The Daily Beast
Dec. 16, 2011
n 1984, the year that, for those of us in Tehran, had every Orwellian quality, I befriended a Marxist activist who was on the run from the regime. I knew none of his coordinates, not even his name—on cloudy days, I called him “Gray,” on stormy ones, “Rain.” What drove me to brave the dangers of seeing him, aside from the heedlessness of adolescence, was the way his circumstances had chiseled away at every sign of the tiresome or inconsequential from him. The hour we spent was always deliriously dense, and as such, draining, our conversation more a distillation of days of ordinary chatter with others. He never squandered anything, not even a gesture, and when he accidentally cut his finger while cutting into a watermelon, he dipped his finger into his own blood and, on a piece of paper, wrote the word LOVE, a red star above it.
When I think about Iran and what I miss about life there, Gray is what I think of. He was the product of unique circumstances I thought I’d never know again. Never, that is, until I met Christopher.
Even from the tributes of his most ardent admirers whose numbers are lately multiplying, the trace of the Christopher I’ve briefly known is faint. The debater, thinker, charmer, weaver of luminous sentences, though impressive in their own right, strike me as peripheral. Only those who have been persecuted or fallen victim to tyranny know the rare virtue that was the elemental dust of his make up. Only one belonging to a forsaken people or a forgotten cause can know the value of her flag pinned to his highly-visible lapel. He may have been born in England, but the blood that flowed in his veins was Third World blood. The depth of his kinship with the suffering of those with whom he has nothing in common can’t be otherwise explained. He lived in Washington, but his moral time zone was set to Evil Standard Time. Like those from that zone, he operated according to the urgency that dictatorships instill in their subjects. He understood that to be leisurely is to forsake possibilities, even lives. That to be consequential is a question of now or never. I never knew him to take his time, squander words to be merely decorous. He loved or loathed immediately, and he did both as voraciously as he smoked, spoke and drank.