Thursday, September 27, 2012

On duty

Tuesdays in the Chapel
September 18, 2012 ~ 8:30 am ~ MIT Chapel

Prelude: Adagio (from Trio Sonata No. 1 for Organ) ~ J. S. Bach (1685-1750) ~ Lee Ridgway, organ

READING: "If—" by Rudyard Kipling (1895)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!

Speaker ~ Daryush Mehta, Zoroastrian chaplain

Every time I read Kipling’s poem “IF—,” it brings a tear to my eye, a tear signifying the heavy weight that is our call to duty in the face of ignorance, cynicism, and malice. Kipling gives us hope that we can overcome the pettiness that life oftentimes engenders if we rise above it.
The theme of this year’s Tuesdays in the Chapel is the completion of the phrase, “In my family, we…” Today I would like to share with you that in my family, we value duty above almost all else. It might mean personal sacrifice, it might mean losing one’s place in line, or it might just mean singing to your grandmother as she lies in bed, waiting for God to take her to the next life…while the rest of your cousins laugh and play in the playground nearby.
Some may perceive a duty to be impersonal and forced upon us; indeed, the definition itself of a duty refers to an obligatory task, conduct, service, or function that arises solely from one's position in life. In a way, we do not even have control of this aspect of life. But does obligatory have to mean that a duty is forced on us and unwanted, undesirable? What if obligatory meant not that we had to do something that we did not to do, but that we were obliged to do something, that we were in such a position that we even had the ability to act a certain way?
I mentioned singing to your grandmother as an example. My mom’s late mother whom we endearingly refer to as Mummyna spent her last years bedridden and only able to move from the bedroom to the dining room for meals and back to the bedroom. She lived in Bombay and each time my family visited her in her apartment, she would always tell me, “Bring your clarinet so we can sing together!” Early on a part of me would feel that I was losing time playing with my cousins because of this duty to play my clarinet and sing with Mummyna. This duty, however, quickly turned into an obligation that I was so blessed to have. I was so happy I had that duty to be a musician for my grandmother, easing her into the next life as the aches and pains in her bones ebb and flow.
In my family, duty…sacrifice…was the status quo. Help others first. Even if it means inconveniencing yourself. I’ve adapted a personal rule that if I cannot give a stranger 10 seconds of my time, there must be something seriously wrong with my outlook on life. It could be as simple as holding a door open for someone… holding that elevator door for 10 seconds to bring a smile to someone’s face.
My predecessor in my current position as Zoroastrian Chaplain was Cyrus Mehta, an uncle of mine. He was in this role for 15 years. A couple of years ago he asked me, “Daryush, I think it is time for someone else to be in this role.” I immediately said to myself, “No” and told him, “This is not something I believe I can fill.” Neither of us is a priest, neither of us is technically qualified. There are no chaplains per se in the Zoroastrian faith. Then I thought about it and eventually came to the conclusion that this was my duty, something that I was honored to take on, to be a good steward of the Zoroastrian faith.
These are some of my thoughts as to what I feel duty is…and I am so happy to be able to share my thoughts with you today.
I’d like to close with a short reading of the Ashem Vohoo hymn, one of the most sacred prayers in the Zoroastrian scripture. Brief yet powerful, the Ashem Vohoo is recited by Zoroastrians innumerable times throughout the day to remind us of our obligations, our duties in life:

"Ashem Vohoo" hymn from the Avesta, the Zoroastrian scriptures

Ashem vohoo
Vahishtem asti
Ushta asti
Ushta ahmai hyat ashai vahishtai ashem.

Righteousness is good.
It is the best.
It is light.
Illumination is given unto they who are good for the sake of righteousness itself.

Postlude: Canzona in G ~ Ruggero Trofeo (17th C.) ~ Lee Ridgway