Every morning after I wake up I sit in my reading chair and take a few moments to look at the smiling pictures of both my parents on our coffee table. When they were alive I reached for my phone as soon as my eyes opened. There would be a message from ma in whatsapp. Most of the days the message asked “ki korchish?” (What are you doing?) The woman never really got the time difference right 😀. I would obviously be sleeping during her waking hours. My response would be “ei uthlam.” (just woke up). Most days I would call later to have a longer conversation but some days, that was our only exchange. But we connected everyday. I snooped on baba’s activity on Facebook and when I saw he was active and posting something funny every hour, I would breathe easy – he was well.
These days my whatsapp messenger remains silent. So I commune for a few minutes everyday with them in the morning. At a certain time, the sun hits their smiling faces just right and both of them light up in front of my eyes. I watch the transformation happen. In a strange way, it makes me happy. I took a picture of sunlit ma today. Sometimes this feeling is all I need to carry in my heart to get me through the day.
I could not fall asleep last night. My anxiety caused me to hyperventilate as I tried taking deep breaths. This morning I sat on my couch and saw the sunlight hit just the right way on our beloved indoor plant. The green of the leaves sparked joy.
I laced up my sneakers, plugged in the earbuds, turned on my Playlist to Rabindrasangeet and went out to walk in the woods. The cerulean sky, the cold on my face, the green grass despite the patches of frozen water on it, and the bare branches standing tall with the promise of life within it gave me peace. There were many birds out today, all puffed up against the cold, hopping on the fields, looking for grub. They took flight when I walked near them but did not go too far. I think I saw the bushy tail of the neighborhood fox in Sage’s path but I may be wrong. It was just a glimpse. I emptied my mind of all the anxiety to soak in the treasure in front of me. And it worked. My breathing calmed, my mind found temporary peace. I store these scenes in my mind to draw upon them when I have anxiety attacks as bed time approaches.
As I made my way home, baba’s favorite song came on my Playlist – Jokhon porbe na mor pa er chinho ei baate….
তখন কে বলে গো সেই প্রভাতে নেই আমি সকল খেলায়… সকল খেলায় করবে খেলা এই আমি, আহা কে বলে গো সেই প্রভাতে নেই আমি নতুন নামে ডাকবে মোরে বাঁধবে বাঁধবে নতুন বাহু-ডোরে আসব যাব চিরদিনের সেই আমি
A rough translation of this stanza is this:
Who says I am not present on that dawn. My being will be present in the universe. You will call me in different names but being is forever.
I have asked a lot of why’s and where’s since the dreadful month of May in 2020. It has been 8 months looking for peace, for meaning. I realized I find most peace (at least temporarily) if I believe the energy of my parents are now mingled with each and every aspect of beauty in nature that unfolds in front of me if I care to ‘see’. Baba sang this song a lot. I heard but did not listen. I listened today.
About a week ago I told Sahana I want to get back to writing blogs again. Blogs that not necessarily document my grief journey, but something different, something happy perhaps. She gave me some suggestions and left me with ideas to mull over. My dear aunt was in the hospital though, fighting Covid in India. I got updates everyday and tried to focus on the positives that I heard – the thrust of oxygen that she was receiving was reduced, her O2 saturation was maintaining at 96/97 with oxygen support. She was weak but her vitals were strong. I talked to my cousin every morning and said to her what people said to me six months ago “Hold on to the positives. She will fight it off. After all, she has had both her vaccinations. She has protection.”
She was put on ventilator on November 13th (my time) and died within 4 hours. Her presence is so large and so joyful in my entire childhood that whenever I think of her I can see her bright, wide smile and hear her hahaha laughter. She was great friends with ma. They had similar jovial, vivacious personality. And she had the kindest face. When Sean met her for the first time when he came to meet my family, he said, “If I entered a room filled with strangers, I would go to her first. Her face exudes kindness.”
There are many, many happy memories of this woman who lived her life with joy (for the most part) and left the world without long term sickness or pain. I am spending sleepless nights again and waking with the memories of all those who we have lost this year – 5 so far in my family alone. It gives me comfort, in a weird way, to think that my big, fat Bengali family is continuing to party hard somewhere. Yes, a raucous, loud, full of laughter party. My aunt has joined them now. My mother loved her. I hope she is happy and safe to be up there (or who knows where) with them.
I miss writing blogs about silly things – about my kids or my everyday observations or memories of India. I hope to find topics other than loss and sorrow – soon. I hope and pray to the universe to stop this procession of death in my family. We have lost enough. The world has lost enough.
We both were tired of driving 2 and a half hours each way to go hike in different Canyons. It was also our 25th anniversary and I, more than Sean, wanted to sleep in and get a leisurely start to the day. We left the hotel around 8:30 am to drive a short distance to Zion National Park to hike up to Canyon Overlook. We crossed the 1.1 mile long historic tunnel and fortunately found a parking right at the trail head. It was a relatively easy hike up with a spectacular, panoramic view of the significant canyons in the distance. But the crowning glory of this particular hike was a chance meeting with 3 very handsome mountain goats. Sure, we had to stealthily go off trail to get close to them. And when we did, they just raised their heads to say, “Oh hey! How’s it going?” They were clearly not intimidated by us.
After finishing the trail, we found less traveled and unmarked trailheads to go down the canyon to the river bed. The rock formation there reminded me of Gothic architecture.
The popular trails were fun and beautiful. However, discovering new trails and chancing upon hidden waterfalls, finding the perfect rock in the shade, far away from hikers, listening to birdsong and trilling sound of water as we lay on the cool rock gave us such peace and tranquility. We loved hiking the crowded Narrows and the Emerald pool hikes and we loved the less traveled hikes and the exciting discoveries. This trip will be memorable for us. We celebrated our 25th anniversary, I went searching for tranquility for my anguished soul with the man I love after both my parents were taken away by this horrible virus that has snatched so many loved ones. Being amidst nature soothed me. I felt happiest I have felt in a long time when I was surrounded by nature. I could meditate. I could bring the smiling faces of my parents into focus when I closed my eyes.
When the heat started getting unbearable, we drove back to the hotel and took shelter till late afternoon. I had hoped to dress up for our anniversary dinner but I was deterred by the heat. We went to an Italian restaurant for a delicious pasta and pizza dinner. I must say, all our meals in Sprindale, Utah were fantastic albeit a bit pricey. As we finished dinner, the power went out in the whole city. We had to forego ice cream and walked slowly back to our hotel as diners around us wondered where to get food. We were witnesses to the recent New York black out and now we are proud witnesses to Springdale black out. A local informed us this never happened before.
Our 25th anniversary ended with watching reruns of our favorite crime show Law and Order SVU, next to each other on bed, content.
Indian Dick, a Paiute elder living on the Kaibab Reservation, told the Bryce Canyon hoodoo legend to a park ranger in 1936:
“Before there were any Indians, the Legend People, To-when-an-ung-wa, lived in that place. There were many of them. They were of many kinds–birds, animals, lizards and such things, but they looked like people. They were not people. They had power to make themselves look that way. For some reason the Legend People in that place were bad; they did something that was not good, perhaps a fight, perhaps some stole something…the tale is not clear at this point. Because they were bad, Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now all turned into rocks; some standing in rows, some sitting down, some holding onto others. You can see their faces, with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks. The name of that place is Angka-ku-wass-a-wits (red painted faces). This is the story the people tell.”
We again rose very early to get a head start to see the much acclaimed Bryce Canyon. After a picturesque drive, we arrived at the Visitor center, made a plan for our day and started our hike. We took the shuttle to the end of the shuttle stop – Bryce Point and walked the Rim Trail. For a long part of the walk, Sean and I were silent. There was truly nothing to say in front of such splendor and beauty of nature. I do not have words to express the magnificence of the canyon that we witnessed today so here are some photos.
I do not know if the hoodoos are the bad people turned into stone by the trickster Coyote, but they reminded me of intricately sculptured fortresses or castles or even temples.
From the Sunset point of the Rim Trail, we decided to descend about 350 feet to the Sevier River at the bottom of the canyon. There were two combined trails but we chose to hike the 1.3 mile long Navajo loop. I almost died the day we hiked down North Rim, but we had gone down 1400 feet that day. Navajo loop, I told myself, was nothing compared to that. In this trail we saw 3 different and famous structures created by rocks that have been named – Wall Street, 2 bridges and Thor’s hammer.
There was a cool breeze blowing which kept us comfortable as we climbed out of the canyon. I took several breaks to catch my breath but also to take it all in. After completing this hike we walked further along the Rim of the canyon till we got off the trail to get to our car.
The Visitor center had interesting information about the rock formations and also about Paiute Indians who inhabited the area. We then decided to drive 17 miles up the canyon to its highest elevation point, Rainbow point to get an expansive view of the area.
On our way back to exit the park, we saw a prairie dog scurry from his burrow. Prairie dog sighting is quite common in these parts we were informed. Bryce canyon is one of the most picturesque canyons that I have seen. The sights of the hoodoos, the clear, blue sky above, the twisted bristle cone pines stubbornly clinging on to life despite being repeatedly hit by lightning, the chipmunks who tried to climb up my pants to beg for my trail mix, the sighting of prairie dogs – the whole tapestry of the canyon gave me peace. Mother Nature heals, a friend messaged me. “May you find peace in nature.” I did.
We drove back with tired bodies and refreshed souls.
On Sunday, I almost died because I am terribly out of shape. But that is besides the point.
We got in the car around 7:00 am to start our 2 and a half hour drive to North Rim, Grand Canyon in Arizona. Driving through the hairpin bends of the Zion canyons were slightly alarming but mostly breathtaking. And we saw this family on the side of the road, grazing for breakfast.
We arrived at North Rim visitor center close to 10:30 am and started our hike after filling up our water bottles and looking at the different hike options. They were mostly easy hikes with only 2 moderate to difficult. Guess which one certain someone chose. Yes, “we” chose one of the moderate to difficult ones – of course. The North Kaibab trail went steeply down about 0.3 miles to Coconino overlook for a view of the Grand Canyon. My hope was to hike down there and hike right back up. We went down to the overlook, smiling at fellow hikers, giving way to mule riders and paying attention to mule poop and mule pee. Once we reached the overlook, we took a break taking in the scenery around us.
As we sat in the shade, we heard other hikers talking about Supai Tunnel further 1.7 miles down. 7 miles below that was Cottonwood campground and 7 miles further down was Roaring Springs at Colorado River. Sean gently nudged me to go down to Supai tunnel. The canyon around me was so magical and the hike down did not tire me out so I agreed to climb down further. With each switchback I thought to myself “what goes down must come up” but decided to worry about the climb later. We reached Supai Tunnel. Sean spoke to every single hiker that we passed. A jovial “Hi, how is it going?” Or some sort of jokey comment. It was evident he was in his element. The responses were mostly enthusiastic and friendly. Some, however, especially from those straining as they climbed up were just panting grunts. Their panting scared me but I valiantly kept climbing down.
After resting for a while at the tunnel and after replenishing our bodies with plenty of water and refreshments, we started our hike up to the top. And I almost died. It was a steep 2 mile climb with no level ground at all to regulate my breathing. At one point, I felt my heart was going to beat out of my chest. At every switchback, I sat down to bring my heartbeat down from 178 or so. Sean was right by my side the entire way, carrying our back pack, supplying me with water and saying, “Look how far you have come. Look, we are almost there.” I thought in my head I can not make it. But I did. It took a long time, but I made it up to the trail head. That feeling of accomplishment gave me such confidence. At the Coconino overlook, surrounded by the serene, regal canyons, I closed my eyes to meditate. Sean took a photo where a halo is seen above my head. It is nothing but the time of the day and the position of the sun. But when a friend said that looks like blessing from all those I lost, I liked it.
From the trailhead of North Kaibab trail, we hiked 1.4 miles back to our car, fortunately on level road, drank some more water and trail mix. Then we attempted the easy trail to see the depth of the Grand Canyon from the top rim. Bright Angel Point trail gave us this view along with hundreds of other excited hikers, busy snapping photos. Sean and I sat on some rocks quietly. I whispered to him, “Happy Anniversary!” It seemed the perfect place to tell him that I am so happy to be with him for the last 25 years.
On our way back we had delicious dinner at Wild Thyme in Kanab complete with a fantastic carrot cake. Drove through scary hairpin bends of Zion National forest as the sun set behind the canyons leaving their looming dark shapes and a bright orange hue in the horizon. The silhouette of the canyons were awe inspiring and the drive through those winding narrow mountain roads was harrowing.
We had a 14 hour day. My body needed an easier day but my spirit was ready to go. We were undecided on what to do on Monday but were sure we will think of something.
No rest for the weary. Yesterday we woke up before 4 am to catch a flight. Today we woke up before 6:00 am to stock up on hotel breakfast and catch the shuttle to Zion National Park to beat the crowd at The Narrows hike. We were only partially successful. The shuttle was mostly full with hikers but not overwhelmingly so. We got off at Sinawava Temple shuttle stop and started the 1 mile walk on the Riverside walk. The Narrows starts at the end of Riverside walk where one goes down a few steps to enter the Virgin River and hikes for 2.5 miles to The Wall Street or longer.
We did not rent water boots or hiking sticks from the rental store at visitor center. There was a long line. Smartly, most of our fellow hikers had. I was apprehensive about my ankles and my knees without proper footwork. I wore my Abeo walking sandals and Sean wore his Tevas. On our way to the Narrows we both kept a sharp eye on suitable logs to use as walking sticks and eagle eyed Sean spotted two perfect ones.
As I tentatively stepped into the cold water of Virgin River to start our hike, I again sensed that unfamiliar feeling of happiness. And as I continued on the hike and watched sunlight gradually wash over the canyon around us, I thought of my parents. I hope their energy is now part of the splendor of nature. I thanked them, yet again, for giving me life so I can witness the beauty around me.
There were hikers of all abilities, ages, ethnicities. There were children being herded by parents, a few babies being carried on backpacks, older couples like us, daughter holding her mom’s hand, young people. As we were returning back, hordes of people were starting their hikes at midday when the temperature was in mid nineties Fahrenheit.
I almost fell once and took the treacherous parts real slow. Sean always lent a hand when I was in trouble. He is a good hiker and has tremendous balance. He also urges us to take the path less traveled. If it had not been for him, I would not have challenged myself on some tricky parts of this hike. He said I could do it and I did it. This trip is to celebrate our 25 years of marriage. And his gentle encouragement to challenge myself in situations outside my comfort zone has made me bolder in life. I thought of that today as I saw him waiting for me patiently as I navigated tricky rocks hidden beneath fast moving water. I knew he was there and that was enough.
After 5 hours of hiking we took the shuttle back, returned to hotel and started our research for a restaurant to eat. This is our second day here but all the meals we have had so far have been really good and somewhat expensive. We had dinner last evening at Bits and Spur and today at Oscar’s Cafe. Both restaurants had surprisingly good vegetarian options and stellar service.
We will, hopefully, drive to Arizona tomorrow to see the North Rim of Grand Canyon. If I have the energy and motivation, I will continue to write.
A friend suggested I meditate to calm my mind during this distressing time. Since ma left, I have been sitting outside by the flowers every day in the afternoon when Kolkata falls asleep. And I have thought of ma. That has been my meditation. Some thoughts brought tears and some brought laughter.
As I sit outside, nature unfurls it’s palm to show me the treasure that I missed when life was normal. I watch the frenetic activities of the romantic cardinal couple who flit from one bush to the next whispering, rather loudly, sweet nothings to each other. The baby bunny who lives under the bush pokes out and then tries to hop away when it sees me. But my still form instills some confidence in it, so it stays out and twitches it’s nose in the air. Today, a little white butterfly flew close to me and I wondered if all these life forms are bringing ma’s energy to her daughter thousands of miles away? The sun-kissed, lime green leaves of trees have kept me company during these sessions, the cerulean blue of the sky sent a message to be patient. The beautiful flowers that friends have sent in their kindness constantly remind me that my mother would want me to appreciate the beauty of life.
I have meditated with my mother’s thoughts. I have not emptied my mind and focused on a chant, or a point on the wall. Before the frantic fight for baba’s recovery starts the next day, these quiet afternoons have been my solace.
I have not had time to meditate after my father’s passing. I believe my system is in a state of shock and the practicalities that face me now are keeping calm thoughts at bay. I know I need to focus on both their memories to feel some peace. The hurt, however, is too recent, too raw. I am counting on the age old adage, time will heal.