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Hi, I'm Jasmin.

Saeculum, A Different Measure of Time

March 25, 2023

Dressed up in Persian garb with my grandmother Aziz in the 1980s
Every March when I was growing up, my grandmother grew sprouts for the Persian New Year, and a feeling of renewal would fall over the house.

In a life thousands of miles away from the home we’d left and still imagined we’d return to one day, this was the first ritual with which we observed our new year, a celebration of the first day of Spring: she would stand in the kitchen, her hair bound up in a kerchief, and push up her sleeves. Then she would sift through a pile lentils, working her fingers gingerly through the seeds before finally submerging them in a large bowl of water.

Lentils were a staple in our home. We ate them layered in with rice and in a thick, fragrant noodle soup called ash. But at this time of year, and with my grandmother’s quiet, daily ministrations, lentils turned into something else entirely: a lush swatch of greens to grace the New Year’s spread.

As a child I didn’t quite understand the transformation as miraculous. Now, in my memory, it feels like a miracle indeed.It takes me back to a time of spaciousness and love and new beginnings.

In Orwell’s Roses, Rebecca Solnit shares the Etruscan word saeculum, which connotes the “span of time lived by the oldest person present.” Another way of thinking of it is living memory, or the ways our lives touch the past through those we love and know.

Tracing a line from my grandmother’s life to mine, my saeculum clocks in at just over a hundred years, connecting me not only to the past century but to Iran.

Rituals collapse those years, binding us to each other in the here and now.

I haven’t always observed the rituals of the Persian New Year. Some years I’ve forgotten them altogether. Most of the time it’s a slapdash effort, a last-minute stop at the Iranian grocery for a ten dollar plate of pre-grown greens.

This year I will take better care. I’ll soak lentils as my grandmother once did. I’ll place them by a window. Water them. Coax the green shoots.

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