Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


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The Rose that Couldn’t Bloom

     rose

  In our small balcony we have several flowering plants. Some have been with us for years and others we have collected during our travels and here in Florida. Amongst them is a rose plant that blooms bountifully, yielding sometimes 15 blossoms. Cold weather in my part of the world has stymied this proliferous plant. It has one lone rose bud and knowing how tender they can be I half expected it to shrivel up and die. Not this bud! It stands there stolidly pointing its head up.

The bud seems to be saying – I’ll be patient for as long as it takes. I will fulfil my purpose as a bud. I will blossom one day to reveal the deepest and most beautiful part of me. So every morning I wake up and look outside to see the bud as it was – big and rosy, waiting to burst into bloom. I don’t want to rush it. I don’t want to push it. I know that could have a disastrous effect. So I wait with it.

I remember going to a temple once and getting a lotus bud. It is a sacred symbol in many religions and spiritual practices. So I hold onto it reverently until I get home. I put it in a tall vase filled with water. I watch it every day, waiting for it to open up. But it simply refuses to bloom. Me in my impatience (so characteristic of youth) tried to pry it open. I pull the petals apart but the result is not pretty. It ended up being neither a bud nor a flower. I discard it with a heavy heart.

When I look at my brave little rose bud outside, I marvel at its quiet strength. I would wish that kind of strength on my former self. The young 20 something, full of potential and raring to go only to be stalled by less than optimum circumstances.  Circumstances over which I had no control whatsoever. But for which I took all the blame. Unlike the rose I felt crushed, defeated and hung my head in shame. I even forgot that inside of me was this radiance that would never dim. Unlike the rose I forgot to put on a brave face, stand tall and wait it out until the heavens smiled down on me.

So valiant bud I bow to thee. Ever so silently you have shown me a lesson worthy of emulation. As things get tough as they are wont to, let me remember you, your graceful beauty and strength to stand up against all odds and triumph. I see today that you have bloomed and fulfilled your destiny as a perfect flower in perfect weather.


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Celebrating You

As January 20th approaches my thoughts are with my grandma (Dadima) and I fondly remember the way she celebrated her birthday every year. She didn’t have it easy. Widowed at the age of 36 and sickly most of her life, she had to fend for herself and reinvent herself several times over. From a village girl to a high flying socialite. From someone who had never worked a single day of her life to the first woman LPG distributor. From someone who never stepped outside of the village of Kollengode to an expat.

She had a million reasons to be unhappy and slouch in a corner depressed and uninterested with life. Believe me if I were in her shoes I would have done just that! But not her. She took life by the horns and joyfully went on the ride even if it meant being thrashed around. But somehow she always found reasons to celebrate. Not just festivals and birthdays but herself. Every year on January 20th she threw a big party and invited her close family and all of her workers. She cut a cake as we all sang happy birthday. Her manager would make a speech praising her while she stood by grinning ear to ear. There was nothing vain about it. She simply loved herself and wasn’t afraid to show it. It is what made her so large hearted. For all love starts with self love.

Are you one of those people who think they are too old or too insignificant to celebrate their own birthday? Forget birthdays, do you fail to acknowledge how wonderful you are? When someone compliments you, do you shrug it off or put down yourself? Think about it. You are pushing away the very things every human being craves for – appreciation, validation and love.

Do you look in the mirror and smile at what you see or do you groan and mentally list everything that is wrong with your face, figure, hair and skin? For years I watched my grandma get dressed for work. After she was done fixing her hair in a bun, she had this look of satisfaction and an inner smile if you will. She clearly loved what she saw in the mirror. She oozed confidence out of every pore of her body and people picked up on that and ended up admiring her. It was no mean task running a business with absolutely no training or experience and she did it with style and panache. I’m not saying she didn’t ever make mistakes. She did. But she somehow didn’t dwell on them and beat herself about it.

I have always been hard on myself and never give myself credit where it is due. People always picked up on that and saw me with all my imperfections. I was afraid of everything. Of driving. Of working. Of getting fired because I’m not good enough. Of being a horrible mother. I was my own worst enemy. Even if other people thought I was capable of stepping up and meeting challenges I didn’t believe I had it in me. So life was one disappointment after another. A tiny door of opportunity would open and I would slam it shut with my self-doubt and lack of faith.

Even when people tell you something about yourself that is a roaring lie, you believe it. I guess at some point I was sick of it all and made a conscious effort to befriend life and make peace with myself. To celebrate myself and life like my grandma did. When I saw the beauty and wonder in me, life opened up and everything I wished for just fell from the heavens into my open arms.

I secretly (not anymore!) try to be like my grandma and although I have a long way to go, I think I’m getting there.  I wish for my grandma’s fiery spirit, her zest and total commitment to life. She did not stand in the sidelines and watch her life slipping by. She took charge, took on challenges and celebrated herself, her family and her work. She kept giving and life gave her back thousand fold. Looking back at all the challenges (mostly self-imposed) that I have overcome, I know she is proud of me and celebrating every victory of mine.  She is and will always be my greatest cheerleader. And I will always celebrate her.

 

 


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Make Room for Others

I read this book years ago and wanted to share this with you because it really jolted me out of my apathy and excessive narcissism . I hope it will inspire you to care about the less fortunate and do something for them this year. The title of the book -Leaving Microsoft to Change the World- was what got me to grab it off the shelf and start leafing through it feverishly. Who in their right mind would give up a lucrative career in Microsoft? And by lucrative I mean the kind of person who gets to talk to Bill Gates and other top people in the company on a weekly basis. Someone who gets to travel the world promoting Microsoft products. Someone who can vacation in Nepal. Someone named John Woods.

Little did he know that the trip to Nepal would change his life. He stopped by one of the local schools for an impromptu tour. The kids did not have desks and sat huddled together on benches with their books on their laps. Woods asked to see the library and was shown a cupboard half filled with tour guides cast off by tourists and other assorted novels which were not age-appropriate. As a child, Woods used to bike to the library every week and he couldn’t stomach the idea of kids growing up without access to books. He promised the headmaster that he would return with books. The headmaster didn’t think he was serious because none of these tourists ever came back!

Back home Woods wrote to all his friends and asked them to collect children’s books and ship them to his Dad’s address. Before long his Dad called him and told him that the garage was full of books and that he needed to make a trip to Nepal to deliver them. The front cover of his book is a picture of a smiling John Woods right next to a yak piled high with books. So he did go back and was greeted by a very excited bunch of kids. They were so happy to get books and the whole experience moved Woods so much that he decided he would continue collecting books for other schools in Nepal.

What started as a project ended up as a charity – Room to Read – and spread to other poor nations of the world. John Woods quit Microsoft to grow his charity and reach more children. About 7 million children have benefitted from this program. Room to Read does more than donating books. They help built libraries and new classrooms for schools, publish books in local languages and provide scholarships for girls.

Well, he was rich and can afford to quit his job and help others you say? What about Derreck Kayongo who fled Uganda with his parents and ended up starting the Global Soap Project? His charity collects soap from hotels (which would otherwise end up in land fills) recycles it into new soap and ships it to Africa where people can’t afford soap. Imagine not having access to basic sanitation. People get sick and die because they can’t wash their hands. Kayongo says that he feels blessed to be living in the United States but at the same time he cannot forget what it was like to live in Uganda. He knows the right thing to do is to lend a helping hand.

When I was studying in Women’s Christian College I remember hearing the story of two girls who had just graduated from the very same college. They founded the Banyan- a home for mentally ill women who end up on the streets. After trying to help one such woman they found that there was no place for them to go. These girls had their whole lives ahead of them but they chose dedicate it to service. They were just regular people like you and me but with bigger hearts maybe.

All of us cannot start NGOs or give up our jobs to help the less fortunate but we can in our own small way contribute. Not caring is not an option. Turning a deaf ear to pleas for help is not cool. Look how far we have come. We earn more than we ever earned before. We live in the lap of luxury, spend and waste with gay abandon. We can throw food and let it rot in our garbage cans but we can’t feed a beggar! Forget feeding them, we hurl insults at them and chase them away. A few hundred years ago it was a person’s responsibility to give food and water to anyone who came knocking at their door. Whatever happened to that? We don’t even want to feed our maids these days.

Can you maybe find it in you to be more sensitive to the suffering of others? Maybe care a little more this year. Give a little more and take a little less. Waste less and save more. The new earth is being birthed but it needs your help, your care and your love. We are in this together no matter how separate and disconnected our lives feel. We cannot rise without helping others onto their feet. We cannot shine while others live shrouded in darkness. So make room in your heart for the others.