Sohelia Adelipour has faced enough tragedy for six or seven lifetimes. So much so that it seems impossible for one person to have weathered each twist she recounts in her book, Dancing To The Darkest Light.
Born into Persia’s Jewish community, Adelipour and her family fled the country during the Iranian Revolution. She was only a teenager when she was forced into life as a refugee, and spent a couple years in Rome before relocating to Great Neck. Though she lives in Los Angeles now, Great Neck was the place Adelipour settled down in, starting a family of her own.
Those years were peaceful and happy; the chapter that details her life in Great Neck is even titled “Living the American Dream.” That tranquil visage began to crack when her sister Zohreh had to undergo periodic operations to remove brain tumors, which became so common that Adelipour writes that the phrase, “we have to cut open your skull,” became practically routine. A couple bouts of meningitis may have even killed her if it wasn’t for the care and attention of Adelipour’s physician brother, Fariborz.
That visage was shattered by the sudden death of her son Stephen in an apartment fire at his Boston University dorm room. The thought of his fate haunted her like a nightmare.
“My kind, handsome and perfect son is gone forever, and I never got to hug him and say goodbye to him,” she writes. “He disappeared. He vanished. He ceased to exist. I can’t touch him anymore. I can’t kiss him anymore.”
That nightmare only grew in the years to come. Before it subsided, Adelipour watched Zohreh fade away and succumb to cancer. Fariborz was diagnosed with leukemia immediately after their sister’s death. Adelipour risked her own life to help her brother with blood transfusions and a liver transplant. But ultimately, he, too, would die.
In just four years, Adelipour lost her son, sister and brother. But the tale she weaves through her autobiography is a story of resilience more than anything else, one she hopes will resonate with anybody who has endured traumatic experiences.
“I thought if I do not write the book and make something that people would walk away from better, then my story is always going to be a sad story,” Adelipour said. “But if my story could help even five people, then my story has gone from blue to green. Nobody will ever see blue there again.”
Her inspiration for how she approached the book came more from studying existentialist philosophy than works of literature. She found herself drawn to thinkers, like Frederich Nietzsche and Viktor Frankl, whose book Man’s Search For Meaning chronicled his years in Nazi concentration camps, the day-to-day lives of his fellow prisoners and the struggle to find a purpose to go on living amidst that suffering.
“I started taking notes from them, and then I realized that life is always like this,” Adelipour said. “I’m not so special that these things have only happened to me. Life is just the way it is. What is mine is my response. You don’t wait for life to give you a meaning, you give it meaning.”
That search for a meaning serves as the frame for Dancing to the Darkest Light. It’s the reason the book exists in the first place. Even the text on the dust jacket begins with a famous paraphrased Nietzsche quote: “He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how'”.
Adelipour’s experience with unimaginable grief has taught her to take the time to appreciate the people in things in her life before they’re gone, instead of after the fact. She likened the way people look back on those they’ve lost to how the Mona Lisa became much more popular after it had been stolen away.
“In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre,” Adelipour said. “For the two and a half years that the painting was missing, people came to the Louvre to look at the bare wall and shake their head in regret that nobody paid attention to it all those years that it was hanging there. Pay attention to the Mona Lisa that’s hanging there, while it’s hanging there. Don’t wait until it’s not there anymore.”
Adelipour concluded the book with a message to readers to take the good and the bad in life in equal measure, and dance joyfully through this world.
“We are all here to fulfill our stories, play our parts and then leave,” she writes. “What kind of mark do I intend to leave behind? In honor of the loves of my life that departed before me, I choose to leave a mark of love. I choose to stop wrestling with God and start resting with him. I choose to dance to his melody, as best as I can.”