Punctuate Life

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Guest Blog: 26/11 by Dinesh Damodaran

I wasn’t in Mumbai at the time of the attacks. I did however happen to visit the home of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was killed in the operation, to offer my condolences. I wrote this verse after that visit. I never knew the Major personally, but there was a profound sadness in me after speaking to his father and some of his OTA / NDA batch mates.

The pain doesn’t diminish every time I reminisce
about the day I met the parents of a son who perished,
enlisted to protect & serve, deserved
to be decorated, not separated from those he loved,
or to die by the gun of a terrorist scum,
The courageous Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan

I entered a home plunged in grief, shattered belief
TV hummed in the living room, channels playing footage of the siege
Relatives debated on what-ifs and what may have been
Father stood in the hall, hands folded
In the bedroom the mother wept on a relative’s shoulder,
distraught at thoughts of her son aged 31 who wouldn’t grow older
Not consoled by whatever they told her, forever wounded for being
the mother of a martyred soldier.

I stood paralyzed, tongue-tied
I had to really control myself
or I would’ve cried
Mustered courage to walk up to the Major’s dad and say
“Excuse me sir, I’m sorry for your loss today.”
“Don’t be. He died serving his country.”
“Are you a Friend of my son?’ he asks
“No sir, I’m just a citizen.”
Took leave, headed home,
Thinking back of how Mumbai
turned into a war zone

A date that’s etched
in my mind’s slate
26 November 2008 –
the day people of Mumbai
became terrorist bait.
Attacks came late in the p.m.
innocent lives left to fate,
in the capital of the MH State.


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Being Grateful When You Don’t Feel Like It.

 

It’s hard to remember to be grateful when things are going well. Now being grateful when your whole life is falling apart? That’s just impossible, right?

And no my life is not falling apart, though I like to pretend it is every time the temperature drops below zero. Subzero temperatures here in Seattle have pushed me over the edge. Lucky for you that I started blogging in Florida and not Boston – or half my posts would have been dead and dreary like a New England winter!

So here are 5 things I am thankful for even though the cold has kept me indoors today.

1. Liberty to Stay Indoors

As a substitute I can choose to work or not to work. Some of my duties involve being outside and I found out early this year that 50 degrees F is as far as I can go. I accepted an assignment at the front desk and hardly had to step outside the building! I was praying for a permanent job but this week I’m so happy to be a substitute with a choice to stay home.

2. Grateful for My Car

The other day we were driving someplace and I saw some folks waiting at the bus stop. They either didn’t have a car or didn’t know how to drive (this part of the state has a huge population of fresh immigrants). I am so grateful for my license and a car that is in good working condition. I don’t have to commute in the cold or wait at bus stops to get to work.

3. Grateful for My Husband

My husband works and provides for us so I don’t necessarily have to work to support the family. I get assignments all over the district and if I don’t know how to get to a certain place, he drops me off, picks up my daughter and picks me up when I am done. After a long day he even helps with the dishes and some cooking. Behind any working woman (who retains her sanity) is a caring and supportive husband and I am grateful for mine.

4. Grateful for Sunshine

Fresh from the sunshine state of Florida, I do a little happy dance or yelp in glee when the sun comes out. So this week even with the temperature below zero, the sun has made its appearance every single day – very uncharacteristic weather for Seattle. I think I haven’t run out of my little bottle of sunshine from Florida – yet! So grateful for the sun this week.

5. Warm Neighbors Brighten up any Weather

I am blessed with a wonderful group of ladies in my community that make it a point to meet at least once a week, to chat over a cup of masala chai. The cold is easier to bear in such warm and comforting company. Tea with these ladies is the highlight of my week. So grateful for them.

There that wasn’t so hard. No matter what is going on in your life I urge you to look for the silver lining, the positive, something, anything and share it with us. Wishing you warmth, love and many things to be grateful for this year.


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Death with Dignity?

After one final flash of color, the trees are losing their leaves and getting ready for winter. Winter! Brrrr! The very thought of it makes me shiver. And makes me want to run away to Florida where I enjoyed five mild winters with the temperature hovering around 60 degrees F. I have always wanted to escape tough situations than face them. This doesn’t mean that I’m not strong. It just means that I prefer not to deal with things head on. For instance, if I’m really mad at someone, I like to walk away and cool down instead of engaging in a wordy altercation. Withdraw. Retreat. And hope that the problem magically disappears.

So it was only natural for me to want to exit from the human plane when life got really crappy and I hit rock bottom. It came as a rude shock to me that my behavior caused intense pain to my loved ones – even though I felt nobody really cared at that time. They loved me. Even the sick, sad and unhappy version of me. My presence was all that mattered. My living, breathing presence.

There are days in my life that I really wish I didn’t have to go on but I always remember the lessons I learned during my days of dark depression. My sphere of influence may be small and unimpressive but the people in it need me – right down to my last breath.

So when Brittany Maynard decided to take her own life by consuming lethal drugs prescribed by doctors, it hit a nerve. The whole story did not sit well with me. The planning and preparation, moving to a state that supported “Death with Dignity” and having doctors assist in the suicide. The enormous support and the outpouring of funds for the cause is even more appalling.

There is a lot of controversy over pulling the plug when comatose patients show no response after years of surviving on life support, or little or no brain activity. When there is no written documentation of the patients’ wishes it is a hard decision to be made, legally and emotionally, especially for loved ones. There are cases where doctors have wanted to pull the plug but could not without parental consent, only to have the patient recover from the coma and go on to live a normal life. So is this trend making doctors give up too soon and misjudge a patient’s ability to recover and heal? Probably.

We as a race try to lord it over all – animals, humans under our care and even death! We think we have the power to decide who dies and how and when it should happen. We do it to dogs and cats in shelters that no one will adopt. So if someone wants to die, let’s all chip in and help. That seems to be the attitude. Let’s not die fighting, let’s just die before even trying! Please don’t get me wrong. Terminally ill patients undergo a lot of suffering and it decreases their quality of life but I find it disturbing that they leave no room for a miracle or hope. Their struggle could be someone else’s inspiration or a wake-up call to family to take better care of themselves. You never know.

If I had given up and left I wouldn’t be here typing this. I wouldn’t be a mom of two adorable children. I wouldn’t have taken a cross-country trip or eaten apple pie or met half of the wonderful people I have met till today. My life has its ups and downs but I know if I’m still breathing I have not fulfilled my purpose.

I saw a disturbing documentary about of group of people that go around assisting terminally ill people. They go into their homes and help them die (or appear to) in their sleep. They put on gas masks and at some point the body’s reflex is to try and remove the mask. That goes to show that the will to survive is stronger than any other dominant emotion. I won’t go into the details of the documentary which is very perturbing to say the least. But I do remember how shocked and upset the loved ones were. Yes, the deceased was suffering and it was hard for them to bear the pain and suffering. But these people meant something to their loved ones. Their presence – sick or healthy – mattered to their family. In my opinion if you can’t give life, then you have no business taking it away.

With limited knowledge about the repercussions of doing something drastic like snuffing out a life before its time, we are messing with things beyond our understanding. Life is full of pain and we cannot avoid it. But we can avoid suffering. Not by shedding our mortal frame but by tapping into that undying part of ourselves. One brave soul did just that.

Her name is Talia and she was suffering from Neuroblastoma and Leukemia. This bald 13 -year old bubbling with life, never let the cancer dim her spirit. She posted videos of herself, smiling without a single hair on her head. She loved make-up and posted videos of how to apply make up to get a certain look. She was an inspiration to everyone who was fighting cancer and struggling with body image issues. Cancer leaves one feeling ugly and incomplete and she addressed this in her own special way. She did not make it but lives on through the videos she has created – smiling and beautiful in the face of something so tragic.

Imagine if Stephen Hawking gave up. He had ample reason to. You think getting through every day is easy for him? And he was not born that way. He was born normal and progressively lost the use of his limbs and voice. If he had decided to die, the world would never have heard about black holes and god particles.

You and I may not make award winning discoveries or inspire the whole world but we surely matter. Every breath is a gift no matter how labored or painful. Don’t throw away your life or support “death with dignity” no matter how right the reasons look. There is a bigger plan and please have the humility to not mess with it.