So here, I think, is the crux of why terms of endearment from boutique clerks, restaurant servers, or airline agents rankle me. I have relegated them to taraf, that is, an appendage tacked on to feign affability or to ease conscience. I first came across the word in Betty Mahmoody’s Not Without My Daughter. Taraf is an Iranian word signifying promises made to please someone without any intention to do what was promised. In my view, most "dears" are just another example of taraf.
Reading the word the first time was an awakening. I finally had a name for experiences I had often lived. I had encountered people who would say, "Drop in for coffee some time." Or, in hectic times, "If you need help, please call me." I wanted desperately to believe the sincerity in these generous offers and invitations. I could never get the pebble out of my shoe, however. I wondered why people didn’t phone to ask, "What are you doing tonight [or tomorrow, or any specific day]? How about getting together for coffee?" Why didn’t they show up to help without being asked, instead of just talking about it? Or even have the courage to say No! if they were asked and couldn’t make it, or didn't want to participate, rather than agree only to abandon ship?
Since then, the word has vetted my own actions as well. I aim to bite my tongue when I’m about to extend an invitation I might not be able to deliver on promptly. Instead, I would rather check out the possibilities, and make a phone call. I need to cycle my words through the taraf identification machine, to keep myself honest. Every once in a while, I am successful. My goal is to be the person who makes the phone call, the one who shows up at the door with supper, or a helping hand. I want to be like the people in Oklahoma and Boston, who have reached out to their suffering neighbors, rolled up their sleeves, and acted.
Taraf has become a staple of the family vocabulary. In fact, I heard my son say, just the other day, "I wonder if that was just taraf." In the end, I strive for communication that is respectful and authentic. This, too, is a work in progress.
To all who spend your precious time with me, every few days, and comment on this blog in this very space, in Facebook messages, or by email, or who give me a call or stop to chat, thank you so much. Your presence, your perspectives, and your feedback are invaluable, and I am very grateful. And that is not taraf.