"There's a man Omead never got to know, the man he was growing up to be. A good-looking clear-eyed fella... about 25. I can see him.

The type of guy men want to be around, because he has integrity, you know. He has character. You can't fake that. And he's a guy women want to be around, too. Because there's tenderness in him... respect... and loyalty, and courage. And women respond to that. Makes him a terrific husband, this guy.

I see him as a father. That's where he really shines. See, when he looks in his kid's eyes and that kid knows that his dad really, really sees him... he sees who he is. Then that child knows that he is an amazing person.

He's quite a guy... that I'll never get to meet.

I wish I had."

- A quote from "What Dreams May Come" - with Omead's name instead of the kid in the movie.

[post 2010 - this makes so much sense now. The movie is about suicide. ]

 

 


 

For Omead

December 18, 1984 - August 27, 2004

Your presence matters.

My cousin Omead was killed in Iraq. Here's an article about him on niacouncil.org. He joined the US Army two years ago, signed up for two years as a medic. He served in Korea and his contract was up. He was scheduled to come home and had expressed thoughts of working as a paramedic. But George Bush had this "stop/loss" thing in effect and so Omead's service was extended. He was sent to Iraq and died of a gunshot wound to the head in Habbaniyah on August 27. If you look him up on the list of casualties, the Dept. of Defense has him listed as dead from "non-hostile" action and of "unspecified causes", but a bullet to the head seems pretty specific. He was 19.

Our family is devastated. There is nothing we can do that will bring Omead back. My condolences go out to the world who will never know him any better. And to him, because he'll never know himself or the world any better. A dark moment that can never be made right.

I wrote the bulk of this post back in September, 2004. Then, in January of 2010, I got an email from a journalist. He said:

I'm an author in Colorado working on a book about Omead's army battalion. After two very violent tours the unit produced a surprising number of PTSD-fueled murderers. I'm writing a book about how the unit's attitudes toward behavioral problems (like depression, suicide and PTSD) contributed to the violence. Omead's suicide seems like a powerful example of the problem. Can I ask you more about him? [And here's an article for more info]

This came as a shock. And then it made sense. I recall trying to get more information on Omead's death from my Uncle, to no avail. "What difference does it make how he died?" So I put the questions on hold, thinking I would eventually know. And now a bit more comes through. But not much. And since his parents don't talk about this, I'll call it the alleged suicide.

I have to say, the discretion of the Army is pretty impressive. And also the respect his friends in the army showed to his parents. I called up his closest friend in the unit after I found out. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way. I promised his parents not to say anything."

So, what difference does it make? I still need to process this. His character is clear - he was philosophically non-attached. Checking out was his go-to strategy. A pre-emptive strike against being in a war situation? Depression? Registering his complaint with a formal suicide? My last email from him was 15 days before he died. He was talking about R&R and novels. What happened in the 2 weeks after that? What led him to that place?

I'll leave the rest of the post as pre-Jan2010. Still processing. If you were near him or heard from him back in the day I would appreciate hearing from you. I'd like to know more about his state of mind back then, and as you can see, his parents are very private about the matter. Elephants in rooms. My apologies to them, but there's a statute of limitations on this. Although I'm not shouting this from any rooftops. Posting it in this obscure, old webpost, where only people who knew him or are searching specifically for him will find this.

* * * * * * * *

The following was written pre Jan 2010 - a lot of sentiment remains the same:

* * * * * * * * *

It was his choice to join the army and he was very adamant about doing so. And when he spoke to his parents to tell them that he was going to Iraq he reassured them, saying that he was glad to be helping Iraqi people as well as Americans. He gave his life to this global conflict and for that reason alone, this conflict must be resolved.

One small thing the family is planning to do is to set up a fund to commemorate Omead, possibly a scholarship fund, or something related to peace. There will be more information and a website, which I will link to as soon as it's up. Which could be a while, since they have to think it through.

[Post 2010: Well now this 6 year delay makes more sense. "Thinking it through" is a tall order. But this makes things clearer. Omead's death is related to depression and there are a lot of his fellow soldiers who are suffering from PTSD and depression. A fund that helps out with that seems like a good idea. Some people suggest that it's better (why do people say such stupid things) that Omead died rather than coming back with PTSD. I would have taken him back broken. Gladly. There is life after being broken. There is redemption. As long as you're alive, you can still work stuff out. Plus, they're legalizing marijuana. ]

Nothing I say here is adequate.

He's gone.

I miss him.

I wish this had not happened.

I still hope there has been a mistake and this is not true and that I will see him again.


Here is a picture of Omead's boots taken by Keyvan Fotoohi at the anti-war exhibit in San Francisco.

Nothing I can do but fill time with distractions. Thoughts and actions to distract from the loss.

Blame

I feel bereft and helpless, angry and vengeful. I can't do anything to bring Omead back, but I am going to make this world repent for this tragedy.

And who is to blame? Bush for invading Iraq? Insurgents for resisting invasion? Osama for 9/11? The disastrous forgeign policies of countless decades. So many countries and individuals and corporations involved in creating these conflicts. Americans, Europeans, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iranians, Churchill, Sadam, Condoleeza, Mossadeq for getting overthrown, the CIA for orchestrating it, Khomeini, the Shah, Bush Sr. for leaving those folks high and dry last time. Wolfowitz. Rumsfeld. Democrats for not offering a compelling enough alternative to voters. The specific people on the ground on that specific day and all the bad choices they made.

Omead for joining the army.

Me for not stopping him.

Me and the rest of those people who whine and fret about war for not coming up with breath-taking effective plans for genuine and lasting peace, prosperity and democracy in the world.

While we sit here and complain about world problems, criticize and commentate from the stands, Omead just got up and walked into the heart of the conflict and made a stand. No complaints. Not one.

Omead's spiritual inclination

On the other hand, I don't want to wallow in vengeance and blame. If only because I don't want to give stupid people in power in the world any more attention or credit. Don't want to reward pettiness and bad judgment.

I just want to meditate on Omead. He was spiritually inclined himself. I wonder what he would have been like here, now. What he would have thought at his own funeral. All those people there.

And I don't want to see him as a victim. Nobody made him join the Army. He really wanted to go. And he wanted the danger. He preferred line medic over anything else. He was fearless, it turns out. Despite all our families sheltering, low risk ways. He would have none of that. Perhaps one way or another, he would have made his exit to a higher plane. And I'm not kidding about that spiritual element. He was very non-attached in a Zen way. We would tease him about reading his "bliss quotes". And he just had that smile.

Sense of Community

I hate the people who say "everything happens for a reason" especially when trying to see a bright side to tragedy. There is no bright side. And whatever good thing you see coming out of it, I would give it all back to have the tragedy undone. So what if you go to a heightened level of awareness after something horrible happens? Give me back the blissful petty ignorance. And just because you're aware of something doesn't mean the tragedy created that thing. It means that thing was there, and now you are aware of it.

The thing in question here is the sense of community. I never really got how nice it is to have a big community around you. How good church can be, basically. Or in this case, the fellowship of Iranian Muslims here in Los Angeles. Would that be mosque? Maybe it's not about the religion. My uncle's social group is a cross section (or intersection) of doctors, Iranians and Muslims. Some devout Muslims, some secular, I haven't really sat down and gotten a confession of faith out of anyone.

And these folks have been meeting for years. Every month at a different family's house. Special occasions at the IMAN center. There is a lot of food and an attempt by the adults to get the kids to appreciate their culture and heritage, including Islam. My uncle says that even if you're not religiously inclined, religion is an important component of community and mental health.

And I always had my doubts. But I would go along to these things for the great food, and also fun cultural/religious discussions that followed. And mostly to see my cousins, Omead and Amir. That's what I was there for. Food, my own family, a detached anthropoligical study of Iranians attempting to transmit culture (with mixed results. Cue conversations w/ youngest cousin of alienation and frustration, and the accusations of adult hypocrisy, and boredom. Youth can be so critical.)

So I would show up at these things and not pay much attention to who else was there. Like at a chahar shanbe suri event at IMAN, the grounds are packed with a thousand screaming Iranian youth and their families. And it's all people from a similiar ethnic group, so, um, they all look alike (confess). But not all.

Across the crowded field I could pick out my cousins. Omead and Amir. Two dark haired teens, T-shirts and jeans like everyone else. Was it their posture? Their signature ambling together? I was just impressed that in the dark (a few fires lit here and there) through that throng of people who looked so similar, I could pick out my own. Silhouette recognition - 4 billion years of evolution.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about the community. So yes. We got the news about Omead. And life changed. And all those people whose names I didn't take any time to learn, they were all there. (Well, OK, they are more my Uncle and Aunt's social group, I wasn't responsible. And I was keeping my distance from the group, not allowing a sense of ownership or participation). But it was really good and solid to have them there at that time. I can't imagine going through something this horrible all alone. I can't understand why most companies give only a few days for bereavement leave. As we went sleepwalking in a daze that month, all those people were there. Solid. Substantial. Caring. Strong. Weeping. Together. Non-judgmental.

So this is community. It's not about a fully developed bond with each individual. It's a big warm solid thing in its own right. (Well, OK, obviously my Uncle and Aunt have developed strong bonds with many of the individuals in the group, but a lot of the rest of us are just peripheral.) It was like falling and having all these people there on the way down helping to break your fall (like diving out into a stadium of people at a rock concert?) and carrying you for a ways until you get back on your feet.

My family itself was great, we are very supportive and there for each other, so that goes without saying. But I was just surprised and impressed with this whole extra layer of protection from my Uncle's community he's become a part of in L.A. I didn't know communities did that. For days. Coming over to my Uncle's house, a series of wakes and commemorative events, people dropping by to help and console. It was very healing. Very moving. People that I took for granted, that I dismissed, were there, crying with me and being supportive.

Community is a real, palpable entity. With many arms and eyes and hearts. The shelter of Simorq.

Flower-cutter

Charx e Falak

Omead and HAji AqA (grandfather) on the Merry-go-round in happier days.

Sunrise, Sunset

About a month after Omead broke free of the bonds of life, I was waiting somewhere in a public place. And I fell into conversation with this woman, a stranger to me. We were just making small talk about this and that. Job security and costs and benefits of present employment. She said that she was ready to move on from her job, although for some time it had worked well for her, as a single mom and all.

A single mom? I ask. How many kids?

I had one. She says.

Had. Dreadful word.

I hate her sentence and tears well up. What happened? How long ago?

It turns out she had a son who died this past January (2004), also 19 years old. He went to Berkeley and he and some friends went on a camping trip in Humboldt county. He wanted to watch the sunrise one morning, but no one else did, so he got up and went out by the river, where he slipped and hit his head on a rock and drowned. He then fell into the river and drifted out to sea and it took 3 days to find his body. So eventually I tell her about Omead and by now we are both bawling because we've lost these young people.

I just never knew you could die trying to watch a sunrise.

The kid's name was Robinson. I took comfort in the thought that maybe Robinson and Omead have now met on the other side, being contemporaries and all. Omead: "what are you doing here?" Robinson: "I hit my head on a rock, trying to watch a sunrise." Omead: "Wow." Robinson: "What are you doing here?" Omead: "I hit my head on a bullet, trying to patch up some guy." Robinson: "Wow."

And then they go off and see the rest of eternity....

Fusion

Back to blame and a bit of action it inspires. One thing I feel strongly about is that this conflict that has taken Omead's life stems from a spectacular lack of imagination on the part of humanity relating to OIL. This is a war over control of resources in a world dependent on oil. The answer to this problem is, of course, to hurry up and find a source of unlimited, clean, cheap energy such as fusion. I have been thinking about this for some time, but now that this conflict has cost Omead his life, I see that thinking isn't enough. I need to act. So I doing my part in the quest for fusion by helping one scientist raise funds for a fusion innovation that just might do the trick. More details here >>

Mossadeq Museum on the mall

Blame game and the action it inspires Part II: A few months after Omead's funeral, some family was in town. A group of us went to visit his grave. That whole weekend we had a lot of conversations. And things got kind of heated. You can imagine one person struggling with greif and blame and anger at the powers that be. Now you have a group, and they are all passionate people who discuss things. Anyway, each had our angles on political causes of the tragedy and different ideas about where to put our energy in terms of action. And somebody was going on about how America was really screwed up and this and that. And I got all hyper critical of Islamic nations, saying they don't do anything and wouldn't be any better if they were in the superpower position. Worse, even. And I was convinced that Iranians don't take enough responsibility for themselves and play the victim. And then the whole Mossadeq/CIA 1953 coup came up again, where the idea is that "we tried to be democratic and failed because the US wouldn't let us." And at this point I realized that I really don't know what happened in 1953 and perhaps I was being too harsh on Iran.

As we got out of the car at the gravesite, this conversation ended and we were just present to the tragic backdrop of it all.

That night I went home and finally cracked open the book "All the Shah's Men", which is all about Mossadeq and the CIA and which has been sitting on my shelf for a year now, unread. (This Omead is quite a motivator).

Long story short, this episode, the argument, Omead's grave, the book, led to the realization that we need a "Mossadeq Memorial Museum" on the Washington Mall. Since then, as I've told people of the idea it's evolved into the US Foreign Relations Museum on the mall. A place for all Americans, immigrants and foreign citizens to explore history, the mistakes as well as the successes. It's a long shot, I know, but just the attempt to get this made, the conversations around it, the plans to be drafted would have a great positive impact in making the world a better place. More details here >>

An Army of One

Recently my friend Sam signed off an email like this:

Namaste,
Sam
President, Republic of Sam

"In a perfect society, the government and the people are one." - 1st Quorum Law, (From a Peck Report Appendix)

"E unum, unum" ("From one, one")

Motto of the Republic of Sam.

So I replied:

You know, I never understood the new army motto: An army of one. Now it all makes sense.

Then Bill, who was cc'd, said:

Two armies meet on a plain and start slaughtering each other in an orderly fashion. At what point can an intelligent onlooker, regardless of perspective, distinguish between the armies? They are one in intent, purpose, and destiny. They are an army of one.

And Sam replied:

"I thought it was "An Army of Juan."

Yes, it's an army of Juan, among other people. Think of all the names. The roll call.

What would Omead Do?

Go, our boy. So allegedly Omead lives on in those of us who remember him, and perhaps even in an afterlife situation. I can't actually say I BELIEVE this, but I do HOPE that it's the case. I'm going to have faith in this and keep remembering him. Let all those thoughts about him visit me. And so I'm ending this page with some thoughts from "September" a poem by Rosamunde Pilcher:

"Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well."

See you soon, Omead. But maybe not too soon.

Charx e Falak II

Omead and HAji AqA (grandfather) on the Merry-go-round to eternity..

 

   
               

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