Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Strength, grace and wisdom

A woman brought her dead child to the Buddha and asked him to bring him back to life. The Buddha sent her to a village nearby, telling her to bring back a few mustard seeds from any home that had not had a death. If she did so, he would do as she asked. The woman went with hope but came back empty handed and enlightened. There was no such house in the village...

Like this woman I have spent the past twenty-one months knocking on illusory doors but although I have a quick grasp for intellectual concepts and rational thought, I am a slow learner of life lessons. Some lessons have been intuitive whispers, others gentle nudges but I have only listened to the ones that whacked me upside my head. I can understand God's frustration with me...

Someone once called me Nu Qian Ren, which in Mandarin literally means a strong female person. It gave me pause. The dissonance between my internal perception of myself and the external impression people formed of me was disturbing. How could they not see the doubt and uncertainty or the struggle and fear? I have heard the same words several times and in many different forms since Shekhar died. The dissonance is stronger and even more disturbing. Little did people understand that I felt like a boat that had lost its moorings, floating rudderless on the rapids of a life I did not recognize...an orbit-less planet in a universe where the star had died.

In the immediate aftermath of Shekhar's death, I would tell anybody who would listen that I had lost my husband. The words would fall out of my mouth unbidden and inappropriate... as a sort of apology or explanation for what I could not control, to make real the unacceptable truth of his sudden and inexplicable passing away but most of all to externalize and make visible my internal pain and confusion. The pain was so intense that I could not look beyond myself. Everything only made sense in relation to what was happening to me - I could not empathize, everything became distorted, at once magnified or made trivial by the strange prism of grief - I was both human and automaton. Slowly and painfully, perspective is returning...the other side has come into view despite the death grip of memory.

The truth is that this is my life and these are the circumstances, I am living it...strength has little to do with it. It is more about resilience...how much can you survive without breaking or falling apart? We all do the best we can, with what we know and understand and can bear...

A year is a wonderful metaphor for life. It begins with possibilities and resolutions, encounters the self somewhere in the middle when revisions and recalibration become acceptable and ends in regret and a still full in-basket...as one year dies a natural death, the new year promises rebirth and the cycle repeats itself.

Rumi, the Sufi poet and mystic, said, "Many demolitions are actually renovations." As I begin another year living in the rubble of my previous life and identity, I am renovating using strength, grace and wisdom - strength to meet the many challenges ahead of me, wisdom to embrace the new year and as Sarah Ban Breathnach says, grace to be grateful not only for what I have but also what I have escaped...but most importantly of all, I am rebuilding in congruence - where the inside is the outside and vice versa.


Memory is how we hold on to the past... Regret, hostility, anxiety, insecurity all depend upon trying to relive the past and change it. Therefore, memory blocks the flow of life in the present...The past is dead. There is no life there, even when you dwell upon a happy past.

Deepak Chopra

Sunday, January 3, 2010

First day, first show...

Shekhar was a first day, first show man, especially when it came to Amitabh Bachan movies. I preferred to wait for the first reviews to come in, for shorter queues, better seats and legally bought tickets rather than the over priced ones sold in black by touts. It was just one of those many small differences that made us balance each other.

Yet there were other times when we both preferred to wait. Like the time when I got my results for my M Sc degree. I had threatened that I would paint the town red, get drunk, be merry and stay out until the wee hours of the morning. Shekhar and the boys were all gung ho despite their inner disbelief that I could or would ever do something like that. The day came and it was pouring cats and dogs. Shekhar and I dressed up to the nines, then armed with umbrellas, the boys' blessings and a rugged determination to have fun, we hit the bars in Lan Kwai Fong at 9 p.m. Starting with a pitcherful of margheritas, we went on to have vodka shots wearing fur coats in a room made of ice and then sloshed our way to watch people dance on a bar counter in Wanchai. I remember the moment when we looked at each other in a dark, noisy bar not quite drunk, not quite having the fun we had envisaged, in wet clothes...it was a silent consensus. We hailed a cab to take us home. "You had fun?" he asked as we got into the taxi. I had to think a little before I replied. "Not quite...I would rather be home with the boys." "Me too," he had said. We laughed the rest of the way.

"What's wrong with you people?" the boys had looked at us in disapproval as we walked in through the door. "Do you know what time it is?" We looked at our watches and were ashamed. 10.30 p.m... there was no redemption for people like us. As we changed into our pyjamas, threw a movie into the DVD player and watched together as a family...all was well with our world. We had decided to wait for a time when the call of home would not be as strong, fun was for later. When the bonus came, when the boys had plans of their own, when the bills were paid, when things settled down, when the weather was better, when the future was here...

A couple of hours before he died, Shekhar had said, "Tomorrow, I don't care if it's raining or not, we are going to Greenwich. I want to stand on the prime meridian..." As usual we had waited, only this time it was to no purpose. His tomorrow never came.

Now standing at the threshold of a new year, I look back and realize that we were both waiting for now to have fun...this was the time, this was the nebulous future we were holding our breaths for...but my first day, first show man had bought tickets to a different movie.

As acceptance slowly creeps in, I have decided not to wait anymore...neither for time, circumstance nor people. It has been a painful realization that whether I wait or not, time will pass, days will end, new years will begin...I still haven't thought of the how, but it is a new year and a time for resolution - of a past that cannot be carried into the future and to promise to create a future that does not involve regret...now.

Press play...


...that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's way...It is this spiritual freedom - which cannot be taken away - that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

From Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl