The Future is Now

By Sarah Haug

“These children are the plants of Thine orchard, the flowers of Thy meadow, the roses of Thy garden …” The Baha’i Faith teaches that raising children is one of the most important jobs a person can do in this life. As my last child heads off to college, I am struck by the way that job is, at one and the same time, done and not done. A few years ago, I had four children in the house. Now I have none. I have been waffling between feeling a little light-headed at how free I “should” feel, and the idea that I have been summarily fired from a job I’ve held for 31 years.

Any parent understands there is no love like the love you feel for your child. It’s off the charts. And yet, I can’t think of any other relationship in which the ultimate expectation is to separate. Couples are supposed to grow closer (hopefully) over time. Friendships ebb and flow, but that degree of closeness is worked out mutually between the two parties. With children, somehow, over the course of their growing up, parents have to figure how to let their children grow more independent and ultimately leave. The need becomes clear from that first moment a child stands up and start toddling across the room—away from you. Every child ultimately has to walk out the door entirely.

I know it’s okay to feel many emotions at once: to feel grief and joy at the same time isn’t actually a contradiction. I can be sad for me, happy for him, and proud, terrified and excited all in the space of three seconds. Or in the same instant.

I can find comfort too in the fact that just because he’s moving to another city, my job isn’t really entirely finished. There was no timer that went off when he turned eighteen that said “you’re done!” I can also be thankful that he knows he’s always welcome to come home. Maybe at first that will be for money or to do laundry or because he needs a place to crash for a few days, months, or years until he finds his place in the world. Our elder sons lived with us for a time after college because they got jobs in Pendleton and we had a big house. There was no reason to pay for internet twice! From our perspective, it was a gift we hadn’t expected to receive.

As my son goes off to college, one quote resonates particularly: “Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future …” For me, the future is now.

Let Us Have Love

By Sarah Haug

“Let us have love and more love.”

This quote is from the Baha’i Writings, but all the religions of the world are united around the concept of love. Love provides some of the strongest evidence for the existence of a spiritual world in that, by transcending physical existence, it has the power and potential to transform not only a human being but every human being.

Love drives human behavior at its most basic. Studies have shown that humans raised without love founder and die. And yet, love remains hopelessly undefined, and it doesn’t really help to say that those of us who have loved or been loved know it when we see it. “Love is patient, love is kind”; “a mother’s love”; even “tough love” all describe a concept that is tangible and intangible at one and the same time.

The result of love, on the other hand, is plain for all to see. It is hard to find a single aspect of human existence that isn’t augmented by the presence of love—or isn’t made worse by its absence.

Love embodies positive virtues and values such as compassion, empathy, caring, service—and the very concept of “good”. Negative attributes such as hatred, greed, and envy are devoid of love. Often, it isn’t even that the people consumed by the latter are without love, but rather that they deliberately deny love for others and suppress it within themselves in order to pursue their own desires. Or maybe, even more, their love of themselves eclipses their love of others.

What would the world be like without love? I submit that the less we love, the more our lives resemble that of the lowest of creatures, pursuing our wants and desires to the exclusion of all else. Humans might not be unique in our ability to love, but the choice to love, and to meet hate with love, definitely is. That isn’t even to say we shouldn’t stand up to, defend against, or counter evil. It’s just that we shouldn’t do it out of a need for revenge or hate. We should do it because we love, and we recognize the harm a lack of love does to those who act without it.  

One might even say that true triumph over evil cannot be accomplished without love.

To continue the quote: “Let us have love and more love, a love that melts all opposition, that sweeps away all barriers, that conquers all foes, a love that aboundeth in charity, large-heartedness, tolerance, and noble striving, a love that triumphs over all obstacles … Hast thou love? Then thy power is irresistible [and] … all the stars will sing thy praise.”

Work in the Spirit of Service

By Sarah Haug

“I was so happy to see so many people show up to help the guy who lives and breathes helping others!” “He’s one of the best!” “He has a servant’s heart. We couldn’t get along without him!”

These remarks capture why some 30 friends and family gathered recently at my brother-in-law’s farm outside Colfax, Washington. It was like an old-fashioned barn-raising, except we were there to build fence. We were there, too, because my brother-in-law, described in those comments, spends his life helping others. This was a chance to return the favors.

Some people really know how to work. My brother-in-law stops working only to sleep. And eat. He has a servant’s heart—he lives to serve others. I think most of us know someone like him, someone who embodies the Baha’i Teaching that says, “Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship.”

Work often means having a trade, a craft, or employment of some kind, whether in an office, as an educator, a homemaker, a tradesman, or any of a thousand occupations. It isn’t restricted.

Any way we occupy ourselves that can be of service to others is considered work. To be of service, each of us, no matter our starting point, difficulties, or natural abilities, must pursue some form of work. In turn, society has the responsibility to provide opportunity for every individual to develop and utilize her or his talents. We all have capacity to be of service to others through work of some kind, whatever that work is. And when we serve others, we worship God.

What, then, is worship? Merriam-Webster defines it as, “to honor or show reverence” to a divine being. How we do that as human beings varies across peoples and religions. Prayer and meditation are two forms of worship. They also prepare us for service. Though prayer and meditation are predominantly private in the Baha’i Faith, Baha’is do gather for communal worship. Service to others is the social act, and the one that embodies another admonition, “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.”

It isn’t that we need to work all the time. It’s rather that when we do work, we should think about it as worshipping God—and see it as “the highest form” of worship. Besides its utilitarian value, work “draws us nearer to God.”

What’s more, Baha’u’llah promises that any occupation, “is as an act of worship.” This is true, even for the rest of us who don’t always feel the “worship” part, whose minds sometimes wander during prayers or find going to work every day a slog—or run out of steam so much sooner than my brother-in-law!

One Planet, One People, Please

By Sarah Haug

“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” Baha’u’llah wrote these words in the 19th century, calling for all peoples to put aside their perceived differences and recognize the essential oneness of humanity. The general consensus of the world has taken some time to catch up to that vision, but here in 2022, many people throughout the world—and I optimistically might even say most—recognize that someone living halfway around the globe is not only equal in essence, but genuinely connected in spirit.

Long before the creation of the League of Nations, much less the United Nations, the EU, or NATO, Baha’u’llah also called for “an all-embracing assemblage” that all the rulers of the earth must attend “and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world’s Great Peace among men.”

Rather than turning the world into an homogenous whole, this assemblage was to create a sense of “unity in diversity” and, most importantly, establish peace as a central operating principle of the entire planet. Even then, however, the Baha’i Writings acknowledge that the road towards peace might be rocky—as we have witnessed since March with the invasion of the Ukraine—and provide a means to deal with such an occurrence. We are taught that if one ruler decides to take up arms against his neighbor, “all should unitedly arise and prevent him.”

Popping up in my Facebook feed since the invasion was a rerecording by Sting of his song, Russians, which came out in 1985 and everyone hoped would never become relevant again. The line that keeps coming back to me, day after day, goes, “What will save us, me and you, is that the Russians love their children too.”

Back in 1985, maybe we weren’t entirely sure the Russians did love their children. After forty years of the Cold War, we didn’t know enough about them. But that’s not the case anymore. And maybe that knowledge can be a source of hope moving forward.

Baha’u’llah writes further: “Compose your differences and reduce your armaments that the burden of your expenditures may be lightened, and that your minds and hearts may be tranquillized. Heal the dissensions that divide you, and ye will no longer be in need of any armaments except what the protection of your cities and territories demandeth. Fear ye God, and take heed not to outstrip the bounds of moderation, and be numbered among the extravagant.”

The Baha’i Writings don’t promise there will be no more war or won’t be failures. The assurance is that we have the means, and the responsibility, to always work towards peace.

17 Steps

By Sarah Haug

We went to Mexico and got Covid. The people there were very nice about it, but my husband, son, and I had to quarantine for five days in a space half the size of my living room at home, albeit with a balcony that allowed us to see the sun.

As the door to that room closed behind me, I honestly didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it. I am an antsy person, always up and about, doing things all day long. That last day of quarantine, I walked over fourteen thousand steps, seventeen paces at a time, which was the distance from the door to the balcony. The fact that my husband and I are still married and our son continues to speak to us probably means we can put the end result in the win column.

That said, this week I wanted to share a few things I learned from the experience:

Detachment: Detachment means to “appreciate without attaching ourselves to the things of this world.” It isn’t that we don’t care, but rather that we don’t allow our material experience to control us, and we accept what can’t be changed. Stuck in that room, unable to leave until 120 hours had passed, detachment was probably the most important thing we all had to achieve. We could complain, or we could get on with living those hours the best we could. Kind of like life.

Gratitude: As it turns out, we had a great deal to be grateful for, even in quarantine life: we weren’t sick; we had plenty of food to eat and work to do, since we’d brought our laptops to Mexico; our friends, with whom we’d traveled but who did not test positive, played hearts over Zoom with us from their home in Minnesota; our children called to check in; we watched the sun set each evening over the Pacific.

Things definitely could have been worse.

Empathy: Millions of people, whole nations, in fact, have been made to quarantine for far longer and under far worse conditions than we experienced. In some countries, fourteen-day quarantines just for being exposed to someone with Covid have been the norm. Most didn’t have a room overlooking the ocean to do it in either. When our quarantine was over, we found it unexpectedly hard to leaveour safe cocoon, to talkto people and navigate the world. Millions of people might be feeling the same way right about now.

Quarantining isn’t something I ever want to do again, but I’m glad to know I have what it takes.

Fourteen thousand steps. Seventeen paces at a time.