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.

May 1, 2020

My Ammama is the kind of beautiful where it looks like she’s “lit up from the inside”, as Dr. Brene Brown would say. Radiant, soft skin with some deep wrinkles now, bright eyes, with curls of grey and white she usually clips at the back of her head. A round scarlet bhottu usually rests a bit above the middle of her eyebrows, and she wears flower-shaped diamond/imitation-diamond stud earrings, gold bangles, and a gold “thaali”, (signifying her married status) on her neck, as is common for women in India. It meant protection, back in the days, when women were not out in the working world as much; it was a form of security in case a woman faced a financial problem and her husband could not provide money. The “podovais”, saris, that she wears are the ones she’s had for years, but they are always clean and smooth on my cheek when I hug her. She gladly wears jasmine flowers in her hair when we visit, but I don’t think she does otherwise, thinking it a bit “improper” for a “woman of her age”, or at least feeling that she would be judged as “improper” by her neighbors. Her dentures, when put in, gives her a straight, symmetrical, full-mouthed, pink smile. I tell her over a whatsapp call today, that my thangachi and I talk about how smooth her skin is, knowing it will make her smile, and it does.

How much has she done in her life to make us smile? My childhood’s center was the presence of her and my Thatha. The most heart-breaking thing that could ever happened to me growing up was the idea that I’d hurt Ammama or Thatha. Sure, I was hurt if I hurt my parents, but somehow, accidentally hurting my grandparents, was devastating. They were the type to go silent when they felt wounded, deeply breathing out their hurt, quickly forgiving, loving us helplessly, endlessly. It was a love I knew I had never had to earn; it was the kind of love I would have even if I remained silent and stayed stationary for the rest of my life. It was the kind of love where they were determined to better my life, whether I asked for it or not, the kind of love that made my Thatha clean messy spaces in our home and ask us what we thought when we came home from school. It was the kind of love that made my Ammama comfort me, but also talk some sense into me when I was hurt by something someone said. “You never know what’s been going on in someone else’s life– something at work, something someone said might still be on their mind. Their irritation might have nothing to do with you,” she once told me. But at the time, I was disbelieving, bewildered, almost annoyed at the way her and my Thatha seemed to forgive people.

When our white neighbor laughed at my Thatha’s Indian-accented English, my Thatha only seemed to look at him with an enduring, a still compassion. I, on the other hand, was furious. A mixture of emotions suffocated me as a Tamil-American girl in elementary school in Virginia– I was embarrassed that my family stuck out but I loved that I had this ethereal other world of sounds and traditions that gave me a tight-knit community outside of school. I wanted so much to be embraced by my “more American” classmates, because they were the kind of Americans who would never have to defend their American-ness, and if they accepted me, maybe one day I would never have to defend my American-ness either. So I glimpsed Tamil soap operas my grandparents watched in the evenings, went to bharthanatyam and karnatic music classes and Tamil school during weekends and simultaneously tried to keep up with discussions of American Idol at school. But it didn’t always work even when I watched American Idol, because a girl told me that some Indian guy got picked for the next round because “my people” had voted for him. When I joined a soccer team later on, it was the first time I felt as though I was more of an insider into American life.

Walking on a tightrope, walking on a tightrope… trying not to fall into the depths of uncertainty and a fragmented sense of self. When we moved to Bangalore when I was 10, I felt strange when Indian people stared at the few white people in the airport. I wanted to yell, “Hey, I’m actually like you, with you! I’m not like these other people,” I had wanted to say. In some ways, it was true. I felt I had more in common with these white Americans at the time, than I did with people who were Indians, and not Indian-Americans. But looking around me, I realized these white people would not know that I was a fellow American, looking into the crowd. My face was mixed in, my skin blended in with all the other cocoa, tan, nut, mahogany, sepia bodies.

… to be continued

 

April 30th, 2020

I’ve had time to think, and it’s been wonderful, and terrible. All this stuff I didn’t know was bothering me is coming up. And it’s amazing how superficial it seems now– do I fit into society’s beauty standards? I’ve made a choice to be single for sometime now, but does it mean something’s wrong with me? Is that friend just busy so she’s not texting me back or does she not love me as much as I love her? Are you kidding? My sibling needs alone time? She doesn’t love me either?My parents are stressed… what did I do? Lol, senseless worries, worries that are irrational and not worth it.

I have a beautiful life and I am a beautiful person and I have to make sure it is I who decides what that looks like. My Ammama misses Thatha. There is so much suffering in the world right now, and it hurts me. I need to decide which med school I will go to, and I’m not sure if my top choice will accept me. Important worries come along with less important worries. My worries about the global co-exist with my own personal, smaller, but still significant worries. My heart is with the families of healthcare workers, and my heart also wonders about my once celebrated single-hood.

But in the midst of all this suffering, I find a small, safe haven. It is a soft place, where the every day sounds of family laughter or silly argument (depending on the day) surrounds me. I thank Amma once a day for holding me in her womb for nine months; I kiss Appa’s bald spot. I wrap my arms around my thangachi as she types away on her laptop, trying to finish yet another assignment as finals approach during her online college semester.

I have discovered the Mindy Project, and have been celebrating the show “Never Have I Ever”, and with all my mixed feelings about representation, I am elated, thrilled, mad proud of this new step towards Tamil voices making it on screen for a larger audience.

Life has slowed down, and some of it I have grown to like. I love sleeping, not rushing so much to get ready, setting aside time to enjoy solitude with reading and writing. I’m paying more attention to my internal world, and it is much more calming to me than having to absorb the feelings and thoughts of other people around me constantly. It is much easier for an empath to rest in this kind of environment. I am less rigid with my schedule and less anxious about maintaining friendships. Everything, as a dear friend said, is more intuitive. I let everything flow as it wants, allowing myself more freedom to talk when I want to talk, and to stay quiet without contacting anyone when I need to.

“Are you afraid a pearl will drop out?,” my Appa once asked me when I was little, in response to my quiet-ness, my supposed refusal to open my mouth to talk. I nodded instead of saying yes; I pointed instead of telling someone where an item was. Naturally, I just didn’t want to talk unless I had something I felt was essential to communicate. I feel that way again now. Talking feels more exhausting than usual. These days, it is enough for me just to be in the presence of my loved ones and to communicate my love to friends through writing and some measured talking. I am in my head, and it feels safer there. My heart is with my Ammama, and I will sleep today with dreams of peace in my resting head.

april 22nd, hours later

hi. knowing that at least one person will read this helps me feel less alone. i have numbed a great deal of pain today by losing myself in mindy’s romantic pursuits in “the mindy project”. romcoms/ romantic stories of any kind catch my eye because love is my favorite topic of all time. when i volunteered at hospice, my favorite stories were about people’s loves, romantic or otherwise. i heard about siblings, friends, lovers, heroes, happy relationships and broken ones. it reminded me, that everyone else, just like me, is yearning to feel less alone, more whole, hoping love will soothe them in an often hurtful world. i love being sensitive and i hate it too. i love it because of how i can catch what is unsaid and fall in love deeply with people– family, friends, lovers. it happens effortlessly, quickly, deeply. it worries me that i love people who i no longer speak with, but sometimes i think you have to give your whole heart away so you can take your whole heart back. what i mean is, i’m afraid of loving half-heartedly (for selfish reasons) because i think it’s much harder to move on when you weren’t completely immersed in the first place, at least in my experience. my last failed ( or should i say growth experience? whatever lol) romance left me crying in bed for days. but you know, there were days when people at the gym asked what i had for breakfast because i was practically jumping everywhere; i was so PUMPED when i found out that this boy and i liked each other. i felt like i was floating, and i am so enamored, so content, to know that i had that kind of joy, even if it was for a short while. i loved being so excited to check my phone, to talk to that person, to be too nervous to talk, to dream of a future. it was an unnecessary infatuation, and i will one day be wiser and not choose to say yes to flaky boys, but there were flashes of gorgeous joy and after i spent some time feeling angry, i hoped this cute boy would go on to be happy.

you know what sucks about being sensitive though? you have to be brave and strong every day, and you have no other choice, because if you did not face your hurt, you would be stuck in your room every day, because when you are sensitive, you are bruised much more often, much more sharply, because you are tuned into matters, tones, undercurrents that go unnoticed by others. but i’ll say it– i’m annoyed with myself at times, but i love who i am, and am trying so hard to love myself right now.

weird sad moments from the past are floating up into my conscious mind since i have the time to think about things now, and i don’t appreciate it right now. but it’s good for me, because maybe i’ll finally be able to move on. my ex-best friend got married and her sister is pregnant. i am missing out on her life moments, and i love her, and i know it would not be good for my health to have her back in my life again. but there was a day when she did my makeup for my birthday or got me an icecream sandwich or listened to my worst fears or shared traumas with me that stopped me from having a good night’s sleep for years after that and then comforted me when i had nightmares about her traumatic experience. and that is the scary nature of getting your heart involved with other people’s hearts. it can break you.

but today is about me wanting to live a life of love anyway, knowing full well how i’m signing up to get broken, again and again, and you know, i think that’s pretty rad. i am soft, i am sensitive, i am sappy. i love endlessly, and my boundaries are a work-in-progress, but i am a spiritual WARRIOR. i am gentle, and i am tough, and if this quarantine has taught me anything, it is that i refuse to give up on love. c. joybell c. says we can be broken and whole at the same time, and you know, i actually get it.

April 7th

I wake up but find it hard to get out of bed. My skin is protected under the fluffy white cover printed with a rose design; the weight of my body pressing against the bed is so comforting, so safe. I am not ready for the day, not yet. I ignore my alarm going off, feeling the sun asking me to wake up, its light heating up the cover that is over my head. When I convince myself to sit, before I can change my mind, I find it hard to do the routine I had become accustomed to or aimed for in pre-quarantine days : pray, meditate, run. Instead, I scroll through messages on my phone, missing friends and community, but feeling that it would take too much energy to talk to anyone. “Amma,” I think, and I call her on whatsapp. “I miss you, Amma,” I tell her, and she smiles at me. I glow in response, and she begins to give me instructions. Have I done my duties to preserve Thatha’s memory? Had my interview gone well? She hasn’t been able to sleep through the night, since he passed. At all hours of the day, my Ma seems to be awake, replying and answering my calls, unless engaging in some death ritual my Ammama had told her to fulfill.

And then, usually, not now, but usually, running gives me peace. It’s a time during the day that my body is worked hard enough that my mind is too exhausted to think, and that is freeing. The high I get from the run usually soothes my brain chemistry enough for me to carry around a lightness in my chest all day. But now, running feels too violent, too much of a strain. I put on disney music or a sermon and walk from wall to wall in my home, half-dancing or half-jogging from time to time. White and pink magnolia or cherry blossoms, not sure which, peek at me from the window and I decide to walk outside for a bit, pausing to gaze at the pink petals lining the sidewalk, making me feel like a royal path had been laid, just for me. I don’t feel embarrassed (like I usually would 🙂 ) when cars whiz by or people walk by and glance at me just standing there, staring at a tree. Suddenly, being able to take a short walk feels more precious than it used to; it’s raining and the pink petals glide onto the ground. It’s raining petals! I feel small and happy, seeing the ground covered in a blanket of pink. I rush back to shower and then sit near my thangachi, as she does her homework. I say yes to requests from her and my Appa that I might have ignored a year ago: can I fix them a snack? can I sit close? can I bring the pain meds? Having taken time off before med school, I know I am now depending on my family to the max, during this time of financial uncertainty. We do for each other everything we can, each member stretched thin, just trying to care for the others. When I cry over arguments, I’m unable to hold a grudge the way I used to; I’m sorry, I say, hugging them close, soon after an explosive fight brought on between the three of us because of grief and stress and anxiety.

We are resilient, but we feel fragile. We fight, but we love each other. Whereas I once liked to dream of ten years into the future, now I try to only make a list for the day, or at least three important things I want to do, or sometimes I just wake up and live, with no plans. I used to feel guilty about not “meeting the mark” in so many aspects : did I schedule? did I do what I set out to do? did I fulfill beauty standards? Suddenly, I know how much my mental health now depends on the level of self-compassion I can provide, and I take it seriously. Holding onto meds, praying, exercise, meditation, people, I raise myself up each day, knowing that joy and love are too precious for me to give up on. “We exist in multitudes”, I once read, and it’s the way I feel now. When people ask how I am, I find myself saying “good”, because, everything considered, I am still so lucky, still so content, still so loved. And co-existing with gratitude are pangs of resentment, loss, grief (my own personal grief and then the grief that comes from knowing the suffering of people in the world that I cannot immediately change), frustration, resignation. But then there is peace and joy. The clock is ticking in my living room, my sister on the floor doing her homework, and my heart is full.

 

april 22nd

the normal family squabbles, lost patience, all of us frustrated with the quarantine. unable to keep up the phone dates i would usually keep. it’s hard to hold conversations with people i care about, because i don’t feel presentable. i cannot put up a front of being pleasant or happy, and in my head, it’s as though sharing my sadness and possible negativity/pessimism will repel them. people can get drained, but guess what we all love each other and none of us are perfect and we need each other and we are there for each other. is it normal to yearn for love this much? god, please help me feel your love. i know you’re here. but i feel so far away from you. help me feel less alone. help me release all this sadness. take my burden; i cannot bear it alone.

small things are making me angry. i feel sensitive. but god, thank you for my family. we make each other mad sometimes, but you know, i love them so much. they really are the best, with all their flaws. thank you for giving me people who love me, with all my many flaws. god, please help me limit my need for validation to only a few close people. i do not like to feel this desperate to feel loved. i don’t even know what i’m searching for.

god, thank you for loving friends, people who i am excited to be around and see and talk to, even when it’s virtual. thank you for giving me a sister who listens to me rant and is kind to me and forgiving and accepting. thank you for my mother who is a morning person, just like me. we are joyous when we see each other each morning, even with a 6-foot distance between us because of self-quarantine. thank you for my Appa, who is somehow able to love me after ever argument. love is not only a feeling; it is a choice. it is a commitment, to me. i am still figuring out what it looks like to nurture myself when i want to soothe everyone else’s emotions, but even with all my anger, i know none of it is as important as loving the people i love who love me, the people whose love i have never had to chase, the people who have always loved me and always will. what a glorious thing– to know that about a few people, that even when you’re torn and unpleasant and flawed and sometimes rude because you’re sad, that they not only put up with you, but they want to, and they want to keep putting up with you.

sometimes, there is no explanation. sometimes, we do not get closure, and all we have is the choice to move forward, not because other people are tired of dealing with a sad person, but because you are worth it, because your life is worth it, and i want to see what beautiful moments might be just around the corner for you and me.

April 5th, 2020. Tamil-American woman in quarantine.

I don’t remember which day of quarantine it is; we are a few weeks in. Tomorrow is the day of another medical school interview. I cannot tell my grandfather, my Thatha, about it. I don’t know where souls go when people die. Amma is away, in Chennai, with my dear Ammama, who will be alone, when Amma comes back to us in the States. I try to only think of the day ahead of me, breathing in the air my Appa and my thangachi breathe. I sit close to my little sister, my thangachi, on the couch, giving her the hugs my Amma cannot give her. I forgive more quickly than I used to, or admit fault with less pride in the way, when Appa and I argue. Family, the good, kind, imperfect, family, requires a renewal of love each day. “I love you,” I try to say without saying it, bringing Appa coffee and staying beside my sister when she asks if I can sit near her while she does her homework. Appa does nearly everything Amma would do if she were here, and although Amma nearly does everything Appa does, I know I don’t expect it the same way from Appa as I do from Amma. We are imperfect, but my Tamil family is more egalitarian than it used to be, and maybe Thatha lives on in us, because Appa does everything to show us that he respects us (not just love us, because we always knew that) just as much as Amma does. I need my friends, but I have less talkative energy in me right now than I used to. But I relish in the quiet of our home, of my solitude being uninterrupted, of it being normal right now in the dystopian state of the world. I sit quietly near Appa and my thangachi, content to kiss their cheeks, content to wake up in a home filled with sunlight and the warm voices of people whose bonds with me are steady, constant, dependable, certain. Certain.