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.
January 19th marked 8 months since my father died. January 10th was 8 months since my mother died. This journey of coming to terms with what life means now, without the presence of those who gave me life, has been an uphill battle.
Life, at least now, holds no joy.
I pretend. A lot. I pretend to act normal.
I am very mindful to keep my grief guarded so the person I am interacting with does not feel uncomfortable.
I dread going to bed.
I stay up as long as I can so when my head hits the pillow my mind does not race. I am truly terrified of nights and the solitude it brings when all hurtful feelings takeover.
I search a lot for answers and only find peace when I see beauty in nature.
It gives me solace to think that my parents’ energy is, perhaps, part of this beauty now. Or maybe their soul has been reborn in another body. Who knows?
On January 19th, as I sat quietly in the morning thinking about ma, baba and all the ‘why’s’, I saw this sunrise. And I thought “How fitting! Baba would have loved to see this. Maybe he is part of this beauty now. Maybe they both are part of this splendor.”
I planted this geranium on May 11th, 2021. It was the day after ma died. Sahana had given me this plant on Mother’s Day, which was the same day as my mother exited this world. So instead of pacing the house, trying to collect my grief, bewilderment, confusion, helplessness, I put all my feelings in digging a hole in the ground and planting a life. Perhaps to compensate for the life that just left me. Since that day I have spent many hours by this plant’s side. I called this my Ma plant or refer to her as Didiya plant to my children jokingly, but if I am completely honest, a part of me believes this plant carries my mother’s energy.
Sahana was somewhat concerned about my attachment to Ma plant and warned me that it too will die. I know that. However, I will always remember this particular plant as my refuge during one of the saddest periods in my life.
It is mid October now. Slowly I am saying goodbye to my summer blooms. One by one they are falling asleep as cold weather sweeps in our area. Not Ma plant though. It had stopped giving flowers for a while during the peak of summer so I asked it why it was being obstinate. Since then we refer to it as Obstinate Ma Plant. Obstinate Ma Plant did not grow in height much but it made up for its stunted growth in beautiful blooms. Even now it is budding new flowers and opening new blooms in its full glory. It seems like it wants to live its life to the fullest before it goes. It seems like it wants to radiate all of its beauty before death claims it. I like to think it mirrors my mother’s life. She was a vibrant woman who lived her life in her own terms. She nurtured me my whole life but when the day to day taking care of me was done, she turned to see how she can nurture others. So she opened an NGO to serve the underprivileged in her area.
Although some health issues had curbed her will to live in the last few years of her life, she lit up when she talked about the NGO. (And talking about her grandchildren lit up the inner light as well). She was waiting for the pandemic to pass so she could start the work again. It was not meant to be.
Anyway, what I want to say is ma’s alter ego, the Obstinate Ma Plant keeps giving just like ma did till she could give no more.
Lastly, I have been trying to write blogs that is not full of my grief but I can not at this time of festivities.
A friend asked me how I dealt with this double tragedy of losing my parents within a span of 9 days of each other right when it happened. Did the kindness of your family and friends help you recover, she asked. I thought about those horrific days when I sat on the couch completely numb, catatonic even. For a short time, I did not want to live anymore. The kindness of others did not even touch me at that point. When I look back, although looking back is very painful, I feel like I was so completely submerged in profound grief, I was beyond anyone’s touch. I felt my family around me hugging, crying, doing things for me but I was simply an observer of their action. Friends and community poured their love and affection but if I am honest, at that time, I was simply acting the way that I was supposed to act – saying thank you, smiling.
Slowly with time, I felt like I was emerging gradually from the quagmire of deep, heavy, suffocating grief. I read a friend’s post on social media, who lost his mother 7 days before I did that he was going to live his life to the fullest because that truly is the last and most precious gift that his mother gave him. He would honor and cherish that gift by being the best that he can be. That struck a chord. My life is truly their gift to me and I can honor that gift by being the best that I can be. It was then that I started looking around. And I found the acts of kindness and love all around me.
From the love of my friends to the many acts of kindness of my coworkers, my community, my cousins, my aunt – I lived in a universe of kindness. I was so immersed in my loss that I failed to feel the warmth of all the love. It was almost a selfish act. Almost, I say since I am determined to be kind to myself. From words of love to food, from taking my shifts at work to sending plants and flowers, from financial donations for Covid help in India in my parents’ memory to cards from all over the world. Prayers were said in several countries in the world by Sean’s colleagues in churches, mosques and temples for my parents’ soul and our peace. All the cumulative kindness of my community of friends and family became this huge cushion of comfort for me to rest my head. I have already written a blog about how my coworkers donated money to engrave 2 paver stones in memory of my parents in the garden of our library. I eat my lunch there these days and I go to see them during my breaks. Yesterday, I was having lunch with a dear friend near their paving stones when she said, “I have something for you.” It was not my birthday! Why would there be something for me? She gave me a gift bag with a tissue wrapped gift. When I opened the tissue paper, my jaw dropped. It was the most exquisite shawl knitted by her with all my favorite colors. She started knitting the shawl for me in June, just after my parents died.
I cried, of course. And then laughed. I went over to the paver stones to show ma and baba the shawl. I told them not to worry about me. I am loved and cared for. And now I am looking around and cherishing it.
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.
Today we slept in. We both woke up a little after 7 am and Sean said, “Oh no!” I grunted, “Oh yes! Today will be a low key day.”
We left the hotel at 8:30 am to drive over 2 and a half hours to see Horse Shoe Bend and Lake Powell. Horse Shoe Bend is a marvel where a big boulder is surrounded by blue strip of water. It was an easy, short yet extremely hot hike.
It was done within an hour so we drove through Page, Arizona to Lake Powell. We took a detour to see if a tour of the Upper Antelope canyon was available but it was sold out. So we drove around some neighborhoods in Page to get a feel of the town, stopped to walk around Lake Powell, drove back to Kanab admiring the Vermillion canyons and buffaloes in the corals on our way. Supposedly one can see The Grand Escalante from the highway but we could not figure out. At Kanab we ate dinner at The Rocking V, drove back to hotel for a much needed shower.
Tomorrow’s destination is Bryce Canyon. I am excited.