Friday, April 10, 2020

I: Ignore #Step9

Sometimes, in life there are things we have to overlook and ignore. It’s simple really. As they say, don’t sweat the small stuff. I remember this time when I was a new bride and managing my own home and hearth and I used to be pretty OCD with the maids. Everything had to be just so. If the legs of the dining table were out of order I’d go ballistic. The table too had to be laid just so. The kitchen had to be spick and span, every nook and cranny. My mother-in-law had come to visit. For two days, she said nothing. Then on the third day she called me aside and told me to learn to overlook thins. Her reason was simple, “you cannot be everywhere at once. Every so often, you have to look the other way.” I was young, I was much more strident in my thoughts but what she said also made sense when I thought about it. I learnt to relax. I learnt to look past the mess in the kitchen as long as it was clean when I wanted to cook something. I learnt that that corner of dust that had been missed was just that. A corner that could be dusted later. 
Similarly, in life, there are minor little irritants, sometimes big ones too that you have to learn to ignore. Just ask yourself how much it means to you and how much effect does it have on the quality of your life? People will always talk, learn to take it with a pinch of salt. And people have their own assumptions about you. Remember that says nothing about you but says a lot about them. Ignore them, you do not need the whole world to understand you or what you are going through. It’s your life and yours alone. Learn to ignore the voices that do not matter. You do not owe anyone an explanation. 
And as the following poem by Lawrence S Pertillar (accomplished poet, playwright, actor and performing artist who was named one of America's distinguished poets in 1993) says, we are all entitled to our own ignorance! 

We Are All Entitled To Our Own Ignorance - by Lawrence S. Pertillar

Don't you love it, 
When people interpret your thoughts...
Or something you have said into what they wish? 
You can repeat what you have said, 
And it is still quite missed.

And if what is heard isn't agreed upon...
A debate about it is begun and goes on! 
Nothing in explanation 'sinks' in to consider.
They just aren't getting 'it'! 
And walk away! 
Save yourself.
We are all entitled to our own ignorance.
No matter what the depth...
Shallowness or pain of it!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

H: Hope #Step8

When I was growing up, the walls of my room were covered in posters (they were the rage then). On three sides of the room were all those pictures of Bruce Springsteen and Maradona and Tom Cruise and Nazia Hussain and what-not. And on the fourth side, next to the dressing table there was this one beautiful picture of waves crashing on some rocks somewhere as dawn broke. A seagull flew with the first light of the sun’s rays on its wings. (It was also the time when I first came across Richard Bach and “Illusions” and “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” became my mantra in life.) That poster had a caption: “Even in darkness, light dawns for those who believe.” My dad and I? We believed. 
Now that I think of it, I think that my optimism is probably inherited from my father. He was one of those people who never saw the glass half empty. He always found something positive and his favourite line was “it’s not the end of the world.” I wonder what he would say if he was here now, the world as we know it surely feels like it is ending. But I know he’d smile and say “it’s probably for the better!” And I cherish that thought with hope. 
I know, part of me dreads that once the pandemic will be over people will go back with a vengeance to the streets, the poor will be the worst off and aggression, unkindness and greed will take over. But somewhere inside me I hope that we will have learned our lesson, maybe we will realise that nothing turns on how much money you have or what car you drive, it does not matter where you vacation or how big your house is, calamities can strike at any place. Maybe people will treat nature, other human beings and other creatures with kindness, maybe people will finally see that we all need to work together on earth to survive this business of life. 
Hope is what we cling to when all else is lost.

When selecting a poem on hope, I ignored the obvious choices by Emily Dickinson and John Keats. I found this one by Joy Harjo, who was named US poet Laureate in June 2019. Perhaps, you too will find the everyday optimism I found in her words: 

“Perhaps the world ends here” 

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite”

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

G: Grieve #Step7

A few weeks ago, an aunt of mine passed away in a different country. She had been suffering for a while and yet her death came as a bit of a shock, since we had not met her for a while and my last memories of her were of her in our house for lunch and the dogs flocking around her. In any case, I spoke to Uncle, he was inconsolable in his grief, saying again and again that he had nothing to live for anymore. Shockingly, he passed away just a fortnight later, leaving in his wake a shell-shocked children, grandchildren, relatives and an assortment of friends and acquaintances. That’s one way of looking at it. The other is that he is in a better place, reunited with his love not having to suffer the pangs of old age, loneliness and helplessness. I don’t know about the 'better place' bit, but which would you prefer? 
When my dad died, I grieved for the longest time. For me, the world refused to exist. There was no meaning in the sun or stars and everything (I mean everything) reminded me of my loss. I could not listen to music without bursting into tears, even an inane “how are you doing?” had me blubbering like a fool. I thought it would never end. 
But time passes. Wounds heal. Or at least stop hurting as much. Now, almost 28 years have passed since I took my father’s body to the crematorium. I still miss him in my everyday life, not a day passes without a thought of him. Each time I visit crematorium, I know my eyes soften. Many dear ones have left me since then. The grief never stops, I used to fight it. But I have come to accept that as part of me. 
The following poem is about that, about accepting that one needs to grieve and no matter what, that grief is part of who you are. And its okay. 

You see a dirty floor
I see a vulnerable
young girl
cradling the head
of her dead father
unable to look at me
unable to smile
or even cry.

She tries to find solace
in the Gita
someone thrust
into her hands
the words swim
as, wide eyed, she reads:
'Thou grievest
where no grief should be."

I want to reach out
to that girl
from long ago
the one whose heart
is breaking
the one who's wearing
her grief
like a new cloak.

I want to tell her
that she will return
to this spot again and again
and it will be alright
to grieve
and that cloak she will always wear
from long ago
will be made of the purest light.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

F: Forgive #Step6

If you open up social media these days, or, rather the days before these days (when the world was not flooded with the voices of doom predicting the end of the world as we know it - which is not an altogether unpleasant thought – or -sometimes inappropriate jokes about husbands having to help in the kitchen- I don’t know which is worse!) you would find a lot of people posting on forgiveness. How forgiving the person who has hurt you is enabling and helps you heal. 
Okay, I had a problem about this. In fact, I’ve always been pretty good at holding my grudges. It’s not so much about myself, to be honest. You hurt me, I will and can take it with a pinch of salt and carry on. A ‘sorry’ would be nice, but I can live without it. But you hurt anyone I love (and I mean anyone) I will teach you lessons about grudge that you never knew existed. This one time someone told me, “but elders are meant to forgive.” I looked at him like he had worms coming out of his mouth. “But then, sometimes, the younger person has to apologise,” was my retort. And I meant it.
But then, I thought about it. It’s not always easy but it’s easier to forgive. And to do that, you have to forgive yourself first. No one ever lost anything by being gracious to another, and nothing gets a message across like being ‘nice’ to someone who has wronged you. Oh, you don’t have to fall into their arms and become best buddies but you can look through the differences and carry on, if the person still features in your life. Trust me, you will feel the better for it. 
Back to forgiving yourself. That’s first. Forgive yourself. Only then can you find it easier to forgive others. You know all those little and big things you did (or do) that you are not really proud about, the bitterness, the distrust, the anger that corroded your soul? Take them (yes, I have some too, like the time I was ratty with my dad or cruel to that guy who thought he was in love with me - I have so much guilt about that! - or all the times I felt I was wronged or discriminated by those meant to nurture me or another thousand little things that I endured or simply could have dealt with better) and imagine yourself put them all into a big cardboard carton. Oh, you can fill it with whatever you like. Take your time, think back, there may be odd knick-knacks brushed under the carpet that you have missed. No rush here. 
And then once you think you’re finally done, load it on a wheel barrow, put it in a sack (I like the sack) and drag it to the top of a cliff and throw it over. Hear the satisfying crash as it falls. Or set fire to it. Let it burn, let it all dissolve into smoke. 
Do you feel better now? 
And I leave you with a poem by Edward Rowland Sill, an American poet of the 19th century. 

The Fool’s Prayer
The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: "Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!"
The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.
He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the Monarch's silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: "O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!
"No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin: but Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!
"'T is not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
'T is by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.
"These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.
"The ill-timed truth we might have kept—
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say—
Who knows how grandly it had rung!
"Our faults no tenderness should ask.
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders — oh, in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.
"Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!"
The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
"Be merciful to me, a fool!"

Monday, April 6, 2020

E: Evaluate #Step5

Every now and then we need to stop and take a look at our lives and evaluate ourselves and our relationships in it. Ok, maybe we don’t need to but I am sure you find yourself doing it, unconsciously maybe? Or without paying it much thought. Because I think human beings are like that. We evaluate. My dogs love me unconditionally and ungrudgingly. They do not care that I gave them an egg today instead of chicken, their behavior to me does not change, they still lick my face and snuggle next to me on the bed, even though they haven’t been out for a walk for days on end now. 
But humans are not like that. Humans need to see what they are getting out of it. Humans have to receive in order to give. (Unless they live in fear and I am not going there now) Humans judge, their love has conditions, humans evaluate. 
Take a step back, look at your life and do that today. What are the things that bring you joy? Which are the toxic relationships in your life? What do you need to edit from your life to get the mojo back (let’s leave COVID 19 out of this for now)? When are you the happiest? What are you uncomfortable with even with the closest of friends? Who is that work colleague that you think you can count on? Why are you even here, reading this? 
Think of it. I can wait. 
And I’ll leave you with a poem by Marty Dalton, another young poet, (see which aptly says all I need to say. 

Inventoree (Inventory)

Take a deep breath inventory
Of yourself
Do not count your hands or feet
Not your wandering legs or
Wavering arms
Do not take inventory of your clothes
Not of your favorite shoes or
Your special hat—not even your
Coat that you save for those cold,
Cold nights
Ignore your car—payments or paid off
Your home—apartment, trailer, mansion
Your work uniform—whatever that may be
Make emergency stops only
You are still several miles from
The intersection of contentment and identity
And you have not been there
In far too long
Do not take inventory of how you look
In a summer dress or a tuxedo and bowtie
Don’t count your history with
Drugs and alcohol
Don’t count your computer, your television
Or that collection of movies
Or albums
Or books that you’ve been working on
Don’t take account of your ability to curl
Dead weight
It’s just curling dead weight
Don’t count the number of visible abs
You have
Or your BMI
You are so much more than a body
You are so much more than possessions
Your body and belongings have not
Done you well to feel like you belong
Instead take inventory of your joy
You have some joy don’t you?
Count your friends
Count your love letters
Count the moments when it rains
And you have an umbrella
Count the last time you had strawberries
Count the start of every kiss
Count the paid off credit cards
Actually, count those twice
Because freedom counts for twice as much
Account for all of your freedoms
Take inventory of playing catch with your dad
Your last home-cooked meal
Account for the last time you rode a bike
When you didn’t think about exercise, you just felt the wind
Count the times you wrapped birthday presents
Count the smell of the last bouquet of flowers you were given
Count the last time you went to the zoo
And you swore, nobody ever fell in love with the
Animals quite like you did
Cause you have an eye for beauty
And you’re seeing it everywhere
Take a deep breath inventory of the beauty you have seen
And when you can’t seem to find anything that matters
To take inventory of
Count those dark moments where you still
Have the hope to rack your brain
To try to find a memory where you had joy
If you still have hope to try to find it
That is joyful
All on its own
Because I know they can be hard to find sometimes
Those things worth taking inventory of
But I have found the greatest of these things is love
Not the way I love Pulp Fiction and Casablanca
But the way I love my wife
And my father and my mother
And a good rescue
Cause that is what I’ve had—a good rescue
And life is sweet like honey
Not because it’s easy
And certainly not because I feel good all the time
But because I have found joy in a rescued life that I can hope in
When I take a deep breath inventory
I have to realize all I have is love
And I love the love
The rest will go away someday
But I will always count on love
And that is joyful all on its own. 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

D: Defy #Step4

“Listen to the mustn’ts child, 
Listen to the don’ts. 
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, 
Then listen close to me…
ANYTHING can happen, child, 
Anything can be.”
-Shel Silverstein

I want you to be defiant. I want you to challenge everything that you know as true and believe in. 
Do I have your attention now? Now that we know where we stand and are ready to accept not only our circumstances but also our uniqueness and worth, I want you to defy everything that you know as true. Everything. I am cramped up at home in the middle of an international shut-down and everyone around me is complaining, but what if I am fine with it? What if I really like this life and would rather be buried under the silence? What if loneliness is not sad but a blossoming of the self? I may not crave human company or interaction. In fact, a telephone conversation leaves me exhausted, the relentless messages on social media do not impress me. 
Silence is my friend. 
Silence helps me think and as I think I can defy and deny everything I have known and believed in since I was a little girl. Go ahead, you can do it. What, if the sky is not blue, but a peculiar shade of purple? Who decided that that colour of the leaves are to be called green? That bird, what if I call it a sweater instead of a sparrow? Would you know what I mean? 
What if I did not study law? What if I decided to be an artist instead? Would I be dragging my paintings on sidewalks or would I have found another calling? Where would I be if I wasn’t where I am right this minute? 
That’s exactly it. 
What, if you could turn everything on its head? Just for a day? What if, just for a day, you listen to all the dos and don’ts that have ruled your life and imagine one where you had not lived the way you were expected to, or even wanted to … where would you be now? 
Try it. In your head, if you want. Or write me a note. I’d love to read this! 
And you have the Sunday too! See you on Monday.