I want to share ten beautiful quotes from a new favorite book. It’s called Everything Sad is Untrue It is the (mostly) true story of an Iranian refugee, written from what he would remember from his perspective as an 8-year-old.
I love how it’s written with humor and also so much wisdom, giving me a glimpse into his family’s tragedies and triumphs. Because his mother and sister converted from Islam to Christianity (punishable by death), they are “banished” to Oklahoma. They leave a life of nobility and riches, to poverty, bullying classmates, and misunderstandings. It is Nayeri’s stream-of-conscious journey trying to make sense of having to leave his father behind, religion, the ripple-effects of his mother’s strength and decisions. And it is all so beautifully woven into a story he is trying to make his classmates understand.
He says things so much better than I do, so I’m just going to share my favorite quotes. Which, it should be noted, make me cry while writing this post. Such a beautiful take on how we can come out triumphant even after the most difficult refining fires.
My favorite quotes
“Sometimes you just want somebody to look at a thing with you and say, “Yes. That is a thing you’re looking at. You haven’t lied to yourself.”― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue
“But like you, I was made carefully, by a God who loved what He saw. Like you, I want a friend.”― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue
“To lose something you never had can be just as painful—because it is the hope of having it that you lose.”― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue
Oh how I feel this sometimes!
“What you believe about the future will change how you live in the present.”― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue
“The legend of my mom is that she can’t be stopped. Not when you hit her. Not when a whole country full of goons puts her in a cage. Not even if you make her poor and try to kill her slowly in the little-by-little poison of sadness. And the legend is true. I think because she’s fixed her eyes on something beyond the rivers of blood, to a beautiful place on the other side. How else would anybody do it?”― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue
Oh, that power of “fixing our eyes on something beyond the rivers of blood” is just so powerful to me.
“Does writing poetry make you brave? It is a good question to ask. I think making anything is a brave thing to do. Not like fighting brave, obviously. But a kind that looks at a horrible situation and doesn’t crumble. Making anything assumes there’s a world worth making it for. That you’ll have someplace, like a clown’s pants, to hide it when people come to take it away. I guess I’m saying making something is a hopeful thing to do. And being hopeful in a world of pain is either brave or crazy.”― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue
“My mom was a sayyed from the bloodline of the Prophet (which you know about now). In Iran, if you convert from Islam to Christianity or Judaism, it’s a capital crime.
That means if they ﬁnd you guilty in religious court, they kill you. But if you convert to something else, like Buddhism or something, then it’s not so bad. Probably because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are sister religions, and you always have the worst ﬁghts with your sister.
And probably nothing happens if you’re just a six-year-old. Except if you say, “I’m a Christian now,” in your school, chances are the Committee will hear about it and raid your house, because if you’re a Christian now, then so are your parents probably. And the Committee does stuff way worse than killing you.
When my sister walked out of her room and said she’d met Jesus, my mom knew all that.
And here is the part that gets hard to believe: Sima, my mom, read about him and became a Christian too. Not just a regular one, who keeps it in their pocket. She fell in love. She wanted everybody to have what she had, to be free, to realize that in other religions you have rules and codes and obligations to follow to earn good things, but all you had to do with Jesus was believe he was the one who died for you.
And she believed.
When I tell the story in Oklahoma, this is the part where the grown-ups always interrupt me. They say, “Okay, but why did she convert?”
Cause up to that point, I’ve told them about the house with the birds in the walls, all the villages my grandfather owned, all the gold, my mom’s own medical practice—all the amazing things she had that we don’t have anymore because she became a Christian.
All the money she gave up, so we’re poor now.
But I don’t have an answer for them.
How can you explain why you believe anything? So I just say what my mom says when people ask her. She looks them in the eye with the begging hope that they’ll hear her and she says, “Because it’s true.”
Why else would she believe it?
It’s true and it’s more valuable than seven million dollars in gold coins, and thousands of acres of Persian countryside, and ten years of education to get a medical degree, and all your family, and a home, and the best cream puffs of Jolfa, and even maybe your life.
My mom wouldn’t have made the trade otherwise.
If you believe it’s true, that there is a God and He wants you to believe in Him and He sent His Son to die for you—then it has to take over your life. It has to be worth more than everything else, because heaven’s waiting on the other side.
That or Sima is insane.
There’s no middle. You can’t say it’s a quirky thing she thinks sometimes, cause she went all the way with it.
If it’s not true, she made a giant mistake.
But she doesn’t think so.
She had all that wealth, the love of all those people she helped in her clinic. They treated her like a queen. She was a sayyed.
And she’s poor now.
People spit on her on buses. She’s a refugee in places people hate refugees, with a husband who hits harder than a second-degree black belt because he’s a third-degree black belt. And she’ll tell you—it’s worth it. Jesus is better.
We can keep talking about it, keep grinding our teeth on why Sima converted, since it turned the fate of everybody in the story. It’s why we’re here hiding in Oklahoma.
We can wonder and question and disagree. You can be certain she’s dead wrong.
But you can’t make Sima agree with you.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
This whole story hinges on it.
Sima—who was such a ﬁerce Muslim that she marched for the Revolution, who studied the Quran the way very few people do read the Bible and knew in her heart that it was true.”Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue
“Can God create a mountain so big that He himself couldn’t lift it? It’s trying to put God in a corner, because if He can or if He can’t, He’s not all-powerful. But the question is silly, because it assumes God is as stupid as we are. If you’re as big as God, there’s no such thing as “lifting.” It’s all just floating in a million universes you made. If you made an object of some insane, unusual size, then it’d still be a thing. And God is as big as everything at once. And as small. Physical stuff is too simple. The better question is, Can God create a law so big that He himself has to obey it? Is there an idea so big that God doesn’t remember anything before it? That answer is love. Love is the object of unusual size.”― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue
“A god who listens is love. A god who speaks is law. At their worst, the people who want a god who listens are self-centered…And the ones who want a god who speaks are cruel. They just want laws and justice to crush everything…Love is empty without justice. Justice is cruel without love….God should be both. If a god isn’t, that is no God.”― Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue
Yes, this book sure made me think.
So grateful for an opportunity to take a step walking in Daniel Nayeri’s shoes, and learning so much from his perspective.
Everyone has such depth to their stories.
Makes me think more about how I want to examine my own.