sholeh wolpe

I belong nowhere. Every language I speak, I speak with an accent. I eat Persian food in the British style – with a knife and a fork instead of a spoon and a fork. I kiss Americans Persian style – a kiss on each cheek. I entertain Persians American style – I cook one main course rather than the customary Persian three or four courses when entertaining guests. I know the body language of the Trinidadians, what it means to roll one’s eyes a particular way, or the meaning of sucking air between the teeth and the tongue. But these are mere gestures. Cultural habits. The foreignness I speak of manifests itself in what the eye can see and what the ears can hear and what the senses can feel --- still, it goes deeper. It exists at the level of the heart.

Being a foreigner everywhere, not belonging anywhere, can be disquieting but once you’re over that, it is liberating. Suddenly you find yourself part of something greater, something indefinable and exhilaratingly new. You are granted access to places the existence of which is not on most people’s radars. Places that clear a path to a strange kind of knowledge, something that is learned instinctively and without instruction. Once there, empathy comes easily. You melt into other people’s skins, look through their eyes at the world, without judgment or even agreement – your only desire being: to understand.

I do not write to create art. To me, life itself is art and it is creating me. Word by word, gesture by gesture, sight by sight, note by note. It is hard to feel hatred in such a world. Pity, yes, empathy, yes, but never hatred. Hatred is a fire that consumes and leaves behind ashes good for nothing but to rub on one's face and mourn the loss of beauty. Perhaps I write to express only this.