The most important part of my morning ritual is sitting quietly in front of the photos of my parents with my cup of coffee and staring at their smiling faces. The world around me is quiet, fast asleep. The only sound that I hear is of the heating unit pumping blessed heat in our house on cold, winter mornings. I do this every day, without fail.
Today, as I got up to put my coffee cup away after my morning ritual with my parents, I happened to glance out of the window. I caught the sun rise, accidentally. Everyday, I wake up early and look inward instead of outside. And while I introspect and look back at memories or wipe away tears or question ‘why’ again and again, the sun rises with resplendent glory. I guess, this is nature’s way of balancing sadness with beauty. I will, perhaps, incorporate looking outwards in my morning ritual. After all, life is about balance.
Nature, in my neck of the woods, is playing Holi right now……or dying, however you want to think about it. I chuckled as I thought of dying. Never did I ever think of death when leaves changed colors in past years. Since last year the thought of death lingers in my mind like a constant. Not in a scary way, more in an ‘absolute truth’ way.
The leaves turn red, they fall, they turn to dust, and then they return again. Each year they come back in new form. As I thought of resurrection, I wished the same happened with our loved ones – except I want them to come back in their old form, as my ma and baba. They, of course, don’t come back to us in a tangible form, but their essence remains imprinted on us, within us. Life goes on in its own rhythm.
The idea of resurrection brings such hope to both the religious and non religious. Our physical life is finite, but the soul perhaps recycles in some form. Or it becomes one with nature and radiates the beauty that surrounds us.
I thought of this as I walked around my neighborhood marveling at the gorgeous colors on the trees.
On a separate note, our county planted a baby elm tree at the edge of our property to compensate for the dead oak tree that they had to cut down last summer. Sahana and I disagree over naming our bald, and if I am honest, quite bare and unassuming baby tree. I want to call it Elmo and Sahana wants to name it Freddie Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street.
I shared this pond with no one this morning. The resident ducks and Canada geese were nowhere to be seen. The sun was not strong enough for the little turtles to climb up on logs and sun themselves. I stood by the edge of the pond to look for them. They were perhaps snoozing in their nests.
It felt strange and beautiful all at once to find myself alone in this tiny bit of universe. The cerulean sky was sparkling with golden rays of the sun. That color, I have realized, makes me immensely happy. The trees and bushes stood quietly, their reflection in the water somehow doubling their silent presence.
No matter how much I sparkle outside, I struggle most days to get off the couch and put my game face on. However, on days when I feel the gentle sun caressing my face and the splendid blue of the sky penetrating my soul, I feel I will be okay. I get up to face another day. I love, I am loved. I will live today and remain hopeful for tomorrow.
As we moved the curtains from the window of our hotel room, we saw the ocean raging. There were red ‘no swimming’ signs fluttering in the breeze as far as we could see.
“Wow, Poseidon is angry today!” I thought. The fury was awe inspiring and also humbling.
Sean and I went to the Outer Banks, North Carolina for our 26th anniversary to spend a few days by the ocean. There was a storm brewing not too far from the coast so the rip currents were deadly. Since swimming in the water was dangerous, we decided to walk on the beach, feeling the wind on our faces and the misty spray of the ocean. There is nothing peaceful in the crash of the high waves yet I felt peaceful. I think the continuity and the assurance that each wave will be followed by another was reassuring. In the shifting landscape of my life, where uncertainty about my very existence and those of my loved ones leaves me unsettled, the constant rhythm of crashing waves salvaged my bruised soul. Instead of the ocean, Sean and I decided to immerse ourselves in the golden rays of sunsets instead.
There were many moments in this trip that will stay with me for a long time. Here are some of those.
On September 8th, the day of our anniversary, we decided to drive to Duck, NC to see the town and find a place to eat. After a dinner of Mediterranean cuisine, we walked along the boardwalk to see the quaint seaside stores and restaurants.
We still had a little time before the sun to set so we decided to drive to the next town, Corolla. As we drove down the narrow road, listening to music and talking, we lost track of time – sunset was imminent but there was no place to pull over to watch the glory. Just as I was giving up hope, we found the entrance to the Historic Corolla Park, complete with a lighthouse. We pulled in, parked and ran to the water bank as the sun was close to touching the horizon, spreading molten gold rays all over us. We were awash in its glory, wonder and love. We looked at each other in that moment. What a perfect anniversary gift was that sunset.
A couple of days later, the breeze had died down and the ocean had quietened. We decided to spend the morning at the beach, me reading and soaking in the gentle sun and Sean feeling the ocean. As a wave crashed on him and he turned around, ready to be crashed upon, there was an expression of uninhibited joy and exhilaration on his face that touched my heart. I will always remember that expression – expectant, joyful.
We wanted to see sunset from the dunes. Jockey’s Ridge State park, we read, was home to the tallest living sand dune system in the Atlantic ocean. It was close to our hotel so we decided to catch the sunset there. After parking, we started hiking up a dune. Neither of us knew what was beyond the sand hill. As we crested the dune, the world of sand open up – a huge expanse of sand was in front of us flanked by the ocean far away. And the sun was setting, coloring the yellow sand in golden pinkish hue. We were golden too. The moment when we climbed up the hill and looked what was ahead of us was so poignant and beautiful that I will remember it for a long time.
Everytime I am near the ocean the continuity of the waves gives me a sense of grounding. Despite the upheavals in our lives, one wave will follow the other. This absolute truth is comforting and peaceful.
We celebrated Sahana’s birthday recently. After quite a while, the four of us went out for a nice dinner. I wore my mother’s saree, Sahana wore one of her kurtis and Sean wore baba’s punjabi. I felt we carried their essence with us that way and they were present as we celebrated the birthday of their precious Sahana. Ryan was entrusted to take photographs that day since he has the best camera app. He took some candid shots of me when I was smiling, or laughing even. When I looked at those photos, the joy I felt in those moments were palpable. There was a point in my life this past year when I did not believe I will feel that emotion fully. But I did. And that surprised me. Just as Mary Oliver said in her poem, Heavy, the joy on my face startled me – in a good way.
Next day at work, I took my friend aside and said, “I need to tell you something. I felt joyful yesterday.” There was a sense of wonder in my voice and I think she heard it. She said, “I am so happy to hear that.”
I have poured out my grief in my blogs. I will now leave this memory of joy too, here. If I can dissociate myself from everyday living, I can look at the tapestry of my life – woven with love, loss, friendship, laughter and joy.
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.
Perhaps cliché and oft repeated but this act of blooming and the hope it provides to tired souls never gets old.
This peony plant was given to me by a friend last year after my parents died. She said the flowers will bloom each year to bring me comfort. Last year it had only one bloom and then it folded itself up to go to sleep for the winter. After a long season of rest and nourishment, peony spread itself in all of its glory.
I cannot wax poetic of my beloved city after being back in it for the first time after my parents’ death. The lights of Kolkata, when I first saw it from the plane, brought such joy in my mind in the past. This year, as the plane prepared to land, I looked away. The touch down was rough just like the raw emotions in my heart. The two human beings who came to receive me at the airport for the last 25 years were glaringly absent.
The first step in the apartment was perhaps the hardest. I spent some time splashing water on my face to disguise the tears that would not stop flowing. Later, Sahana and I went for a walk around the Dhakuria lake. There, we found benevolence. In the sweet cooing of the cuckoo bird heralding spring, in the rising of the orange sun over the calm waters of the lake breaking through the haze of Kolkata air, in the squabbling of the huge fish in the lake trying to fight for bread that a woman threw in for them, in the pace of the morning walkers, amidst the banyan trees and mango trees, the polash and krishnachura trees, I found the essence of ma and baba’s love. Kolkata was the city of their hearts (mine too, at one point). No matter where they went, they found the most peace when they returned to this chaotic city.
I also found benevolence in the love of the women who cared for ma and baba, in the love of my cousin brother who stayed up at night to bring me home from the airport at an ungodly hour, in my cousin sister’s question – “what can I do? How can I help?”, in my mashi’s show of love by sending me my favorite food, in Khushi’s gentle words and lovely drawing.
Most of all I found benevolence in my daughter’s quiet presence by my side throughout the long, anguishing journey ‘home’. A rub on the back, holding hands, carrying luggage, through a myriad of ways she took care of her grieving mother, while dealing with her own emotions of losing ‘her people’ as she called her dadai and didiya.
This trip is a whirlwind, overwhelming at best. This morning, I sat at my favorite spot at dawn, watching the sun rise and listening to the sounds of Kolkata waking up. I thought of ma, baba and our lifetime of shared love at this quiet time. I thanked them for giving me life, caring for me to the very best of their ability and also asked for forgiveness for failing to take care of them when they needed me. Their benevolence is present in this house though. I feel it as I touch their things, sleep in their bed, look at the shrine of my husband and children in every nook and cranny of this house. For my lifetime, that has to be enough.
These were baba’s joy. Every winter he sent me photos of all his flowers with much pride. I had forgotten all about his flowers. Gouri sent these to me today. The man has ceased to exist but his love continues to spread through these blooms. There is an analogy to life and continuity somewhere but I am just content to look at them and think about the happiness they gave him each year.
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.