Vengeance, not love, was the first thing that came to mind three years ago when I discovered that someone had stolen a package from my stoop.
Inside the package was a century-old Persian rug passed down from my great-grandfather, to my grandfather, and then to my father, who had recently passed away. Then, a mere six months after my father’s death, 100 years of family history was gone in an instant, erased by some thieving porch pirate.
My great-grandfather, Harry Phineas Packard, was a physician who spent half his life working for a Presbyterian Mission, in what was then Persia (now Iran), from 1906 to 1946. There he raised his fledgling Colorado family among communities of Assyrians, Arabs, Azeris, Kurds, Turks, Persians, and others, learning a half dozen languages while serving as a surgeon and sometimes-diplomat for the Mission and the local population.
At some point, my great-grandfather purchased a red-and-blue, 9-by-12-foot Kurdish Bijar-style rug. And over the next 40 years my family and that rug bore witness to the worst instincts of humankind that accompanied World War I, the Armenian & Assyrian Genocides, and World War II.
In his most magnanimous act, Harry rescued thousands of Assyrian civilians from certain massacre in the village of Geotapa in 1917, negotiating their safe harbor and escorting them to Tehran, where most eventually fled abroad. (I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some descendants of those he rescued, but that’s a love story for another time.)
Harry’s rug was a treasure to my father, and so it was a treasure to me, a sacred relic of family lore and a source of pride in my ancestors. But mostly, the rug was a symbol of love between generations of my family. When Dad died in December 2016, he bequeathed the rug to another family member, who opted to sell it.
I wanted it back.
For me, the rug symbolized the deep love I had for my father. The Kurdish Bijar-style rugs are known as the “iron rugs of Persia,” able to withstand up to two centuries of heavy use. Our rug was strong, but also beautiful and complex, with an intricate floral design of ruby, green, and beige repeated across a field of cobalt blue, accented with a rust-red border and a diamond-shaped medallion at the center, like a beating heart.
That’s how I saw Dad, a tough Marine who spent his free time chainsawing trees and riding his tractor in Vermont, but also a consummate intellectual with an unexpected warmth who dedicated his life to educating high school students and who kept fresh-cut flowers in the house at all times.
In the deep well of memories of Dad I drew from, that rug was always present, a foundation supporting them like a stage where, from time to time, they still recite their lines and act out scenes, entering and exiting through curtains and trapdoors in my mind in a flourish of emotion. In that rug I saw my father’s essence, the little things that made him Dad and no one else. And I was desperate to keep it close.
So, I tracked down the rug to a shop 2,000 miles away. When I paid for the rug, I made it abundantly clear that it needed to be shipped with signature service. In our part of town, packages left on stoops are subject to an immediate five-finger discount. The proprietors assured me they had it under control.
They didn’t. When I got home from work one day, a few of my new neighbors informed me that someone in a pickup truck had made off with a large package left on my stoop.
When Dad died, I went through the typical stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. By this time, just over half a year after his death, I was finally beginning to heal. But losing the rug shredded the sutures of my wounds, and I went through the five stages all over again.
Panicked disbelief. Rage at the shop and the delivery service. Bargaining — my wife put up a heartfelt sign outside our house that addressed the porch pirate, on the off chance he or she might just give it back. Depression that the dream of having that rug back in my life was gone. Acceptance, finally, that the rug was just a thing into which I had projected Dad’s essence.
Ah, but then there arrived a sixth stage of grief that I never saw coming — the Reckoning: a settlement of all the emotions grappled with during stages one through five.
The Reckoning between me, the rug, my father, and the universe came on a Friday afternoon as I was finishing up some work at home, annoyed at the noisy construction going on next door from circular saws, jackhammers, and falling debris from demolition.
Near the end of the day, I heard a great crash in our backyard and raced outside expecting to chew out the contractors whom I presumed had caused it.
What I found, instead, was my father’s rug. Someone had clearly tossed it in the yard in a hurry — denting our garbage bin — but there it was, winking at me in the afternoon sunlight, still wrapped neatly in its plastic.
Embracing that rug as I carried it inside was the closest I came to tears since Dad’s death. When I rolled it out on the living room floor, it felt like something in the universe that had been knocked loose had just slid comfortably back into place. Home again at last.
As I left the house that afternoon with an extra pop in my step, I bumped into a young woman who asked me if I had ever found my rug. She informed me that she had taken a picture of my wife’s sign and posted it on Facebook, where it had been shared nearly 200 times. I don’t know it for a fact, but I believe that the efforts of this young woman, who didn’t know me from Adam, struck a chord with the porch pirate and, ultimately, brought Dad’s rug home.
As my wife and I begin to build our family, I have happy thoughts of when I will pass down the saga of our rug. Thanks to the porch pirate, and woman who posted about my plight on Facebook, the rug is now much more than the essence of my father or a trophy of ancestral pride.
It is now, as it always should have been, given its history, a symbol of love and faith in humanity. It is an important reminder that regardless of the climes in which we are raised, all people — from selfless missionary surgeons, to perfect strangers, to anonymous package thieves — share that most important human trait: compassion.