The United States recently gave a 2,700-year-old ceremonial silver Persian vessel, in the shape of a griffin, to Iran’s President Rouhani during his historic UN visit. The meaning of this unexpected and creative act of hospitality cannot be overstated. Creating openings to rapprochement, negotiation and peace is a long and tortuous process, and this first step to finding a path through the narrow gate is inspired.
Meanwhile, America itself was very busy this past month: Across the fruited plains pundits and journalists flaunted their collective ignorance as tea party congressmen and their enabling cohorts, perhaps distracted by hookah-smoking caterpillars, proudly and dutifully fulfilled Mock Turtle’s lessons of “Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision” by shutting down the United States of America.
No narrow gates. No food stamps. No Head Start. No hospitality.
“What are they doing?” Alice whispered to the Gryphon, as she witnessed them all busily writing on their slates and tablets, “They can’t have anything to put down yet, before the trial’s begun.”
“They’re putting down their names,” the Gryphon whispered in reply, “for fear they should forget them before the end of the trial.”
Many of us were first introduced to griffins, those grand mythical beings with the head and talons of an eagle and the noble body of a lion, in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a fantastical tale that came to mind this past week as the House of Representatives legislated its dystopian dreams into an American nightmare.
In the chaos, confusion and ignorance that followed, as weak-minded House leaders and tea party agents were displaying their contempt for the Constitution and the American people by closing off access to the gates of hospitality — and gates of national parks — a message of hope and the potential of goodness was being ignored.
A griffin, one of noble parentage, soared far above our parochial world to connect two peoples — once friends, now estranged — perhaps bearing a promise of peace and harmony on its wings.
The griffin, which had illegally arrived in America in 2000 after having been looted from a cave in Iran, had been seized and held by U.S. Customs. They had previously said they couldn’t return it to Iran until relations between the two countries were normalized.
“It is considered the premier griffin of antiquity, a gift of the Iranian people to the world, and the United States is pleased to return it to the people of Iran,” the U.S. State Department said.
“The return of the artifact reflects the strong respect the United States has for cultural heritage property — in this case, cultural heritage property that was likely looted from Iran and is important to the patrimony of the Iranian people,” the State Department added. “It also reflects the strong respect the United States has for the Iranian people.”
Mahnaz Gorji, Director of Iran’s National Museum, reflected upon the gift’s significance: “At present we don’t care about the visual form of the artifact.” “Its message is more important,” she continued, suggesting that the Griffin’s return to Tehran could herald renewed cultural cooperation between Iran and America.
And I am certain that Rouhani, Gorji, indeed, all learned Iranians, upon hearing of the Griffin’s return, were reminded of Rumi’s:
“Oh fly, oh fly, O my soul-bird,
fly to your primordial home!
You have escaped from the cage now
your wings are spread in the air.”
Today, the wings of peace are being tested in the air over Washington and Tehran and the lands of the Middle East.
No one thinks it will be easy, but the promise of lives being able to flourish free from the cages of war, oppression, occupation and exploitation beckons. Rapprochement, possible now after the successful imposition of sanctions against Iran, could ease everyone’s worries over Iran’s nuclear programs and create an environment for greater peacemaking throughout the region.
Meanwhile, unable to embrace the potential of peace and unwilling to support any initiative — domestic or international — of President Obama and his administration, some members of Congress have declared war on the American people.
In Washington, in the halls of Congress, in the land of the free and home of the brave, the spiritually challenged flaunt their intellectual tramp stamps and brazenly flaunt their disregard for the needs of 99 percent of Americans.
Sadly, America’s Mad Hatter, Ted Cruz, seemingly busy chasing rabbits and listening to caterpillars, has suckered tea partiers into his ideological cage, seducing them with Kool-Aid-laced non-herbal, heavily caffeinated tea. Time punishes them now, and now all Americans — by eternally standing still at 6 p.m. — as outside their doors the trials of the peacemakers, the poor, the needy, the infirm and “The Other” remain untended.
Sadly, the Mad Hatter’s followers take millions in subsidies for their farms while denying food stamps to their constituents.
“When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s ‘Off with her head!’ ” — Grace Slick
Sadly, Mad Hatter’s acolytes berate federal employees that they have caused to be furloughed, and then retire to their protected comforts of taxpayer-supported privilege.
Sadly, the Mad Hatter’s followers know nothing of grace or hospitality. Their world is a pitiful, craven, selfish world of profit, privilege and ignorance.
In their dark world of “Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision,” there is no goodness.
As the Mad Hatter hosts parties of madness and division, let us follow the griffin’s path as we bear witness to Rumi, he who beckons and leads us through narrow gates:
“Let’s fly from our childish behaviour
and join the banquet of men!
Call out, O soul, to proclaim now
that you are rules and king!
You have the grace of the answer,
you know the question as well!”
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.