In an early section of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis, young Marji meets her Uncle Anoosh. His time in the USSR and his involvement with the Communist Party led to him spending time in prison — which makes him an instant hero to Marji. When she first meets him after his release from nearly a decade in prison (about as long as she’s been alive), she’s completely smitten.
It’s hard not to be smitten with Uncle Anoosh. He’s urbane, warm, and intellectual. He believes in inquiry and curiosity even in the face of state repression. Despite knowing that the arc will not soon bend towards justice in Iran, he repeatedly says “Everything will be alright.” And beyond the optimism, he even seems to have a sense of humor despite the blows that life deals him: While in prison the first time, he makes a swan out of bread — which he gives to Marji. When he’s arrested again and permitted one visitor, he asks to see his young niece. While there’s tremendous pathos in this scene, what sticks out is that he makes her another bread swan, “the uncle of the first one.”
The scene is poignant, heartbreaking, and sticks to your ribs like oatmeal on a cold morning. Part of the sticking power is in the dharma of Uncle Anoosh: His actions remind us that, regardless of life’s hairpin curves and gut-punches, we always have a choice as to how we show up for it. We can shut down, sink into depression, rage against the dying of the light — or, we can find the small moments of beauty, joy, and connection without denying the suffering that keeps a steady drumbeat in our human lives.
As Sharon Salzberg writes in Lovingkindness, “We must move from trying to control the uncontrollable cycles of pleasure and pain, and instead learn how to connect, to open, to love no matter what is happening.” Consider a recent moment of adversity in your life, perhaps even one you’re working through at the moment. Where can you find your “bread-swans”? Where can you find perhaps a shade of warmth or connection? Can you tap into your capacity to love, no matter what is happening?