The writings of the Baha’i Faith extol the oneness of humanity. What does it take for a child to understand this fundamental truth? For me, it was an exhibition of photographs.
Click to listen. To be a Baha’i
“Bahá’u’lláh taught the Oneness of humanity; that is to say, all the children of men are under the mercy of the Great God. They are the sons of one God; they are trained by God. He has placed the crown of humanity on the head of every one of the servants of God. Therefore all nations and peoples must consider themselves brethren. They are all descendants from Adam. They are the branches, leaves, flowers and fruits of One Tree. They are pearls from one shell. But the children of men are in need of education and civilization, and they require to be polished, till they become bright and shining. Man and woman both should be educated equally and equally regarded.”
‘Abdu’l-Baha, ‘Abdu’l-Baha in London
I went to the Museum of Modern Art at least once a week and sometimes more often for a period of about three years. I began visiting the museum when I was 14 and had just finished reading a life changing book that the Museum published. It was called The Family of Man.
“Hailed as the most successful exhibition of photography ever assembled, The Family of Man opened at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in January 1955. This book, the permanent embodiment of Edward Steichen’s monumental exhibition, reproduces all of the 503 images that Steichen described as ‘a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world. Photographs made in all parts of the world, of the gamut of life from birth to death.’ A classic and inspiring work, The Family of Man has been in print for more than forty years. The New York Times once wrote that it ‘symbolizes the universality of human emotions.'”
You can see even from the brief synopsis above that discovering that book put me on an inevitable path toward the Baha’i faith. My days at the Museum represented not just inspiration and beauty; they were an escape from the emotional abuse inflicted by my parents. My ambition changed. From that point on all I wanted to be was an artist. From minutes after I opened the book onwards, I believed in the transcendent human soul.
That was what I loved about New York. Besides the Museum of Modern Art, the only other things I loved about the city were classical concerts at Carnegie Hall, Shakespeare in Central Park, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I was 15 years old, I watched Shakespeare in Central Park. Just as the Macbeth witches came on stage and began their act, someone shouted out that there was a shooting star overhead. Thousands of people all looked towards the clear night sky and cheered wildly. You cannot duplicate or emulate an experience like that and you never forget it.