstocks.
When I saw her one thought was, "Oh, if I could have a wife like that!" It was at a meeting of Bahai's in Des Moines. Somehow they had come through and attended it, getting there road-weary and rather late. I realized soon that they were from out-of-town. Sometime after she arrived, probably because of the parking challenge downtown, her husband showed up. Darn, she was married! But then I was impressed all over again with his nature. He was tall, had dark hair slightly long but not wild, and wore jeans plus a similarly down-packed vest. Even with the Elvis-esque full sideburns he wore, he had a sober, mature nature. As I later met him I noted he had a laconic but thoughtful manner of speaking. The impression he gave was of a man grounded in practical life, and being the capable manager and roadie for their religious activities. Sort of like the practical and strong setting for the jewel that was his wife.
Putting her out of my mind as a wife prospect, I was highly drawn to the couple notwithstanding, as fellow Baha'is and new friends. I found they were extraordinary. As I got to know them I felt that they were most of the things I wanted to have and wanted to be. I wondered if I could become a friend of theirs notwithstanding the protectiveness and territorialism that is natural to any young husband with a pretty wife. But I found Chad was easy to talk to. I found they were both very Serious about being Bahai's and doing the thing Baha'is are most cultivated to do: To Teach The Faith, i.e. spread the religion. This was my desire, too, so they were the perfect inspiring role models for me. The more I got to know them, the more I was delighted. They were the sort of Bahai's we really needed, thought I. I found they lived in a strange little town called Lamoni, Iowa near the southern border right off Interstate 35. Soon I moved to their town to become a "homefront pioneer." This is the term Baha'is give to themselves when they move to a particular town in their own nation for the explicit purpose of shoring up a Baha'i group and promoting "the faith."
These two had a large influence on my life, not the least of which was inducing me to marry the woman that I married. But these paragraphs will be brief for now. I lived in the town of Lamoni doing activism and sharing friendship for around three years. During that time I only fell in love with them all the more, and became very close to Chad. He became one of only a few male friends I've ever felt truly close to this life. We both loved music. I admired his gardening, farming, and practical skills. I admired their very White ideals of living simple, living natural, environmentalism and "saving the world." (Emma had been an activist for the "Law of the Sea" in Washington at one time.)
They were aficionados of all the old home-crafts and skills. At one time, in fact, they had worked as the "1800's farm couple" at the "Living History Farms" outside of Des Moines. They had been used in an advertisement by an oil company at one point. They showed me the magazine page in their album. It showed a handsome and healthy, but sober, couple out in a field. Emma was in a long dress and her rimless wire glasses, Chad soberly standing beside and behind her, I think beside an old plow or an ox. The photo was in old browntones, and it looked like it could really be a couple from long ago. This just added to my sense of admiration and mystique about them. Even the world had somehow registered them as an icon of Old World virtue.
Chad had a wall full of musical instruments, including at least one he had made himself. Though he had used toothpicks for its frets, I found the thing played in tune and had a riotous time adding a baseline to his guitar strumming what he informed me was a "Tomato Box Bass." We often sang and played together the most random things. He had this odd riff he had made up with lyrics that went "Chicken train, chicken train, laser beams in my brain." It was a gentle fun-poking at the sort of American traditional folk music that they both knew in droves. (They used to actually go into homes for the elderly and sing traditional folk songs to them, dressed in folk clothes, to cheer the old people.)
Chad and I made each other laugh. We frequently broke out in uproarious laughter as we joked, sometimes to the bewilderment or bemusement of the women. We would talk about anything, me and Chad. At some point I could even reveal my thoughts that I considered him lucky for the wife he had, and that she was an ideal wife and most beautiful. He never took offense at this, or felt threatened. Rather, he showed me a compassionate attitude, trying to both accept my praise without denial and gently suggest that everything was mixed. He even pointed out a minor flaw in her, hoping to relieve me of painful idealization. (Her English teeth, which to me were another charm.)
Her father was a religious man. They were Quakers. He and her mother lived in willful rough circumstances on a piece of land they named "Gilead" outside of Iowa City. He was annoyed that she was a Baha'i. I went with them many times to visit their parents. What memories!
Emma was a whole story in herself. She was a social gadfly to beat all. She never stopped being charming and "radiant" during those first years around them. Everybody loved her despite her obtuse Baha'i agitating in a small town full of Mormons. (R.L.D.S.) In the end Emma decided to become a Medical Doctor and that took precedence over everything. She also fancied herself a matchmaker. After getting me married off to another Baha'i woman they were suddenly up and leaving for her medical doctor ambitions to Iowa City. From that time on I saw them less and less frequently. Only upon travels to their area we'd sometimes visit.
The Baha'i Faith had this terrible cultural value in which those with PhD's and such were trotted out and given automatic prestige, made to be speakers, featured on television, etc. This was none truer than with Baha'i medical doctors. They were the cream and generally became the high-falootin' "Auxiliary Board Members" and "Continental Counselors." In retrospect I see that an inherent ambition, always present in Emma, was rising and rising. She wanted to be somebody important. I felt that this goal was becoming more important than friendship, and she and Chad were leaving my new wife and I behind in our lower bracket of money and prestige. Later we visited them in Arizona where they had "homefront pioneered" to "save the Indians." I had changed, and they sensed it. And I saw that they had changed. I do not know if it was rage and disgust that I was now an astrologer, or that they sensed I was no longer so true blue and avid for the Baha'i cause, or if it was just life overtaking them and absorbing their capacity for friendliness. Because now they had children, and quite a few. They seemed to be overwhelmed with this on many levels. There were no pleasant conversations during that visit, or even reminiscences, and in fact Chad seemed to be in a quiet rage which I'd never felt.
I used to go on trips with them in their old Datsun B210 car. The thing was barely held together. I remember once the muffler had fallen off just before they wanted to travel. Chad, always resourceful, had taken a used orange juice can made of tin and put the muffler back together by wiring the can tight around the broken pieces. After he told me, I got down one day to look and see. (I always admired whatever Chad did and liked to learn about doing things.) There it was, a colorful Sunkist orange juice can keeping his muffler quiet and the thing from dragging on the ground. I thought it was charming, but Chad actually detested these little indignities. I didn't realize it, but inside him was ambition for a more respectable life and nicer things. Chad and I had many soulful talks, letting our imaginations run wild, on many long trips about Iowa for the Baha'i Faith.
But the time I shared with them in the strange little town of Lamoni was one of the rich and good times of my life. I have one memory etched in my mind. We were coming close in to Lamoni after a hot summer trip on the road. Along the way was a park nearby called Nine Eagles and it had a nice lake surrounded by trees. We were sweaty, dusty, and hot from our long trip. Chad and Emma said, as they came near, "Shall we go cool off?" It was getting towards dusk. We plunged in. I know Chad and I were in shorts. I have no memory of what Emma wore to swim, probably a T-shirt. We were certainly not so uncultured as to "skinny dip".
Beyond the the tops of the encircling trees the sun was going down. I swam out into the deeper water to follow where they had gone. Though an Iowa lake could only have a snapping turtle for fearing, I had recently seen the movie "Jaws" and an irrational and primordial fear rose up as I swam above the dark unknown. But now I found myself near them.
The light was dusky, the moon was up, and the Iowa summer sky was becoming azure blue. In the fading light I saw he had his radiant wife in his arms, even more beautiful now cleansed and freshened by the waters. Manlike, he somehow treaded water to keep the both afloat while making it seem effortless. Womanlike, she just let him do this. For her only part she just clung to him. They had done this before. I kept quiet and there were now only their quiet swishes. It was a divine scene.
I had never seen them be romantic. They were too considerate and civilized to show that side of themselves to others. But I was privileged to see this moment with only us in the middle of this small forest lake. Emma was such an independent, strong, able woman. But she let him carry her like a trusting baby above the depths. Her face was near his and this picture said "This is my husband and I am his wife." I saw clearly that this the way they always had been. They were true blue to their work and true-blue to each other.