Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Lessons for a lifetime

Quite a few posts on my blog since 2011 have been about cancer and I hope this is the last in the series. 

Lot of people I have met, or know, say proudly that they have not changed one bit. I feel sorry for them because change and growth are synonymous for me. If they have not changed, they have not learned anything from any life experience and have let a wonderful opportunity to grow go to waste.

Cancer, in its five appearances in the bodies of three people I love, has taught me different things. 

The first appearance was a shocker. It taught me not to take people I love for granted. It made me regret all the fights I ever had with aaji (grandmother) and all the times I travelled to exotic locations instead of visiting her. 

The second tryst with the disease taught me that people are very good. I felt this immense rush of positivity. I decided to promote, with a stubbornness that would put a well-bred mule to shame, the inherent goodness of people. I believed with all my heart that mom had cancer to ensure that I start blindly believing in the goodness of people.

The third time around, my teacher decided to take a stricter approach and ensured that I achieve, what at this point in time I perceive to be, a balanced approach to life, people and the games that these two seem to be playing with me all the time.

I’m not the only daughter in the world to see her mother suffer. I know I’m not the first or the last person to go through the gamut of emotions I am going through every day for the last 5 years. However, with all the bones in my body I’d like to believe that the way I’m processing all that is happening, in reality or otherwise, is unique and can be a attributed to only one person in the world. ME, in case I was not self-indulgent enough in the previous paragraphs and you missed who I was referring to when I said one person in the world.

Of the many things that cancer has taught me or rather I have chosen to learn from it is that the only need that is constant is the will to survive. From my mother who revived from what most of us (family and friends and friends of family and their uncles) thought were her last few days, to my younger brother and to me; we all were hell bent on surviving however we could albeit the modes of self-preservation were different. Mom concentrated on becoming better and recovering the quality of her life. Akshat decided that staying away from the situation as much as he could would help and I decided that the only way I could survive was by exhausting myself to bits. As months passed by and she became better the modes of survival became different for all of us. Mom takes on just a little bit more on her plate than any other person feels she can chew. Akshat, continues to stay away for most parts but is available to help out whenever I lift my hands in defeat. I, go out with friends, travel, read just a little bit more, use the camera lens as an extension of my eyes, mostly make the effort to enjoy life by taxing myself just a little bit more.

I have been generous enough by mentioning mom and Akshat in the previous paragraph. Don’t expect me to continue to do so. This is about what I learnt. Clearly, I did not learn much about turning away from the spotlight. I continue to bask in the limelight!

Back to things I learnt. I learnt to be patient. A virtue not many believe I possess. I became patient with people who had no idea what they were talking about because I knew their concern was genuine (at least in that moment). I became patient with people who refused to make an effort to understand what I was trying to explain because…
… well because I’m a nice person.

I have noticed, also, that I have become impatient with I’m so fat because my waist size has increased by 2 millimetres type of people. I feel that somehow by interacting with them I’m wasting precious moments of my life, which I could be spending learning something new—about the world, India, Delhi, a new word, a new way of life or learning something as mundane as which movie will come on TV the coming weekend.

I have learned that I need to learn how to not care too much. To my utter surprise, on several occasions, several people have told me that my major character flaw is that I care too much. How much is too much and how less is too less, I’m yet to learn. But over the last couple of years I have started to put myself first. Things, emotions, actions, people who make me happy continue to be a part of my life. Others, who deliberately or inadvertently make me unhappy or generally add even a pinch of negativity in my daily life, are better forgotten. I must admit, I am becoming good at it. Parle often told me that her biggest strength was that she absolved herself of the guilt that followed the act of making a mistake. I am now absolving myself of the mistakes I have made by giving everyone else’s opinions room even at the cost of my own. Respect, I have realised is a two-way street. People who disrespect me will no longer be excused for their bad behaviour. I, of course, am genetically inclined to be polite and well mannered. So that leaves me with only one option. I ignore. People and situations that do not agree with me or my ways stop existing for me. 

Cancer attacked our lives in its biggest sweep yet in 2014. Mom needed chemotherapy again. We were still trying to device a way to plan and shop for my wedding later that year along with the visits to the hospital that we found out that my mama (mother's brother) was also suffering from cancer. My mother and mama ended up being treated in the same hospital by the same set of doctors. There were days when both were being administered their chemos. Mami and I would be busy running around the hospital corridors managing the paper work and the brother-sister duo would be busy visiting each other, laughing, sharing sweets and choorans. On several occasions the hospital staff would remind them that it was a hospital and remaining silent or in the least soft was required. Seeing these two I often wondered what made them happy even in such circumstances. And another part of me would answer that they are forcing themselves to be happy to survive these circumstances. I have now learned that staying happy is a choice. You can alter your circumstances by being happy. Smiling is contagious. I also know that sadness can be infectious. So I avoid being around people who love to crib and who no matter what the circumstances have the penchant for seeing the negative.   

Cancer claimed two members of my extended family within a week’s time last year. In the wake of their deaths some old lessons were revised. Life is fragile. Staying true to who you are and ensuring your happiness in this lifetime are the most important things. The most disturbing lesson that was taught again was that life stops for no one. You laugh again, you eat again and you go back to the ‘normal’ life again. The void that the dead leave in your lives remains. But the living soon start taking more room in your daily life. The people who leave continue to be a part of your life as tars and memories.