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The Oregonian

Open Letter to the Unknown Friend in Iran

Isn't it time to reach across the deep chasm?

To the unknown friend in Iran:

We have had a separation long enough. I hope someday we may meet, when our countries are at peace. I want to know about how you live, about your family. I want to hear your stories. I want to learn how we may be richly different, and richly related.

Many years ago, my father visited your country. He was traveling as a poet in order to meet writers in Iran, to share his poetry, to witness for peace. It was the time of the shah, and poetry was one way people told their truth to one another.

I would love to see the beauties of your country he told me of, and to meet the kind friends who welcomed him as he traveled there.

Since that time, you have had your revolution, and we have had our troubles. There was anger, there were hostages, there was a helicopter raid that failed in the desert. We have been clumsy, both of us, in how we tried to find new ways to know each other. Years and years of this.

Another problem: My country is addicted to oil. We can't seem to get enough. This makes it difficult for us to see the advantages of honoring one another for our far more interesting cultural gifts, your long traditions of music and poetry, your many ways of understanding life that could enrich us. We are a very young country, but we also have some gifts for you.

Some years ago I heard a story from Tehran that inspires me. It seems there was a citizen who asked himself this question: "I am only one man, but what can I do for my country?" He gathered friends who knew many languages, and together they created the House of Translators. This group then published books for children, bringing stories from many languages into Persian, into Farsi.

I want to know if anyone in my country has done something that strong, wise and generous to reach across our borders and forge connections.

The amazing films that are being made in your country begin to hint how we might learn from each other. Let's watch films together instead of rattling our sabers.

I once heard the story of the three brothers who did not know they were brothers, for one called his father Allah, and another called his father Yahweh, and another called his father God. But when they met, and looked into each other's eyes, shared a meal, and began to talk of their lives and families, they recognized their kinship stronger than all their history of separation.

I am not your enemy. You are not my enemy. I am one of those brothers, and you, and you. We don't know what our leaders may do. We must help them understand they can be our leaders without fear, or hate, or violence. They can be our leaders by honoring the future we share with one another. Let's live in that future now.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Kim Stafford

Kim Stafford teaches at Lewis & Clark College and served as editor for "Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace and War" (Milkweed Editions, 2003).

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