Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


Leave a comment

Man Against Man

As I was driving to work one day with my son, I stopped at a signal and saw the road in front of me teeming with police vehicles. One lane on the opposite side of the road was blocked by a police car. Around eight to ten officers were crowding over something. On looking closer, it appeared as though they were desperately trying to hold down something, using their batons to beat down some terrible dangerous beast. All I could see were their bodies pressing down and arresting the motion of whatever was under them. I gasped when I saw a naked foot sticking out from the crowd of black uniforms. My stomach churned as I realized there were ten police officers holding this man down, several of them pummeling him repeatedly with their batons.

I was filled with loathing. Excessive force, police brutality and other words and faces of many people who suffered the same fate flooded my mind. I felt sick and couldn’t breathe. It was like someone weighing 200 pounds was sitting on my chest.

It is one thing watching clips of police using excessive force and violence on citizens in the comfort of your living room. Watching it unfold in broad daylight just does something to you. I realized my son was in the car with me. I had to say something.

“Oh my God! It’s a man. I don’t care what he did but they can’t do this! This is horrible.”

Images from the past came tumbling into my mind. Men beaten to death by cops just because they could. Kids whose lives were snuffed out because an officer felt threatened and fired his gun. The man who got strangled by a cop. A senior citizen pushed around. A woman pulled by her hair at the beach.

What about all the images that never saw the light of day because no one captured them? What about what goes on in jails behind closed doors? I respect law enforcement but there is a fine line between enforcing the law and treating another person as a lesser being who deserves to be silenced, maimed or even killed.

It was a while again before I could breathe again and focus on my work. But what I saw that day definitely changed me. The next time I read something or see something related to police brutality I’m sure I will be consumed by that sickening feeling of an elephant on my chest.

The man I saw on the road ended up being admitted in a hospital. He left the scene in a stretcher and his family was not allowed to visit him in the hospital. I only hope he doesn’t become another statistic.


Leave a comment

When Florence Came…

It was just me and the kids against the fury of Florence – a category 4 hurricane hurtling towards the Carolinas. The models predicted that it was headed straight for us and was going to dump torrential rain and tear down trees with its catastrophic winds. I didn’t know what to do. I had never faced a hurricane before.

The last time we were hit by a natural disaster, I was in Chennai, when the city was hit by the worst flood ever in 100 years. We lost internet and cell phone coverage and didn’t have power for a day but we were never in any real danger. I didn’t have to worry about what to do if the flood waters entered the house because others were on top of it. I simply had to “follow” along.

Way back in 2009, when we were living in Boston, a freak ice storm in October crippled most of the state. It snowed and then the temperature rose above freezing point, at which point the snow thawed. Later that night, the temperature plunged to subzero turning the snow into ice. The naked trees with their brittle branches couldn’t take the weight of the snow and fell on top of the electric lines, leaving millions without power for days.

We woke up freezing, only to find out that the thermostat wasn’t working and there was no power. We had to leave. The house would soon turn into an igloo. We stayed at a hotel and then at a friend’s place (try keeping two toddlers cooped up in a pint-size room without toys) till the power was restored four days later. Again there was no threat to our lives or property. We were just a little inconvenienced.

In the five years we lived in Florida, we never once had to evacuate because of a hurricane or a tornado. Sandy didn’t hit us but went up north to wreak havoc in the Northeast.

Back in North Carolina, at our team meeting, everyone was talking about their hurricane plans. Some were leaving for western NC or Florida and some were staying put.

“I don’t know where to go,” I said, choking back tears. “Maybe I’ll call some cousins in Washington DC and see if I can go stay with them.”  I guess my worst fear was about making a bad decision that ended up hurting all of us.

I ended up calling my friend from college who also lives in Raleigh. She opened her home and hearth to me and the kids. She even offered to pick us up so my car can stay safely parked in the garage. My friend from work sensed the panic in my voice and showed up with a trunk full of hurricane essentials. She even got some cash for me, just in case I couldn’t make it to the bank.

All through the week friends and family called and texted to check on us. So many people prayed for us. It wasn’t just me and my kids against Florence. I wasn’t alone or afraid anymore. I was surrounded by an army of angels that I’m proud to call my friends. Two days before the hurricane hit, I saw a rainbow and knew it was a sign that we would be OK.

By Wednesday, the storm was downgraded to a category 2 and its path had changed drastically. It wasn’t coming straight at us. It was playing touch and go with the Carolina coast and then swerving around South Carolina on its way to western NC. I was relieved and decided to stay home and wait out the storm. The kids had Thursday and Friday off and we prepped for the storm. We bought bread, fruit, and cereal bars, filled containers with filtered water. Filled the bathtubs with water to flush the toilets in case the water was turned off.

Thursday came and went with rain and breezy conditions. On Friday the wind and rain picked up. I was afraid our young maple trees would topple but they survived the storm. On Friday evening we lost power. I cooked dinner (the gas wasn’t turned off, thankfully) while there was still light outside. My son cooked the frozen chicken and salmon burgers so we wouldn’t have to throw it out in case power was gone for more than a couple of hours.

We sat in the dark and listened intently to the radio for tornado alerts in our area. As I paced up and down, the kids reassured me that we would be OK and that we would get through this. I was really thankful for their maturity and level-headedness during the whole ordeal. They insisted that I play “anthakshari” with them to keep my mind off the hurricane. It’s a game played in India where teams sing songs that begin with the last letter of the song sung by their opponents.

My son took out his circuit board set and found a tiny bulb that he hooked up with a battery so we didn’t need to use candles. The power came back in a couple of hours and I was really thankful for that.

In the midst of all this, I had friends and family messaging and checking on me. On Monday, I had felt all alone in the world. But by Friday my heart was full, full of gratitude for the amazing people in my life. Some near, some far, some I hear from every week and some I haven’t heard from in years. But they all thought of me, prayed for me and it was nothing short of a miracle that not one hair on my head was harmed.

As I type these words my eyes are brimming with tears, not because I’m alone and afraid but because God sent so many angels to help me through the storm. Infinite love and gratitude to all of you.

Please remember that not everyone was spared by Florence. So many people have lost their homes, their loved ones, and everything they had. If you feel inspired to help these folks, please consider donating something toward hurricane relief efforts in NC and SC.


Leave a comment

The Roaring 40s…

The other day I was lamenting to my parents about stubborn belly fat that won’t go away and they told me that happens at “my age”. I felt like it was a little premature for me to be having this conversation but it really got me thinking. I just celebrated a milestone birthday last month and I must say so many things have changed over the past decade. For one, my people pleasing days are over. You like me? Great! You don’t like me? Just get over it because I ain’t gonna bend over backwards to make you my pal. And my body is acting weirdly too. My stomach loudly protests in meetings if it is hungry, while I desperately clear my throat or cough to drown its groans. After a trip to DC where we walked around everywhere because parking is a pain in the city, I was almost immobile for days and had these aches and pains from muscles that are rarely used in my sedentary life. I made a note to myself to start exercising and taking better care of myself. Well, that lasted all of one week. Living with two teenagers drains all the energy out of me. I cannot have a conversation without being interrupted, corrected, or sassed. And chores? Don’t even get me started. As toddlers, they loved cleaning up. They would happily sing Barney’s clean up song and put all their toys away. Now, not only does the clean up song not work but also any amount of screaming and threatening won’t help. Some kid’s mom hides gift cards all over the house for them to find if and when they clean up. Most of her gift cards go undiscovered, so I’m not even going to try that. Sadly, part of you knows they’ll be off to college, leaving behind empty rooms that won’t get messed up till they come visit. That’s when you sigh and clean up the mess yourself.

I’ve connected with so many people over the last decade thanks to social media. So I should be grateful for technology right? No! Technology sucks! Ten years ago people used to call to wish you on your birthday. Now it’s just a bunch of messages on your social media page. 100 plus messages and yet that makes me feel mighty poor. Technology has its place, but condolences sent as text messages? That’s where I draw the line. If you can’t be with the person physically, then at least call. Losing someone close is incredibly painful, don’t make them feel like they don’t have anyone else they can turn to. And no one sends handwritten thank you notes anymore, except people from an older generation, so I’m going to let that slide.

It’s when you are at my age that you find older friends and family leaving for a better place and it makes you wonder about life and your purpose. Are we all here to study, work, marry, birth babies, send them to college, retire and die? Or is there something bigger than that? Today, I’m in a place in my life where I yearned to be in my 20s, but I find that the dream has lost its luster and left me feeling mildly unsatisfied. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful because indeed I’m blessed with all that I need and more. But I don’t feel like that is an accomplishment or something to be smug about.

Words get muddled up in my head sometimes and I end up saying things like “I gave up coffee cold shoulder” instead of “I gave up coffee cold turkey!” I mix up words and their meanings sometimes too and it is not very flattering given that I work as an editor. And I’m thinking I’m just 40, this can’t be happening to me. Maybe I’m doing something wrong here but I don’t know what. The last time I checked, these things happened to retired people! So much for the roaring 40s, I’m too pooped to go out with my friend during the week to network over cocktails. Maybe this is when life gives you a sneak preview of your later years or maybe it’s a wake up call to take better care of yourself so you’ll end up living a full life till the day you are gone. I don’t know. Check back with me in a decade!


4 Comments

To Blog or Not to Blog?

When my domain expired last month, I called my web hosting provider to renew it and was told that my web hosting service was also going to expire in a month. Of course they tripled the costs now that I was renewing it and wasn’t a ‘new’ customer. I pledged to shop around for a better price, but work and life took over and before I knew it the month was up and my service contract had expired. It is not that I don’t want to renew it but I look at the past year and how infrequently I posted and how difficult it was to find inspiration in the midst of a busy life filled with mundane tasks that pay the bills. It took every little ounce of effort to come up with a post every month and sometimes I couldn’t manage even that. I look back at the 150 plus stories and 6 years worth of thought and effort and most of all heart, and that makes me want to keep it alive.

I thought it would be a great idea to pose this question to you, my readers, who kept me alive during my darkest days, when I poured my heart out to you and my emotions bled through my writing. You lifted me up with your soothing words, rooted for me, laughed with me when good fortune smiled on me and cried with me when life took a wretched turn. Without you I would have never gone this far. Never have ended up writing a book (that’s yet to see the light of day)! You are as much a part of this blog as I am and so I need to know if I need to keep doing this for you, for me, for us. Won’t you share your thoughts with me and help me decide? Stay or close shop and go into oblivion?


Leave a comment

The Best Job in the World

The other day while surfing channels I chanced upon a news story that made me stop. A janitor was cleaning floors at a school and the reporter was saying that we shouldn’t judge a person by the work they do. And yet I had made a lot of assumptions about this silver-haired person with a mop in his hand. Uneducated, poor, can’t afford to retire were some of the things that crossed my head. I was in for a shock when the reporter revealed that the unassuming janitor was actually part of a team of engineers that sent astronauts to the moon!

So what was he doing cleaning floors for a living? He had suffered a stroke which impaired his cognitive memory. So the former electromagnetic engineer had to give up his career of choice and took up a job as a janitor to stay  healthy and keep himself occupied. In the process he has struck quite a rapport with the students, who love hearing about his mission to the moon and give him hugs and high-fives.

When posed with this tricky question, “Would you go back to your old job if you got your cognitive memory back?” the former engineer said that he loved his job and would not trade it for anything. “These kids say – I love you and thank you – not something I heard from NASA as far as I can remember,” said the old man.

Watching this reminded me of my short stint as a teacher and being associated with children and schools in any capacity. The pay wasn’t that great but I loved every minute of it. Kids are unpretentious and genuine. It is a gift to work with them and for them. After that it is always difficult dealing with adults.

Hugs, laughter, games, cards, and flowers are given freely to show you that they care. I remember when I had to leave a long-term substitute position because I was moving (story of my life!), the whole class made cards for me and I had only worked with them for a month! If the schools in my county did not require substitutes to complete a mandatory training, I very well would still be working in a school. I look back at those days and see all those innocent faces, the laughter, the tears, the skinned knees, the hugs and the sweetest compliments, and it warms my heart more than a fat pay check or a promotion.

I feel incredibly grateful that the universe gave me the opportunity to work with children, to touch their lives and to be touched by their grace, beauty, wisdom, genuine love and affection.


Leave a comment

When You Don’t Let Go

Old story. But you need to hear it again so I can set the stage for what I’m about to relate. Three years ago my family decided to move to India after living in the U.S. for nearly 13 years. I was quite optimistic about jumping continents. After all, I had spent all of my childhood and some adult years in India and it wasn’t like we were walking into the unknown. We were pretty sure we’d live happily ever after in India. So we simply sold all of our stuff or gave it away. We didn’t even consider putting it in storage.

Craig’s List was my friend. I spent most of my time posting stuff there, replying to emails from prospective buyers and arranging for them to come by and see/buy our stuff. Most of our furniture got sold pretty quickly. Then there was the sofa and love seat that we had owned for ten years. It was beige but did not have a single tear or stain on it. We had paid over $1000 for both of them. But no matter how much we slashed the prices, they wouldn’t sell. After posting in a Facebook group, the love seat finally got sold. But the sofa did not and it was the only piece of furniture left. We finally had to give it away for free.

When the couple that agreed to haul it away showed up, I was a little distraught. We had spent a lot on it, it was in excellent condition, and here we were simply giving it away for a song. I loved that couch. It was comfy, durable (my kids were babies when I got it) and elegant. My husband comforted me by saying we would get new furniture if we ever came back to the U.S.

And come back we did! One and a half years later with no jobs and no furniture. Recently, we moved to our own place and decided to get living room furniture, something we had put off because we were renting an apartment before and wanted something that would fit in our new space.

I had it all planned out. A blue and silver theme for the living room. A bluish silver sofa or love seat and accent chairs. I didn’t want both the sofa and the love seat and I definitely did not want beige! The boys wanted recliners and I vehemently opposed it. My daughter hated the designs I picked for the accent chairs. And guess what? Bluish silver sofas are extremely hard to find. There was a good deal on a sofa online and it happened to be the exact same sofa I had owned for 10 years! It came in several different colors, all of which I hated. So I refused to purchase it. The boys really wanted it but I refused to budge. Three months after our move, my living room was still bare.

Finally, after getting stiff from sitting on our dining room chairs and watching TV, we came to a consensus. They would get to buy the beige sofa online and I would get to choose the accent chairs. No questions asked and no veto privileges. Everyone liked the idea.

I came back home one day to see a beige sofa AND love seat in my living room, similar to the ones I had given away three years ago. I was upset. I had them for not one, not even five, but ten years. I really wanted something different but I had manifested the same sofa and love seat. What did I do wrong?  And then it hit me. I never really felt good about giving them away. Part of me was attached to them and not letting go completely did not allow me to make room for something new. My attachment to it brought back the exact same pieces to me even though on the surface I was looking for something completely different. Sounds familiar?

How many times do we say we are ready for something new but then end up attracting and settling for the same old thing over and over again. Think about it. The next time you want something new, make sure you have completely let go of whatever it is you didn’t want. No attachment, no regrets, no unhappiness, or you’ll end up with a big beige sofa and love seat that you gave away years ago and no place for accent chairs!


2 Comments

Enough is Enough

It should have happened right after Sandy Hook. It didn’t! Orlando? Nope! Maybe after Las Vegas. No, it didn’t! And I don’t think it will unless we make a big deal about it and don’t rest till real change happens. If we can bring down a Harvey Weinstein and a Larry Nassar with #MeToo then we can expose all those politicians who are shamelessly carrying on with the NRA. Those elected to serve the people are now serving the twisted agendas of groups that have the power to maintain the status quo by filling up the coffers of these spineless, greedy politicians. Lives don’t matter to them anymore.  The FBI gets a tip about the shooting and fails to investigate it. The government fails us over and over again. By ignoring our pleas for stricter gun laws. By not securing our schools.

These days anyone can walk into a school building. Why not lock the building and only allow access to authorized people, like offices do.  You have strict laws about underage drinking. You need an ID to purchase alcohol, but guns are given out like candy? And mind you not the kind of guns the early settlers carried but assault weapons that can fire 45 rounds per minute.

It took women to bring down vermin like Weinstein and Lassar and it looks like women are the answer to stricter gun laws. We might be docile and quiet, but anger us or threaten our children and you awaken the fierce lioness is us. The lioness who will stop at nothing to save her cubs. And it so happens that lionesses live in a pride and they come together to protect everyone.

All over the country we see moms coming together to condemn the high school shooting. We see high school kids come together to organize anti-gun rallies. Put them both together and what do you get? Walkout day organized by the same people that organized the women’s march. So the kids and the moms come together while the men (most of them) try to decide where their loyalties lie. With the NRA and guns that are a crutch to keep them safe or with families and communities that are their very life?

But one march won’t do. Signing petitions won’t do it. Believe me I signed plenty. A consistent, targeted, and sustained effort is required. We cannot back down or go back to our lives and forget all about it till the next shooting. We just can’t. We have to spread the word, inspire school administrators, parents and kids to take to the roads, call legislators and make them uncomfortable about supporting the NRA and their agenda to put more guns in the hands of Americans. More guns doesn’t mean more safety, it means more violence. Hopefully, more people wake up to this reality. Some people feel that violence will still plague our country, as people will find other ways to kill if guns are taken away. But this kind of large scale man slaughter can only be done with assault weapons. And no civilian needs those kind of weapons for self defense. A pistol or revolver will suffice. In my opinion even that is too much. I don’t think anyone has the right to kill another being.

As I look at the pictures of the victims, my heart bleeds for these lives that have been snuffed out way before their time. May we live in a world where mothers and fathers will never have to bury their young children, all victims of gun violence. May we live in a world where every life is cherished and peace lives in every heart. Where every mother can go about her day knowing her kids are safe.