–Good men and good women make great differences in the world.–
My Persian friend, Reza, joins my family on occasion for Sunday dinner. Over several Sunday visits, he told us parts of his life story, including how he left his homeland of Iran. Reza had been a wealthy industrialist in Iran: young, educated, and ambitious, with millions of dollars invested in an industrial complex fabricating modular housing units. Then the Ayatollahs overthrew the Shah and began their reign. The new regime did not at first seem to pose a threat to Reza or his industrial operations. Soon, however, they began to appropriate the proceeds of his operations while at the same time demanding that he continue to incur all his operating costs.
“They made me continue to operate my facility, to purchase materials, to manufacture my products, and to pay all my laborers their wages,” said Reza.
In this way, the regime reaped the benefits of Reza’s industry with no political or monetary cost, while impoverishing him. Without cash flow, it was only a short time before Reza’s costs depleted his once vast reserves. A friendly tip alerted Reza that the regime, having taken what they wanted, no longer needed him. His freedom, if not his life, was in danger.
“I had no other option,” Reza explained. “I took only a small case, drove toward the mountains, parked my car a safe distance from the border, and walked out of Iran. I crossed the Pyrenees on foot and stepped into Turkey.”
He left behind his wife and two sons, his kin, his inheritance, his career, and his properties, knowing that he might never be allowed to return.
“Turkish authorities immediately arrested me,” Reza recounted. “They thought I was an Armenian terrorist.”
During his weeks behind bars, his captors beat and tortured him. They connected parts of his body to a car battery to torture him with severe electric shocks. His pleas and protests availed him nothing, for the prison authorities did not speak Persian, English, or French, and he did not speak Turkish (or Armenian). Finally, he found someone in the jail that spoke enough French to communicate with the Turkish authorities. Reza convinced the officials that he was not a terrorist, but an asylum seeker, a victim of the new Iranian regime, and posed no threat to Turkey. They finally released him, and he made his way to Spain, then to Los Angeles, where he became a United States citizen, and finally to rural Utah.
After one Sunday dinner, I invited Reza to join us for a stroll down Rabbit Lane. As we walked, the sun slowly lowered toward the Stansbury mountain tops, and the sky’s soft blue transformed to a delicate orange and peach. We talked of his challenges as a developer and home builder, and mine as a father and public servant. Developers and city officials aren’t always on the best of terms, but I have always experienced Reza as an honest man who keeps in view the public good even as he pursues his private gain.
Although I set a leisurely pace, Reza labored to breathe.
“Are you feeling well?” I inquired.
He responded that he had been experiencing unusual fatigue and shortness of breath, without apparent explanation. I encouraged him to see his doctor, and he assured me he would. A month later, Angie and I visited him in the intensive care unit of LDS hospital, where he had undergone a heart valve replacement and five bypasses. I learned that when Reza first awoke after surgery, he had begun to pull out all the tubes and catheters in a delirious frenzy. He told me later that he thought the hospital staff were prison officials trying to torture and kill him. The physicians induced a coma to reduce the mental and physical stresses to Reza’s barely living body. Seeing him in a coma, connected to IVs and with tubes in his nose and mouth, he appeared more dead than alive. I sensed a foreboding feeling, and knew that he was close to death. When I came a few days later, his condition appeared unchanged. I wondered if the strength I knew he had would be enough to pull him through.
Angie and I brought a vase of delicate bluebells from our flower garden to leave by his bedside. We wanted him to see something beautiful and natural and living when he awoke, if he awoke.
“Um, you can’t take flowers into cardio ICU,” a nurse instructed us.
She seemed happy to have the vase on the bare counter above her work area. If we were not permitted to brighten Reza’s day with flowers—he was still unconscious, after all—then we were happy to brighten hers. Reza not only survived, but made a remarkable, if slow, recovery. After nearly three weeks in a coma in ICU, he was moved to a recovery room, then to a rehabilitation center, and finally to his home.
This was not the first time I had been in a hospital with Reza. Years earlier, he had told me that his granddaughter, less than one year old, was dying in Tehran of liver disease. He had arranged for her and her parents to come to Utah, where expert organ transplant surgeons at the University of Utah medical school hospital would remove a lobe from her father’s compatible liver and transplant it into her body. I went to visit Reza and his family in the hospital the night before the operation.
Little nine-month-old Deeba laid peacefully in a hospital crib. Her abdomen was terribly distended and her skin was a drab green-brown because her sick and swollen liver had ceased to filter the toxins in her blood. As poisoned and distressed as her tiny body was, Deeba smiled shyly at me as I looked into her large, soft brown eyes and said hello. I knew instantly that we were friends. I reached in and held her little hand for a moment.
The adults and I spoke quietly together for a few minutes. Then we gathered around Deeba to pray, asking God to guide the hands and enlighten the minds of the surgical team, to bring recovery and healing to Deeba and to her donor father, and to comfort her mother and grandfather. In the silence that followed we felt a peaceful reassurance that all would be well. The transplant succeeded, and both Deeba and her father recovered fully.
Not everyone likes Reza. But he is appreciated by those who have glimpsed his true nature. He quietly goes about doing kind deeds. Funding scholarships for local youth to attend college. Cooking Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for families who otherwise would go without. Keeping employees on payroll during hard economic times when a sterile business model would have them laid off. It has been my privilege to share Rabbit Lane with Reza and others like him. And I am relieved that his breathing is no longer labored, but deep and calm.