July 23, 2020

I am officially officially moved in! I now live with the sweetest puppy ever and a conservative white roommate, whom I actually really like. But here’s the backstory: we found each other last minute and both needed roommates and sealed the deal in ONE day. And I only found out later when my dad couldn’t sleep and browsed for public info on the web, that we had very OPPOSITE political views. I don’t think we would’ve naturally picked each other…but being quarantined together, having a roomie who is going to be a fellow survivor of med school, I’m determined to walk the talk. She is a person first. I want to give her a chance. I want to see her as a person. She is a person, and she is kind to me, and funny, and respectful, and possibly the best roommate I have ever had (our cleaning and study habits match so well that it’s freaky). Will we be friends? I hope so, but it’s hard for me. It’s hard because I hope we can agree on human rights issues. Part of me, selfishly, does not want to know what she has to say on politics at all. Living together in quarantine, trying to do med school together, means I NEED a peaceful living situation. But there’s a whole part of myself, a central part of myself, that is so tied to social justice, that I feel as though there’s an elephant in the rooms of my mind. She doesn’t feel the elephant, but I know it’s there, because it’s in my head, policing what I can and cannot say. Boundaries as an activist… are interesting. I want to love people without an agenda. It’s not my responsibility nor is it possible to change people. They get influenced/change on their own/with God. And yet… I can’t help feeling as though, again, I am the ambassador of India, representing all Indian-Americans in every interaction. I can’t help feeling as though I need to educate/inform/ share how important human rights are to me.

Otherwise, this place is beautiful. My room is a sanctuary, in a way none of my previous rooms have been. Because the place I’m staying in feels permanent this time. I know it’s an illusion, but I’ve never been able to fully settle into my room back home (I always consider my parent’s home my home, and I know I’m lucky to be able to say that). I was always ready to move my things if need be, ready to move and shift and change as required of me. Being adaptable is a nice skill, they say, but I wonder how innocent and sweet it must be to not have been required to adapt to so much change. I marvel at how people may have stayed in a place their entire lives; I love hearing about how they married people they went to school with or have college friends who were also kindergarten friends. I don’t know what that’s like. I still feel worried that it’s too much to tell anyone that I consider them my best friend; labels like that suggest permanence and I’ve lived in a reality that suggests the opposite.

I said goodbye to my family today, and I feel that familiar uncertainty grasping at my throat, making my breath in my body feel raspy. And yet, and yet, and yet. I am at total peace. I have a scrapbook near me that is so full of love letters from friends, that I am still STUNNED and don’t know how to respond yet. I feel God, the nearness of divinity, in everything around me– the plants, the animals, the atmosphere, where I am in awe of how loved I feel, a love that may be invisible sometimes, but is also knocking on the walls of my heart, asking it to open, even after it’s been broken. I feel the anticipation of adventure, of new unfilled pages, waiting to be discovered and shaped, co-created with God. Yes, there will be challenges during this quest to live out dreams, dreams that were nurtured in my soul for years. BUT. I. Am. Ready.

Holding On

*** CW: Mental health challenges

 

 

 

Years ago, a therapist once asked me what makes life worth living for me. Without thinking, I said “ice-cream”. My mind was blank, and profundity felt far away. But the answer sticks in my memory, the fact that great joy finds me in tiny experiences.

I’ve lived according to a calendar for years now, and planned my days in half-an-hour segments, all through college. How else was I to get into medical school? It was rough. But now, I just feel resistant to planning anything. Nothing has gone according to plan, hahaha, especially this year. So many people’s intimate moments– weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, have been interrupted. My heart has been weighed down from seeing more clearly that there is pain that I cannot banish from other people’s lives. I am not God. I have limits.

But wouldn’t it be terrible to spend all of quarantine or all of the periods of uncertainty in life in total depression? Most of life is uncertainty anyway, and I don’t think feeling anxious and depressed is the way I want to deal with uncertainty anymore.

So much beauty is always trying to catch my attention, even when it co-exists with the worst human rights violations. The fact that I have a home and loved ones to live with. Cups of tea and Amma’s keerah  (spinach) and Appa’s distinctly playful Tamil ways of saying he’s annoyed with us, calling me “kazhidha” (donkey), “tharthalae” (brat), etc. My sister’s eye rolls. Blankets. Learning Tamil sayings since I’m home so much now, like “maddi le punnai kattikanuh” or “pullah poochi”. Meaning that when we dig a bigger hole for ourselves, it’s like trying to do things while keeping a kitty on your lap. Meaning that when someone’s annoying, they’re like a leech.

I woke up one morning before anyone was awake and walked into the kitchen. Everything was mostly clean and organized, but a cup of tea would be out here, and a few books would still be lying out there on a table, or an unfolded blanket somehow strewn over the couch in the adjacent living room.

Everything the tiniest bit imperfect, lived-in, unpolished. Home, where you are not ever expected to wear a facade, or even pretend to be perfect. Home, where you can be as you are. I notice the plants my mother waters, the ones my sister has names for, the ones I suspect my Amma loves more than me, haha. Baby pictures and wedding invitations from people I barely know (typical for Tamils) and thank you cards and magnets from Appa’s travels lay in an artistic, but not quite neat pattern on the fridge. A few trees separate us from a parking lot, and no bird has approached the water Appa left outside of the deck. What more could I want?

To get letters from close professor-friends, to write my friends love letters, to fight with and cry with and passionately care for my family, to read books recommended to me, to follow the work of activists and artists and trailblazers, to have the time and space to think of my life and my family and how I want to live. What more could I possibly ask for?

Pieces of good luck find me, in the midst of depressed disappointments, and how dare I stay in complaint when wonder invites my eyes in daily? I just happen to find books on memory tips when I clean out Appa’s bookshelves, I just happen to have a professor recommend a “memory tips for med students” website, I just happen to make a new friend in the 2 weeks we were in my school’s state, when I barely left the house and tried to avoid people. A person who made my parents feel less afraid of me eventually moving there.

How dare I pick at other’s flaws when I know my flaws? How dare I refuse to forgive when I have been forgiven? Not everything is equivalent and I am still left in confusion and mystery about the way justice works, and yet,  I know my only job is to seek how to keep myself just as much as I can. How can I seek to be the opposite of the people who have hurt me? How can I seek to be the qualities I had wished someone would show me? How can I become a better version of myself? How can I celebrate the miracles of daily existence and daily gifts, while acknowledging the very real pain of living in a world where there appears to be so much unfairness? I don’t know. I don’t know. But I will try.

to be kind and…

honest and kind

tough and kind

strong and kind

resilient and kind

ambitious, has strong-boundaries and is kind

trying to break dichotomies, rules, norms, that tell us being kind is a stupid option.

in most situations, i believe there is always a third answer, found by using “and”, imagining the possibility of including kindness in whatever you do.

Detachment

“You seem like the kind of person who is always thinking of how to do better, and I want you to know, sometimes, there’s nothing you could have done,” a lady said to me today.  She hands me the receipt, and I walk out of the store, feeling a bit dazed. I wonder what prompted her to say that. It’s the same way I wonder why people apologize to me when they cuss around me. Some people will say they thought I was in high school, but some think I’m well into my thirties.

She made me think of what it takes to truly let go– to let go of the bonds we have with certain people or with certain past memories. What is it? Is it forgiveness? Is it getting distracted by new experiences? What does it take to reduce the importance of someone or some situation in your life? I don’t know if importance is the right word, but I think of how to more intentionally choose what I allow into my mind and my life.

Not everyone we want in our lives is good for us. And those bonds are the most confusing. Bonds that are not so black and white, bonds that change their colors from time to time, leaving you in limbo eternally, with just enough hope for you to hold on, and just enough hurt to question yourself.

All I know is that in the midst of chaos, there are helpers. In the midst of destruction, there can be renewal, growth, hope, discovery. In the midst of sadness, there can be great joy, quietly standing right beside your tears. I am barely a dot in the universe, and yet, I know I will not only survive, but also thrive. And my joy is steady, unyielding, renewing. I will keep getting up. God, I swear I can feel you, even when I don’t understand, even when I disagree with religious people, even when I will always believe there are more ways to you/divine love than my own path. I swear I can hear your voice keeping me still inside, as I try to move through the chaos. And so I will give and love and not be harmed forever. I will detach enough to heal in you. I shall overcome.

Cultivating beauty/Learning from Black Women in my tiny bubble of life

*Inspired by C. Joybell C.

Like my favorite author says, I’ve never thought of beauty as a shallow value. I’m obsessed with living as beautifully as possible, to beautify life for myself and others as much as possible. I love reading about skincare, but more than anything, I chase the feeling of beauty, of wonder. I love the thrill, the exhilaration of cleanliness and pleasantness. The feeling of neatness, of my papers organized on my desk, the freshness of newly washed curls on my head, pressed clothes, sheets flattened on my bed once I wake up, soft tones in conversation, the glint of sun on leaves of cherry blossom trees. I once read, “beauty can clean the heart”. Seeing, experiencing beauty, has always made me yearn to be graceful, to be loving.

Beauty, in the way the world uses the term, however, is fraught with tension for me. Like many women of color, or more specifically darker-skinned women, it can be a painful topic. Prodded, poked at, commented on without any prompting, strangers and family alike, have felt entitled to tell me how to look, or how my looks are supposedly deficient. I definitely hold thin privilege now, and I cannot pretend to know the experiences of fat people, but I have a tiny tiny glimpse of what diet culture/body shaming/ body politics can do to a person’s sense of self worth. Desi culture has a greater directness to it, than American culture. While beautiful in some ways, one of the harmful ways that directness shows up is in how people feel entitled to bluntly name what they think of your appearance as a greeting or as the first thing they say to you, even if they DO NOT KNOW YOU.

I want to shine a light on black women/female-identifying people today, and say you are beautiful. You are loved. You are worthy. You are so much more than your looks, but still I want you to know: you are desirable. My black female friends have boldly redefined beauty, because THEY HAVE BEEN FORCED TO, because these Euro-centric beauty standards are the harshest and most exclusive of them. And out of gorgeous rebellion, they have flipped the script, rewritten the script in so many ways. They have claimed their natural features for what they are: equally worthy of love as european features. They have found what works for them, and they have cultivated (with continuing struggle because of our screwed up world) a feeling for beauty in their bones. A feeling of beauty that is often invalidated by images in the media and mainstream narratives. They have had to fight to keep their sense of beauty because the world does not validate them. To know the truth about yourself when everyone continues to tell lies about you– that is a courageous act. And out of pain and struggle, my black female friends attempt this courage all the time.

Black loved ones, I love you. I will never know the depths of the courage and beauty you have been forced to strive for, but I will keep fighting as you have fought for me, so that your burden is a little lighter. As a non-black person of color, I owe my life here to the rights you bled for; I benefit from sacrifices you made. Now, it is time for me to own up to not only the rights you earned for me, but also the pain it caused you, and I will not look away from your tears. My limited, imperfect efforts will continue, because you must have beauty for your ashes.

I love the thrill, the exhilaration of cleanliness and pleasantness in my heart, and that feeling is cultivated through the embracing of JUSTICE. Beauty is fraught with tension for me, but my rants are meant to somehow clumsily lead into a conversation of something that is more fraught with tension: the struggle for beauty, for hope, for justice, for my black folx. Thank you to my black loved ones for teaching me how to cultivate beauty rebelliously.

An escape

I used to listen and run to the song “A Sweet Escape”. Sometimes, I wish I could find a tiny bubble of peace, content, joy, safety, and just stay inside of it forever. I wish for that all the time. To be a sensitive person, to be a perceptive person, to feel hyper-aware of the pain of others and to feel constantly connected to everyone I meet, can be an arduous existence. To survive, sometimes, feels like a rebellion. To care for myself feels like a rebellion.  Other people are told to be helpful, but I hope someone tells me how to be healthily selfish, as my favorite author says. If only there was a space in society where I could be silent and still and feel safe and uninterrupted, uninterrupted to dwell in total peace. But now, I am called to cultivate a stronger kind of peace. A peace that is not easily dismayed by pain, horror, uncertainty. Perhaps, I think in my dark moments, that all my motivations to serve are shit. To burn yourself to provide light for others– I know this is not the right way to give, but I find myself engaging in burning as a default, and I have to consciously redirect myself when I wake up from being on auto-pilot.

I am learning that often what I was told about the “supposed to’s” were utter LIES. I am supposed to talk like this, put up with that, appear likable, to be accommodating at all times. It was all a lie. But I lived like that for years, and suddenly there is so much to unlearn. It makes me feel ashamed. But I refuse to stay in shame. My friend likes to say, “Rebel against society by loving yourself. You think you must self-destruct to rebel, but really, you have to love yourself.”

I have wasted so much time. But there is hope. In this moment, this tiny, fragile, precious millisecond, I have decided to prioritize myself, my life. To honor my limits, my boundaries. I promise to protect myself, to be responsible for myself. God, if you are there, I am surrendering. If there is a better way out there, show me, guide me, lead me. Make a way. Help me.

Hunger for more

My hunger for friendship expresses itself through my constant checking

of social media.

I miss you, friends. Let me see your faces, even if I do not have the energy to speak.

My hunger for love expresses itself through cries for help: sometimes ugly, sometimes sweet. Fury, trembling tears, sarcasm– I try them all when I am desperate but have not yet understood which thorn has pierced me and where it is located in my skin. But when I know the thorn that has damaged me, I am able to gently tap on the shoulder of a friend, and lean on them. I am able to share jokes and confess my mistakes and worries. I am able to pray, because I have the energy to form words besides the plea “HELP”.

God, Love, divine goodness in the universe, anyone and everything that is divinely good, come to my aid. Protect me, my loved ones, the communities most targeted, oppressed, in need of justice. Please guide us. Show me my role, for I am stretched thin, and all my efforts appear insignificant, pointless, too little. Help me go on. How can I take care of myself and then contribute how I can? What is my little role in this movement for progress, in the midst of great pain? Humble me, so I can take on my little role with deep respect and gratitude.

The toll of daily life/Sunshine of daily life

“Simultaneity”, my professor says.

That I can love the nurse who nurtured my thatha in his last moments and yet envy her for receiving the closeness of my grandfather that I fought for earnestly but did not receive.

Things can be hard and beautiful at once.

My body contains the memory of bad touch, and yet it moves gorgeously, rebelliously.

I rise from the depths of depression with new light in my eyes, a light that is stronger, brighter, so much harder to extinguish this time.

No one warns you of the troubles this life gives you, but still, there are untold treasures yearning for you to discover them every single day.

The flowing of your breath remains, your heart beats on, the toil continues, in order for you to continue your search to notice, appreciate, create, beauty.

Sometimes you know your emotions are irrational, but the hurt demands to be dealt with, and it refuses to be ignored, no matter how many times you turn it away from your doorstep. A demanding guest, whether you like it or not, you must invite it to tea in the home of your mind and heart.

And so, rebelliously, I remain. The act of breathing can be radical; the choice to continue cannot be taken for granted. Congratulate yourself, when you need to, that you have made it through another day. ❤

Dear God

Dear God,

My heart pains for those who go unheard

Why is no one curious to understand?

Articulate arguments swim over people’s heads

They twist and turn your words for their benefit

They pay attention to your mistakes under the guise of

listening.

They look for loopholes and attack, not knowing they are missing

the story.

Why don’t we want to start by looking into the heart of another

and not their words?

Why can’t we start by placing a hand on where it hurts

and glimpsing the pain of another before we open

our mouths to defend our righteousness?

My heart pains for those who go unheard.

May 6th, 11:54 pm

“Love is messy,” says Ellie Chu in the movie “The Half of It”. It’s true. I wish I could continue with the line of thought I was in in the last post, but I feel worn down today, my head filled with other sensations, hurts, beautiful moments, insights. I haven’t talked to my Ammama in two days; I need to call her because she misses Thatha. She’s known Thatha her entire life and she married him at 16, for better and for worse. While there was so much wrong with the way it happened, they loved each other throughout the years, and theirs was a simple, enduring, steadfast love. It was an affection that required no words to reassure the other person that it was true, or maybe it grew into that by the time I was old enough to notice. Today, it is the 48th day of mourning, a day my Amma and Ammama observed through prayer, meditation, and the cooking of sweets to offer the gods. My Ammama felt the auspiciousness of it also being the day of the full moon, and she said a flower dropped from Thatha’s picture just as she finished praying. My Amma grieves in a way that is invisible to me, but my thangachi can see it. In comparison, I am loud and very “heart-on-my-sleeve” and it is a need for me to express what I think and feel. It is hard for me to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself; I am wired for sharing. Humans are all wired for sharing, but we have different ways of coping. My Ma, My Amma, her way of coping is silent. Still bright-faced and full of love, enthusiasm, and energy, her presence fills every room, her voice softening the air. But she is more tired now. The fire in her is more gentle now; she is less interested in debates, uninterested in accepting an invitation to any sort of argument. In a bubble of silent tranquility, she sits, unmoved by the nonsense that gets stirred up in another imperfect, struggling, resilient, beautiful, family.

We are all affected, even though I would like to pretend otherwise. It is harder to pretend to yourself when you are in quarantine, left with your thoughts, left to face yourself. Sometimes, I wish I could vacation in my Ma’s head, as Meg Cabot would say. It seems nice there; she feels what I feel, but she is so much wiser. She is less explosive than I am; she possesses greater self-restraint, self-knowledge, is more strategic with her time and energy.

She is much better at loving people than I am. But I am lucky that my family teaches me how to love better, every day. My thangachi teaches me to forgive; she tells me to accept that people are flawed. She lives the idea of “giving people room for imperfection” (quotation inspired by Craig B.). My Appa lets me in on the secret that honesty is loving, that honesty is precious, that honesty keeps relationships from dying. He would rather I argue than to decide that there is no point in having a conversation.

I can be self-righteous, and while it takes a lot to anger me, the results of my anger can be horrible for me to reflect on. I have come to appreciate myself over the years, but it is much harder to accept myself, to face my flaws, to both work on bettering them and to make peace with the inevitable imperfection. I wish I could get through life without causing any discomfort to anyone, ever. But it doesn’t work that way, or at least, it is hard to be brave and honest while making sure everyone is okay with it, if not happy with it. I am sensitive, and sappy, and can be open and thoughtful to a fault. I love who I am, and I have trouble with who I am, and it turns out I have a long way to go when it comes to learning how to love. Love is messy. Love is messing up again and again and forgiving and starting over, because the other person is worth it (assuming this is a healthy, imperfect relationship and not an abusive one). Love is recognizing someone else’s fragility, but also their potential. Love is accepting where someone is today while having hope for their growth, and the growth that they’re interested in, not necessarily the growth we think is best. Love is surrendering the responsibility of someone else’s growth while having the integrity and strength to walk beside them, especially in their dark moments, when you might not even recognize them. Love is asking a lot out of me, and you know, sometimes it seems like I cannot rise up to meet it, and sometimes it feels out of reach. I feel cynical about love sometimes, but I will not stay cynical, because I want to be brave with my life. Again and again, hurt after hurt, I have to be brave enough to hear what God is telling me, what my inner voice is telling me. Hurt after hurt, I must be willing to get up and love again, to love anyway, to love in spite of, to love through, to love because, to love. I have been loved with all my flaws, and I will love the ones I have been given with all their flaws. Boundaries are necessary, and the extent can vary depending on what the relationship is like, and maybe sometimes distance is best. But love can love anyway.

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”– Maya Angelou

Today, thinking of my Thatha, who always loved me anyway, I pray that God humbles my heart. Help me see my own flawed ways and let it empower me to pour kindness into myself and kindness into others. Help me, God; thank you for today, yesterday, and every day.