A Room With a View – from window to door

“Through the small tall bathroom window, the December yard is gray and scratchy, the tree calligraphic. -Dave Eggers

Autumn had almost gone leaving behind this “calligraphic” tree. Earlier, I could barely see the birds on its branches for its leaves in Spring. It looks beautiful from my window in all seasons.

I love to have big windows in every room, and until now I’ve been fortunate enough to have grand windows opening to beautiful views. A window with a good view keeps me from feeling claustrophobic in a closed room. But things change with time and moving from country to country and different residences, puts you in rooms with smaller windows, sometimes.  And that’s where, now, I sit or stand and dream or reminisce or capture joy by just aiming and shooting!

These are photos from 2017-18. All I had was an old iPhone 8. No swanky, classy or new camera!

It didn’t dampen my spirit – I love clicking pictures of things that captivate me, engage my attention, revive memories or just… seep into me. I love looking at them later and reliving the moment.

May 28th, 2017, new places, new faces.

“A smile is the light in your window that tells others that there is a caring, sharing person inside.   -Denis Waitley

Every morning, I find something or the other that’s click-worthy to me when I look out my window. So I click away. Mostly it’s clouds! My obsession! I might delete most of these photos later for very poor picture quality…yes, even my untrained eye can see a very bad click, lol.

Some days are rainy and grey and the window looks gloomy and there isn’t much I can see outside save for the tears of rain running down my window pane! Back from my school days, teenage years, come the notes of Mary Hopkins’ song, ‘Knock, knock who’s there,’ and I start to sing or hum, and soon slip into another old-time favorite – ‘Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain…’ and another and another. And my day gets set to a very romantic, lyrical note.

But gone away is the Spring, Summer and the Autumn… and the winter is here to stay, at least, for the next few months! We’ve had our first snowfall and I’m grounded! Well, not seriously. 

“People ask me what I do in winter… I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. 

-Rogers Hornsby

The seasons pass by as I watch the changing scenes through my window! Back to the present…in a new region; a new city. Bigger, busier, and bustling.

I miss the previous, comparatively smaller one. I miss my room with a view and my window that opened out to lovely views and open spaces. I hardly stand at my window now, in another place, which is more of a brick jungle. It’s better I don’t; It doesn’t afford me any great scenery through my window… this is not a room with a view.

Neither do my walks with buildings looming on either side of the sidewalk afford any breathing space for a person like me… a city girl, who gets claustrophobic in a concrete jungle if she has to live in it under these conditions!

That’s where my memories, like these, in pictures come to my aid. It helps. And I become grateful for the reminders of big mercies and wonderful moments captured in photographs. This puts me in a mellow mood and points me towards what is there rather than what is not.

And the small mercies are always there if we get ourselves out of the negativity and moaning. Some such ‘small mercies’ are the spacious deck and a lovely green grassy patch and a small garden in the backyard. It affords a lot of openness and fresh air. One can even walk on the grass that stretches from the side gate at the front all the way to the shed that stands way back by the rear fence.

So what if the backyard is bounded by tall fences on three sides.

So what if the double-storey houses outside these fences, on all three sides, block out the open view of the sky, the clouds, the trees, the open spaces.

So what if the only glimpses I get through my window are of cluttered backyards across the road from my room that’s front-facing or worse, a view from the windows and door of the dining room and family room into the interior of homes at the back whose windows stand with curtains undrawn or open blinds.

So what if I don’t have any window in any room, front or back, with a view worth gazing at.

I have something else…

I have a door with a view!

The big glass double door, in the dining room, that replaces the ‘window with a view’ and looks on the backyard and provides a lovely view of grassy greenery and brilliant colors of the season’s blooms. And the little creatures, feathered and furry, who keep me engrossed and amused as they scramble and flit around.

The feathered one that’s busy building a nest under the roof over the deck! And also its mate that hops around the deck pecking at something or the other.

And the ‘outdoors’ black cat, that isn’t ours but is a regular visitor in our backyard. It’s got to know about the nest and threatens the bird by sitting and gazing at it hungrily. Or then decides to be a peeping Tom!

The squirrels that run about and at times sneak into the deck.

It is a fairly spacious backyard. A patch of our own green, open space…flowers and birds. A few pine trees. What if all of these weren’t here?

But they’re here. And that’s something I appreciate. To have this in a big crowded city is in itself a blessing, all realities considered.

I can be miserable and moan and groan about things that are not exactly how I’d want them to be. Or appreciate what is here and be grateful for that good fortune. I can make the most of what is here and enjoy life or mope and make life miserable. I build my own happiness or misery. A window or a door? A room with a view or a room with no worthy view?

The choice is mine… pitiful or powerful?

Period.

The Slow Demise of Snail Mail

I love the rebelliousness of snail mail, and I love anything that can arrive with a postage stamp. There’s something about that person’s breath and hands on the letter.”

-Diane Lane

I switched with the times, and also because ‘snail mail’ was precisely what our postal system used to be way back in the pre-internet days… and perhaps even now since fewer people write letters these days. I began writing letters as emails. The same format as one would follow in a regular letter penned on letter paper. Typing was harder and slower than writing with a pen, but the strong desire to learn and get better at it was the knowledge that it would reach immediately at a click. Also, the anticipation of an equally quick reply spurred me on.

Snail mail usually brought news of welfare, someone’s illness or sought advice in some bleak situation. By the time your precious advice would reach, the matter would have been resolved for better or worse. And as for your queries about the latest developments in the illness and prayers for a speedy recovery, the person would have either recovered a month or so before and would be back at work in a recovered state of health or worse, had just expired! Within the country itself, letters would take weeks to reach at times if one lived in regions far away.

So, emails became my way of maintaining my love of letter writing.

And I wrote emails quite regularly to my dearest and nearest…did I get e-letters? Ah! now that’s a million-dollar question. Suffice it to say that, I just switched to WhatsApp when it became available. Not the same, but it works for me. It’s more like a substitute for the telegram than a mailed, handwritten letter… a supersonic speed telegram via WhatsApp!! (I wonder if they still use telegrams to communicate. Concise. Crisp. Succinct. The very dry form of communication)

I recall grandma telling us how she dreaded getting telegrams when my father was at sea during World War II. Letters were extremely rare. And once, when a letter he’d written arrived, it was after he’d got back! So if he would send telegrams whenever he could to inform them that he was well. Not that they reached as early as you’d expect they did. But definitely earlier than a letter would! Both my grandparents waited anxiously for news and yet dreaded it when the postman knocked on their door. Grandpa would laugh as he recalled how grandma would start crying even before the postman placed the telegram into her trembling hands… Only to end up drying tears of joy!

Back in those days, the postman in a small town in Punjab was more of a friend. Many illiterate people would ask the postman to read the letters out to them. And it wasn’t odd if they even asked him to write a letter for them as they dictated it. At my grandparents’ place, he was their tea and hookah buddy. No wonder letters were delayed more than necessary, they weren’t delivered in time!! And I say this with understanding and not as a rant.

I had the opportunity, much, much later to witness a tete a tete between my grandfather and the postman on one of his delivery visits. He was a storehouse of news. And my grandfather wanted to hear all the inside news about everybody! As did many others I suppose. Needless to say, I didn’t understand a word. Even though the postman had changed by then, the new fellow carried on the tradition.

I myself found snail mail wonderful – there was a lot of anticipation and the joy of looking forward to an envelope or inland letter bearing your name and address beats an email on your laptop or phone. There was pleasure in guessing from the handwriting whose letter it was before checking the sender’s name on the flip side to confirm. The handwriting was a personal touch. Besides pushing a letter into a letter box also held so much of hope and expectation… Something that is lost in an email.

I was thrilled when I received an unexpected letter addressed to me in the mail in April, this year. It’s been donkey’s years since I’ve received personal mail via snail mail. I was excited like a child! I tried to guess the handwriting from the handwritten address. But it wasn’t familiar. This piqued my interest even more. Finally I tore open the envelope and discovered it was a handwritten letter asking about my welfare and if I had settled into life in a new city. And wishing me for Easter. It was from our pastor and his wife in NB.

I have kept that letter in safe keeping. It meant so much to me that someone had thought about me and cared enough to not send a store bought card but write a personal greeting and letter. It didn’t matter that it reached eight days after Easter. The personal touch… what happiness it brings.

Not writing letters by hand is bad enough, but what’s worse, I discovered that I was finding it awkward to handle a pen. My handwriting wasn’t as neat as it used to be! With everything typed out, I found the pen an alien object. Anyway, I persist in keeping a handwritten journal even though I’m not regularly writing in it. Needless to say it seems like chickens have been running wild on the pages leaving behind their untidy scrawl.

Times change and we must change with it to keep up in many things. I’ll always miss the personal touch of a handwritten letter that held more than the identity of the person in the strokes, slashes and curls, and the cuts and the dots!

Memories – we hang on to

“Absent-minded professor!” That’s often how I am! I could walk from my bedroom with clothes to be put into the laundry basket, but en route, turn into the kitchen, open the lid of the garbage bin, and promptly drop the clothes in. Well, it’s happened just once, but that once has become a hilarious joke for me and my friends. The thing is, I had the lunch menu on my mind and a deadline to meet, and I had the less important task of putting my clothes in the laundry basket. And the kitchen door came before – get the drift?

Most times, there are two (or three) tracks of thought running through my head. And they tend to throw me off track if I’m too engrossed.

I’d have to think hard if you asked me what I had for lunch on a day where the workload is heavy.

Yet, there are memories from years back that I can recall quite clearly.

The greater part of these memories are of the times of happiness, fun, and enjoyment, and of experiencing and learning new things.

The not-so-good memories are there too. Of sadness. Disappointment. Fear. Loneliness. Struggles and hardships, etc. They are embedded in my mind. However, not all are stuck in the crevices of old memories. I realized this when someone would ask me if I remembered some incident or the other and my mind would be blank. Or then, the memory would be hazy.

How true! There are many memories that remain imprinted on our hearts, our minds.

And most often they are the ones of times, moments, experiences in the extreme… too sad, too scary, too painful, too happy, most difficult, exquisitely beautiful… memories that have impacted us; helped us, taught us, tried us.

Memories of people we have met, known well, or in passing.

And those who have been less than ideal people to meet or work with or befriend.

The strangers who became friends and the friends who became foes!

As time passes, I’ve seen that I’ve got a lot of them in all these categories, but I also realize that some of the mundane, too boring ones are also tucked in somewhere in the crevices along with some extremely bitter ones.

The latter don’t surface without context, and if they do then too it’s without the bitter, sharp edge and pain.

Just the learning point.

But rarely do I bring them up and refresh them.

They may not be totally forgotten, but they certainly don’t occupy front space in my mind unless I need them as a reminder of caution, alertness, in situations –

what to be wary of…

who to trust,

where to place trust,

and when to walk away.

When to be patient and not speak out and

when to not rustle feathers… kind of reminders.

The memories we visit often affect our mind. Our thoughts mold our attitude, our behavior, and our personality. We are built with blocks of memories. Our expectations, our hopes, our world view are all built through our experiences.

I accept the memories. The ones that have been instrumental in building my mental, and emotional strengths. The ones that provided unique experiences and insights into the attitudes, values, reactions, and responses of people with whom I connected socially, professionally, and even those within the broad area of family relationships.

I accept the lessons they carry. The wisdom they have imparted. The knowledge I gained. The joy they bring. The sorrow some carry. The bitter truth a few unveil. The honest truth that others bring out. The hard ones that show me my mistakes. The ones that strengthen my resolve to change what needs changing. The encouraging ones which boost my desire to keep learning and growing.

They are all a part of my life journey. I cherish all.

Gratitude springs for all – the best ones, which are in greater numbers, and for the hard lessons learned from the few worst ones!

Tele-Sympathy – Very Short Stories

From the archives: The answering machine, in this story, popped up in my mind when some of my calls were answered with fed-in messages on a couple of answering machines. It popped up as an ideal instrument and provided the answer to the protagonist’s dilemma!

Rrrrrrring Rrrrrrring. Susan waited for the ringing to stop.  She was thoroughly fed-up with the anonymous calls.

The bell rang insistently. She picked up the receiver and waited to hear the mocking and taunting remarks. Susan had retired from her teaching job and settled in this little hill-town, where she intended to start a Bible-School Holiday Resort, for school children. A place where they could come during their summer vacation, for a two-week program.

The concept was to approach the teaching of Christian values and principles with less legalism and preachy methods. She wanted Christian children to learn the practical way of applying God’s word to their lives so that they could enjoy being Christians while they continued to be in right-standing with God. Her friends had volunteered to contribute their cultural, artistic, and musical expertise to enhance the program. However, she wasn’t granted permission to open the resort as the locals opposed the proposition. They thought the resort was a cover to brainwash young minds.

Susan was disappointed. Then the anonymous calls began. Most of them were filled with taunts, jibes, and resentment. Susan was at the end of her tether. She had to do something about this. 

“Use their instrument but to provoke unto love and to good works,” whispered her inner voice.

Susan couldn’t understand how God wanted her to use the telephone. She decided to shift her mind away from this unpleasant situation. She called up a friend. No luck just the answering machine. She tried another and then another. Three answering machines later, she decided to go for a walk. 

Oh, God! Help me, she thought, and added as an afterthought,  at least YOU don’t put me on an answering machine! and she laughed. Then abruptly she stopped laughing. 

The answering machine, the answering machine! she whispered.

Without wasting a minute more, she hurried back to the town. A few inquiries, a few calls, and Susan returned home bursting with hope and great expectations. Finally, the answer to her prayers arrived securely packed in a cardboard box. With the help of a linesman working with the Telephone Department, the answering machine was connected and Susan waited.

All the calls were now greeted with a cheery message that said,  “Hi, I’m praying for you. If you have any problems, let me know, I’ll pray for that too. Thanks for calling.”

After a few days, the calls stopped. Was it the calm before the storm or “the peace that passeth all understanding,”  Susan wondered?

And then it came; a call; a prayer request made in a breathless, hushed voice. Others followed. Susan could recognize the voices of her five persistent callers, and she believed they were between twelve and seventeen years old. She had even given them names according to their attitude and tone and language so she could identify her anonymous callers.

Now she learned that Saucy Sue was exasperated with her parents’ constant quarreling, Giggly Gertrude wanted to run away from the orphanage because they sent the kids to work as domestic help during holidays. Stuttering Stewart didn’t like being teased, Arrogant Aaron didn’t believe in an invisible God or that one even existed, and Martyr Marty was always feeling the victim. Long conversations with each other led to a special bond of trust and faith between the two sides. This continued for some years. Susan never tried to find out their true identities.

That was fifteen years ago. And now Susan would meet them for the first time. Their visit coincided with the welcome reception her church had organized for the new pastor. Two happy events. She hurried to church eagerly that Sunday. To her surprise, Susan found Reverend Sushil Simon, the new priest, younger than she had expected.

She delivered her welcome speech and as she returned to her seat, a familiar voice said,  “Thank you, Susan, for such a warm welcome. It’s nice to come home again.”

Susan almost fainted. Arrogant Aaron! She was sure she had heard the voice that had argued incessantly with her about a non-existent God, almost to the point of making her give up.

She stood still. She couldn’t believe her ears. And was sure she wasn’t mistaken. 

“It is you!” She whispered. Later, when the formalities were over, Sushil walked up to her and smiled.

“I’d like you to meet some of the others,” he said. 

He introduced her to the others. All had done well for themselves. Susan looked at Arrogant Aaron (she still couldn’t call him anything else!) with a question in her eyes, which he answered softly, “1 John 4: 12, I finally understood it. Thank you.” (12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.) NIV

Susan couldn’t speak, but her tears spoke volumes, as she led her friends home. There was so much to say, so much to hear.

This was first published on FaithWriters.com (2006-2009).

On Breaking Down

From the archives:

I cringed at having to attend funerals. I never seemed to know how to express my sorrow and to what degree. Emotional by nature, I was moved very deeply by someone’s grief. However, expressing it was an art I had yet to master.

Often termed ‘tough’ by my family, I had molded myself to live up to the impression, without consciously realizing it. My shoulder was always the Rock of Gibraltar that gave solace to weeping, heart-broken friends in college. Over the years, counselling, advising, and listening became my forte and I soon became the agony aunt people sought.

Marriage, in-laws, kids, and career posed new challenges along the way. Each was to be met and resolved firmly, positively, and cheerfully. I had learned the art of hiding my emotions. Displaying pain, disappointments, tears of anger, frustration, or grief did not become me, hence they needed to be hidden. At some point in time, I became a perfect pretender.

Then tragedy struck. I lost my husband. I couldn’t cry, really cry, in public. Not even in front of family. A trickle of tears was all that managed to get past the dam. I found myself incapable of expressing the deep sorrow, fear, and insecurity I felt. To people, I appeared calm and composed. They called me BRAVE.

Since then, funerals became even more difficult to attend. Fortunately, there weren’t any I had to attend of close friends or relatives till that day in August 2000. My eldest sister lost her elder son to militancy in Tamenglong. He was just 26 yrs old. My nephew was a young, brave, promising officer in the Army. Just twenty-six; he was not only the apple of his parents’ eyes but also the pride of the entire family.

I did not know how I was going to console my sister and express the deep sense of personal loss I felt. Dry-eyed, I tried the best I could. It was not difficult as both she and her husband faced it with a stiff upper lip. I wondered if they were going through the same turmoil I had experienced in my own tragedy.

The memorial plaque in my nephew’s name with many others who were martyred in action. These memorial plaques are along the Raj Path, in New Delhi, between the Rashtrapathi Bhawan (the President’s official residence) and India Gate (which is in the background, to the right, in the pic)

Their son was given a martyr’s funeral with full military honors. When the buglers had sounded the Last Post and the echo of the gun salute had faded away, the flag that had draped his coffin was presented to his parents. In the deep silence that wrapped this poignant ceremony, we heard the broken voice of my brother-in-law saying – “We bear no ill-will against those who killed our son,” as they accepted the National Flag.

Somehow, the quiet dignity in sharp contrast to their pain-wracked faces and haunted eyes unlocked the door on years of pent-up emotions and I felt the pinprick of tears. They welled up, broke the dam, and overflowed.

I cried.

Unashamed. Unmindful of the onlookers – military personal, news crew, TV crew, journalists and many civilians who had come to honor a martyr from their city – I was crying not only for my sister and her family but also for myself.

I had learned, finally, to accept the pain and sorrow, anguish; feel it and express it without feeling that I was a weakling.

In years of trying to be what my family thought of me, I had forgotten to be myself. By reaching out to my grieving sister and experiencing her pain, I came face to face with my true self and I was not ashamed. I came away laying to rest all my fears and misconceptions.

I no longer shy away from the onerous task of condoling a death or offering solace to the bereaved. I can share their pain and sense of loss because I have accepted my own pain and deep sense of irreparable loss.

And I am at peace with it.

Note: This article was first published on FaithWriters.com (2006-2009)

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Below is a bit about my nephew Capt. Hemant J. Prem Kumar.

Capt. Hemant Prem Kumar (SM) https://www.honourpoint.in/profile/capt-hemant-prem-kumar-sm/

Captain Hemant Prem Kumar was born on 29th October 1974 and hailed from Pune in Maharashtra. Born in the military family of Lt Col Joseph Prem Kumar and Mrs. Priscilla, Capt. Hemant nursed the idea of joining the armed forces since his childhood. He followed his dream and joined the army at the age of 23 years. He was commissioned on 5th Sep 1997 into the 15 Jat battalion of the Jat Regiment, an infantry regiment well known for its gallant soldiers.

Manipur Operation: 30 Aug 2000

In 2000, Capt. Hemant Prem Kumar’s unit was deployed in the Temenglong district of Manipur. During that period Capt. Hemant was performing the duties of an Adjutant, as well as, functioning as commander of the Ghatak platoon (commandos) of the battalion. At that time several insurgents belonging to NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) one of the factions of NSCN led by Isak Chishi Swu, were active in the AOR (area of responsibility) of the unit. Capt. Hemant Kumar, in a short period, developed a strong intelligence network and undertook numerous operations against the insurgents in the area.

On 30th Aug 2000, Capt. Hemant Kumar carried out one more counter-Insurgency operation in Temenglong Bazar. After the successful operation, Capt. Hemant Kumar & his comrades headed back to the unit. The insurgents belonging to the NSCN-IM faction in a pre-planned move attacked  Capt. Hemant Kumar & his troops at around 1335 hours.  Capt. Hemant Kumar was the primary target of the attack and he received direct hits in his chest, back & leg. However,  despite being injured Capt. Hemant Kumar in a rare show of courage engaged the insurgents effectively. His gallant action forced the attackers to flee thereby saving the lives of many of his troops. However,  Capt. Hemant Kumar later succumbed to his injuries and was martyred.

Capt. Hemant Kumar displayed exceptional courage, leadership & command during the operation. He was given the gallantry award, “Sena Medal” for his bravery and supreme sacrifice.  Capt. Hemant Kumar is survived by his father an Army veteran Lt Col Joseph Prem Kumar, mother Mrs. Priscilla, and younger brother Nishant.

I Win the War, One Battle at a Time – weighty problems

Some of these ‘lost and found’ stories/articles that were entered in the challenge round on FaithWriters.com are a fillip to my soul. Like this one. I hope it speaks to someone who is going through something similar and can relate to the way I felt and it helps them.

I recall my orthopedic doctor telling me in his wonderful baritone, “Ma’am, the only way we can make any progress here is if you make a serious effort to follow my instructions and take the first step: LOSE weight.” I had osteoporosis and osteoarthritis was setting in. And the only way any treatment would work was when I reduced weight. It took some years to accomplish because of my attitude and reluctance to rise above my feelings. Years later, this article brings a wide grin and also a sense of pride and gratitude for God’s grace in what I achieved in the BATTLE of the BULGE against ill health. So here goes another from the archives with a spot of editing!

The original was first published on FaithWriters.com (2006-2009)

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“Why don’t you join the WWF?”(World Wrestling Federation)

“Fat doesn’t suit you!”

“Oh my gosh! You’ve become soooo fat! I didn’t recognize you at first!”

These are just some of the painfully direct questions and reactions I get to hear nowadays. Till some time ago, I had enjoyed the compliments that generally came my way due to a slim, well-maintained figure and youthful looks, that had more to do with my genes than any effort on my part or help from beauty regimens. But that was many yesterdays ago.

Six years later and twenty kilos heavier, I find myself cringing at the disbelief I encounter along with the accompanying comments. The onslaught of cancer and the necessary hysterectomy (uterus and ovaries) which followed have defeated all my battles with the bulge and I watch helplessly as my girth grows.

While I labor under a 20kg (44.09 lbs) increase on a 5’2″ frame, it makes me realize how people who are overweight might feel at most times. To have been overweight right from the start is one thing, to become rotund after a lifetime of “slim” is an entirely different issue. It isn’t easy to be sane or practical when you see odd bulges and shapes reflected back at you in the mirror. No matter what you do, the plump face refuses to look anything but puffy!

I try to explain to myself that under all that ‘blubber’, I’m still beautiful because I’m the same person. But who am I kidding? I see my confidence disintegrating every time my husband eyes that pretty, slim, thing that floats by. I feel threatened by his smart, young secretary, and the innumerable slim ladies who walk in and out of his hotel. I hide behind loose, ill-fitting clothes that make me look even more hideous and bulky. And then, I sink into the abyss of “IC,” inferiority complex. (I remarried after six years of widowhood at a time when I was still slim and it’s been only five years in this relationship).

For folks at home and in the office, I’ve become the butt of their jokes. So I have learned to laugh with them. And the worse I feel the louder I laugh. I even make jokes about being a ‘heavy weight’ sumo wrestler. And since I always laugh at myself (in a good way) and joke about the slip-ups and silly things that I do, it appears normal. And I fool myself, too, into thinking that I’ve finally learned to live with it.

Then why am I so low-key? Why do I opt to stay at home so often? Why do I suspect my husband wants to have an affair with every thin woman he sees?!

Why don’t I drown in my tub of lard!!

I need to get a hold of myself. The ‘self’ that I am inside. I’m finding it difficult to live with this person I am becoming.

And then, something happens. I become a widow again! I am in the doldrums and my condition worsens.

As the days pass, thanks to my doctor, I get fresh insights about myself and a better understanding of the situation I am in. It has taken time, but my good humor is restored. I realize what being happy and content is all about. I can see that I am who I am, not because of the kilos my weighing machine records; nor the shape my clothes show off. It’s my attitude. The right attitude will finally win the day. Obese or anorexic-I need a positive mind to lift my spirit (low spirits)! I accept the situation and the reasons for it. And I know it is up to me to change it for the better. Better health – physical, mental, and emotional.

I look at what I have in my life and need to appreciate; be grateful for it.

I still have my family; I still have my friends; I’ve still got love; I’ve still got my job; I still love who I am inside – the real me – and ultimately that’s all that matters.

Postscript: And that’s how the WAR was won, one BATTLE at a time over many years- On low self-esteem. On dwindling confidence. On negative attitude. On self-pity. On ‘pity’ parties. On weakening faith, hope, and joy. On Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis from my late forties onwards. Today in my sixties, I can look back at this arduous journey and smile with joy at having removed the biggest hurdles to better health and a better quality of life.

If you are struggling in the same way as I did and have overcome your battles, I high-five you.

If you are not quite there yet, take heart. You have it in you. You can do it. Stay strong. One day at a time, one step at a time. You can do it.

Things I’ve Learned – a random selection

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

-Wayne Dwyer

So here they are – some of the things that are forefront in my mind.

There is not always comfort in my comfort zone. 

Especially these past almost three years of the pandemic. It’s not a great thing to be locked in for such a long time indoors under restrictions in my home, which is my comfort zone!

(Response: Weigh the options. Choose well. I considered the outcomes… Stay at home and be more protected from the virus. Or break the rules. Open yourself, your family, and friends, to the vicious attack of a killer virus! I chose well.)

Change is a good thing but not always easy!

It’s intimidating. And rises, at times, as an insurmountable mountain. Especially if you have no say in the decisions that are bringing about the changes in your life.

(Response: Face it and you will overcome the initial apprehensions. Things settle in when you are open to working it out for yourself without losing yourself.)

joshua-earle–87JyMb9ZfU-unsplash

When I am feeling downhearted chatting or playing games with a child cheers me up every time. (Especially the laughter and giggles of my grandkids.)

pic: joy Clarkson

That it’s not WHAT I have in my life but WHO I have in my life that counts.

(ResponseAnd remember with gratitude- also those who have been a special part of my life, at some point, and have contributed greatly to my learning experience and growth.)

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

-MAHATMA GANDHI

To accept people the way they are, their natural selves, and appreciate the differences.

(Response: Not always easy but I’ve learned more by appreciating diversity)

nina-strehl-Ds0ZIA5gzc4-unsplash Word press 11

That I should eat what I need to eat and not what I want to eat. Most times, the latter isn’t going to benefit me in any way.

(Response – Decide wisely before ill health forces you to. It took a severe health issue to knock this sense into my head!)

“The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.”

-OPRAH WINFREY

That no matter what happens, God never fails.

(Response – Patience. Faith. trust. I just have to WAIT for his TIMING.)

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To accept what comes and do with it the best I can to make it better suited to me.

(Response – an open mind. Something I learned from my experience of living in different countries and, at times, outside my comfort zone.)

That I can allow the tears to roll down every time something beautiful I read or see moves me emotionally. Or when hilarious laughter sets the tear ducts overflowing. I needn’t be embarrassed.

(Response – Don’t bother about what people will think. Be your natural self.)

That I need to walk every day! If the weather doesn’t permit, I just have to walk indoors!

(Response walk along a hallway in the house (if there is one) or in the basement (if it’s done up and large enough to serve the purpose) or then in my room! I’ve actually even walked over a thousand steps in my room, though I must say, it’s not something I like. Put health as a top priority and do what needs to be done.)

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

I need to dedicate a fixed time to write. I do write when I have to, but it’s not on any allotted day, or time… no fixed schedule!

(Response – I’ve fixed a schedule and I’m trying my best to stick with it!)

And last but not least…That I can’t afford to spend so much time binging on web series

(Response – Realized why I needed to change this. I have many other things to do instead, like READING! It saves my eyes from stress and keeps them from watering. I need to take care of them. And reading books is good for me mentally too. And there’s an added benefit; I get to have a walk… the library is not too far from our place.)

I learn something new every day – through my own experiences or from reading about others’ lives, struggles, and victories. And also…

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…from listening to and observing other people around me. And most importantly, from my own ups and downs – the struggles and overcoming. The wins and losses. The changes and what they teach me. At work, at home, through interactions with family, friends, neighborhood acquaintances, or even strangers with whom I might have had just brief conversations.

(Response – Observe. Learn. Grow. There’s no age limit or bar, besides it’s good for oneself.)

Going Through Our Good Fridays

Are you going through a hard time: Loss of a job, the death of a loved one, depression, distress, financial woes, and the frustrations of flopped results despite the hard work? 

You are not alone in this. But, perhaps, you are also one among the many who do not know or do not believe that something good can come from the tight spot you are in now. You don’t believe it? Well, it’s not me saying so – it’s God’s promise!

Jesus experienced hard times too. Though, none as difficult as the walk down Via Dolorosa — the path he walked to his crucifixion.

Even he was “sorrowful and troubled” in the garden in Gethsemane. He prayed:

“….My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.” (Mathew 26:39 ESV)

Difficult choices

Jesus was troubled and under great stress. The agony, after his arrest and when they crucified him, would be horrendous. But, he knew he had to go ‘through’ the pain. There was no going around it. This would be the most difficult choice to make and he surrendered to God’s will and went through it until the end.

Like Jesus, we too have to make some tough choices at our level and surrender to the test if we must gain something good.

Like many great prophets, leaders, teachers, or even ordinary people who faced many troubles and hardships but pressed on, we too will have to make the choice that leads us to our cross; our difficult walk for the best outcome.

Our Crucifixion

I’m not implying a real crucifixion or martyrdom, but we have our own agonizing crucifixions. We may not suffer the extreme pain as Jesus did, nevertheless, it tears us, slashes us, and bleeds us and we suffer almost daily in little ways too.

There is nothing “good” about these Fridays we face in our lives neither is the walk through our own via Dolorosa a good experience. We’d rather go for ‘growing and learning’ in good times than bad. Yes?

But here’s the thing: It’s called Good Friday because of the result – the resurrection. It’s the end result that makes our struggles good… and maybe even awesome, like the resurrection. We rise above our circumstances. Grow in faith. We grow closer to God in our walk through the storms. The old changes for the new in us. New perspectives and courage.

So if we meet our ‘good’ Fridays in the same way as Jesus did his, by submitting ourselves to the Lord’s will and guidance, there will be a better Sunday.

Every Friday comes before Sunday!

From Pain To Gain

As Jesus knew he had to walk that painful, terrible walk to the cross, we, too, must believe that we need to go through our own Via Dolorosa in faith, and trust that the result will be good if we walk with God. Believe that He will work it out for our good.

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”-Romans 8:26-28 (MSG)

In hard and difficult times, it is good to remember these words. These verses have been the life preserver that kept me going in strong faith, trust, and hope in God’s better plan for my life.

In the times when things didn’t work out how I wanted them to; all I had done right went wrong and all whom I trusted let me down, I repeated these verses as a ‘mantra’. 

It kept me grounded and believing that God will work it all out… my mistakes, ill-placed expectations, disappointments, the cheaters, the hostile people around me; the gossip-mongers, and even my weakening body and ill-health… yes everything would all work out for my good.

Believe you have an awesome God who can take the ‘pain’ and turn it into ‘gain’. A miracle-working God who can transform your ‘messes’ into ‘messages’ of hope, faith, trust, and perseverance.

You might stray from the path; make a detour that wasn’t there on the journey plans meant for you. Trust me, if you love the Lord, He will bring you to the destination He intended for you. 

Our foolishness or naivety, at times, leads us against our better judgment to make the worst decisions and mistakes. Or it could be, that we trust the wrong people and allow them to get involved in our lives thus bringing in unexpected pain and misery. 

Whatever, He can lead us out of our messes.

Our detours and stupidity make it a longer walk than He had intended for us. Much longer than it should have been and it costs us many more worrying and trying hours than it would have if we had continued on the right path, in the first place! 

But, He brings us out of it: better and wiser.

The End Result Puts The “Good” In Our Fridays 

What makes our pain and suffering worth it?

The end result – The benefits we get.

The good that comes through it for us and others; our families, friends, and perhaps more far-reaching impact on society. 

When I look back at my walk through a dark tunnel with not even a pinpoint of light at the end, I realize that it would have been futile if I had given up mid-way. 

I wouldn’t have discovered myself: my strengths, my talents, and my spirit wouldn’t have developed and become strong to make me a secure, confident woman. My faith, instead of dying grew stronger!

It was a choice I had to make to continue walking in faith even though I was scared, unaware of how to survive as a single parent, provide for the kids, and hurt so bad.

Even though I thought death was a better option than the living hell I was in, I continued to push through. When you put your trust in God, He holds your hand. It does not mean things will get better in a snap. It isn’t like a magic wand in a fairy godmother’s hand.

You will have to face the storms, the struggle; the difference is, He’s by your side. You aren’t alone in it. He is the teacher, the guide and you are the taught!

The Difficult Times Are The Growing Times

We had good times, yes, many great days but, I realize now; they were the times of stagnation as far as growth goes. I can recall my deep desire to grow and develop beyond where I stood then.

It wasn’t dissatisfaction or frustration (or maybe it was!), but I was convinced that I had the potential to be more than what I was and I had untapped talents and abilities that were languishing unused. I wasn’t the person God intended me to be. Those were the thoughts that revolved around my head.

My time to grow came only when we hit the hard times. It took years before I learned to not get in God’s way and submit to His will with complete faith and trust and not make the learning process, or the progress more arduous than it already was!

The Test Of Endurance 

Besides the proverbial heads & tails ‘two sides of the coin’, there are two sides to many things: good & bad, night & day, hot & cold, and so on. The cross, likewise, represents two results or two sides: Crucifixion & Resurrection – death & life. 

To save us all, Jesus had to cross over from one side to the other side; from death to everlasting life. Simply put: He had to endure the bad side to get to the good side.

If he didn’t we would not be saved.

We’d have no savior.

No advocate in heaven.

And no forgiveness for our sins.

So, when we face tough times; trials that test us to the point of breaking, that’s when we dig deeper and get closer to God.

We should recall that Jesus himself faced the terrible agony of the cross, even though he was the Son of God, to obtain the prize – defeating death through his resurrection. 

If we endure, we will come out better rather than bitter on the other side.

 The keyword is Endure – to undergo especially without giving in. (Merriam-Webster), Suffer (something painful or difficult) patiently. (Oxford)

Jesus endured.

His walk was a long walk of pain and suffering. It did not begin with a trial and move immediately to the cross. There was an in-between period.

In the time between his sentencing and crucifixion, he suffered extreme torture, then battered as he was, he had to carry a heavy, wooden cross and walk to Golgotha. Following this, came the actual nailing to the cross – I won’t go into this, it is unbearable pain.

The test of endurance didn’t end here. He bore it for three more hours!! He endured all this for the ultimate good of mankind: for us.

Good Friday doesn’t hop to Easter Sunday. There is a Saturday in between. There is the darkness of the sealed tomb.

We have to endure many in-between times to complete the walk of endurance. Our days could stretch interminably, but we must endure by taking strength and courage from Jesus who endured from the beginning through the middle and to the end.

Jesus is the greatest example we have of endurance. No matter what times befall us, we must keep him in our minds and hearts; gain strength from his example and push through if we want to achieve something good and better. 

We could suffer for doing something wrong or even for something we righted! {Yes! Sometimes the right thing gets us into trouble with the wrong people. There are many examples of that! Evil is kicking and on the prowl}.

It could be unexpected circumstances that have nothing to do with us directly but we get caught in the consequences of someone else’s actions through association. Whatever, we have to go through it. 

When we endure with faith and trust, we will experience joy at the end of the tunnel.

Across The Bridge – very short stories

From the archives! This one is loosely based on a true story told to me by a colleague. I’ve added some and embellished it with my own imagination.

Anna awoke from her sleep with a start. She sat up in bed. She was drenched in perspiration and her breathing was heavy. The dream was recurring more frequently these days. Teresa was by her side in an instant.

“What is it memsahib” she asked. “Is it the dream?”

“Yes, the same bridge with turbulent waters flowing beneath, and I stood looking longingly at the dreamland on the other side, but was too scared to go across. I was trembling all over.

Pic: Ronaldo de Oliveira. Unsplash

“Don’t worry memsahib,” Teresa said, and gave her a glass of water and tucked her in.

The next day, Anna woke up to exceedingly good news. Rhea, her granddaughter, was coming from Singapore. She had met Rhea for the first time the previous year. She was twenty-three, bright and vivacious. Anna’s son had married and settled in Singapore. She had met her daughter-in-law just once, when Deepak brought his newly wedded wife to meet his family. After that Deepak too was an infrequent visitor.

Anna was ecstatic. She flitted around tidying up her little room and even took extra care in choosing her clothes and doing her hair. Teresa was happy to see her memsahib looking so nice. It had been a long time since Anna had taken interest in herself.

Anna was born into an affluent family. She was the only child and her parents doted on her. Every little wish of hers became their command, till she turned seventeen. Anna fell in love with a boy her parents didn’t approve of, but she stubbornly stood her ground, and they relented quite reluctantly. Anna’s hopes of continuing her college education were cut short when she became pregnant a month after the wedding. By eighteen she was a mother; at twenty-one, she lost both her parents in an accident, and on her twenty-fifth birthday, she became a widow.

According to the custom of her in-laws’ community, she was forbidden to wear bright colors or jewelry, and she could not participate in any celebrations. And according to superstition, she was considered unlucky. Her husband dying on her birthday made things worse. There was talk about it being a punishment for this ‘interfaith’ marriage. “Manhoos” (bad luck) was what they branded her. She was shifted to two small rooms in the outhouse attached to the servant’s quarters. However, Deepak, her son, was made to stay in the main house and was brought up by his uncle.

This was when Anna realized her folly in not paying heed to her parents’ objections to her marriage outside their religion and culture. Deepak grew apart from his mother and the chasm widened when he was sent to study abroad. If it hadn’t been for Teresa, Anna would have landed up in an asylum. Teresa had been sent to her by her parents, to look after Deepak. But God had other plans and Teresa became Anna’s caregiver.

Anna couldn’t forgive her in-laws for what they had done. She was angry and thought God had given up on her too. The only person she met or spoke to was Teresa. Sometimes someone from the house would come to meet her, but she wouldn’t talk to them. Soon even these visits stopped. Then Rhea came into her life like a bright ray of sunshine. Whenever she came on business trips, she visited her and she’d spend most of her time with Anna whom she called Dadi (father’s mother). She was pained to see how Anna had been treated by the other relatives and couldn’t understand why her father did not take his mother out of this pathetic living condition. She had left with promises that she would do something if no one else did.

Anna kept looking at the clock on the wall. Time was dragging its feet! She was annoyed. She was excited. She was waiting eagerly for her beloved granddaughter. What if she didn’t show up?

The sound of a car, a honk, followed by the sound of footsteps, perked her up.

“Dadi, I’m back,” announced Rhea hugging Anna tightly. Wasting no time in further chit chat or pleasantries, she turned to Teresa, “Pack up Dadi’s things. Oh, and yours too,” she added.

“Why missy baby?” asked Teresa.

“Because you are coming to live with me too. I’ve joined a firm here and shifted base and I’m taking my darling Dadi with me.”

There was hardly anything to pack so it wasn’t long before they were in the car and speeding along to their new home. Anna closed her eyes and relaxed. And once again she was at the bridge, but this time she was not alone. Boldly she put her hand into her Maker’s hand and crossed the bridge.

“Dadi, wake up. We’ve arrived.”

Anna opened her eyes and smiled, Yes my child we have indeed, she said. What’s that line you quoted the last time you were here?

“If you hug to yourself any resentment against anybody else, you destroy the bridge by which God would come to you,” repeated Rhea.

“Ah, a wise head on such young shoulders,” and she kissed Rhea tenderly.

Joy Clarkson

(This was first published on FaithWriters.com in a series of stories between 2006-2009)

Tiny Conversations-the Chinese Whisper!

I was bent over one of the many notebooks piled up for correcting. One of the banes of being a language teacher in an Indian school! Skewed teacher-student ratios, written classwork, written homework, and all the work had to be checked regularly. There were regular checks by the Principal to see if proper correction was done (with remarks and suggestions where necessary).

Parents in India, most of them, check their kids’ notebooks too to see if their work has been checked by the teacher. 

In the middle of one such day at that particular time, a colleague and neighbor knocked on the door. I opened it, and in she walked with a broad grin which was met with a forced one from me and a muffled groan. 

“I was so bored at home, thought I’d have a cup of tea with you and some gupshup!” She said beaming.

Gupshup is a colloquial word for chat. I didn’t say anything and, thankfully, I had got up to put the books away and my back was to her so she couldn’t see my less than hospitable expression. 

I hoped she’d see the notebooks and that I was in the middle of work and in no mood to entertain her and certainly no chatting which would just be her gossiping about everyone especially our colleagues. 

“Be warned: A person content to sit with you and criticize others will speak critically of you out of earshot.” – Richelle E. Goodrich

“Oh, you’re checking the books?! I finished mine.”

“Good for you! You have a ‘handyman’ to help with other things.”

“Handyman? I don’t have a man servant. I have a Bai (maid). You know that. What made you think I have a male servant?” 

“I wasn’t referring to domestic help. I was referring to your hubby, I laughed. He helps you around the house and even with the marketing. I don’t have that kind of help.”

I sensed rather than saw her tense. She clenched her teeth. Her eyes lost the convivial look it had just a moment ago. 

I realized she didn’t understand the joke in my comment. So I tried to explain it to her. Not that it helped!

“Come on. You know I wasn’t referring to your hubs as ‘domestic’ help. And you do know that having a husband at home does mean you don’t have to shoulder all the responsibilities or tasks. They do pitch in, in many ways, and lighten the burden… physical and mental.” 

“Of course I understand. What do you think? I’m not daft!” And she laughed loud shaking her head in disbelief. I wanted to believe her.

I would have believed her but nothing in her reaction conveyed that feeling. Neither her laugh nor the off-handed way she assured me. I had known her long enough (before we became colleagues) to read through the fake show. 

Anyway, I had much more important things to see to and such silly things couldn’t bother me much. As far as I knew, nothing I had said could be, even remotely, misconstrued as me labeling her husband as domestic help! 

“There are people who take rumors and embellish them in a way that can be devastating. And this pollution has to be eradicated by people in our business as best we can.” – Bob Woodward

However, the next day, the gossip mill was churning furiously with the latest breaking news! Yeah, you guessed it. 

Mrs. J had called Mrs. T’s husband a domestic help.

The general rumblings were, “Our husbands help us too. Does that mean they are servants?” And soon the Chinese Whisper grew to encompass all men who helped their wives at home. And from there it went further. They wanted to put me through the mill and grind real fine. 

“She’s a widow and is jealous! Is it our fault that she doesn’t have a husband?!”

Good heavens! If it wasn’t such a far-fetched notion that was so absurd and ridiculous, I might have been hurt. But I laughed my guts out at the stupidity of people who were ‘educated’ and working as educators themselves! 

Honestly, life brings you the hardest and best lessons and teaches you well in the times when life is a grind!

Suzy Kassem says it best in these lines:

“Never judge someone’s character based on the words of another. Instead, study the motives behind the words of the person casting the bad judgment. An honest woman can sell tangerines all day and remain a good person until she dies, but there will always be naysayers who will try to convince you otherwise. Perhaps this woman did not give them something for free, or at a discount. Perhaps too, that she refused to stand with them when they were wrong — or just stood up for something she felt was right. And also, it could be that some bitter women are envious of her, or that she rejected the advances of some very proud men. Always trust your heart.” – Suzy Kassem