Making the Most of Life

Today is the day after Election Day 2016.

Today began with little sleep last night. And it continued with every hour adding a new deadline, more stress, and more pessimism.

My to-do list was not getting done and my creative energy was at an all time low. One task on my list was to find a creative way to tell a story. My search led to this serendipitous discovery! And my soul has been recalibrated.

Michelle Phan concludes her video, “Every great dream begins with a dream. And every dreamer has a story. So don’t settle for a happy ending because ‘… to be continued’ is way more fun.”

But you have to watch it from the beginning to really appreciate the end—which is not really the end :)

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toast on pretty plate

If toast were a conversation starter, it would be the drably simple, “Hi.”

Toast is my obligatory minimum dietary sustenance. When I am too busy, too sick or too tired to sit down for a satisfying meal, I have toast.

Similarly, “Hi” is my obligatory minimum social interaction. When I am too busy, too impatient or simply can’t be bothered to care about anybody, I say “Hi” and keep going.

Both these obligatory minimums were completely obliterated with the epiphany I had whilst unpacking my precious stack of mismatched china: Years of random scavenging through garage sales have yielded me a pretty assortment of china, tea towels and knick knacks.

I never pay more than a dollar for anything, so I really shouldn’t be so stingy in my use of them. But, I am. I store them safely in the corner of the tallest shelf in my pantry, cushioned by sheets of newspaper. And the only time I touch them is when I clean the shelf or move from one home to another.

“Such a waste.  I should be enjoying these pretty little things,” I said to myself as I unpacked the box of china yet again. And it’s no big deal if one breaks. A few dimes under my sofa cushions and a sunny Sunday at a flea market is sure to get me another. Perhaps one even prettier.

My china reminded me of my words. It’s a gift I’m told I have–People, strangers even, often tell me their darkest secrets and despairs with great ease. And I seem to always find the right words to say. Yet I don’t enjoy these interactions and avoid them with a hurried hi. Instead of being generous with my words, I stash them on an emotionally-detached shelf for use only in emergencies.

That’s just bad. Wasteful. I really should couch my “hi” in a mouthful of words that express genuine interest. With that, I decided to dress up both my toast and my greeting.

With that epiphany, I sat my too tired self down for a bare minimum of dietary sustenance on a pretty white plate filigreed in French blue. My toast never tasted so good :) 

toast

the cure for grumpiness

The clock was saying 3:33 p.m.

I saw no good omen in the triple three play. I saw nothing optimistic about three-fourths of my day at work behind me. I saw no reason to focus on the joy of soon going home to cat and husband.

All I knew was that my contract designer was late–again and my deadline was staring at me.

I. Was. Grumpy.

It’s taken me years to embrace the logic that it’s futile to get mad or grumpy or sad or whatever over things over which I have no control.

Ergo, the designer was no reason to be grumpy.

But grumpy I was. So I figured I’d walk off my grumpiness.

Within 10 minutes of walking, I quickly discovered that walking in heels only makes the grumpy even grumpier. So back to my office I went. On my way, I vented to Luci about my inability to shake off my grumpiness. She only added to my mood by emphasizing that I was in a pretty sorry state if I couldn’t see the benefits of exercise to mood enhancement. To her credit, she did –at the end–ask me what would help eradicate my grumpy mood.

“Chocolate,” I responded.

And chocolate Luci had. Dark, Dove chocolate. One of my favorites.

Blessing her silently with twins within the next 12 months (Hope she appreciates this as much as I did the chocolate), I snarkily said, “Perhaps Dove has a witty saying that will lift my spirits.”

And here’s what I read on the inside of the wrapper.

How’s that for a daily dose of miracle for an underserving grump?

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a good day that got better

The day began as the Sabbath, giving it a jumpstart of goodness. Slept in. Had breakfast in bed. Read. Went to church. Cooked lunch with my son–a Sabbath ritual that’s super special to me.

And then I found this at my doorstep. No note. Just a purple bag of yummies and purple flowers. The purple sort of gave my friend, Judy, away.

Inside the bag were chocolates from Lillie Belle and cheese from Rogue Creamery–and a large cheese cloth too (Now I have no excuses not to make my own paneer.)

The packaging of the chocolates was purple too. Almost too pretty to open.

But open it, I did; Of course, I did! Such color and presentation! Can you not taste it?

Dee-Leesh-She-Yes! Absolutely nothing was wasted. Not even the bow.

And that’s how my good day got better!

cousins never removed

Indians detest the technical, genealogical leaves of the Western family tree. The farthest we stretch a relationship is to a cousin, aunt or uncle. Removing them twice or thrice is far too impersonal for us.

I remember well when Kenny joined my large, extended family through my marriage to Roy. At the end of his first dinner at my parents, he politely said, “Thank you for having me over, John and Mary.” They were aghast. Two egregious errors in one breath: 1) He addressed them by their first name; 2) He did not recognize them as his new grandparents.

A brief tutorial quickly set him on the path to being a good quasi Indian. From then on, Kenny called every older Indian “uncle”or “aunty.” And my parents have always been grandpa and grandma. And since there were so many of us and he couldn’t always tell who was family and who was not, Kenny played it safe. This came in very handy when he was a single guy just starting work as a x-ray tech in a hospital where there were many Indian employees. Calling random Indians “uncle” and “aunty” earned him free home-cooked, lndian lunches (A good Indian aunty never allows a nephew–their own or not–to go hungry).

Most of the second, third and fourth generations of my family were born in the U.S. and are quite homogeneously bicultural. We are all brother, sister, cousin, uncle, aunt, grandpa or grandma to someone. We are all closely knit.

But once in a while–like this afternoon–when the cousins get together, the American in all of them that loves to identify and label tries to figure out the technical, genealogical term for each of them.

Sky was with her “cousins” this afternoon and after many attempts at figuring out their labels, she called me. I couldn’t help her without the assistance of Wikipedia’s cousin chart.

I found out that I’m not Zubin’s aunty; I’m his first cousin once removed. And he’s not Sky’s cousin;  he’s her second cousin. It’s all so clinical. Sky and I decided to stick with the easier and much more intimate Indian family tree.

the woman in the trunk

(This one was published in the November 16, 2001 issue of the Mail Tribune’s Joy magazine.)

My most memorable journeys have been those punctuated by stories of people I’ve met along the way. This one happened at It’s a Burl in Kerby.

I almost drove right by the hodgepodge of wood carvings piled along the roadside and the tall strange structure that spewed purple waters into a frothy pool. But I’m glad I didn’t. It was a treasure-trove of art and artists, one of whom was Robert Marconkowski.

Oblivious to the people milling around him and the giant fly buzzing in his ear, Robert buried his head in the cloud of sawdust billowing from his chainsaw. Peering into the trunk of a dead cedar, he was looking at something. Moving closer, I hovered.

He was carving out a woman who stretched from the trunk. Slender yet voluptuous, the woman seemed to rise out of the wood — tall and confident, looking upward, letting her curls fall toward her hips.

Robert didn’t see me. It was more his need for a cigarette than my breath on his neck that finally had him turning off his saw and noticing me.

“How do you do that freestyle?” I asked.

“It’s not me. It’s her,” he said, waving his saw toward the trunk. “She’s been in there all (the) time. I’m just letting her out.”

When I asked him to tell me about her, he set down the chainsaw, lit a cigarette and told me a story that went like this:

“The story doesn’t start with her,” he said. “It begins with her friend.

“The friend is walking through the woods one day. She is thinking, meditating, praying “… whatever “… for her friend. They’ve been friends a long time.

“And then she sees this dead tree in the middle of a forest full of live trees. ‘Not fair,’ she thinks. ‘All these beautiful trees continue to live, but not this one? Not fair.’

“The tree reminds her of the friend for whom she’s been sending up good thoughts. It’s not fair. When everyone around her is alive, why should her friend be dying? Life is not fair.

“The friend circles the dead tree, thinking angry thoughts about life, about cancer, about death. And then she notices what used to be the joint where a strong limb grew out of the trunk. The joint is now a gnarly, empty socket; no strong limb there anymore. But there was something else: a tiny green sapling, stubbornly holding onto life, refusing to give into death.

“The woman’s despair turned to hope. It happened in that one moment. So she brings the trunk to me and says, ‘Make something for my friend.’

“So I looked very hard and very deep inside this trunk. I looked for a very long time, trying to see her, to listen to her. The more I looked, the clearer I could see her. She was in there, struggling to come out and say something. She wanted to say something to this cancer that was trying to kill her.

“Look at her! Can you hear her? She’s looking up, head held high in confidence, breasts anew in victory. And she’s yelling out, as loud as she can: ‘#%@!# cancer! You may kill my body, but not my spirit!’ ”

Taking one last puff, Robert put out his cigarette and picked up his saw.

“The best part of the story,” he said, “is that the friend went into remission while I’ve been working on this.”

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lessons from thatha

On the shores of the Arabian Sea, the little village sits, tucked at India’s side.  To the north of the common well live the fishermen, to the south the weavers.  Thatha* lived on the south side, on Weavers’ Street. Neither a fisherman nor a weaver, he technically didn’t belong.

He lived there though, for more than 40 years, until he died at the age of 82. Listening to the annoying, monotonous clackety clak of the looms, smelling  the pungent odor of yarn marinating in starch turned sour. Why did he choose to live where he didn’t belong?  An aspiration, that’s why. An aspiration to share his HOPE in Jesus with the fishermen and the weavers.

Thatha was a pastor. A very effective pastor: His churches thrived. The baptisms were many. But more than bringing in new members into his church, Thatha yearned to bring his neighbors to Jesus. And so he lived a hot, dusty, bumpety, hour-long bus ride away from the churches he pastored, away from the luxury of plumbing and electricity.

40 years and more, Thatha awakened every morning at five o’clock, opened his windows wide and sang.  Totally out of tune, he would sing hymns of hope, of God’s love, of Jesus’ soon coming. And then he’d kneel by the open window and pray aloud for the drunken neighbor who mercilessly beat his beautiful wife the night before, for the money lender who charged an exorbitant interest rate to the young widow, for the young boy trying so hard to get through high school, for the fishermen who had a bad night at sea . . . . All day long, he would help, share, counsel. He chose to reflect Jesus and speak of hope to those not just in his village but also in the villages around and in-between. Thatha even built a chapel that shared a wall with his  home– a wall and the same blue trim on the doors and windows. He held prayer meetings and vespers, Sabbath School and divine service. Always with the doors wide open. Sometimes he would have a visitor or two. Most often, there were none.

You’d think that in 40 years he would have established a solid congregation in his chapel. No! All he had to show for 40 years of exemplary Christian living was one baptism. That too, not in his village, but in another far away. All in vain? A life of disappointment and discouragement? On the contrary, his was a life of hope.

Thatha died in his bed, by the open window, content. And outside that open window, stood fishermen and weavers–two, three, and four generations of them. They came to say goodbye to the man they loved.

20 years and more later, they still speak of the man who prayed, who encouraged, who loved–while asking nothing in return. And in the other village, where the lone man was baptized, are many, many more Seventh-day Adventists.

Sometimes I wish Thatha had lived to see his aspiration take on wings. But the fact that he didn’t says so much more. His life was like a clear spring in a forest. A spring that gives and gives of itself, enriching some, quenching the thirst of others. A spring that doesn’t dry up just to measure how much it is needed.

From Thatha I’ve learnt not to ask why, not to tally my little victories. From Thatha, I’ve learnt to rejoice that God wants me for who I am, to share Him and His love just by being His child–always. I’ve learnt that sharing the Hope of Jesus is my responsibility. But more importantly, I’ve learnt that

1.  I don’t need to see the difference I make. It is not my glory but His.

2.  I don’t need to wait for the right occasion. Every moment I breath is an opportunity.

3.  I don’t need to possess special gifts. I have all it takes. I am, after all, His child

*Grandpa