One of the most basic human needs is to feel accepted. In London, where diversity is abundant and individualism embraced, we are blessed to be able to express ourselves, should we choose to.
So why, even in this liberal society, do we continually strive to adhere to perceptions of normality and shy away from revealing our own differences for fear of being judged? Society’s expectations of what how we ‘should’ be, or what we ‘should’ be doing, or what we ‘should’ have achieved by a certain age is still rife. Perhaps we are not as modern as we like to think.
We’re bombarded by depressing media reports of horrific hate crimes from every corner of the globe. Their motivations may be as menial as a difference in skin colour or faith, a different sexual orientation or political view, disability, the ‘daring’ act of dressing as one pleases, for refusing to conform and for chosing a spouse from a difference branch of the same religion. Genocide, honour killings, random attacks; all point to the refusal to accept or embrace difference. There are alarming levels of intolerance in this ‘modern’ era.
I was in Istanbul when I found a very idealistic concept of acceptance and tolerance in the most ancient of thoughts, mounted on my sister in law’s wall on our first meeting.
Dilek, the eldest of Murat’s five sisters, lives in an apartment block amongst the extended family of her husband. I immediately identified her as she waited for us outside her doorway; she has the same wavy raven coloured hair and deep brown eyes as her brother.
“Welcome! Hoşgeldiniz!” She led us inside, past a huge evil eye charm, up a crumbling staircase and into her modest home.
“Please.” She motioned to sit down and disappeared momentarily to prepare Turkish coffee.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing to a stone plaque on the muted pink wall.
“Ah…That’s a Mevlana quote. You may know him as Rumi.”
Amid delicate strokes of calligraphy twirled a Dervish, turning blissfully with his eyes closed. He was utterly content.
“I’m not sure how to translate what is written…Look,” Murat searched on his iPhone and showed me a translation.
‘Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair.
come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again , come , come.’
I looked at Murat. “Acceptance?”
“Exactly.” We both smiled.
Jelal ad-Din Rumi was a Persian philosopher, born in the 13th Century. After his death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Sufi order which uses his poetic prose as inspiration for its teachings.
It seems we can look to the not-so-modern wisdom from the heart of the Middle East for ideas of acceptance, tolerance and contentment.
In the final weeks of my pregnancy, I couldn’t help but notice another of Rumi’s poems in which he addresses the unborn, whether it be the physically unborn or spiritually is a matter of interpretation.
‘The world outside is vast and intricate.
There are wheat fields and mountain passes,
and orchards in bloom
At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight
the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.’
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