So, one morning, a morning much like any other morning, you read an opinion piece in the newspaper regarding the imprisonment by Iranian authorites of a gentle translator, a man with the first name of Mohammad, who was taken from his house for doing nothing other than translating a funny book called Funny in Farsi.
And you finish your coffee, you take a shower and get dressed, you go to work and go about your day, the day of a typical middle-class American father, husband, friend and family member, a day with stress and Costco runs, soccer practices and time outs. There is nothing exceptional about your life, other than it is your life.
And before you know it, this simple name, Mohammad, and the life linked to this name, has entered your emotional and mental map. While you are driving on the freeway, or picking up kids' towels from the floor for the tenth time, or walking the dog late at night, you wonder about his fate in that prison, a prison you have no idea what it looks like, only that it is a place from where one never returns; you wonder and care in a way that is different than what you have felt before for a stranger, or, for that matter, for even some of those close by.
For several days, he is just a name, you don't know what he looks like, know nothing about him beside his name and his habits as a translator shared in that opinion piece. You are curious and google him to discover what he looks like, and find a picture of a young man wearing a gray suit, a young man that looks like so many others, and yet is not.
And you consider, probably because you have a guilty conscience, if those of us who have been blessed with a relatively safe and healthy life have a moral twin out there, in this or that prison or hell hole, capable of breaking down the barriers of apathy or inertia or coldness that we carry with us, and that this moral twin is out there to remind us of a humanity we all share.
Yes, of course, you know very well he is one like many others, in this or that country, one like too many others in this or that torture chamber, prison, unmarked grave. When you talk about him to friends, you get a laundry list of examples of repression, injustice, censorship, torture and so forth. So soon it becomes a sort of perverse Academy Awards, let's vote on the most repressed, the most unjust, let's vote to see which country is the most screwed up or corrupt. Oh, and you tell yourself, no, that is not what this is about, what really matters, here and now, is to be yanked from the relative comforts of your day-to-day life and be able to experience emotional solidarity with a stranger out there, and if that happens, then maybe, just maybe, there is hope and a way to make things better, a tiny bit better in our complex messed up world.
And every time you sit down to try and work on your Magnus Opus, The Marx Brothers Guide to Parenting, a love letter to the Marx Brothers and a parody of parenting books, you just can't seem to get very far, though you know this can wait, a day, a month or a year, but Mohammad cannot.