Monday, August 7, 2017

To Hell and Back

DEPRESSION TOOK OVER ME:
I've talked in bits and pieces about my experience with depression before. And more importantly, how I beat it to the ground. I call my experience, "to hell and back" because that's what I did - I lived a living hell, and came out of it. And, I can tell you, once you've truly been to hell, you never want to go back there. Ever.
I think depression is like a cancer cell. It has been there in each of us, floating around in our soul and mind, staying inactive until something triggers it to wake up. Some people succumb to it, some people rise from it. But there's only one way to ever beat it - you gotta admit that you have it and find the root cause why. And you gotta heal it. From the inside.
Looking back, I can't really remember what triggers and opens that gate of hell for me. I was a young and have everything on the outside - friends, good grades, family and I was popular. But none mattered as I slowly began to felt how futile and fake everything was - how nobody knew the real me. I started seeing myself as pretentious, liar, worthless and unloveable. Secretly, I began to feel unhappier by the minute, with no real explanation save that I was just not good enough. Good enough for what? I didn't know - maybe myself? I felt like I was slowly sinking into a sandpit and screaming but nobody could hear me.
I felt like this - that I had 2 person in me - one I called, 'the princess' and the other, 'the warrior'.The princess was really this goofy, child-like, harmless person who just wanted to be loved, whereas the warrior would do just about almost anything to survive and defeat. She knew and trusted nobody, was brutal and had no heart.
The princess was the real me, but someone hurt the princess in me a lot as a little child and, as I grew up, I created the warrior to protect me. Not feeling enough, I also started putting up blocks after blocks to create a wall between me and the world, with the warrior guarding me outside of this wall. One day, I realised, I was alone inside that igloo of the wall - a dungeon I created for my own protection - and found nobody, not even the warrior could reach me anymore.
But because I was the princess and she was my essence, I could hear her cries and feel her in the depth of my heart, inside that igloo prison where only I knew existed. I wanted to save her, the warrior in me, but even she couldn't - because the wall was built from the inside, and the keys - I didn't know I should've made the key.
So, I was stuck there for a long time, screaming and dying inside while the warrior on the outside, carried on as if nothing happened. I mean, I tried. I tried talking to people, getting help, praying but nothing helped. I lived the living hell until I felt like I couldn't do it no more.
When I was younger, I used to wonder how people could commit suicide. I used to judge them. I'd say, "what's wrong with these people? they've money, friends, people, fame, loved ones..everything going for them! yet they stupidly took their own lives!" I could never understand.
But, then I experienced hell. It really was hell. Because hell was inside of you, you lived with it 24/7. It became the air you breathe, the water you drank, like dark cloud covering you wherever you went, like you were a fish in sea of depression. You couldn't escape, you couldn't run, you couldn't hide, you couldn't even unwished it away.
I became so tired that I wanted to die. I didn't understand at a time, but depressed people didn't want to die. They just wanted to leave the sea of depression, to come out and gasp for air. To go back to land. Walk away. But, I didn't know how. All I knew was that as days turned to months and to years, death seemed to be the only permanent way out - a final resting place from the incessant fires of hell living in me.
I SAW DEATH:
I remember that night like it was yesterday. Lately, I had been having sleepless nights. But that night was different. I was sleeping when suddenly, something woke me up in the middle of the night. I felt the heaviest, saddest I'd ever felt in my life - like something really heavy sat on my chest, making me unable to breathe. I walked out of my apartment and went to the top of the building, barely remembering how I got there. There, atop the 5th floor building, I looked at the world around me. I saw a tree below and it felt like it was covered in petrol fumes. Like the whole world was covered in dirty, vehicle smoke and fumes with not a single thing beautiful on earth. Everything felt as if it was covered in dark, smoky, depressing cloud.
Part of my brain noticed this and asked how it was possible. I've always loved trees and found beauty in them. But not this night. Everything was dead, everything was the ugly. As I thought about this, I felt someone approaching me from a distance - I still couldn't fathom how a person could randomly walked on air and approached me. But he felt real as any other person. He wore a dark cape that covered his eyes and part of his nose, but I could see his mouth and chin. He radiated light, kindness and understanding. I felt so calm next to him and then spoke to me in my head, "Come to me. Let me embrace you in my arms forever, like a baby wrapped in a mother's blanket, held in the bosom." I'd always imagined death to be this scary image, but the one I saw was filled with compassion, understanding - as if he understood my burden and only wanted to take it off me.
I can't described how intense and real it felt. Or how persuasive he was. I stood on the ledge, ready to jump. Part of my rational mind thought how ugly my corpse would look the next day, or whenever it would be discovered. And of my Mom. Should I write a note first to tell her that nobody murdered me, that it was my own choice and nobody was at fault? But I decided against going back down and writing again. So, I spread my arms and closed my eyes.
SOMEONE CALLED ME BY NAME:
I was just about to jump when I heard someone called my name, "Helen!". I was so startled I actually jumped back. I thought it was my Mom coming up. "Eih!(Yes in my language)" When I turned only to see no one. But the voice was so distinct, so clear, it broke my trance-like state and connection with the man in front of me. Yet, when I turned back, there was nobody around. I turned back towards the man and positioned to take the leap. And then again, just like before, I heard the voice. This time, the voice felt like it was in a hurry, calling my name thrice, "Helen! Helen! Helen!" - and as if someone could see me from afar, but unable to reach me, like it was coming from afar in a foggy night.
I grew up in the mountains and monsoon, we'd have what we call 'walking clouds' where clouds/fog would suddenly appear out of nowhere and covered everything. Sometimes, especially in late afternoon, the day would suddenly turned dark, and sometimes the fog would be so thick even if you put your hands in front of you, you won't be able to see it. We'd have to walk with a torch and call out to each other to know where the other person was - we'd follow each other's voice.
That night, the voice called out to me like how I felt in the mountain back when I was a child. The night was partly foggy but nothing like it was in the mountains. Yet, the voice felt like that, extremely worried, anxious, like how my grandmother used to call out to me when she felt that she lost me in the market/crowd.
I didn't know what that voice was, but I bet if I were drunk/on drugs ( I'm a teetotaller), I would have died that night. But someone called me out by my name. It was very strange because when the man I saw backed away, everything returned to normal, as in the heaviness I couldn't explain was gone.
WHOSE VOICE WAS THAT?:
After I came back from my strange experience, I became extremely curious. I had no explanation, no Science could back up what I saw or felt. But almost 10 years later, I felt that night like yesterday. I wanted to know whose voice it was. Was it my subconscious? Was it me talking myself out of it? Was it an angel? The voice knew me. Knew me and felt familiar to me, like I knew that voice forever. My curiosity overtook me and I began to search for that voice. What it could be. If it was me, why did I stop myself? If it was someone else, why did it stopped me?
I read many books, articles, religious texts...I didn't find the answer.
But I did find out about something else.
I DIDN'T KNOW ANYTHING:
I was born a Christian, in a practising family, a self-proclaimed Christian society. I never chose my religion, I was born into it. I was taught about God, Jesus Christ. I read scriptures growing up, listened to countless sermons, testimonies, so many things. But, when I lived my hell, no God, Jesus Christ, angels came to deliver me. I read the Bible, prayed many times but nothing stopped my depression. Nothing. I felt disillusioned, I hated God. I hated religion. I hated the stupid fairy-tales that did nothing to stop my depression. I was a practising Christian, went to church all the time yet nobody came to my aid. So, I had decided that there was no God. No Jesus Christ. No heaven or hell after death. After all, I was living in hell and I was still alive and breathing.
But, after hearing the voice, I became curious again and read everything again.
And then, to my shame, I discovered something about myself - I had no idea who God or Jesus Christ was! I mean, I prayed almost everyday for 20 years and I didn't even know who God or Jesus Christ was. What do I know about this God?This Jesus Christ?
Old Testament described a vengeful, fearful, old-bearded type being. New Testament described a slightly more loving one, albeit some serious anger problem still. But, all descriptions were different. King David's description was different from Abraham's, from Jonah, from St.Paul. So, which one was  He? Which one was Jesus?
I WANT TO WRITE MY OWN LOVE STORY:
I discovered that, everyone wrote their own story with their God. All these times, I was trying to connect to God from someone's else perspective. Like, the way President Obama was described by the US media, the ISIS media would be completely different from how his daughter would described him. But, all these while, I had been reading the news about God and told myself I knew God. That if I were to meet God, that would be like meeting President Obama and expecting him to know me because I read about him in the media. Or expecting him to treat me a certain way because I'd studied everything about him and followed all his policies.
No. I didn't know God. God didn't know the real me. I never opened myself up to God. I never open myself up to anyone because I don't trust anyone. But, if I were to open myself up to God in the secret of my room, won't God not keep my secrets? What better person/being to open myself up to than God? If God knows the real me, if I approach God as me - this worthless, hypocritical, fake, 2-sided person, and tells him about why I am the way I am, and these burning secrets in my heart, these guilts, insecurities, hurts, pains that I couldn't share with another soul - what would I lose in return?
What if I approach this way? And let God knows how depressed I am, how tired I am, how I wished someone would listen, my desires to be me.
BREAK THE JAR AND SHACKLES:
It took me some time more, but one day, I finally decided to approach God as me. I had nothing to lose. I had tried everything. And no, I didn't want to drink, do drugs because I knew they won't solve and cure this cancer inside me. I needed a cure, no more painkillers. No. So, after much hesitation and debate with my left-over ego, one day, I came to my room. I locked the door from inside. And, then, I kneeled down on the floor. I felt weird. Almost ashamed.
But, I wanted God to know me - the real story about me. So, I started awkwardly, "God" I breathe in deeply, hesitated for few seconds, "I want to know you and I want you to know me. I don't know where to go. As a lawyer, I keep people's secrets and defend them. So, here's my secrets. Please just listen and keep it."
I felt my voice quivered and started to shake, "My name is Helen and I was born in..." I talked to God as if I were talking to him for the first time. And as I spoke to him, I felt my heart broke inside me. Tears streamed down my face as I motioned taking my heart out of my chest on my hands and lifting it up to this invisible God, and then dropped it in the ground. My broken, bruised, ailing heart and soul, crushed before me, crushed before the universe, before everyone, everything. I couldn't do it anymore. "Please take my heart, my life, my soul. My burden."
To my own surprise, I found myself bawling like a child as I spoke these words. I cried like I had lost the love of my life, completely broken. But unashamed. Naked. Stripped completely.
I FORGIVE AND ACCEPT MYSELF:
As I lay there, I felt a warmth entered me to the depth of my soul. I can't explain it, but I knew I found my God and God found me. A God different from all the books, sermons, stories out there. My own personalised God. My own love story. My own version. And for me, my secrets keeper, my salvation.
And, from that day, something changed in me. I found the strength and love within myself to forgive and accept myself. I still continue to see my flaws, I am imperfect, the world continues to be unfair, imperfect, but there's a shift in me. I discovered the princess, who created the impenetrable wall from the inside, who isolated herself from everyone else, who was dying from loneliness, hunger, pain was and is the best creator - she and only she can create the key to open and break the walls down.
I made my own hell, I walked through it and I defeated it by completely giving in, facing it, accepting  all and everything, and rising from it.
Today, I don't need to feel suicidal anymore. I decide to no longer be depressed, go back to hell. I came out of it, and I build my strength, new bridge with someone by my side. I am not alone. I am here. I have my God. I have me.
GO FIND YOUR OWN GOD, YOUR SALVATION:
If you ask me today, who Jesus is for me, I will tell you that he is my saviour. Not the one that lived long ago alone, but the one who pulled me out of my own hell. The one who walks with me. The one who knows what its like to be me.
I know I am one of the lucky ones to beat this soul cancer called depression. But, if you've survived cancer, you don't ever want to go back. If you've been through various sleepless nights, chemotherapies, pains..and you come out, you change your lifestyle, you eat healthy, live healthier.
I still don't know whose exact voice that was that stopped me, but I know one thing - suicide isn't the only answer. I found my answer, alive and still breathing. I come out alive on the other side. And yes, its greener here on this side. Its what we sought for. I am at rest here. I feel peaceful. I feel the beauty I thought I'd never feel again. It is possible. I am the living proof.
Don't give up, you hold the key to your own prison you created for yourself. Only you know your darkest weakness and also, your greatest strength. Find your own God, your own key, your own salvation.
Whatever you created it for, it wasn't meant to kill you, it was meant to protect you, make you stronger, make you better unless you decide otherwise. Come out, and meet me on the other side.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE BOY WHO DECIDED TO DIE

THE BOY WHO DECIDED TO DIE
CHAPTER - 1

A ‘spiritual cleansing for Christ’ campaign led by a religious 20 member teams had reached Zobawk, a small little village in Mizoram. The man responsible for this campaign was a rather, scrawny lookin, recovered drug addict named Faka, aged about 30 years old and who, after fathering 3 children from 3 different women in different villages and arrested several times for theft, burglary, drug trafficking and domestic violence in the last 10 years, had suddenly found God and now spent his life going all over Mizoram spreading the gospel of Christ. In addition to holding week-long ‘spiritual cleansing camping’ at different churches, the man had also done several TV appearances, newspapers and magazines interviews and had, in the process, acquired hundreds of faithful women admirers and followers. Recently, he had started to perform what is known as, “Spiritual Healing Touch” in which his followers felt a strong shock and started crying in repentance each time he shook hands with the person. It was said that the man possessed a spiritual power from God to see the darkest, deepest secret sin of anyone he shook hands with. And, that somehow, he also had the power to transfer the message of forgiveness and cleansing from God himself. Because of this new acquired reputation, people from far and wide, came to see the man for forgiveness of their deepest sins and, for most people, out of curiosity to see if their neighbors would cry aloud when shaking hands with the self-proclaimed preacher.
For residents of Zobawk which had a population of less than 2000, hosting this God-man and his team was a dream come true. Not only did it bring the small village which had never been known for anything, suddenly into the limelight of the media and the Mizo people, the event meant that the village would get the chance to host all kinds of people who followed the campaigns. For the older generations, the event meant getting the chance to meet their friends and relatives from another far-flung villages, who would be coming on the free-transport buses provided by the churches. And, for the youths, it was much more exciting as it meant meeting potential lovers outside of the villages, experiencing new make-up and hairstyles, flirting around and, if they were lucky, getting the chance to feature on the TV and becoming a model/actors, etc.
The excitement in the village was palpable. Everyone had been preparing for the last several weeks since the news broke out about the campaigns. Women folks had gone to Lunglei town’s clothes markets to buy the latest, stylish clothes, shoes and handbags. Men folks had cut their hair and nails, cleaning their dirt-grimed, farming tools and hiding them away in the attic. Youngsters were given baths, houses and utensils were scrubbed clean, with everyone talking excitedly in alleys, roadsides and village markets. It was almost as if Christmas was coming in April instead.

It was no different at Kima’s house. His parents had just completed their jhum cultivation of rice, which meant that they were left with atleast a few weeks of rest until it was time to weed out the grasses. This meant his mother had time to take the 5 children for haircuts and sweet-treats at the local market. 

The Phone Call

He felt a sharp jab on his left arm. He remained motionless, looking vacantly in front of him, neither showing pain nor any reaction. Next to him, his daughter stood by, explaining to the doctor about his condition.
Presently she informed the doctor about his diabetic problem, high blood pressure and the latest stroke that left him unconscious for a whole night. He ignored the anger in her voice as she complained about his stubbornness to seek medical help as well as his resolute demand of independence.
“He’s already 93 years old, he is slurring in his speech and had it not for me today, heaven knows he might be lying dead somewhere as we speak. I even have to force him to come here today.”
The doctor didn’t reply. Instead, he continued on checking his pulse. “Open your mouth please”. He looked straight at him and remained motionless. His daughter interjected, “You have to speak louder. He has turned deaf but refuses to wear any hearing aid.” The doctor repeated his request in a louder voice. He opened his mouth mechanically.
“We will have to admit him. He requires further tests and he’s too weak to leave the hospital at this stage. You can complete the admission process after this.”
“I knew it! I knew it! Thank you doctor. God knows how close he is to death itself. I am so frustrated at him. We should have come sooner.”
She turned to him and spoke loudly, “The doctor said that we need to admit you to the hospital. You are too weak and need tests done.”
“No, I am fine. Take me home.”
He tried to get up from the bed but felt his head spinning. He last remembered the touch of the cold concrete floor on his feet and blanked out.
He awoke with a terrible headache to the incessant chatters next to his bed. His younger daughter immediately rushed to him and held his hand, “Father?” He felt confused. He tried to speak but no words came out from his mouth. He eyed his surrounding wildly. “You’re at the hospital,” His younger daughter explained, “You passed out when you tried to stand up.”
He looked around once more. Two of his daughters were standing on both sides of his bed. At his feet and directly looking at him was his younger son-in-law. Behind his younger daughter stood his grand-daughter-in-law with his 3 years old great granddaughter and some face he just could not recollect at the moment. On his left, next to his older daughter stood his other 3 grandsons, all anxiously looking at him. And above his head, 2 of his older brother’s sons stood rather awkwardly. There was no sign of his wife or any of her relatives.
He realized his clothes had been changed to hospital’s light blue gown and a light yellow liquid was slowly passing inside his right arm with the help of a needle, stabilized on his skin with the help of a white bandage.
He felt dryness in his throat and motioned for water.  “Is he allowed to drink?” His son-in-law asked the nurse looking at his chart. “Yes. But he shouldn’t drink much at one go.” His older daughter gave him a glass of water. He tried to take the glass and found himself unable to hold it. His left hand was unstable, shaking a little too much as he feebly tried to hold the weight. “Here, drink it.” He felt the cold water on his lips. He drank a little and leaned back on his pillow. His family were now discussing something. He didn’t bother trying to listen. He was too tired and his eyes were heavy.
He was woken up later by his older daughter. He needed to get some tests done, he was told. And, he had wetted the bed and his clothes and bed sheets needed to be changed. He fumbled an embarrassed excuse under his breath. Lately, he had been finding it difficult, almost impossible to hold his bladder and bowel. He had suffered embarrassing situations in the past, but none of his children had witnessed such incidents.
He stayed 20 kilometers away from the nearest house of his children and kept minimum contact with them since the last 10 years. “Rita..” He looked at his older daughter, “Get me Rita.”
The anger and animosity in her older daughter’s voice was undeniable. “We called her on the phone. She refused to come and take care of you.” She said something more but he didn’t hear her any longer. “Call her again. Tell her that I had asked for her.”
He felt her pressing his arm hard. “No! I will not call that nurse whore who stole you from my dying mother’s side again! I curse her! I wish that God punish that heartless, calculating whore!” She started changing his clothes angrily, shoving him deliberately without actually hurting him.
It had been over a decade but his children still refused to accept his second wife. It did not help that she was only 2 years older than his oldest child and was already divorced with 5 children when he fell in love with her. And mentioning her name amongst them meant bringing up fights. He kept quiet.
He felt miserable each passing hour in the afternoon. There were too many tests taken and it started to worry him. By evening, his wife called on his phone. “Aaooh..” He still couldn’t make a proper sound.
“Your daughter called and abused me, accusing me of deliberately making you sick. She said that I deliberately wanted to kill you so I inherit your property! Tell her I don’t want any of your stupid properties. I have taken care of you more than any of them. Tell them that!!”
“Yes. When are you coming?”
“I am not coming ever to that lion’s cave, when you are surrounded by those pack of hyenas! If you want me, get yourself released from the hospital and come home. You’re not even sick, yet they put you there.” He noticed his daughter watching him and changed the subject.
“How are things?”
“Not good. The girls’ tuition fees need to be paid. And this morning, Mr. Zira came again and asked for instalment money for the TV we bought last month. That’s about Rs.10,000 in total to be paid. He kept coming and is now giving me a headache. You’re supposed to just go for a quick check-up. You should’ve inform me first. Now, I have to deal with all these mess. What should I do now?”
“Ask for a few days’ time. I will come home soon.”
“I already did. And what’s wrong with your voice? I can’t understand you!”
His older daughter interrupted, “Is she asking you for money even in this situation?! Give me the phone!”
She tried taking the phone from him. He cut the phone and switched it off and watched her as she sat down, her face turning red with anger. She started texting someone angrily on the phone. “God gives me patience to deal with you!”
It had been 3 nights he had been in the hospital. He noticed that it was only his older daughter that stayed over at the hospital with him. She had been taking leaves from work and the toll of looking after a stubborn, old father who had walked out on them began to take its toll on her. She had started to become increasingly impatient and cranky. His younger daughter visited briefly once a day, bringing him lukewarm soup. She had refused to stay over saying she had much work at home.
“Besides, I am way too fragile in health. I’m afraid I might catch some illness if I stay at this dirty hospital.”
He noticed the two daughters increasingly bickering over his property. More than once, he heard them quarreled with words like ‘inheritance’, ‘property’, ‘will’. His only son had not come to see him once.
“Father, you need to pay the hospital bill. How do I withdraw your money?” His younger daughter asked him presently. He looked at both his daughters, an engineer and a police officer respectively.
“How much will it cost?”
“About Rs.20,000 so far. Maybe more, maybe less. Do you have that much?”
The daughters looked at him expectantly. He had retired with a good amount of money and received his pension salary from the government every month. On top of that, he had few apartments in the city from where he received the rents on a monthly basis. He struggled to remember how much money he had at the bank. It was middle of the month and he was yet to get his pension salary. His wife’s expenses were not cheap and he had been giving in to her for fear of divorce. He had yet to pay his second wife’s children tuition fees, daily allowances and monthly instalments. He stopped buying medical insurances atleast 5 years ago. He found himself struggling to respond immediately.
“No.”
Later his older daughter told him, “I won’t have the money to pay for your hospital bills on my own. You know about how many mouths I have to feed. You should ask my sister to pay – it’s the least she could do; she is married to a wealthy man and have no dependents.”
By evening, his grand daughter-in-law came to give him food, “Lucky you stay here at the hospital. At home, everyone is fighting about how to pay for your hospital bills. And, mother didn’t like that you had written a will giving everything to her younger sister despite the fact that she has never taken care of you.”
He found himself listening half-heartedly as he struggled to hold his urine. He watched her continue speaking and felt a sense of embarrassment coming over him as felt him passing his urine, unable to control any longer.
“What is that smell?”
“Nothing. Can you open the window, I feel suffocated inside.”
The young girl did as told and went out to wash the dirty dishes. He moved uncomfortably as his wet trousers stuck to the wet bed sheet. He quickly lifted his blanket so the smell evaporated before the young girl came back.
His older daughter came a few minutes later, bringing him fresh change of clothes. She looked particularly annoyed and angry. “What is that smell? Did you soil yourself again?” He pretended not to hear her. She moved his frail hands as she went to lift the blanket just when the young girl came back into the room. “Oh, just as I thought! Here, hold the blanket Mimi..” she motioned the girl to come and went on to start taking off his pair of trousers. He felt his face hot and he protested feebly, “Nonsense. Staying with all this terrible smell is more shameful than exposing your frail naked body for a few minutes. Now, lift your buttocks.”
He quietly did as told and looked vacantly at the old, white plastered wall across the room. The young girl giggled nervously as she lifted to blanket to cover him insufficiently as he was changed. He ignored her.
“Now, take this dirty clothes in a plastic bag over there and wash at home. Tell your husband to bring me another pair of underwear for your grandfather.”
He ignored the other patients and attendants watching him as he stood naked waist down by the bed. His older daughter changed the bed sheet presently and muttered under her breath.
When he was back on the bed, she sat next to him, “I talked to my sister about your hospital bill. She refused to pay anything! Not even a cent! And, you have written a will in my absence leaving everything to her!”
He could feel the anger and hatred in her voice.
“And now, your leech wife has sucked you all dried up, leaving you unable to even pay for your own hospital bills. Your only son hasn’t called once to check-up on you, your wife and other daughter washed their hands off you. And as usual, it’s all on me. I don’t have that much money to pay everything on my own. I don’t even know what to do now!!”
He knew she spoke the truth. “Then let me get out now.”
She struggled to keep her voice, visibly shaking as she replied, “We can’t just leave like that! We don’t have the money to even check out!!”
Quietly, he turned his heads outside the window. The sky was particularly clear, having rained a few hours ago. The setting sun had turned orange like a lit Chinese lantern, peeking from behind the cotton clouds in orange, yellow and purple hues. Beneath it were the dark green mountains and valleys that waited patiently with its dark yellowed rice-terraced patches and silver snake-shaped rivers. He took a deep breath as his eyes met with the first, lone silvery star.
He awoke several times during the night from nightmares he could no longer remembered when daylight came. His younger daughter offered him a banana and cup of tea for breakfast but he declined. Instead, he asked her to open the hospital window and stared outside. He noticed his younger daughter coming inside the room, but he ignored her.
“Father, its Rose.”
He turned to find his older daughter handing him the mobile phone. 
“Allo”
“Hello Grandpa! How are you?!”
Her voice was far and she was shouting on the phone. He could hear vehicle horns and noises at the background.
“Not good.”
“Yes, Mama told me. I’m sorry! I just came back from my field expedition. There was no phone coverage. Are they treating you well? Are you comfortable? Can you eat?”
He felt the sincere concern and care in her voice.
“Yes…”
“Okay. I am at the train station. I’m trying to book the ticket so I can come right now okay?”
 “Umm.”
“Mama told me you wanted to leave the hospital. Are you worried about the hospital bill? Don’t, okay? I will take care of everything, you just focus on your health and getting better okay? I’m here okay? Don’t leave the hospital okay?”
“Come..”
He felt his throat dry as his lips began to quiver, before finally exploding into tears as he listened to her voice. His daughters stared at each other confusingly as they watched their father cry publicly for the first time in their lives.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mama

I was coming out of the airport when she spotted from afar. She waved at me excitedly and the joy in voice as she called out my name felt like a thousand radiating suns.
“My baby!”
I ran straight into her arms. She landed loving kisses on my face, ignoring the dissenting huffs and puffs from other people nearby. Her perfume brought back the familiar scent of safety I always felt. This was home, my only place on earth where I would forever feel safe. And this was my mother, my sun to the superwoman in me.
She chattered happily all the way home.
“Remember your favorite cookies from Mrs. Kimi when you were younger? I asked her to bake you the same yesterday. And I bought 3 boxes of them!”
It was no use telling her that I had cut off cookies from my diet to maintain my weight.
“Stop the silliness! You are home. Surely few cookies aren’t going to kill you.”
She had arranged my bedroom, called my brother and his family, brought my favorite food and had made all schedules and plans for my trip.
As she chattered away, Iadmired how beautiful Mama always managed to look. Although it had been a while since the last I saw her, it seemed to me that she still got everything – her beautiful smile, that glitter in her eyes, laughter in her voice and even her grey hair just added more depth and warmth to her seasoned face.
“So, how long are you going to stay this time?”
“Mama, again?!”
 I looked at her in mock annoyance.
“I already told you 3 times since we left the airport. And I had sent you an email and text messages. I will stay for 5 days and leave next Monday.”
“Oh yes, yes. Why can’t you stay longer this time? We have so much we can do together….” Her voice trailed off in veiled disappointment.
I explained again that I didn’t have many leave days from work but she was not listening anymore. She looked outside the window and pointed at the house. Her enthusiasm reminding me of how happy I used to feel when she came to pick me up from the boarding school for my summer vacation.
“See! Your brother and his family are waiting outside! Oh, they must have reached while I came to pick you! Oh, look at your nieces! They are so happy!!”
She jumped out of the car and rushed to hug her grandchildren before ordering my brother to carry my luggage. “And tonight, we will feast and enjoy my only daughter’s homecoming like there is no tomorrow!!”
When we sat the next morning for breakfast, I noticed there wasn’t the usual jam on the table. Mama checked her cupboard and fridge.
“I left it there yesterday before I came to pick you up. Someone must have touched it last night!”
Her mood became worse by the minute she unsuccessfully looked for the jam all over the kitchen. I tried to calm her down and said that I was happy with the butter.
“Nonsense, I got them especially for you yesterday! You must have them!”
We ended up calling all our guests from the previous day. Of course everyone proclaimed not to have seen the jam. Later, I discussed the same with my brother.
“She’s becoming forgetful. She will keep her stuffs somewhere and forget where she keeps them. And then, she will go around accusing everyone of stealing it until she finds them again.”
By middle of the week, the church’s preacher came to request her to lead the Sunday’s women worship program. Besides, it was the thing she had been doing there for ages. Mama was excited. She loved the church and had always been a regular.
“We should check the church on Saturday morning so I can check if things are in order.” She suggested while we had our dinner later that night. “And I would need to prepare. Oh, I am so excited!”
I noticed that she barely touched her food.
“Mama, did you have the soup I left for you today?” I interrupted as she talked excitedly about the program.
“Soup?”
“Yes, the one I made for you in the morning before I left the house? I kept in the fridge for you, remember?”
After her initial puzzled look, she smiled and waved her hand. “Of course, of course! Now, I was talking about what dress you would wear.”
When dinner was over and I opened the fridge, I saw the soup untouched and packed as I had left them in the morning.
 “Mama! You told me that you had the soup!! You lied!” She looked hurt, almost as if I had wrongly accused her.
She began to protest before realizing that I was serious.
“Oh that?! I wasn’t hungry. Now, come and see how this beautiful necklace you got me. It looks so beautiful on me. Oh, how envious will my friends be!”
I knew Mama enough that she didn’t want to continue the conversation.
I laid in bed that night wondering how Mama had been acting odd lately. She forgot her cup of tea that I left next to her, came to take my cup and left it in the bathroom – untouched; she had left the car keys in the flowerpot and later came home empty-handed when she went out to buy the bread.
“Maybe” I thought to myself, “Maybe Mama has….” I found myself refusing to finish my thought and went to sleep.
On Saturday, however, we couldn’t ignore it any longer. We went out after breakfast to go to this church she had been going for years. We ended up on the other side of town when she kept forgetting the lanes. In the end, we had to ask around people as she hadn’t updated her GPS for years.
“Mama, have something happened to you?”
I looked at her as she sat down angrily beside me on the pavement. She tried to reply me but her speech made no sense. She was fumbling with her speech, with no connections whatsoever. I could only get that she was disappointed in herself and questioning how she couldn’t remember the way.
“I am way too stressed. I shouldn’t have taken the church program!”
“We found the jam inside your clothes wardrobe, Mama. That was before the church program. That wasn’t totally a normal thing to do.”
“I told you for the 10th times, it must be your naughty niece!! Stop bringing it up! You make me stressed.” She began to raise her voice, her hands clenching. She turned towards me, her eyes were red, ready to burst into tears any moment.
And that was when I saw it – my mother knew it and was she afraid, terribly afraid. No words need spoken when they were written in her eyes. She had known it for quite a while and had been trying to hide it from everyone. And now, she just couldn’t hide it anymore.
She had always been an independent woman, raising 3 children on her own while having a successful career in a male dominated service industry, she was the woman who retired with a badge of honor. She had been respected, loved and envied by others. She was educated, a pioneer in her own right and to her children, she had always been the rock. Yet, it struck her and she knew she was slowly losing her essence, her independence, her life. She was a proud woman who had always done things on her own. But, she knew it came to her too.  
I didn’t know how to react or what to say.
“Have you seen a doctor, Mama?”
After a long pause, she turned away from me “Yes, I went a year ago. He said I was fine.”
Sometimes you know that exact moment when the world you knew change right before your eyes, when that protective womb of security busted to left you out cold, naked and helpless.  
“Well, we need to go again. Because either he was wrong or it had progressed since you met him last.”
Then she turned towards me and cried on my shoulder.  
I had never seen Mama cried before, let alone held her as she howled, hiccupping as she cried.
She had been my fort, my ever strongest shelter in the storm. She had been my Mama – the one that could not break.
My mind was reeling with shock from the realization that my Mama was slowly forgetting me, that her memories were slowly fading away. And one day, she won’t even know who I was, or who she was. She would forget until there was just an empty shell with no knowledge of her surroundings.
What do you tell your protector when she instead cries with fear? What words of comfort do you give when you’ve always been on the receiving end? What do you do when words are all dried up in your throat?
 “I am afraid.” She looked at me. “I am afraid of what’s happening to me.”
We held each other in silent embrace. My mind drew blank and I felt like I was watching a movie in foreign language.
I kissed her cheek and I gently wiped her tears away.
“I am afraid too Mama.”
I moved her body from me and held both her arms with my hands. I smiled as our eyes met and remembered the words she used to tell me whenever I was afraid.
“But I know this one person in our lives who isn’t afraid. Shall we kneel down together and pray?”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Sapling

One day, a bird decided to have a chat with a lonely looking sapling on a mountainside. After it perched itself on its small branch, it introduced itself and asked the sapling why it looked so gloomy on such a bright, wonderful morning. 
The sapling replied, "I feel terribly sad because I just don't think I am good enough. I feel like a failure all the time. Look around me, all these grasses came after me. While they grow like lightning, I remain at my pathetic height, growing slower than ever. And tomorrow, these little ones around me will soon grow my height and soon over-shadow me. I feel like everyone is laughing at me, I hate my life."
After listening patiently, the bird asked, "So, what is it that you really want? To be like these grasses?"
The sapling replied, "Of course! I want to grow as fast. I want to overshadow them, laugh at their faces as they did to me."
Hearing this reply, the bird started to laugh hysterically. This made the sapling really upset. "How dare you laugh at my misfortune! Get off my branch and fly away!"
When the bird calmed down, it replied, "My dear sapling, can't you see who you are?! You are the sapling of a redwood tree - the tallest tree in the world. Your species can live for more than a thousand years! When all these grasses die a hundred times, you will continue to live and thrive, and you will grow hundreds of feet taller than all these grasses you see today. I laugh because you are so busy loathing in self-pity that you don't see your worth."
How many of us are like the redwood sapling, loathing in self pity and self-hatred when watching people around us grow in front of our eyes? How many of us feel like a failure where we just don't seem to succeed? How many of us feel dejected because we just don't see enough results no matter how hard we try? Real, significant growth takes time. Quality requires patience and hard work. When your destiny is to grow taller, become more successful than everyone else, you will take time. If you ever get discouraged, remember the redwood sapling. 

The Secret Door

Once a man found a treasure trove that contained hundreds of gold and precious stones. Because of his secret knowledge, he became an extremely rich and wealthy man. His family relied on him, his foes feared him and his friends were jealous of him. As he was an extremely cautious man, he never told anyone about his secret, not even his wife who he loved more than anything in the world. Instead, he built a castle on top of this treasure, with him only knowing the secret door to the treasure that laid under his castle. Every day, he would walked down the small alley until he came to the secret door of the hidden treasure. This became his routine and his favorite pastime. 
One day, he decided to go hunting with his friends. It came to pass that he met a terrible accident which required his friends to take him home unconscious and barely alive. The accident left him bed-ridden for a long time. By this time, he was terribly afraid with the condition of his hidden treasure. What if one of the servants had found the secret door and stole all the treasures? What if something happened to them? 
Unable to bear the suspense any longer, he decided to go and check on his treasure when everyone else had gone to sleep. When night came, he slowly got up from his bed and walked towards the secret door. He realized that he could no longer see well in the dark. But it didn't matter to him - he knew the way like the back of his hand. 
Finally, he came to the door, took out the key from his neck and turned the doorknob. It didn't open. He tried again, but it won't open. He continued all night with no result. He became so frustrated and angry that he started banging on the door with all his might until he became totally spent and unable to go on. He was slumping near the door when the first ray of light shone through the window. 
Weary and tired, he opened his eyes and realized, he had built other secret doors a long time ago and had used the wrong key to open this one specific door. 
In our lives, we build our own treasures everyday. It may be our job, business, choice of industry, parenting skills, anything. We work at it everyday and somewhere down the line, we make that familiar path, that routine that works well for us, that way we know like the back of our hand. And soon, we start to forget that there are other ways to get things done, other opportunities, other choices. We rely on our known familiar path with a one-track mind, sometimes fearing that the other choices or unfamiliar routes/choices will fail. We become blind, hard of hearing to our own reasons, slave to our own habits of familiarity. 
And then comes the day when that we could no longer turn the key and open that door we are so familiar with. We become confused, frustrated, angry. Some resort to giving up, some continue to bang on the door, some trying in vain to break the door by force -- but all with the same result, frustrated failures. 
However, if we pause and stop -- stop to look away from the door and the unmatched key, widen our horizons, we will see that other doors are there. Doors that we have built long time ago, doors that we have forgotten in us, doors that will lead us to our treasures. It is in us to open our eyes, to see in the light and lift our vision off that single door that refuse to open. 

The Sea and the Beach

There was this beautiful sea that fell in the love with the beach. When the sea bared its heart and feelings to the beach, the beach replied,"I love you too. But I don't know how we can ever live so happily together. You are moody and unpredictable. When you're angry, you don't even have the decency to hold back and flood everything on your way. And, you are so pushy most of the time that you erode my land and keep pushing in my space. If only you are calm and soft all the time like you are today, we will have a much better chance."
When the sea heard this reply, it made her sad. Obviously, the beach had a point and she could do so much better. She knew she loved the beach and wanted to make him happy. His expectations sounded reasonable and she decided to change herself for the better.
So, the sea became immediately calm at once and now hit the beach gently with its waves. And for a time, they were happy together. But when the sea became calm, its under-currents were switched off too. There were many living organisms in the sea that relied critically on that waves for their survival and lives. And, when that under-currents were gone, slowly but certainly, the living organisms inside the sea began to die. The first were the smallest, insignificant ones, followed by bigger ones and so on until the once  beautiful sea was covered with dead, stinking rotten fishes, mammals and things everywhere. 
And as with everything, now the beach was also covered in swarms of rotten, stinking things. So now, both the once beautiful sea and the beach were now filled with dead, rotten, stinking corpses all around. 
In our lives, we all face the dilemma of the sea - that desire to please someone, to make things work with them even if it means changing ourselves -- of our own goals, dreams and desires so we make such person happy. 
We switch-off what we want, who we are telling ourselves that this is for the best. We tell ourselves that 'everyone' compromise at one point in our lives. But, we forget that we are the sea and that our own internal happiness matters so much more than we allow ourselves to believe. This situation may arise with our loved ones, friends, colleagues, bosses, business partners, community or even society at large. 
If the time comes when you have are faced with that situation.  remember this story about the sea and the beach.