An year ago, on 27th of June, I experienced a life incident that I believe has changed me permanently as a person (pray to God and hope that it has changed me to become a better human :P). It has significantly impacted how I view, understand and experience life as a woman, higher education professional and as a person advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities in India.
While the incident in itself is not positive enough to be narrated on my blog, it is important for you all to know that I persisted and I made it through that day and many days after that day.
During the last 365 days of my life, I have for a number of hours experienced a plethora of emotions and struggles just to be able to stick to the plans I and others have made for me to succeed personally and professionally. And there was one day a few months later (after June 2017) when I could turn the tide over things to gather some control on my situation.
I was sitting in the middle seat of a long flight and on my left side sat a middle aged American woman. She was impeccably dressed. I had cried for over two hours by then and by the time the flight began to take off, she had already given me her handkerchief and was trying to find a way to calm me as I sat and cried uncontrollably. My tears and nasal secretions were all over her hands as she held my left hand in a clasp and didn’t let go (And let me tell you, in the US it is a huge beeping deal for someone to actually be ‘that’ human. For example, when you sneeze twice and people around you will already be almost thinking of masks to protect themselves – it is that bad in some places. On a funny side, there are people like us Indians who are like ahh! I don’t care). Let me tell you by then she didn’t know my name or my problem. Initially I sat in my seat, wore my eye mask and was crying quietly. After I could stop crying she continued holding my hand and said, “What ever is running in your mind right now or your brain is telling you right now, trust me it will not feel desirable tomorrow. The pain gets lesser as more days pass between the incident and your present!” Then she continued to narrate to me about her own situation that led her to walk away from something that she was associated with for 17 productive years! But in telling me her story, she shared two precious lessons with me.
It is okay to walk away from something even if it turns all odds against you if you have to preserve yourself!
Not often times in life ‘walking away’ is presented as an option. But when you look at an excruciating situation in life, sometimes, not fighting and bowing out is an excellent option. By closing one door through which you are trying to survive a painful experience, you may be preserving yourself to walk through another door that needs to be held open for others to follow you. This is not spoken of as a practical and relevant skill. Especially in the Indian context, walking away from anything is like you are hanging out your family’s pride out to dry and die in scorching heat (yes, I also understand at times, walking away is not an option for some people and my heart goes out for them!). I was privileged to have parents whose arms I could run into and say, “Take me home, I cannot do this anymore!” I have come to identify that as a person of many privileges compared to my peers, I have to utilise my privilege as a power to stay put in a situation that pushes me towards failing.
No matter what the external help sources are, there is a point of time when you have to push yourself the hardest to get out of a quicksand or quagmire that you are stuck in.
While she was telling me her story, she told me what helped her. And she asked me to try it for myself. She said, “I want you to get up every morning and say to yourself loudly, – I am taking away from you the power of affecting me any more as I recognise that you hurt me with your actions and behaviours! You say this sentence everyday like every other ritual you do. Say it loudly and watch yourself say it” – Being the person that I am, despite the grief I was feeling, I still found it in my heart to think it was a very lame sounding suggestion. I nodded my head blankly but the lines stayed in my mind.
A couple of weeks later, after yet another triggering incident, I was angry and looked at myself in my car’s mirror and said the lines out loud (without a pause of thought and of course in Telugu!) and suddenly felt a sense of relief crawl through the back of my neck muscles (which I had been trying to release through yoga, manual therapy and you name what!). The woman’s words were imprinted in my mind and I wasn’t even conscious of them until another wave of hurt and pain came over me and I was sitting my car thinking, “What next?” And suddenly I felt capable to make a plan B.
Did the lines solve the problem I was facing? No
They solved nothing except that they helped me hear my own voice saying that I was not to continue blaming myself for everything that was happening. Most of the situations of discord that we experience in our life come from situations when one/one group of the humans in that interaction are rendered fully powerless. Her lines gave me a voice. In a powerless situation where I felt muted, her lines made me realise that I still had my voice to talk to myself and push myself ahead towards success.
When any human being succeeds personally or professionally, we must remember to look beyond them and see who are the people nudging these humans forward. In respect for every person who nudged me forward every time I took a back-step in fear or failure, I want to tell you about TheVillage that raised me. TheVillage that lives beyond country borders where I lived and continue to live.
TheVillage that stays put to propagate human values which continue to diminish within our communities because we are all in a blind race towards success.
And my first TheVillage story starts with this anonymous lady who was brave to share her life story with me and tell me that, “We live to fight another day!”
P.S: Many well-wishers from India continue to tell me that I should not write about life lessons so openly as it may affect my future in many ways (Multiple words: first word starts with J and last word ends with E! *Facepalm*).
My response: The first problem with current human societies is the illusion of aspiring to live an error and shortcoming free human life to achieve success. And I’m not a subscriber to that style of life. While I was not raised in an environment where there was supreme emphasis on being the ‘perfect kid’ who was always the over achiever ( I have many Indian friends who are victims of such parenting), I was in a learning environment where being less than perfect was not welcome. Yet here I am today doing what I can do. While I understand the advise to not speak about my weaknesses or challenges comes from a good place, I cannot accept to follow it. In writing openly about the ‘imperfections’ that are woven into my being, I am able to accept my failures more positively than ever before. And I owe this lesson to that woman who spend two hours of her life talking sense into my hurt mind that day in 2017.