Monday, November 22, 2010

I look back to accelerate forward

Some time back I wrote a story where one of my characters was travelling through life with his eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror. I had referred to it as a character flaw because the man looked back to dwell on the negative aspects and developed a cynical approach to life. However, there is another perspective on this. Looking back is not a flaw, if one reviews the past with a positive attitude, with the intention of making changes in the present where changes are required, altering attitudes where alteration is needed and learning from past experiences.


I’ve been driving with an eye on the rear-view mirror for a couple of days. My hindsight goes a long way back, not to my experiences but to History, to the Exodus out of Egypt! I dwell specifically on the length of the journey; a journey that should have taken only eleven days. So why did it take forty years? Something there connects to me and my experiences in Chile. The lesson is constructive and enlightening. I suppose any lesson that can get you out of the desert faster and happier in less than the forty years you take going around the same mountain has got to be a great one.


So how did an eleven day journey stretch to forty years? I will attempt to summarise the main points in a layperson’s terms. According to the account, as recorded in the Bible, the Israelites were an ungrateful, complaining lot. The moment a bit of problems or trouble arose, they’d begin the blame game and in-fighting and grumbling would ensue. They would not listen to the leaders nor comply with the rules. This resulted in a breakdown of system, order and law.


During the tedious journey it was apparent things would be hard. They were travelling through the wilderness and the climate would have been harsh and there would have been lack of basic necessities. And definitely, even depletion of resources. In all this they were so focussed on the problems that they became blind to the presence of God, who was constantly guiding them, providing for them and protecting them. For example at one point, they were without food and near starvation, at this time “manna” was provided from heaven. Initially they were happy with something to fill their bellies and sustain them. Then when the pangs of hunger were fulfilled and strength regained, they began to complain that Manna was a poor substitute for the food they were used to eating in Egypt. They even began to lament their short-sightedness in following Moses. They preferred to be slaves in Egypt than to bear the hardships of an eleven day journey.


Their attitude brought up delays in their movement and progress not only slowed down but it also came to a standstill at times. Thus what they couldn’t bear for eleven days they bore for forty years!! There are many examples of similar attitudes along the arduous journey. Without going into the philosophy and scriptural implications let me come back to the point that is related to the lessons I learned, along the way.


Going to Chile was a literal uprooting for me, from the place that had been my home for my entire life. It spelt the closing of a chapter in my life and the state of uncertainty in terms of the future. It also took me out of my comfort zone; Comfort of not only familiarity but also of creature comforts and the small luxuries I was used to. In a way it was a takeoff on the exodus from Egypt. It was my ‘lone departure’ to the unknown future. My sojourn would take me on a long route touching South Africa, Brazil and finally to Chile.


Not a frequent ‘lone’ traveller and with mobility problems, to say I was nervous would be an understatement. I took the flight with complete assistance, wheelchair et al, and honestly looking back today I will have to admit it was almost hassle-free and I got through all formalities aided by airline attendants. Yet when I had long waits for flights, sitting in a wheelchair cramped, tired and feeling a certain amount of discomfort and pain, I’d begin to moan and groan a bit to myself. Fortunately I had the “complain and remain” and “go around the mountain” quotes getting me back to a more appreciative attitude. I could hardly walk by the time I landed in Sao Paulo, but I was thankful that I could sit up and also shuffle down the aisle to my seat. What’s more, I actually thanked God that I could go to the toilet without assistance. Just the thought of it continues to keep me grateful.


Barely seven days in Vina Del Mar, Chile and the big earthquake rocked my world. The stress and fear and constant moving from one temporary accommodation to another took its toll. Not being an angel, I did at times regret the hasty decision to travel there. But hindsight and lessons imbibed from it helped me to keep looking at the silver-lining that has constantly girded the dark clouds filling me with hope and gratefulness. Such an attitude provided the ability to look for blessings in disguise, and a sojourn that should have spelled a disastrous pattern has turned out to be a lesson in itself.


If I had continued to grumble, moan and groan and pick at fate, God, man and blame all for my predicament, I wouldn’t have met the amazing people I got to meet, I wouldn’t have made lovely friends there either. The innate goodness of humans would not have manifested itself, and I would have remained ignorant of the goodwill, humaneness and the indomitable spirit of people that continued to survive, even during calamitous situations. The beauty of this picturesque city would have been lost on me and I would have marked it as “hell.” Time would have moved painfully slow. But now I have indelible memories of kindness, thoughtfulness, warmth and friendship to carry along with me. The most important point is that it has underlined my belief in God and his presence in and around me at all times.


Have you ever rocked yourself in a rocking-chair? Where does all that rocking take you? Nowhere! Focussing too much on the problems and difficulties of life is akin to sitting in a rocking chair. You stay stuck in one place no matter how hard you rock and go nowhere. Looking back should not be a “rocking-chair” moment. Hindsight should be used to find areas of change or improvement; a gleaning time for lessons. Such an attitude will see you walking ahead a wiser and more cheerful person. Why prolong misery by sticking with it?


My stay over there has given me deeper insights into my soul. I have discovered the various hues of my spirit that mark milestones in my growth as a person, and the three months I stayed there passed as a few days. Much can be accomplished with appreciation, gratitude and determination. One needs to keep moving onward and looking for those “Kodak” moments and “ha-ha” situations.


With due apologies and no offence meant to religious sentiments, I’m sure Biblical history would have recorded another story if the Israelites had known this.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Whispered Psalms and Tendrils of Hope

I’m alone once again. And once again I lose count of the days, the hours and the minutes…

They don’t matter any more.

Time is interminable.

My futile efforts to fill the void, send me foraying into a plethora of memories.

Rummaging through school days, college years

Adolescent joys and tears

They flash across the mental screen, I will them to stay….

Just a while, so I am not alone.

Vainly I try to hold a wave upon the sand, sadly I relinquish the moonbeam in my hand.

And it begins to rain.

The rhythm of the falling rain beats a haunting tattoo

That recalls vivid memories of other rainy days.

Evoking the sweetness followed by pain

That slowly gives way to a numbness.

I don’t want to feel

Happiness, sorrow, misery or pain.

I don’t want to remember….

Good days or bad days , grey days or wet days

I block out the past and stare out of the window.

Something stirs within.

I fight against myself…a losing battle this

For the dark skies and falling rain call out to me and I cannot resist.

I must yield. I can’t be immune to it.

The memories flood back like the overflowing drains……

Gurgling, rushing, uninterrupted

Washing away the dirt, dust and debris.

Leaving in its wake quiet , calm, peacefulness.

And I lay my head down exhausted.

Too tired from the roller-coaster ride of emotions……

The upswings and downswings.

Somewhere clouds clash streaking the skies, breaking the silence with its thunder.

The flood-gates open to the release…

And I drown in a deluge of tears.

Years of conditioning in convention and orthodoxy

Make me look for purpose and divine reason to every twist and turn in life.

The purpose is found, the reason justified

By theological philosophies I pretend to understand.

I try to be stoical in the face of it,

Wondering what else is expected of me.

The outer walls I build around me

Of hard cold reasoning and hollow sounding platitudes, harden and thicken while

Hidden inside the crumbling begins.

Broken and battered I cower inside the fortress

Suspicious and scared of every shadow,

Of which there are many

Some real , rest imagined.

And life goes on drawing hope from whispered Psalms…

Hope like a frail tendril clings to straws.

And I lift up my eyes and thank God

For things could have been worse, but for His grace.

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