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24. PftD

December 9, 2007

The next morning, after breakfast, the Jacksons and the Parkins made their way to Baha’i House. Both families were glad of the extra numbers. Death may be a joyful messenger to the departed, however, depending on the circumstances, it can be a traumatic transition for those who remain and even a little awkward for those who come to support the bereaved on a most difficult day.

 

Together, the families entered and paid respects to the extended family. Of course, the Parkins lingered with Matthew, succouring and comforting as best they could.

 

Already, a lot of people had gathered at Baha’i House. So much so that it was quite full and further people, not closely acquainted with Tahirih or Matthew, would move outside after paying their respects. A video and speaker system had been set up to relay what was happening in the main room. And tea and nibbles were delivered outside to an ever-growing throng.

 

Many of the notables of the Victorian and Australian Baha’i community were present. David Hofman, a former member of the UHJ, happened to be giving a lecture in Melbourne that night and, of course, attended to support his good friend Adnan Erfanian.

 

In due season, a middle-aged Iranian-looking gentleman took centre floor and welcomed everyone. He stated his role as MC, recounted why everyone was there and took a few moments to explain what was about to happen. Then he said a prayer and invited Mr Erfanian to say a few words.

 

A sallow Mr Erfanian thanked the MC and addressed the well-wishers.

“Friends, when visiting, I usually begin by conveying extra special greetings from the Universal House of Justice to you all. That is certainly true on this occasion. Indeed, as I departed the Holy Land the House implored me to do just that if I found it at all possible. So, of course, I do that happily and willingly. But, as you are all aware, this time I stand before you as a very deeply grieving father, an immensely flawed individual who is suffering limitless withdrawal symptoms because God has taken his daughter from this dust into His next world. Tahirih was our first born. And, as first borns do, she taught me much about myself, much to improve upon. She was always of a sweet and loving disposition and life was, well, divine when she was around.

 

I recall I was minding Tahirih one day. My wife, Shirin, had gone to Tel Aviv. She was only eight weeks old. A meeting was called unexpectedly and I had to tell them ‘well, you either all come to my house or I have to send my apologies’. So, they all came. The House met in my little apartment. During the meeting Tahirih started to cry and, indeed, she had a dirty nappy. I became flustered and was making more of a mess than there was to begin with. David, Mr Hofman, and I’m so blessed to have him here today, bounded on over to me. ‘Let me in there Adnan, we can’t wait all day. I know what to do.’ When he saw that it was a cloth and not a disposable nappy, he stopped in horror and backed away. ‘I have vowed never to go near anyone with a sharp object, I will have to decline. Anyone else know what to do?’ Of course, no-one dared step forward. I gathered my composure and very proudly finished off the job, to generous applause I might add. I assure you all that this was a one-off, the only time the House’s business was interrupted by a dirty nappy. Happy times, happy times.

 

I loved her very dearly. Sorry, I love her very dearly. Although I am currently inconsolable, I recognize that this is a type of pain none of us has the power to avoid and all of us have to ascertain how to cope and become stronger. I truly thank each and every one of you for supporting Matthew and all of our families in this great test for us. Thank you.”

 

Then, a lady walked to the centre floor and chanted a prayer in Persian. There were some more prayers and a number of people recounted their memories of Tahirih. In between, some classical music played in the background. A greatly strained Matthew spoke. He felt deeply unhappy on the one hand but happy on the other in that his Baha’i family as well as his own family had come to share his grief. Matthew was clearly much shaken.

 

During this process the MC approached Graham and asked how his daughter was feeling about saying the Prayer for the Dead. Graham said that he had brought up the subject with Layla last night and she seemed more than happy to go ahead. The MC inquired as to how Graham felt about it. Was it too much to ask of a young girl? It would be understandable if she should choose to delegate it. Looking around he remarked that there wasn’t a shortage of people with vast experience of this kind of situation. Graham hesitated a bit. The MC, seeing Afsaneh, said similar to her. It might be overwhelming? Afsaneh began to say that maybe it would be better if Mr Erfanian or Mr Hofman or one of the NSA members shouldered the responsibility.

 

Whilst this meandering was occurring the last person was just completing his remembrance of Tahirih. Layla appeared from an adjoining room where many of the youth were. Her hair under her laced black hat and dressed in a stunning black and silver trouser suit, she marched through the outer crowd with a purposeful, though solemn gait and stopped close to the coffin.

 

As the MC seemed unavailable, she motioned for everyone to stand up and, to achieve complete obedience, continued:

‘Ladies and gentlemen, if you can all please stand for the Prayer for the Dead. Thank you.’

Inside and outside people stood respectfully. And Layla began to recite the prayer.

 

Layla’s style of recitation was most attractive, clear and mesmerizing. It had no affectation, no individual plea, yet it was Vibrancy. It was the uncorrupted medium which would carry the hopes and wishes of those assembled towards the Spiritual Ear.

 

The primary thoughts were, of course, for Tahirih. But people can’t help but have other thoughts, other concerns. Layla’s unspoiled tone gathered the swell of problems and unrealized potential and with bubbles of transcendent feeling rising to the top of each head there seemed another way to look at things, an empowering perspective.

 

It was a clean slate on which to write your own therapy. The variations and emphasis brought your thoughts to a resolution and onto the next thought. Maybe part of it was a young girl’s naiveté. Most assuredly it manifested sincerity. My lord, it was sincere. Sincerity and maybe even a touch of submissiveness, a powerful submissiveness. Yes, more submissive than certain.

 

Look at that elderly lady, she must be eighty, remembering the loves of her life that have passed away and she’s being fortified, fortified.

 

And that man, he must be Iranian, wearing all the shitty things that have come his way. Many times he thought sticking with Baha’i was a waste of time – right now he’d tell glowing stories of martyrs.

 

There’s a very pleasant but melancholic young man by the door. He’s having a hard time with his business. Big money problems, the debt is far too much for him, a yard from humiliation. Now he seems so relieved to be here with his friends. He’ll lose his house but not his friends. He’ll proudly pick himself up.

 

As the prayer radiated out through the speakers, past Baha’i House and over the busy road people began to stop. Mothers with prams, walkers, workers, people coming to and from trams. “What’s that mate?” one whispered to a person at the front of Baha’i House. “It’s a funeral, a Baha’i funeral.” “Ohhh, I see. Thank you.”

 

Yes, many stopped to look and listen. Even a tram came to a halt. They stopped and listened beneath the fiery Melbournian sun. A warming dreaminess growing with each repetition. And when the prayer finished they shook themselves off and contentedly moved on again. “That was quite nice, wasn’t it?” “Beautiful girl.”

 

Layla had recited:

 

O my God!

This is Thy handmaiden

and the daughter of Thy handmaiden

who hath believed in Thee and in Thy signs,

and set her face towards Thee,

wholly detached from all except Thee.

Thou art, verily, of those who show mercy the most merciful.

Deal with her,

O Thou Who forgivest the sins of men

and concealest their faults,

as beseemeth the heaven of Thy bounty

and the ocean of Thy grace.

Grant her admission within the precincts of Thy transcendent mercy

that was before the foundation of earth and heaven.

There is no God but Thee, the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Generous.

 

We all, verily, worship God

We all, verily, bow down before God

We all, verily, are devoted unto God

We all, verily, give praise unto God

We all, verily, yield thanks unto God

We all, verily, are patient in God

 

After a couple of moments silence to indicate the end of the prayer, Layla merged into the mourners and rejoined an adoring and emotional Sholeh who had just left the youth room. ‘You are unreal, sister.’

The men of Tahirih’s family and in-laws carried her coffin a few metres outside to a burial plot arranged in the garden.

 

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