Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


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The Work you Do…

This one is for all you unemployed and underemployed people out there. Even all the homemakers and stay-at-home moms. I was there and I know what it feels like. Sending out countless applications that get sucked into the cyber space blackhole. Shamelessly asking friends to find work for you. Begging your spouse to forward your resume to his or her boss. Feeling helpless and totally worthless. Yes, I’ve been there.

On the flip side I’ve also been vain enough to gloss over plenty of jobs because I thought they were beneath me! Luckily, I had a choice. Working was an option. My husband put food on the table and paid the bills. So I could afford to be picky and choosy. Unlike the CEO who got laid off and had to work as a pizza delivery guy to feed his family. One day he was a millionaire and the next day he was bankrupt. Or the Iraqi doctors who had high flying careers and ended up as refugees in the United States. They couldn’t practice medicine and did odd jobs just to survive.

When no one would hire me for jobs that fit my profile because I didn’t have enough experience or had taken a long break to raise my kids, I got frustrated. I started applying for jobs that only needed a high school diploma and not a Masters degree. Guess what? I still didn’t get hired because people thought I was over qualified! The frustration mounted and when I couldn’t even get an hourly or part time job I started believing that I was beneath it all. Something was wrong with me.

It dawned on me that I did not have an impressive resume or the experience required. People mistook my resume to be me. I could have cooked up a very eloquent resume but it just wasn’t my style. I realized you needed to know someone in the company you wanted to work for just to get your foot in the door. So finally I got to a place in my life where I knew someone and I approached them with my resume. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I’m glad I did it because it paid off. I got the job. Now its not the kind of job that one would be jumping in joy for but I’m jumping in joy all the same. I’m back on the workforce after a long hiatus. I wasn’t hungry, in debt, homeless or desperate. I was well cared for and I could have continued being a stay-at-home mom that volunteered like crazy! But I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t broken. That I could find employment. That I wasn’t what I had become. I have potential. I can add value to any place that I work for. I have something to offer.

It’s funny but this I-am-not-good-enough lie continued to shadow my life. Especially at work where I kept thinking I’m not good enough and that I’m doing something wrong. The fear of getting fired overwhelmed me. It isn’t just me, every woman or man who goes back to work after a really long time has these baseless fears. But with time and a lot of overworking and trying to impress (God knows who!) we get over it. The question we need to ask is – Is it worth it? Most of our assumptions are not true any way. It’s just a bunch of lies that we keep feeding ourselves. Or something we start believing after we have been told the same lie over and over. We believe it to be true and let our towering selves be diminished. Finding a job, finding a spouse, getting whatever you want on your wish list aint going to heal that wound. Chances are it will still nag you and in extreme cases will make you lose all that you worked so hard to achieve.

When I realized I was going to sabotage my own happiness I quit worrying. I replaced my worry with a sense of pride in the work I did. Wish I had figured that out years ago when I was home doing the most important job I ever did – raising my kids. No one ever patted my back. No holidays or bonuses. No remuneration. Sometimes lots of criticism. But nevertheless it was/is a labor of love. One with high dividends. It’s not easy and many women wallow in self-pity (like I did) thinking the work they do doesn’t count. It does count. Fixing meals for your kids, patting them down for a nap, bathing them, feeding them, caring for their boo boos – yes someone else can get paid to do it while you chase your dream career but no one – NO ONE can do it as well as you or with as much love.

Again I’ll be the first to say I don’t want to victimize women for making the choices they make (knowing firsthand how horrible it is to be judged for being a stay-at-home mom). No two families are the same nor are their circumstances the same. So how about we change how we look at work. All work is sacred. Paid/unpaid. Gets you laurels/goes unnoticed. A job well done is a reward in itself. So don’t look outside of yourself for job satisfaction. You won’t find it. Take pride in all you do and respect the work that others do for you as well. You never know when the tables will be turned and then the prince will become a pauper.

 


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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.


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When the Omens Spell Doom…

No, I’m not talking about apocalypses. Not even World War III. I’m just exploring a question that came up during a conversation with a friend. She really didn’t believe in signs and was joking around about the ‘Universe’ sending her a really rotten sign. Me in all my self-righteous glory, got all defensive and declared – The Universe only sends positive signs!  After I hung up I wondered – Does it?

Let’s roll back to the year 2009. January 2009 to be precise. We were to travel to India to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday. It is one trip I’ll never forget. It started off with a blizzard as we made our way to Logan International. Our flight to New York was cancelled and subsequently, all flights to New York were cancelled. The JFK airport was shutdown due to heavy snowfall. We couldn’t drive down in such bad weather so we tried to get a flight for the next morning. We were told that the next available flight was for Thursday of the following week. A day after my grandmother’s 80th birthday! I was almost in tears but instead of going back home we pleaded with every airline to put us on the earliest available flight.

Finally, we got a flight for next morning. When we arrived at JFK airport, the flight to India was overbooked. Several passengers from all over the North East had missed their flights due to the snowstorm and now the airlines were scrambling to get them to their destinations. We had to wait until 11.00 p.m. for our flight into Dubai. We wandered aimlessly all over JFK airport and met other aimless world travelers. Soon we had ourselves a group. Something that distracted us from a grueling day, dealing with airlines and spending countless hours at airport terminals. By 11.00 p.m. we couldn’t wait to board our 13-hour flight to Dubai. But the flight was delayed due to technical difficulties. The fact that we would miss our connection flight to Chennai loomed large. But we were powerless and totally at the mercy of the airlines. On the flight my ‘Om’ pendant which I was very attached to, got snagged on my daughter’s sweater. I undid it and then tightened the clasp (or I thought I did). I lost my pendant and my black-bead necklace which my parents got me for my wedding somewhere on the flight or in the airport.

Of course when we got to Dubai we had missed our connection flight. Again we had to run from pillar to post begging the airlines to rebook us. The next available flight was a whole 14 hours later! By this time we were all tired, hungry and slightly smelly from not having showered in a long time. We couldn’t conceive spending another 14 hours holed up in some lounge. Each airline blamed the other and refused to take on our motley group of bedraggled, malodorous and time-warped travelers. After several hours of haggling, a kindred spirit offered us visas to exit the endless loops of airport terminals we were stuck in.

A shuttle took us to a hotel, where we showered and wore the same clothes (I swore to pack an extra set of clothes for all of us in the future!) We ate some food that was not served in aluminum trays. My kids and husband took a nap. I was too scared we’d oversleep so I sat with my legs propped up on a stool. We made it on time for our final flight of the week.

Our parents were happy to see us, four days after our initial departure from Boston. If you think the story ends here you are wrong. I haven’t reached the worst part yet! I called my grandmother from the airport and her nurse picked up the phone. She said – granny is not well. At which point my grandma snatched the phone from her. She didn’t sound very well and was totally incoherent. I asked my mother if I should go see her right away. My mom assured me that she would be all right.

When we got home, we opened up the suitcases one by one. TSA had opened up every one of them. The specially engraved “Grandma” globe was shattered and all its contents spilt all over the suitcase. That’s when I got a really bad feeling. When we visited my grandma the next day she looked frail and sickly. No one except the nurse could understand what she was saying. Everyone said that now with me by her side she would get better and we could celebrate her birthday which was two days away. That was not to be. Her pulse started dropping in the afternoon and her breathing became labored. She stopped eating all together. The end came a day before her 80th birthday. I was shattered. We had planned to attend a celebration and now we had to arrange for a funeral. I wished I had been there earlier. I wished I had never gone away. All those years away from her – I couldn’t ever buy back that time. The tears wouldn’t stop falling and my heart wouldn’t stop hurting.

All those bad things that happened were in a way preparing me for this. I didn’t see the blessing in this situation. But then everyone who came to the funeral uttered these words to me – She was waiting for you. You are lucky you got to be here with her. What if I had simply given up and returned home when our first flight was cancelled? I wouldn’t have ever seen her alive and God knows if I would have made it in time for her funeral. Some mysterious force got me to fight my way through every delay and every obstacle. They say every soul gets to decide when it leaves the body and also who gets to be with them when they transition. That my grandma wanted me (who lived half-way across the globe) to be there with her is such a blessing to me.

So to answer the question – does the Universe send us bad omens or signs? Absolutely! Just to prepare us for what is to come. But not every sign is a sign from the Universe. Some can be simply a figment of our imagination or ego.

 


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Divine Protection is Yours

I had to write this with all the fear mongering going on in the world. An older version of me would have lapped it all up and doled it out by the bushels.  I know fear like a bosom buddy that back-stabbed me and left me hanging off a cliff for years. So I went to the other extreme. Call me crazy if you like but I’d rather believe I have angels around me, saints hovering over me and God protecting me with a shield of armor than get paralyzed with fear. And I’m glad to report that it works!

I remember seeing this short video on television a long time ago and it really impacted me. It goes like this. A girl lives on the edge of a forest with her grandmother. To get to her school, she has to walk through the jungle. The jungle is a scary place where she sees poisonous snakes and senses wild animals lurking in the bushes. The poor girl is so scared that she tells her grandmother that she would not go to school. Her grandmother tells her not to be afraid and to call on her brother Ram. The girl is confused because  she is quite certain that she is the only child. Her grandma however, insists that she has a brother who lives in the jungle. So the next day the girl goes into the jungle and calls out to her brother in full faith.

Sure enough a young boy slightly older than her appears, holds her hand and walks her to school. Now, the teacher comes to know about this and wants to meet her brother. The girl goes to the jungle with her entire class and calls her brother but he doesn’t show up. The girl bursts into tears when the teacher berates her in front of all the kids and calls her a liar. Her brother Ram then appears before the whole class to convince them that the girl did receive divine protection.

Ok that’s just a story you might say. But I have read accounts of people in dangerous situations being protected by something I can only call divine. Peace Pilgrim for instance, was a woman walking all alone, along the length and breadth of America, spreading her message of peace. She did not fear strangers and used to sleep under the stars without any apprehension. In her autobiography she mentions this truck driver who approached her as she was walking on the highway. He offered his truck as a place to tuck in for the night. She gratefully accepted his invitation, even though he was a complete stranger. She then got comfortable inside the truck and fell asleep. Now the truck driver had less than honorable intentions. When she woke up in the morning, he was staring at her in awe. He then told her that every time he approached her with the intent of harming her, some unseen force stopped him. He was visibly shaken by the whole experience and apologized to her. Peace Pilgrim had unwavering faith in God’s love and protection at all times. She also believed that it was available to everyone.

I know I’ve talked about my fear of driving before so I won’t go into it now. Suffice to say that I went from being drowned with images of dying in a car crash to calling all the angels and Gods to protect me as I drive. Speaking of car crashes, I’ve heard some miraculous stories. The car would be smashed beyond recognition or redemption and the people inside would just walk out without a scratch. How can you explain this? Divine protection and your guardian angels embracing you? I think so!

You hear all sorts of horrid things in the news and sometimes you wonder if you can ever be safe again. After the Sandy Hook tragedy I dreaded sending my kids to school. I knew I would sit at home and go insane with worry. They had a cop stationed near the main entrance to the school for a few weeks. Then the cop was gone. I just imagine all of heaven right there by the front door of every school, protecting my children, your children, the children of the world. I do wish you would join me in kicking fear out of your life and embracing divine protection – for it is your birth right!


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The Weary Warrior

The constant influx of unimaginable evil and violence is designed to numb you and keep you from taking meaningful action. Fight the impulse to do nothing at all. Fight the good fight. Even in the face of defeat keep fighting. Someone has to do it and that someone is you!

 

The heaviness grows

The weight of a thousand years

Weary of fighting the same old wars

Eyes unfocused and shoulders droopy

We trudge together

Together not in life

But together in defeat

Some fall behind

But a few march steadily forward

Will we be greeted by victory

Or crushed by defeat

We know not

But march we will

Because we know not how to retreat.

 


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Of Scars and Other Decorations…

The entire nation is abuzz with talks about gun rights and regulations and I’m not particularly interested in this debate. But one bit of news got my attention and it was about Gabby Giffords speaking up about the need for gun control. Her whole life was turned upside down by one gun shot by a deranged man. Her condition was critical but she survived only to live a half-life. One side of her body is paralyzed forcing her to quit her job in the Congress. She finds it hard to articulate but has decided to advocate gun regulations. And here is the beauty of it. She doesn’t have to say a word – her very presence in a gathering is thunderous. She has turned the worst experience in her life to her purpose. She probably never understood any of it until now.

I can’t quite compare myself to Gabby but I did have a close brush with death. I never quite understood why I had to go through depression at such a young age. Why me? And then years later I knew why. A person came into my life who was going through the exact same thing that I went through. I could be there for that person like nobody could ever be there for me. You see it takes a person who has experienced it first hand to be able to really empathize in the true sense of the word. Depression is not about being weak. It’s not something you can just snap out of by thinking happy thoughts. Nor is it a life sentence. And no way are you a failure. You can come out of it and go on to live a wonderful life. I knew that because I had been there and I had come out of it.

I had to figure it all out for myself and God knows I wished for someone who could understand what it was like. So it was liberating to help someone in the same limbo. I don’t think any of my ‘advice’ helped. But I’m sure the fact that I got through it was hope enough for my friend. For here I was, happily married, the mother of two kids and no one would have guessed that I almost died at the age of 21!

So are you hiding your scars? Ashamed of them? I know I was. I never spoke of my depression to anyone. It was my dark, ugly secret. I didn’t talk about it until I heard about my friend. It took me back to the place I was in my life many years ago. A great surge of empathy propelled me to share my struggles. I never realized that in doing so I was giving myself the greatest gift. In owning that part of me that I had denied for so long, I was whole again. My creativity which lay bottled up with all the pain and the shame came gushing out. Long story short, here I am writing this blog!

Embrace your scars and own every one of them. In doing so you are empowered and rise above being a mere victim. For the Universe makes no mistakes. In the dark and the ugly is the seed for greater purpose. And by the way, they are not scars but medals of honor. You survived those struggles and are here to tell your story so others may find hope through you.

Gabby Giffords was asked, “Isn’t it ironic that a strong spokesperson like you is struggling with her speech?”   A very harsh question if you ask me and I really thought she would break. But she smiled with one half of her face and said, “ It stinks!”  But I’m sure she is aware that her mere presence is enough for gun advocates to sit up and listen to the few words she has to say.

You and I are not Gabby Giffords and our struggles will probably never make it to the National News. But in a small way we do impact all the people we come in contact with. If you survived a testing phase in your life, you can offer support to people who are going through a similar crisis in their life. Turn the worst thing that happened to you to the greatest blessing ever for you and for others.


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You are Not Alone

   The world has become unbearable to me. The more I try to center myself and tap into inner peace, the more junk it throws at me. I love the trash-to-treasure idea but what do you do with random acts of violence with absolutely no motive or reasoning. It’s hard to erase those images from your psyche.

  My husband lovingly calls me the ‘enlightened one’ – what with my 24/7 obsession with making everything right with the world and my irresistible need to give advice to everyone about everything. But I was beginning to think he is mistaken. I’m barely keeping my head above the water. But it’s not like I’m going through the worst time of my life. Those years are way behind me. So then it got me thinking about those years when I felt all alone and a slave to my never-ending problems. Where was God, where were the signs, where were His/Her people?

   This is what I sensed from deep within. Even in your moments of deep despair, I was there whispering words of reassurance. You heard the words but didn’t know it was me. And then this song just popped into my head – ‘In the Arms of the Angel’ from the soundtrack of the movie “City of Angels”. I used to hear that song over and over when I was in Pondicherry, hating the course I was doing and wanting to quit. It was a very tough phase, with lots of tears and regret and doubts about whether I was doing the right thing. Back then it was just a song to me and it did not occur to me that I was being guided.

  Through several hits and misses I see how I was protected and saved from situations that would have taken me down  the road to damnation. When I had to deal with heartache I stumbled upon a kind saint and his compassionate words  to help me through it.

 Which brings me to the poem I want to share with you. I want you to know that whatever it is that you are going through you are not alone. Not even physically alone because me and several others are with you down that path. Struggling with the ugliness of the world before it disappears for good. All that we need to do is have faith that we will be swept away on the wings of angels and can live without a care.

 

Footprints in the Sand

One night I had a dream. I dreamed I was walking along the beach with God and across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonged to me and the other belonged to God.

When the last scene of my life flashed before us I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at certain times along the path of life there was only one set of footprints.

I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of my life. This really bothered me and I questioned God about it.

“God, you said that once I decided to follow You, You would walk with me all the way but I noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints in the sand. I don’t understand why in times I needed You most You would leave me.”

God replied,”My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you during your times of trials and suffering. When you see only one set of footprints in the sand it was then that I was carrying you.”

Mary Stevenson.