Tiny Conversations – Jumping to conclusions

It was one of those gatherings – the ones where the local Indian origin diaspora collect to celebrate some Indian festival or someone’s b’day etc. So, it was one which I had to attend as the ‘family’ was invited. I had come up here to visit from Chile. It is taken for granted and understood by all and sundry that any visiting relation is also included in an invitation for the whole family. Not attending could be misconstrued to mean anything, definitely not in a good light, if the person was not laid down with an ailment or had a very good reason not to attend. This would be the second or third one I was attending so I was familiar with some faces and names that I could remember.

“Hello aunty!” said a young woman smiling brightly. (Indians call any known elderly person aunty or uncle, as the case may be, even though there’re no family ties.) I recognized her and thankfully remembered her name too. She was a motormouth and one that poked her nose into everyone’s business and gossiped too.

“Hello! How are you?”

“Good, good. Nice to see you again.”

“Nice to see you too. I guess one gets to meet more often at these gettogethers.”

“Didn’t you have these in Chile?”

“Well, not for the entire Indian community. We’d have one at Diwali and some other festivals too. But I’d go only if it was hosted by the employees of my son’s company for their families and some close friends. So, only the group of friends who visited each other, and the office crowd would attend, not the entire Indian crowd living there. Even then, I only attended a couple or so of these parties, not all.”

“Oh! Ok. Didn’t the parents of the others come?”

“No. There weren’t any parents around most of the time.”

“Then it must have been very boring. Ours here is nice. Everyone has company. So many seniors are here to keep you company.

“I think you got me wrong,” I laughed. “I didn’t skip these events because they were “boring” due the absence of “seniors” presence. In fact, I enjoyed them. I find it always more interesting to interact with the young ones. And my age group would be great if we had common interests. I don’t like domestic chatter when we should actually be having a ball!”

She looked at me a bit aghast. I could see the mills in her head churning – her eyes and expression couldn’t disguise it. She decided to change the topic.

“So, what do you do the whole day? You must be very, very busy looking after three grandkids the whole day. Especially baby-sitting the little ones! All our mothers are occupied doing that. They look after the kids and stay busy the whole day taking care of all their needs.”

“Oh no. I have quite a lot to occupy me. And that doesn’t include “looking after and taking care of all their needs.” I do things for them but it’s not a nanny kind of baby-sitting schedule that frees up time for the parents,” I laughed, “I let the parents do their share!”

“No? You don’t!” she exclaimed shocked.

“Well, I do engage with the kids as in play or if need be keep an eye on them when a parent is not around. I spend time with them singing, playing games, telling stories, and if it’s just us at home, I supervise meal time. I take the elder two for walks. I can’t give all my time to them on a daily basis. I need time for myself and the things I do.”

“Our mother’s love looking after the kids. They enjoy seeing to their every need. It gives us mothers a rest.” she said rather defensively.

“I’m sure they do. I do enjoy my time with mine, it’s just that I can’t be on call all the time. Most grandmoms, I guess, don’t mind looking after the grandkids 24×7, my own mom included! I applaud them.

“I have my own schedule and to-do list, you see,” I continued, “I just can’t fit in that kind of duty. In any case, I know I’d be awful in such a granny schedule. There are some things I’m loathe to do,” I explained my side of the situation. “Luckily, in Chile, we had a nanny 24×7 for the twins!”

“But, I can look after them, for short spells, and be a pretty interesting, funny granny who teaches as she plays,” I added.

She had a glassy stare and a fixed half smile.

“Oh, nice talking to you. Enjoy.” And she left in a hurry.

I did wonder about that. She seemed put off. Then I shifted my attention to doing what I like best when I’m in a room full of people – people-watching!

The next day, I got my answer to why the lady had hurried off all of a sudden. She had something very important to do… dispense information. I learned, from my son, that she had told all the ladies that I had called their mothers “NANNIES” because they looked after their grandkids- seeing to everything- feeding, eating, bathing, diaper changes, putting them to sleep, entertaining etc., etc.

“Did I?” I laughed. “That’s ridiculous! I never even remotely referred to anybody’s mother. I specifically pointed to myself. I just said I could not fit in the schedule of the nanny we had in Chile, in my daily agenda, because I had my own to-do list and if I did, I’d be an awful granny then, anyway. But I could be an awesome Granny, in short spells, which I am!”

I further explained to him, “There was no inference either because we were discussing ME and “baby-sitting. And I was addressing her assumption that I must be “very, very, busy looking after three grandkids the whole day.” In fact, I applauded their moms, including my own mother, in the group of grannies who liked to look after their grandkids’ “every” need.

Well, the lady sure had some inference, assumption issues or was it just a ‘sporting’ one of – JUMPING to conclusions?

Tiny Conversations – no colors for a widow

When I was widowed, we lived in a very conservative and restrictive society in a rather backward province at the time. So things were pretty bad for me with my sort of disregard for their stifling conventions that made no sense to me.

It was a society that took away the colors from a widow’s life, literally and figuratively too. Any kind of fun and enjoyment was banned for her. Dressing up was absolutely forbidden – no jewelry either. As if that weren’t enough, society had decreed that these unfortunate women could only wear certain colors – specifically, a dull, dark maroon and a dull greenish-blue. This identified them as widows. It horrified me that such rules were imposed on them. Imagine wearing clothes that put a tag on you WIDOW for everyone’s information! As if they hadn’t suffered enough. And for what purpose? It wasn’t their fault that fate had dealt them such a blow!

I recall a social acquaintance of mine, one who is a non-practicing, lawyer, telling me why the women of their society “willingly” accepted these social norms. She tried to explain it to me by quoting her widowed mother:

“My mother accepted it because she believed, ‘Once a husband dies, there is no color left in life. Life becomes totally colorless.‘ This is why it is okay for them to wear these colors and not wear jewelry nor participate in festivals and entertainment of any kind.”

“Oh, really?” I interrupted her with undisguised sarcasm. “What about the men, the widowers?”

“What about them,” she countered. “They are men. These things don’t apply to them They can carry on their lives.”

“Exactly my point – Why doesn’t it apply to them? Why does everyone start looking out for a wife for the widower, but push the widow into deeper misery? Why do they strip her of her dignity and self-respect? Why do they want to kill her spirit? Why make them like living corpses that way?”

“That’s how it’s been for years and that’s how it will remain. Who can stop it? At least it is better than Sati.”

“If the practice of Sati (burning the wife alive on the funeral pyre of the husband) can be stopped and declared a crime, this can be too. All it takes is the decision to fight against it. All it needs is one strong person to stand against it.”

“That’s what you think. We women don’t think so.”

“How many young widows have you asked about how they feel and what they think about this, with the assurance of confidentiality and secrecy?”

“I don’t need to ask anyone,” she was riled and het up. “This is our ‘rivaaz’. Our culture. And our society will follow it.”

“And are women in this ‘rivaaz’ consulted? Are they even represented when rules are made and imposed on them by ‘society’?

“It is a male dominated society. The women will never be consulted.”

“Not for long. Take my word. Change is coming. The winds are changing direction. But I’m keen to know, will you accept and support the change when it comes? You yourself have broken the boundaries of your social culture, you went against all that your society deemed wrong. Didn’t you? You are living your life on your terms. Will you be brow beaten if, god forbid, diktats such as these are imposed on you?”

She preferred to let silence speak for her. And the silence spoke louder than her words.

The Absence Of Presence

Sometimes, it’s your presence and not your company that matters more to someone! That does not mean they don’t appreciate or need your company, it’s just that your presence means a lot more. I realized this very late in life.

Normally, one thought that if you asked someone to stay: be around, it meant you wanted their company. You wanted to chat or perhaps wanted them to help out with something, unless you had given a specific reason. And if you didn’t engage in chitchat or gossip, didn’t give them a big chunk of your undivided attention, they’d feel redundant, dejected, disappointed and would want to leave. You’d be labeled boring, thoughtless, crazy or any such epithet that really didn’t apply. They couldn’t understand why someone would want them to hang around for nothing.

Through all my childhood years and youth, I never did want anyone’s “presence” to that extent. I was happy if I had a sibling or parent around, not to keep me “company,” but because I was scared to be alone. If I wasn’t afraid, it wouldn’t matter whether they were home or not as long as their absence was brief.

But just wanting to see them or know they were around because their absence created a vacuum; that was never a reason.

After I married, my husband would be out on tours twice or thrice a month, and each trip would be between 3-4 days. So I was by myself a lot. I welcomed the alone time. That might sound strange to some. The thing is I was a bookworm. I loved to bury myself in a book whenever I found the time. TV and the gadgets we engage with these days didn’t exist until the early 1980s in our part of the world. So, with the hubs away, I’d have uninterrupted reading sessions. No guests dropping in. No visits to anyone’s place (he was the more social one)! No need to cook three times a day either!

Then, along came the kids. Schedules changed and I took up a job when the younger started preschool. My day’s agenda was jampacked and I had little or no time to indulge in reading. As the boys grew and would be out for games at school or with their friends, and their father on his tours, I relished their absence!! I felt light and reveled in the sense of ‘freedom’ I had to put my legs up and just be – quiet and still. Listen to the sound of silence and allow it to seep into the pores of my skin. I’d relax as I couldn’t with the presence of the three men. I didn’t feel the weight of their expectations on my shoulders.

Not that they were demanding. Far from that. It was my own expectations from myself for them – does that make sense? I had set the bar way too high for myself as a wife and a mom. I’d be constantly on my toes, except for my scheduled short breaks, doing something or the other so they wouldn’t be bothered by little things.

Even though I had a maid to see to the cleaning, laundry, dishes; the dhobi to see to the washing of linen and thick or heavy garments as well as ironing, and a gardener who came in weekly or bi-weekly, as required, I still had a lot on my hands. I had to do a little of all the hired helps’ work too! That was me. And I kept the cooking – three meals a day – entirely as my domain.

As a teacher, in those days, we had anything from 38-45 kids in a class and there were times when I’ve had a bit more students than that. So, I had a lot of checking work coming home with me: notebooks with homework! Classwork notebooks I’d check during free periods in school. Our system back then was demanding. We had to give HW on a regular basis and check the work in time with corrections and remarks/notes where necessary. There was classwork too. All written work in class had to be checked in time. Both classwork and homework notebooks had to be kept up-to-date with corrections.

Add to that the class tests, quarterly exams, half-yearly exams, and then, the big one – Finals. If you were a language teacher, you’d have a bigger load to check. Two exams so two big bundles of papers to go through: Language and Literature. Each was a separate exam. Now add to that, that I was teaching language & literature to three classes. All at different levels – 8-10. Saying that I had my hands full is an understatement. Add to that the extra work if you were a Class Teacher as well! And I was both. There were the marksheets to be made. Shown to the Principal to decide if any child deserved some ‘grace’ marks to pass. Then the report cards to be filled in. Remarks for each child.

Did I mention that these were all handwritten? We weren’t digital then.

All this to say, I had a lot on my plate jobwise, and I raised the bar of my own performance level at home too because – well, because that’s who I was then. None of my wonderful men at home thrust that on me. So, I never missed anyone’s presence. I enjoyed their absence. But with time, I realized, while I relished the alone, quiet time I got with them gone, the boys found it difficult if I were to go for a meeting or something during a holiday. They missed my presence!

I’d have done all that I had to do so they wouldn’t have to do anything. Everything would be the same as usual, except, my presence. And that’s what they missed. They wanted to know that I was around in the house. They wanted to see me there even if I was busy with domestic chores or sitting and and drinking my tea in the garden, or just sitting around. And if they had to go out for whatever reason, even to meet a friend in the neighborhood, they wanted to be assured that I’d be at home when they returned. They wanted that reassurance whether they hung around at home or not. They missed my ‘presence’.

I couldn’t understand this, and sometimes, when the hubs would grumble about a teachers’ meeting on a Saturday or, if necessary, on a school holiday, I’d counter with the argument that his tours also kept him away most times during my holidays or offs.

“It’s different,” he’d respond.

“How is it different?”

“You don’t miss us the way we miss you,” he shot back.

“Nice argument! Haha! I’m flattered but not convinced. It stinks of bias and disguised male chauvinism.”

“Whatever. The home is not the same when you’re not in. You are the Queen of this Queendom.”

This word he’d coined, queendom, always made me smile. I’d smile, flattered mightily. But not fully comprehending what they missed.

And then, his time ran out. Was 39 yrs any age to go? The angels came and he travelled on a one-way ticket into the blue.

In the years that followed, I finally learned what it was to ‘miss someone’s presence.’ Not what they did for you. Not how they helped you personally. Not the tangibles and physical help – what I missed was his presence. There was a huge vacuum in my life.

His presence, even when he was on tour, had always remained with me in spirit. It was this physical and spiritual connection that created the presence for me. The connection of two souls. With his physical presence gone, there was an empty space. It was saudade – a permanent absence of physical presence.

I realized that earlier, the temporary absence of one person, for a few days in the month, did not manifest in any kind of longing or the feeling of absence because I knew, at the back of my mind, he was very present in my life: in flesh and blood. But, I needed more space to just be. Quiet. Silent. Be with me. Me needs my exclusive presence too. In fact, the wait, on the day he’d be back, was a delicious anticipation that would reach the heights of joy when I’d see him enter the gate.

It only hit me much later that, for me, his physical presence was huge, but it was also one I took for granted. The support I got from him through his love, actions, strength, and consideration, filled in the vacuum of his physical absence. It remained a spiritual presence… emotional presence… one so strong in thoughts that it didn’t leave an empty space. Besides, the few days would pass off so soon and he would be back well before that sort of longing and missing happened.

The finality of death is awful. Heavy. Painful. Debilitating. Crippling. And for the first time I understood what saudade meant in the true sense.

What missing the “presence” physical, and of the spirit and soul meant: an eternity of absence. Knowing there was no returning ever. I could stare at the gate, waiting for his tour taxi, and the clang of the gate all in vain. That’s when I felt the tremendous weight of loss – in body and spirit.

That’s when I realized that actually, the relief I looked forward to, when I was alone, was my own need to fulfil some of my own desires (of quietude and solitude) and time to pursue my personal hobbies. It overshadowed the absence that I might have felt and helped me keep my equilibrium in an overcrowded daily agenda. And also, in an unobtrusive way, helped me to do things independently without expecting help in domestic chores, and kept me organized, disciplined, and emotionally strong.

Now, I’m living with SAUDADE – the constant feeling of the ABSENCE of PRESENCE. A particular presence in my life. An empty space that nothing and no one can ever fill.

I can be surrounded by family: my dear sons and grandkids or even extended family. I could enjoy their company to the hilt, but it only heightens the longing for that one presence that can never be replaced. I’d wish he were there. Of how much he’d enjoy it.

It is immense love and great grief. Love that cannot be shown or expressed. And grief that has no shoulder to lay its head on. No place to go. No person. No presence.

Grief, I’ve learned is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.

– Jamie Anderson

It is SAUDADE!

The Original Blueprint – Part -1

Canada had never been on my list-of-places-to-visit! Though, I did advice a lot of youngsters, including my son, to move to Canada. But I never ever felt inclined to visit here, and living here was not even a possible thought.

Yet, here I am!

Destiny? God’s plan for my life? I guess it’s both. It’s the result of the original blueprint for my life. One that I altered in some places, and the others altered without my consent at some juncture.

I often wonder about my sojourns to two countries that never figured in my travel-hungry dreams and desires. Surprisingly, apart from Canada, USA also didn’t make it to my list! While my friends in college went on about the States I dreamed about countries in Europe. I didn’t realize my Europe dream and, of course, never went to the States. But I came close to it when I ‘lived’ in Chile! A place that wasn’t even on the periphery of my travel thoughts. Though, I must add here, I loved it. The city I lived in and the memories of my stay there are embedded in my heart.

But as I’ve learned, God’s plan for my life will go according to plan despite the detours I make from the path. I will, eventually, do, go, function according to the original plan – sooner or later.

Take my journey at this point in life – I’m in Canada! If I had not rejected an offer to travel to Ireland when I was nine years old; if my mother had not put her foot down (which encouraged me) on the offer of two wonderful Irish missionaries to adopt me, I would have been here decades ago!

The story that convinces me that it is God’s original plan starts in the latter half of the year 1963, in New Delhi.

My parents were members of an evangelical church. The congregation called themselves the ‘Brethren’. The church was in Connaught Place and was called Gospel Hall. It wasn’t a conventional church building. It was in a commercial area and was one of the shops/offices that had been rented for worship.

In those days, Christian missionaries abounded all over India, and we had a fair share of them in Delhi, and in our Gospel Hall as well. Among the ones at Gospel Hall was an Irish couple – John and Lily Walker. They had two sons, Johnston and Earnest.

My parents and the Walkers took to each other and they became friendly outside the fellowship-worshippers church circle. We’d have them over for lunch sometimes and they’d invite us over for a meal sometimes. I enjoyed the company of this missionary family, which I confess was not normal because, even at that young age, I didn’t care much for the many others whom my father had befriended when we were posted in Kerala, South India. They’d come over often and have lunch and tea with us. I recall a picnic or two. One at a beach and one on a house boat! I was younger then but I had a mind of my own. I liked and disliked my parents’ company according to my own judgments for what they were worth!

There were the Phoenixes, the Bones, the Taylors, the McGregors, to name a few.

But the Walkers were different. I played with their younger son, Earnest, who was a year and half older than me, I think. Johnston, the elder one was nice too. He would talk to me and joined his brother and I briefly sometimes.

Lily and John were jovial and easy-going and not the typical uptight Christian missionaries who judged everything we said or did and found it inappropriate according to their thinking. I usually made myself scarce when any of those kinds visited us. They didn’t understand our sense of humor, our cultural dos and don’ts, and they thought they had the God-given right to admonish me!

Well, I was the youngest kid in the family then, a bit spoiled by Daddy, and I couldn’t take that. So rather than ‘talk back’ I avoided them.

Anyway, to come back to the main part of the story. Lily and John had taken to me too. We, of course, were unaware of the extent to which they had fallen in love with me. They had already decided (before even consulting with my parents) that they wanted to adopt me! That was the reason why they began to spend more time with us. Even at Sunday School or at church, Lily would talk to me, sometimes sit beside me at church, and generally, give me a lot of attention. I loved it because it was free of judgement, criticism, and full of love, caring, and acceptance of my little personality as it was.

None of them, including the boys, ever tried to change or mold my natural self to suit them. I was accepted as I was. I was loved as I was.

We were brought up in an Indo-western environment with the western more pronounced than the Indian. Our etiquette, behavior, and environment at home was more western. So there wasn’t much that was different for me in their home, and I guess they didn’t find much to change in my behavior.

Well, finally their term in India was drawing to its end and they had to make their intention known to my parents. And they did. I was totally in the dark about how my fate was being decided between them.

While all this was going on, a severe case of jaundice laid me down. It was pretty bad because my parents hadn’t realized that it was more than an “ache in the side of my tummy” as I continued playing with the pain. No one noticed that the whites of my eyes had turned yellow until one day, Mummy did. The doctor was worried and hoped that it wasn’t worse than what he had diagnosed.

The result was that the Walkers postponed their return and extended their stay by three months. It took over two months for me to get better, but I was very weak and I had to be under medical supervision for a month more.

My father had put in his papers for an early retirement and wanted to go back to his hometown and get started on building our house. But as I couldn’t travel then, he asked for an extension on our accommodation for another month. So we were in Delhi while he went on ahead to get work started on the house.

Now, the Walkers who were apprised of the developments on our side, came home before Daddy left. As I lay in bed, I could hear them talk, but not clearly enough to get the whole conversation. I gathered bits and pieces and knew that it was something about me. I heard my name mentioned a lot. I heard the word travel. I heard the words “extend our stay.” I tried to put two and two together but couldn’t understand what was the big deal if I couldn’t travel. I presumed they were going to leave me back here with the Walkers and my mother and brother would go with my father to Punjab. I would be staying with these people and join them later when I could travel.

However, I soon learned who was planning to ‘extend’ their stay and why. It all came down to one person’s decision – Mine!

I heard footsteps coming towards my room and I perked up a bit. John and Lily came in and Lily sat on the bed and held my hand. They asked how I was and made some small conversation. Then they asked me if I liked their sons. Did I like their home and was I comfortable whenever I spent the day there. My answer was a big YES and a broad smile to all of these questions. Then came the last one.

“Would you like to come live with us?”

“Okay,” I quipped happily thinking I was right about what I had picked up from their conversation earlier. Then I added, “How long will I stay? The doctor said it could be longer than a month before I can travel.”

They realized I was not on the same page as them. And that my parents hadn’t broached the subject with me.

Gently, both of them told me how much they loved me and how Lily had fallen in love with me from the first day she saw me. How she wanted a daughter and she saw that daughter in me. How her sons also accepted me as a sister if I agreed to be a part of their family.

It was a bomb exploding in my head. I was just a little nine year old going on ten, by then! This was in the beginning of 1965. And I wasn’t strong enough mentally and physically and emotionally to deal with such a big question about the future of my life.

They realized it immediately after they had said what they had to say. To their credit, they very softly and lovingly told me I didn’t have to make my decision immediately. They could wait. But if I could give them some hope, even a 50-50 one about their chances of becoming my foster parents, they could extend their stay by even six months, if need be.

I loved my family. I couldn’t imagine loving someone else as my parents no matter how nice they were or how much I loved them too. No one could replace my Mummy and Daddy! Not even the very nice and loving Lily and John Walker.

“Will you take me with you to Ireland?”

‘Of course. You’ll be my daughter. Wouldn’t you like that?”

“Yes. But when will I see my parents?”

“You can write to them, talk to them over the phone. And you can come back to see them whenever you want. And they can come to see you too. We won’t keep you away from your family in India.”

“Have you spoken to my mummy and daddy? What did they say? Did my Daddy say yes? Did my Mummy say yes?”

The questions came pouring out. I still remember the dread I felt and the slight tremor of excitement at what this meant for me. I was scared to leave all that was familiar and that I loved behind and go with people I barely knew beyond a social relationship. Nevertheless, there was a bit of adventure and excitement at the thought of going on a long journey to another country and living a new life. One I could only imagine from movies and stories I had heard.

The thought that was troubling me was that if both of my parents had agreed to this, I would have to go. I thought I’d have no right to refuse if my parents had agreed. I wouldn’t see them for years maybe and neither my sisters and brother. It made my heart sink. And I was scared too. So far away from my parents whom I trusted and relied on. I had no notion of how I’d be able to bear that. Somewhere, was a flicker of hope that one of them had refused. Somewhere at the back of my mind, subconsciously, I was keeping that as my escape hatch.

I was waiting for their answer. My heart was pounding.

Lily looked at John.

“Your father said he had no objections if we let you keep in touch and allowed you to visit. But he said it all depended on your answer and not his. We could adopt you only if you agreed.” My heart leapt with joy. Daddy had given me the final decision. I wasn’t so scared now.

“And what did Mummy say?”

“She doesn’t want you to come with us. She flatly refused to let us adopt you.”

This made it easier for me to make my decision. Her flat refusal took the burden off me. Deciding to take such a big step, one that I couldn’t fully comprehend. To me it was just like an adventure. Like the ones I’d imagine and dream to come true. This gave me the escape route I was looking for and I made up my mind.

“No. I can’t go with you forever. I can come for a holiday but I want my Mummy and Daddy. My sisters and brother.”

“But your parents will still be your parents. Your sisters and brother will still be your siblings. Think about it. You’ll have bigger opportunities if you come with us. take your time to decide. Though not too long. We cannot extend our stay only to find you won’t be coming back with us. We have to get your travel arrangements done too.”

“Ok. Then please don’t extend your stay. I don’t think I can stay away from my family like this.”

They looked so sad. I felt bad and wondered if I should say yes. My mind was for it. But my heart wasn’t in it at all.

“I’m sure.” I said. “I can’t leave my family.”

Long story short. The Walkers left. Mummy and Lily kept in touch for two or three years via snail mail. We learned that they had migrated to Canada a year or so after they returned to Ireland. And that’s where the Canada connection comes in, in this story. If I had agreed to make them my foster parents, I would have been in Canada decades ago!

So, in the original blueprint, I was destined to come here. I never thought about it. I never hoped for it. It wasn’t an inviting place to even include in my dream list of holidays. But that was then.

This is a beautiful country. And one worth visiting and settling in, if that’s what you want.

But…

I had to go on a circuitous route, before I finally came here. I’ve lost so much in the detours I’ve made. Apart from the material things, I lost peace of mind, a sense of belonging, the company of age-old friends. It isn’t easy to adjust to new environs when you’re older. It isn’t easy to make new friends. It isn’t easy to leave the familiarity of social, cultural, and traditional aspects of one’s life. That being said… This senior isn’t doing too bad all things considered. Not quite there, yet, but getting there!

So how did Canada, the eventual destination, come about?

More about that in the next part.

To Be Continued….

And I Call Them My Angels in Disguise-Part I

Questions I hear from kids these day:

“The Bible has a lot of angels appearing to people in the ‘Biblical’ times. Where are those angels?”

“They haven’t appeared to anyone for ages. Doesn’t God need to send us messages too?”

“Why doesn’t he send us warnings or reassurance through angels anymore?”

I hear the echo of my own queries, that were somewhat similar to these, when I was going through Sunday School and even, as a teenager, during our youth Bible studies. Now, it makes me smile because I realize I’ve been telling people about how God has sent me angels in times when I was lost and helpless, and at a time when I was in dire danger. And none of them had wings!

What makes it hard to believe that angels exist is our ‘fiction fed’ imagination. We grow up seeing angels portrayed with big wings, wearing long flowing white robes, and they have an aura of light around their heads! They are celestial beings and not ordinary like us humans sans wings. So they couldn’t be real. Right? Not necessarily! Nowhere, other than the artist’s illustration of angels, do we read about such an appearance (physical) of the angels who appeared to people in the Bible. In fact, we read about how Jacob wrestled with an angel who is referred to as the “man.”

And we read about Lot inviting two angels to his home for a meal. To him they looked like just two men!

GENESIS 32:2228 (NIV)

JACOB WRESTLES WITH GOD

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

In the account of Lot entertaining ‘strangers’ in his house, not knowing they were ‘angels’, again we find that they appeared as normal human beings.

GENESIS 19:1-3, 12:17 (NIV)

LOT ENTERTAINS TWO ANGELS

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate…..

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

So we see that, in the Bible, the angels appeared as ordinary men. Well, I’m not contesting the fact that they weren’t human beings, I believe, as it is written in the Bible, that God created angels to do His bidding. What I also believe is that He does use people, as angels, to come to our aid. When this happens it’s obvious that these people have been God-led. Whether through promptings of the spirit in their heart, their soul or any other way.

I have two stories to share though I have been helped by human god-sent angels more than twice. But I am sharing the stories of these angels because nothing could be more convincing than their appearance when I least expected it. Neither could I have even imagined them coming to help. They were my God-led people who were my angels. That’s how I discovered that God uses people as angels too!

My angel, in the first story that I share here was a bus driver whom I didn’t know beyond recognizing his face because he was the bus driver, almost daily, when I traveled to school. It wasn’t a school bus but a public transport that carried me half-way to school. I’d get off at a place called Mullanpur. Here, I’d wait to catch another bus to Halwara, an Air Force base, where there was an English Medium school!

So, here’s the first one. It happened on my way back from school. I was sixteen and in the 11th grade. Often, on my way back in the afternoon, unlike on my way to school in the early morning, I’d have to wait for my bus ride back home. Most buses, at that time would be overcrowded and wouldn’t stop at Mullanpur. Or if there was a passenger or two, it would stop a few seconds, not really coming to a complete STOP, to allow any passenger to hop off. Or I’d get pushed aside by some burly fellow as I tried to push my way up the steps and the bus, already full and stuffed would move on.

The other thing that made it difficult for me to get buses back home was my Bus Pass! It was for a particular transport company and I couldn’t use my pass for any other transport company bus. I’d have to pay for a ticket, and I never carried money with me most days.

While the bus I took in the morning, at 5.45 a.m., would have the same driver, a tall Sikh, almost everyday, on the way back I’d get his bus on rare occasions. Somehow, even though I didn’t know who he was, or even his name, I felt safe when he was at the wheel.

Well, it was providence that on that particular day, when I had already missed three buses and it was getting late, up came his bus to the bus stop and I got in with a big sigh of relief. It was nearing winter and the days were getting shorter, so in that rural area, at that hour, there weren’t many women or girls on the bus. Mainly men. And as usual, the women folk would usually be ones who would get off at Sidhwanbet or Sidhwan Khurd which was midway to our town. And most of the men would have got off too by then.

On this fateful day, the bus emptied out completely. There were only three people in the bus… the driver, the conductor, a young Sikh, and I. I settled in my seat, grateful for the open space, peace, and quiet. But that peace didn’t last even ten minutes!

Suddenly, I felt the bus slowing down and a low but commanding voice saying in Punjabi, “Kudiye, ithe aaja, samne.” (trans. Girl, come here, in front.). I looked up to see the driver pinning me with his eyes in the rearview mirror up front.

I was sitting midway, a little more to the back. All the seats were unoccupied. I couldn’t understand why he was calling me to come in front and stared at him. I was a bit nervous. Yet, because for some reason I had felt safe in his bus right from the start, I wasn’t scared. Just nonplussed.

His eyes took on a more commanding look and the tone in his voice was urgent as he repeated what he had said earlier. And then, he turned to look out the front and shouted to me, “Chheti kar! Ithe aaja samne.” (Trans: “Hurry up! Come here to the front.”).

I jumped up totally alarmed by the urgency and something else I heard and saw in his voice and eyes. I got up and walked down the aisle about two seats forward but before I could get in and sit, he commanded me to get on the first seat directly behind him. I did as I was told. By now I was a bit scared.

Then he directed me to cover my head with my dupatta. The dupatta is a chiffon/georgette/fine cotton stole worn across the shoulders with a salwar-kameez (Punjabi dress). I didn’t bother to think about it or protest. I quickly did as he said. By now the bus was coming to a halt. He barked at the conductor who was sitting right next to him on the seat to the left window, “Darwaza band karo te kholi na jado tak main na dasan.” (“Lock the front door, and don’t open it unless I tell you.”). Next, he growled at me in a low voice to slouch in the seat so I wouldn’t be too visible. Now I was scared. What on earth was happening?

The bus slowed down to a crawl but never stopped. Through the front screen he gestured to some passengers at the bus stop to get in from the back door. That’s when I felt a bit uncomfortable. A group of 4-5 young Sikh men, rowdy and in ‘high spirits’, boarded and thankfully settled in and spread out on the last seat behind. This seat spans the width of the bus and they settled in and continued where they had stopped…drinking! Yes, they were in High Spirits literally and figuratively too!

I peeked at the driver, in fear. He had his eyes glued to the mirror moving them for fractions of seconds to watch the road.

And then the most frightening thing happened.

One of the men noticed that someone was sitting in the front seat. He shouted gleefully, “Oye! kuddi hai.” (trans: “Oye! There’s a girl.”)

My blood ran cold. The driver’s face and eyes took on a ready-for-battle look. He hissed at the conductor to get up and stand in the aisle in the middle of the bus. The young guy looked scared. The men behind were older and bigger than he was and they were tipsy too. The driver spoke again, threateningly this time. The young conductor jumped up and made his way down the aisle and not too soon either.

“Hillo na! khada rah!” instructed the driver. (trans: Don’t move. Keep standing.)

While action was being taken in front, activity and attention behind had also got charged.

“Dekhi, kaun hai!” (trans: Take a look. Who is it?) said one.

“Oye, rehnde, bujurg hai,” (trans: Oye, let it go, she’s an oldie) said another.

“Ja ke vekh, ja cheti ja!” (trans: Go and see. Hurry up) piped another.

One of the young men got up. By then the conductor was already in the middle. Scared, but by now more scared of the driver and what would happen to him if he cowered. The driver was a commanding figure.

Before the tipsy man could take even two steps, the driver roared, “Piche ja!” (Get back!)

The youngster wasn’t in the mood to go back but not so sure he wanted to go ahead either. The driver’s eyes had pinned him to the spot.

“Mada ja vekhan tan de,” (Let me have a peek at least) he countered. Then he looked at the conductor blocking his path.

As a warning, the driver said, “Khada rah. aan na de.” (trans: Keep standing. Don’t let him pass.) The conductor nodded his head and took a firmer position and straightened himself. His fear seemed to have gone now that he realized why he was told to block the way.

The driver knew it was a matter of prestige now for the tipsy men. And they definitely outnumbered these two men. However brave they were they wouldn’t be able to tackle these men. And, getting them angry would not augur well for me.

So he did a wise thing.

He had already slowed down the bus. The road was free of traffic, not many vehicles plied this way at this time in the evening.

Keeping his eyes fiercely on them he said, “Eh sadde Masterji di poti hai. Eh sadde pind di thi hai. Tussi ja ke bai jao piche. Koi zaroorat nahin hai aage aan di.” (trans: She is our School Teacher’s granddaughter. She is a daughter of our village. Go and sit down behind. There is no need for you to come in front.)

The authority and warning worked. And now, he had made it a matter of honor. I was not only the Senior teacher’s granddaughter, I was also a daughter of their village. And they understood this. It meant he would defend me no matter what.

One of the group, called for the young fellow to come back. He was reluctant to go back, his pride was offended. But the others also joined in calling him back and telling him it was not right. I was their daughter. Well, thankfully, there were some in that group who knew where to draw the line. And thankfully, my familiar ‘safe’ bus driver was in that bus that day.

It didn’t end here. The driver told the conductor to sit on the seat near the front door. This way he was to my left across the aisle. I was seated on the seat to the right of him across the aisle and directly behind the driver.

Then he spoke to me. He told me to keep my stuff – books etc., ready. He would stop the bus for me to get off closer to my home. I usually got off at the Bus Depot which was also the main bus stop. There were no scheduled stops between our house and the main stop. He explained that it wasn’t safe for me to walk alone back home. These men could follow me. I nodded my head. I was so scared I was trembling.

Then he instructed the conductor to open the door as soon as he slowed down.

He cleverly slowed down at a place where there were shops along the road and it was usually a busy place with the shopkeepers sitting out and drinking tea and chatting outside their shops near closing time in the evening. He slowed the bus to the minimum he could without stopping or making it difficult for me to get off. And he chose a place between the railway crossing gate and the shops. This way the men behind wouldn’t have a clue. Buses often had to stop if the railway crossing gate was closed for a passing train. The main depot/stop was on the other side of the railway track.

He signaled when I had to get up from my seat and move fast down the three-four steps and jump down. The moment I landed on the ground safely and was clear of the door, he sped up and drove away.

I still remember how he emphasized his last warning: “Cheti, cheti duad ja gar nu.” (trans: Run fast back to your home.)

When I turned into the gate of the Christian Compound, I slowed down and breathed deep. I was breathless. I looked back cautiously to see if anyone had followed me. I peeked around the thick gate post, but there was no one following.

That Sikh gentleman bus driver, a familiar face but a stranger and that young conductor, were my angels that day.

Back home I wondered how he knew Grandpa and that I was his granddaughter. I wondered how he knew where I lived.

Grandpa said that since he had been a senior teacher in the Govt. School and then later had taught in a Christian Mission school, and he had retired as an Inspector of Mission Schools, there would be quite a few who would know him.

“But how did he know I am your granddaughter?”

“Well, I don’t know. Maybe, it’s because you don’t look like the locals? Besides, many know that my sons joined the Navy and moved out from here. And you don’t know Hindi or Punjabi very well. You speak Hindi with an accent and some grammatical errors,” he laughed.

“How did he know where I live?”

“That’s a strange thing. Have you ever stopped the bus at the Church gate?

“No”.

Well, then, that’s a mystery. He must have surmised that since you weren’t a Sikh, and perhaps he didn’t see you as Hindu, so that leaves Christian, yes?”

“I could be Muslim, you know?”

“No, no Muslim girl would be allowed to travel alone so far to study in an English medium school!”

True. This was in 1971 and in a small town.

Well, I call that Sikh gentleman Bus Driver my Angel for that day.

To understand why I call them angels and what possible fate I faced that day and why I consider the bus driver and the conductor my helpers put there on that day by God, you’ll have to read this news report from 2012. It was horrendous news and I remember while I read it, the memory of this day, years earlier, came back with its jitters. I imagined how things could have got out of hand. I became evermore grateful that there were two people there that day, so many years ago, to keep me safe. God uses people as angels.

Here’s a link to the news about what happened to a young girl and her friend in a moving bus. Warning: it’s horrendous and makes your stomach churn and gives you goose bumps. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/what-is-nirbhaya-case/articleshow/72868430.cms

THE SECOND STORY, PART 2, OF AND I CALL THEM MY ANGELS WILL FOLLOW IN THE NEXT POST.

Water Wails

I haven’t had any experience of a ‘no water’ situation outside of India, except for once, in Chile. But that was during a massive earthquake where electricity and the water supply got cut off. While the electricity was restored quick the water supply took a day or two, I think. But in India, I’ve had a lot of water related headaches in Rajasthan.

In one city water was supplied for only about 2-3 hours daily. So we had to be on our toes. Store up drinking water, make sure the underground water storage tank was filling up. Then turn on the pump so water would be pumped up from the underground tank to the overhead tank at the same time. This way we could have full storage tanks and not worry. While this was an inconvenience, compared to the regular water supply, 24×7 running water, we were used to, it slowly became a part of our routine which ran smoothly without the initial hitches and glitches and mumblings and grumblings. Why, I even maintained a small garden with a lush green lawn. A thick row of red roses, many potted plants, and flowering hedges.

However, when we moved from this city to another one, we were shocked to learn that water was supplied every alternate day and here too, it would be for only 2-3 hours! And this city was called the City of Lakes! Our previous experience kicked in and soon we adjusted to the routine of storing up water on alternate days. In fact, it wasn’t even a problem in our daily life. It fit in comfortably with our busy schedules on weekdays. We never ran short of water. The overhead tanks were big enough to store enough. Of course, in both cities, we had to remember to store fresh drinking water as the stored water in the overhead tanks wasn’t fit to drink. But, even here, I had a garden bigger than the other one. A lovely lawn and even more plants.

The initial shock and stress we felt about the water supply system in these places were just our thoughts. It was an unknown situation and we imagined all kinds of problems and more difficulty. In reality, it wasn’t something we couldn’t surmount and live with comfortably too. 

The most difficult one was in a town in a desert area of Rajasthan. This was at the in-law’s family home. There was no water supply at all! Rain water was harvested if and when it rained! Rain was scarce there in those day. But in the recent past things have changed and this place has been flooded too by incessant rain!

To come back to the water story, the rain water that would collect on the roof of the house was channeled to an underground tank that was as big and deep as a small room. This was our ‘well’ and had a heavy, thick wooden lid covering the opening. Water would be drawn out with a bucket attached to a rope. Since rain water was scarce, water would be bought. One could ask for a tanker of water which would drive up to the house and fill up the tank… half full or full, depending on how much water one had paid for.

Since there was no running tap water, water had to be drawn for bathing too. In short water was drawn and filled in buckets in the bathrooms for one’s various needs.

The same water from the tank, would also be used as drinking water! I recall whenever I visited, my MIL would get drinking water from elsewhere and this would be stored in a separate matka (earthen pot). This was because I and my little sons would get tummy infections. I never got to draw water though I was keen to try it! I was scared to lean over the opening of the underground tank, I’d feel dizzy. So, hubby dear forbid me to ever even try doing it.

Since I didn’t live here, it wasn’t a major hassle for me. Water would be drawn for me. Though, I must admit asking for water to be drawn more than once or twice in the day made me a bit uncomfortable. These were all experiences in the years from 1979-1992. I do hope things have improved since then.

Now, many years later, when I have forgotten all about these woes, I came across this post posted in 2011. It isn’t a similar situation but it is about a water problem in a bigger and more modern city than the ones mentioned above. It brought back the panic I felt, especially when the rain water flooded the balcony and threatened to flood the house too! I lived alone at the time and with some physical restrictions in bending, lifting, pushing, and pulling, I was going crazy knowing that there wasn’t much I could do on my own to stop the water from getting into the house.

I recall how I brought out bedsheets and tried to create a dam so the water wouldn’t seep in under the door. How I stood in the balcony yelling out at the top of my voice for help.

That’s water under the bridge now, thankfully.

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink…
August 22nd 2011

Hola! I’m back after one of those unscheduled breaks (from blogger) that keep happening despite my efforts at organisation and day agendas etc, etc!

The first thing that laid me low was a lesion in a lumbar disc, which I stupidly allowed to happen while I sat in an uncomfortable, unstable chair in a multiplex and refused to get up and leave because I was enjoying the movie so much (not to mention the money I’d paid) So bed rest it was….or so I thought!

The ongoing water situation (read: no water supply) which had started four days prior to my visit to the cinema hall, which the society supervisor had promised would get solved in three days, had not been fully resolved. However, complaints and necessity moved the people in charge to buy huge quantities of water every day. This came in water tankers and would then be pumped up to the overhead tanks. However they could not meet the desired level of need, so water was rationed and we had to be alert to fill up or then do without. Needless to say what happened to my back! The water situation continues, with hope gleaming on the horizon. A lot of drilling went on throughout last night…work is in progress, Hallelujah! I’m happy to report my back is doing better. I decided to leave everything on hold and fill water and rest…it worked!!!

(FYI, our side of modern Gurgaon uses groundwater. It seems that the original pump had not been drilled deep enough and in the eight years since then the water level had gone down)

I have also been on flood control duty…(hyperbole ha!) A few heavy showers during this period threatened to flood my dining room! The balcony, onto which the room opens out to, was getting flooded as both the outlet drains were clogged. Thankfully, help came in the form of the building supervisor and  one was cleared. Relief poured out as the rain water gushed down the drain.

I was worried about my potted plants. Rationed water left none for them…but the rains obliged so far. Let’s see how I manage to keep them alive and well.

I’ve visited a few blogs and will be reading the ones I’ve left. It’s nice to be back.

Well, some memory that was. Monsoon season, in India, can be punishing when it is in full swing. I wonder how many would relate to these situations. These are glimpses into different experiences we go through and how most are greater and more difficult in our minds. When we get to it, putting our fears and feelings of getting a raw deal away, we find that things aren’t really insurmountable problems that we can’t deal with.

Cutting Down

I was going through a blogger’s post on how she was getting rid of the ‘unnecessary’ clutter in her closets and store. She was recounting how, over the years, her pain and sadness at giving away or discarding things that she was very fond of, attached to and couldn’t give away had died down with each declutter situation. If any pain or regret was left, it was but a mere twinge.

Her post brought back my not-so-dead feelings connected to this. I told her, “I get what you’re saying. I’ve had to give up many things with each move I made.”

My mind went back to our shifts within the country… it wasn’t so bad. The most important things I cherished didn’t get left behind. With movers and packers to move things, the only precious things that got left behind were my friends.

But the biggest “cutting” I had to do was when I moved to another country! That’s when some things I was loath to part with were either given away or left behind in (supposedly) safe keeping… the family albums and hundreds of loose photographs stored carefully, some personal items I loved and didn’t want to lose. But the albums and pictures…These were the memories of my entire life. I couldn’t take them with me. It hurt like mad. I consoled myself with the thought that I’d return and take them with me.

Little did I know that I wouldn’t see them again. Not because I didn’t return but because the people who had taken it in safe-keeping didn’t have them anymore. They weren’t even kind enough to tell me where or what had become of those things.

When I had just begun to accept the loss and look at it pragmatically rather than emotionally, I had to move again from Chile…

…to another country.

Now, more of the little I had, needed to be cut down further. It didn’t hurt so bad this time. Though, I admit, I was sad. Today, I think about it with a tinge of sadness, when my grand kids ask me about things I could have shown them. I sense an emptiness, but nothing that weighs too heavy on me. I’m still to get to that place where I don’t even feel that little twinge of regret or pain. I’ll get there!

Right now, I am at a place where I am numb inside. I have come to see myself as a gypsy…traveler… literally. While I think my situation of wheels- on-my-feet is ended and I will stay put, I have a nagging fear that whispers, “What if…?” My heart skips a beat. No, no more. I want to put up my caravan and stay. I can not take any more of cutting down.

It’s not about the material things so much now as it is about the intangibles… the memories, the places that hold significance in my life… the peace I might have found reading, writing, or just sipping my tea as I gazed out the window in a particular cafe. The familiar faces and the familiarity of surroundings. The daily walk routes, and the smiles or ‘hellos’ of fellow walkers I pass by more often. The sounds, sights and the flora and fauna that surround my dwelling and that I’ve got used to now.

I’m at a point where I am like a pendulum; swinging at the behest of time. I am slowly resigning myself to God’s will and my destiny which he holds in his hands.

In cutting down and clearing out the material things I had attached myself to, I have learned (not so painlessly) that I was also clearing out unnecessary attachment and value to a lot of replaceable stuff. Except for my photographs, now, I don’t think much of the other things. I am grateful for that freedom from attachment to replaceable material goods.

In retrospect, while I might have lost many material things… some of material value too… I have gathered experiences, insights, memories, connections that are of more value to me and my wellbeing. I have not just gone through it, I have grown through it.

It will take a bit more time for me to say, in all honesty, that the cutting down through the years doesn’t hurt me or sadden me at all any more. There are a few more itty-bitty cobwebs stuck in the corners of my mind! I’m getting there, that’s all I can say.

Fall On Your Knees and Grow There

At this time, more than ever, we need prayers.

Quote Unquote

“The shortest distance between a problem and its solution is the distance between your knees and the floor. The one who kneels to God can stand up to anything.”-Unknown

“The word ‘Prarthana’ in Sanskrit is derived from two words – pra and artha meaning pleading fervently. In other words, it is asking God for something with intense yearning. Prayer includes respect, love, pleading and faith. Through prayer, a devotee expresses his helplessness and endows the doer-ship of the task to God. Giving the doer-ship to God means  that you acknowledge that God is helping you and getting the task done. Prayer is an important tool of spiritual practice in the path of devotion.” -Geeta Vasudevan

“Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted and supplication is made. Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility…

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Why Stories?

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“Reports convey information. Stories create experience. Reports transfer knowledge. Stories transport the reader, crossing boundaries of time, space, and imagination. The report points us there. The story puts us there.” ~Roy Peter Clark

A Tool: Stories as illustrations to drive a point home are important tools. They make it easier for people to understand the message and are more interesting, so they’re remembered better. They can be used for simple or complex issues and are effective in bringing about behavioral change or in highlighting social and environmental issues too.

As a tool, such illustrations can engage people in a manner that drives belief and goes deep into their minds and hearts. People are more likely to recall points of information or lessons when it is given to them in the form of stories. 

Recall: It is easier for the audience to recall the events and other details in a story. They can draw parallels to the experiences in the story to what they are experiencing, or have experienced themselves.

Relatable: An illustration, in a story form, about individuals or about similar situations and circumstances an audience can relate to has a great impact. If people can identify with the events in the story or the characters – their experiences, values, culture, socioeconomic status, social norms, geographic locations, then the story becomes their own. So the message becomes more powerful and influences their beliefs and future behavior, bringing about the desired changes for the better. So stories are effective in bringing about changes in individuals and in social groups.

Jesus preached through parables. 

Parables: (a usually short fictitious story on a simple, common subject that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle).

Even Jesus used stories to teach spiritual lessons. He simplified profound spiritual truths and wove them into parables or stories that were relatable.

Mathew 13:1-15 (The MSG)

 1-3. At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.

3-8. “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up, it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

9. “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

WHY TELL STORIES? 

10. The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

11-15. He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state, they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.

Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.

The people are blockheads!

They stick their fingers in their ears

so they won’t have to listen;

They screw their eyes shut

so they won’t have to look,

so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face

and let me heal them.”

 

Metaphors, Allegory – Putting it together: In the parables, we can see that it is up to the listener to put two and two together and read into the hidden meaning of the story. These illustrations leave space for the readers or listeners to piece the story together.

Think of some moral stories – or a great movie or book you’ve liked, the moral of the story, most times, is not explicitly stated. It is shown through the experiences of the characters, and the scenarios.

Visual Language: The best illustrations paint images in the listeners’ minds. As in this story of Eeyore and Pooh, the narrative creates vivid pictures in the mind and it also makes the situations and characters relatable.

The Compassionate heart

Many of you would have read Winnie the Pooh stories. So here’s one with relatable situations and characters. Pooh is an adorable bear. In this story, however, a side of his nature, that he’s unaware of has been highlighted.

In one story Pooh is walking along a riverbank.

Eeyore, his stuffed donkey friend, suddenly comes floating downstream, on his back, and he appears quite worried about the possibility of drowning.

Pooh sees him, but is obviously unperturbed and calmly asks if Eeyore had fallen into the river.

Trying to appear calm, the miserable donkey answers, “Silly of me, wasn’t it?”

Pooh fails to respond to the pleading in Eeyore’s eyes.

Instead, he admonishes Eeyore saying that he should have been more careful.

Eeyore, though desperately needing action more than advice, politely thanks him for the advice.

Pooh, still persists in talk rather than action. He points out, “I think you are sinking.”

The drowning Eeyore sees this as a hint of help and asks Pooh if he would mind rescuing him.

So, Pooh pulls him out of the river.

Eeyore humbly apologizes for being such a bother.

Pooh, still apparently not shaken by his friend’s predicament, courteously responds, “Don’t be silly…you should have said something sooner.”

Isn’t this situation relatable? Do you see yourself in that story? Do you, at times, react like Pooh did when someone is in need?

Do you start to point out the obvious, “Looks like you are sinking…you should have been more careful!” at a time when your first response should be action- help?  

Do you wait for others to beg you for help?

Is your attitude reflected in this response… 

“So, you’ve got problems? Well, so does everyone else. Suck it up!”

Does that sound like the right attitude to you? Would you like to hear that from a friend when you are in a tough situation and in desperate need of help?

Being in a bad situation like Eeyore is what most would have been in at some time: drowning in debt, worries, anxiety, medical bills, ill-health, loneliness…  And having a friend like Pooh, who points out what’s obvious and gives you advice on what you should have or should not have done, instead of offering help, is a side of Pooh’s behavior that many might relate to, as well.

On the other hand, many would find themselves in Pooh’s reluctance to help until help is asked of him, even though he knows his friend needs his help, wants his help. It holds up a mirror to those who relate to that role in the story. It brings us to realization, introspection, and correction; a change in attitude.

Stories that use narrative techniques turn the printed descriptions into pictures. They create vivid imagery that transforms into “moving pictures” in the minds of the readers.

Stories that are written and narrated well, using visual language, bring the problems/moral points clearly into focus, and it also gives the possible solutions. It pushes the mind to think about whatever they are experiencing and to change that which needs to be changed.

Visual language takes an abstract concept and makes it tangible by creating a train of visuals – picture after picture in the minds of the audience. One of the most impactful uses of this technique has been the way Martin Luther King, Jr created visuals of what ‘Freedom’ would look like in real terms.

He drew a visual of an abstract term and made it tangible: “…One day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers…” and “…on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” The visuals allowed people to imagine what a fair, nondiscriminatory world would look like. What freedom would look like for them!

Illustrations of Creativity. Radical Methods.

A pastor was walking along a river one day when he came across some boys who were fishing. But this was no ordinary way of fishing, because to the surprise of the onlooker, they were casting a tire into the water. The result? They were hauling the fish in by the bucketload! As he started walking away the Lord seemed to say to him, “It’s radical methods of fishing that will catch souls.”

This illustration is inspiring. The lesson is quite clear here. One doesn’t always have to stick to one way of doing things. One can be innovative and use what’s available to get the best results. You learn how to see the possibilities in things and in methods of doing things differently.

A truck driver thought that he’d take a short-cut. He came to a bridge. But his truck was slightly higher than the bridge clearance above the road. This caused a traffic jam. With traffic stopped, engineers were called to work out how to remove the jammed truck and minimize further damage to the bridge.

A little girl in the traffic jam wound down her window and simply said:

“Try letting the air out of the tires.”

Well, it worked, and we can see from this simple story an illustration of how a radical solution can help solve a problem.

While we were in school and even later when I started teaching, there would be a “Moral Science” class for primary classes up to grade 8, which used to be the 1st class of the day. In Catholic schools, this would be a Catechism class for the Catholic kids, while the others had Moral Science. All the Moral Science lessons were in story form. There were illustrations on honesty, discipline, bravery, kindness, thoughtfulness, sharing, and caring… about patriotism, loyalty, community building, and there were stories on the negative fallout of doing things that were destructive. It is easier for kids to remember details and lessons when they are presented as a story.

No wonder we had stories, with a moral, when we were kids. I grew up on Aesop’s Fables and other similar stories. Sunday School provided a lot of spiritual lessons through stories, as well.

Illustrations, as examples, are indeed an important tool to help readers or listeners connect the dots. They augment the discipline of research and study. Illustrations help the audience to understand abstract concepts or deep philosophical and spiritual thoughts. If one must get one’s message across in a way that is understood and effective in bringing about a change for the better, it serves to use illustrations and examples in your writings, lectures, sermons, classes for better impact and better understanding.   

 

 

When Normal Changes

My notes on Good Friday!

A lot has changed since Good Friday 2019 and today.

The kind of change we have never experienced before.

No church services, and it’s been that way for a long time.

No Holy Communion,

no church community gatherings for coffee after the service on Sundays!

A big part of our weekend routine and custom has been changed by a virus.

A virus that has descended on us out of the blue and struck us with fear, anxiety, and dread.

But, it has also opened our eyes to many things and set us thinking.

Introspecting on our past, our deeds, and greed as a human race;

our failings and our disregard for better sense and judgment. 

We turned away from God, and now we return to His mercy seat and beg for His grace and mercy.

My prayer for all – May God’s blessings be upon us and save us.

TTSP (this too shall pass).

May we come out of this wiser, humbler, kinder, more generous, and more considerate of others, and the earth.

Life is a gift. We cannot take it for granted.

The only similarity that day was… snow!

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The only similarity, of sorts, between Good Friday last year and this year:

We were heavily snowed under last year.  And this year, it snowed too, but unlike the previous year, it was a light snowfall. 

Thursday night, I was surprised to see it snowing when I peeked out the window.

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It didn’t appear heavy and I expected it to end before morning.

But it didn’t.

It was snowing in the morning too!

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The feeling of Spring; the grass beginning to turn green again, the weather warming up, has taken a step back.

It looked more like winter than Spring. 

I felt the cold, dark gloom of a Good Friday, ages ago.

The lockdown and social distancing irked more than it does daily and exacerbated the pall of gloom that had descended on me.

But hope springs, ever renewed.

Holy Saturday brought out the sun.

And then…

Easter dawned! Bright and beautiful.

Hallelujah!

The churches are empty, but so is the tomb!

I rest my hopes and prayers on Him,

who defeated death.