Upgrades of Life. March 2018

Late last year, I upgraded my IPhone and my car; same brands, just newer versions and different models; The IPhone X is a delight to switch from my news, to texting, and then to music, and my phone battery doesn’t die; the Audi Q5 overhead sunroof, along with Audi Pre-sense, which tells me about approaching traffic, and with Appleplay, makes my morning commute more productive and long distance driving definitely more enjoyable.

Some upgrades, in accessories, are definitely good.

When you leave your birth land, to find a my new country, is that a good upgrade?

When one leaves a boss who is described as, the bear from the movie The Revenant, scratching your eyeballs out every morning, is that an upgrade?

When one moves on, from high-school friends, who don’t really understand or empathize, to build your own new community, is that an upgrade?

Our lives are full of choices; sort of “forks in the road”. I have written in the past, of being at an intersection or crossroads – with decisions to be made. Not every decision, is an upgrade. On the other hand, if one is willing to do the hard work of research, and is committed to the investment, one can choose to make that turn in the fork, an improvement.

I made a choice, some thirty years ago, to leave my loving, warm family, and move thousands of miles away, to a whole different land – and start fresh. Many of my friends stayed behind and made their lives in Bangladesh – and then others have gone to Europe or Australia. No one ever is in the position to judge, why or how someone makes that decision to leave home – and one cannot consider these decisions upgrades or downgrades – who am I to say that my life in the US is an upgrade from my friends who chose to live in Bangladesh, or, for that matter, move to Australia. What’s most important is that they are happy and content wherever they have chosen to live.

Even since moving to the US, I have lived in some 11 homes, in 8 states in 33 years. Once, my young daughter came from school and asked if we were in the witness protection program! At least twice during these times, in Denver and Fort Lauderdale, I felt that I found my home and was going to live there forever. Then life changed; an amazing career move led me to Florida, where I thought we had built permanence. Then disease struck our family and we had to make a drastic move out of Florida.

I always wanted to live in a real city, coffee shops and crazy restaurants in every corner. I wanted a walkability score of 90+, coupled with heady intellectualism. When we moved to Cambridge, we found all that and more. Museums, a vibrant cultural scene, beautiful green spaces, and access to a coastal town, Ogunquit or Provincetown, in 90 or so minutes. I meet the most curious and intriguing people here; our dinner conversations are often about Blockchain and artificial intelligence, and the number of new fusion restaurants here are beyond my count. From late April to late October, Cambridge is a wonderful place to live. However, I also crave those blue waters of Florida, palm trees and that afternoon drizzle, soothes my soul.

January 2017, on my 50th birthday, I finally decided that however many days I have, I want some Florida in my life. So, I took the plunge and decided to build something which I could eventually call my home, at least for a portion of my life. Sometimes, in life, upgrades are necessary, and then other times, you know you gave up something good, that you just want back, even if it’s for a portion of your life.

There are other decisions, that are quite easily made, even if someone makes them for you! No regrets about leaving that annoying boss who makes you cringe every day, or puts their feet up on the desk while talking to a customer in their office. No regrets about letting friends go, when they bring you down more than they lift you up – however long that friendship maybe. In my experience, work or friends, if they are not willing to listen, or be “additive” in your life – should be upgraded quickly – without regret.

After a long day of dueling decisions, argumentative employees, fighting crazy traffic, when you return home and your twelve year old asks you, what’s the highlight of your day Daddy?, and you respond, without hesitation, dinner with you, honey!… that’s when you know, that some things in life are best just the way they are, without upgrades.

Beautiful sunrise by my new home in Oakland Park. Not upgradable

The Sunrise Last at the beach by my home in Florida. Not Upgradeable.

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I Like Where I am : February 2018

Last week, preparing for a routine colonoscopy (one of those uncomfortable things one has to experience after turning 50), in the early haze of mild anesthesia, my mind wanders. For a change, there is only a light angst, making me think, what will happen to my children, if something happens to my physical self.

The curse of a single parent, with no “back-up” parents, is that you worry incessantly, in your hypothetical absence, what will happen to your minor children. You understand that one is constantly vulnerable to changes in health or external circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you stop worrying. You buy extra life-insurance, you draw up a detailed estate plan, you have conversations with your loved ones, asking them if they will look after your children, and provide them with guidance. But there is always this lingering concern, at the back of your mind.

Moments before my last such hallucinogenic state, I remember wondering exactly what an 8 year old Shania may have done, if I somehow managed to escape during a routine check-up.

But today, Shania is a teenager, and Daiyaan is over 22 and working, paying bills and making her way through this world.

When I observe them together, fighting, arguing, doing sisterly things together – but at night, leaning on each other, when watching their favorite TV show, somehow I accept that, they will be ok, if something happens to me. It’s not going to be easy; but it’s also not impossible. I have also collected enough “together” memories, to leave them Facebook reminders, and digital moments that will spark joy, love, excitement and other emotions, that we commingle to build a life.

With this sense of relative “relief” comes a sort of satisfaction; a deep breath.

As the fog settles, the mind explores. I start imagining, what if something unexpected does happen during routine procedure. At this point, I am looking for bright spots. I think about my smiling mother.

This is the first time, since her passing a couple of years ago, I am in this state of mild cognitive disrepair and I get into an imaginary conversation with her; joking, cajoling, asking me how I have been and how the girls are doing. She asks me what I had for breakfast and if I had brought her back some “Baklava” from the US. We play cards, she makes those facial gestures or little noises, that only she could do. My father, joins us, quietly, smiling – not saying much – thirty years of silence has made him even quieter in my sub-conscious.

This entire haze-filled imaginary interaction, somehow makes me relaxed and fills my heart with an unanticipated calm and joy. To believe that, one has loved ones, on many dimensions, and that escaping from one dimension to the other, may not be as ominous as most organized religions want you to believe.

I want to live forever in my current dimension, no question. But I am also neither concerned, nor sad, about going to the other dimension(s), when that inevitability arrives. A sense of relief, and calm settles in and I float along.

The nurse asks me how I am feeling and if I am ready to put my clothes back on. Outside, in the waiting room, my guardian, Daiyaan awaits to take me home. She flew from Florida to Boston last night to accompany me back from the hospital to home. We discuss lunch, what I want to eat, and the rest of the day. For this day, our roles have reversed and she has become my parent.

On a cold, wintry day, I roll down the car window and let the happy fog of anesthesia slip out, as I take a fresh breath of air. For now, I will remain in this dimension and continue collecting memories with all these amazing, loving people around me.

Today, I like where I am.

Lived, Loved…

I am looking for a third word. That word, that descriptor, that simple verb, that will encapsulate and finalize my life when I am gone.  It’s as if, at my life celebration, there will be three words that may emblazon cocktail napkins; will be part of the vocabulary that people will use that late afternoon. I know the first two words: 

Lived, Loved, …… 



What’s the third word? Adventured… Dreamt… Climbed? 



None of these truly captures the essence of everything I believe in, or want to be remembered by. 

My goal is to not leave any debris behind, when I leave. But, if I were to have an epitaph somewhere, or a brick that had my name on it at a school park, what three words would I like to be remembered by? Drank wine (too many words)? Boated? Maybe it’s Devoured?  

At the beautiful ripe age of fifty, why am I thinking of an epitaph. It’s not that I have a death wish, or have recently diagnosed a debilitating disease.  

I am at a good place where, whether its one day or another seven seven thousand days (~20 years), I want to look back and say I did these three things well and those are the best descriptors of my short time on earth.

 
I believe that what we say, think or write down, ultimately has a higher likelihood of happening. Hence, I must choose carefully and select that third word that will determine my destiny for the rest of my days. 

I believe that words are everything. 

Words are powerful. What you say, is critical and important. 

 Words can start or break relationships or wars; words can also soothe your soul and change a persons life. I have been told that words of affirmation have helped people think of their careers; in one instance, a young project manager at a place I worked, came in and resigned because he had read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which I had given to him as a holiday gift, where Coelho talks about being a Shepard or a Baker. At his exit interview, he told me he didn’t want to be the baker, or in his case, a project manager – he wanted to be the Shepard, and fly jets around the world. He went on to become a pilot.

 Hence, one of the first thing I teach my children, and at work, that we must choose our words carefully. Be selective. When it comes to verbalizing our thoughts, almost always… Less is More. 

In today’s environment, where blustering twitter feeds, insults and promulgations, some of our ephemeral leaders are bombastic and freely throwing words around, that mean nothing; they command attention for thirty seconds, and somehow take up empty space, like that extra sweater in your closet that you haven’t worn for years.

In this verbose environment, words are even more important and require even more careful introspection. Words cannot be just thrown out and expected to be forgotten. In the world of ether, whether it’s a hurtful text, or a drunken insult, it’s out there, forever.  

I would love to have the word Inspired. But that sounds self-promoting; I wouldn’t mind, Laughed. I could live (or in this case, die with that!).  Friends have suggested Cared ! I love it. 

Have you thought about your 3 words? 

I am open to suggestions.  

Magic School Bus and Convertible Dreams: May 2017

As a young boy in Joypahar, I had two very special dreams; ride a yellow bus to school, and own a “Noddy” car.

I am certain, both dreams were connected with seeking some form of independence of being my own person and being on my own.

In the early 70s Bangladesh,  yellow school bus service was not available; once, in the United States, I did ride a school bus and found it to be a jarring experience; uncomfortable seats and bullying kids were much more than any form of independence than I had bargained.

(The Classic Noddy Car: Enid Blyton Series)

The Noddy Car dream is more obvious. He was my favorite childhood character idol, who did good deeds and saved the world. Just after turning 40, I did buy a convertible, that looked very much like an adult version of the Noddy open hood car. And I loved every moment of owning and driving my Noddy Car around.

Consciously or not, we are shaped by our dreams, going new places, accomplishing things, and eventually, becoming who we are.

Dreams don’t have to be spectacular, world-changing or expensive, they just have to be dreams; something you desire, or think is worthy of pursuit.

I watch friends climb the K2 or run marathons, start businesses or bands, buy island properties, give all their best to a cause they believe in; all of this, pursuing a passion, changing the world or not.

Not all dreams are perfect, nor do they need to come true.

At a very young age, I dreamed of being like my Dad; wanted to wear a tie, and a suit to go to work – and to cocktail parties in the evenings. I did accomplish that dream – but soon thereafter, found ties and dress shirts to be “choking”, and prefer to go to work in jeans and a polo.

After traveling the world, having three “dream jobs”, living in “dream homes”,  and owning “dream cars”, I ask someone recently, if I have the right to dream more. One may wonder, whether one has used up their dream quotient. But if one doesn’t have dreams, how do we move forward, if you have nothing that you crave for or look forward to?

Since my mother’s passing last year, I feel like I have become unanchored from my by birth land. I speak the language and look like them – but I don’t relate to the aspirations of my contemporaries. Except for a handful of childhood friends, and a few close family members, I don’t have the urge to assimilate to Dhaka. When I land back in the US and the immigration official says, “Welcome home, Mr. Mahmood” – I get chills.

Stepping into my fifties, I have started dreaming of anchoring again. Earlier, I have written about Anchoring in An Uncertain Sea. This Anchoring has a different feel to it.

Interesting, that the young boy, who once craved independence in a school bus or a convertible, now seeks his own tether.

Today, I crave that opportunity to launch a kayak for lunch towards that café down river, and to live close to loved ones, who accept me as family, and are there when dark clouds of difficulty surround me.

Being part of a bigger whole, seems to make more sense now.

(My future kayak launch: photo courtesy Toby Blades)

Recently, I have also been gifted the opportunity to write, what I want my Chapter Three to be. The children are grown up, and I am still healthy, and in an emotionally open place to carve out what I want to do for the third quarter of my life.

Some say, start your own business, or do something truly philanthropic, or get into CEO coaching (because your’e so good at it!)

I know whatever I step into, the most important thing is that, I will have fun along the way.

I thrive in collaboration, versus confrontation. I am most present, when there is creativity and “puzzle-problem-solving” involved. I have twenty-five years of experience in a variety of environments that are worth sharing to do something meaningful. I know, that new opportunity/dream will emerge when the time is right.  Dreams are neither pushed, nor pulled.

I don’t want to ride a school bus, I want to get my (mental) convertible back.

In the meantime, the kayak awaits, the water beckons; let me feel the gentle breeze on my face, the sun on my back, the sound of the water slurping all around me.

This is good, for now.

Turning Back Time : October 2016

I woke up from a disturbing dream, and felt sad to the core of my heart. The dream was sweet and nostalgic; I was listening to my mother as she was talking about the good old days, when we lived in Joypahar. We were playing Uno, over a cup of milky Cha, a few Nabisco biscuits, and talking up a storm.

harvard-square-with-uncle-and-aunt
Playing Uno with Mummy, Denver 2003

Within my dream, I realized, I was in the midst of a dream, and that soon I would wake up and the moment would be over. I tried to tell my Mom, but the moment was so joyous, that I couldn’t bring myself to reveal what I already knew as the truth.

I wanted us to remain happy, just like that moment, just with that cup of milky cha, over that game of cards, raising “gopshop” to a whole different level.

I am certain, we all have those moments, where everything just feels right;  the lighting is right, the temperature, the mood, the music, and most importantly, the people you love, and care about. These are precious times, times to cherish, sip like a good wine – just before you know that these come to an end.

Recently, my Aunt and Uncle came to visit us from Dhaka, for a weekend. We sipped a wonderful cup of latte while walking around Harvard Square, on a sunny fall morning;   took a swan boat tour on the Boston Commons lake, and discovered the magic of bonsai at the Harvard Arboretum.

harvard-square
Hanging with out with my favorite Aunt and Uncle, Rita and Aziz, Sep 2016

I had that same feeling; I knew these few days are precious – and we took it all in the best possible Bangalee way – food, music, adda! I am grateful for these three days I got with these two wonderful people, who make me happy, every time I see them.

Over the last thirty years, as I have left religion, something else has been on my mind about these joyous moments, old and new.

Major world religions talk about the gift of reincarnation or afterlife. So therein lies this possibility of heaven (and hell). There is a small chance, they remind us, of meeting those people we love, in life after death.

However, in my non-religious views, and the lack of confidence in heavenly interactions, I feel deeply saddened by the fact that I will never, ever see my mother again – not in this lifetime, or another. She will never remind me to walk straight, or eat slowly, or ask me about how we are doing; what I had with her, is done.

Deep breath.

I know I cannot wind back time.

But another really conflicting thought enters my consciousness. I am thinking of my beautiful daughters, my sister, or Matthew – those that surround me with love today.

Cupcake Eating Jan 2016
Harvard Square, Jan 2016

Every night when I kiss Shania goodnight on her forehead – or when Daiyaan is visiting us and we have samosas together, while arguing about this or that, these moments are also limited and they too shall come to an end.

After this life, I will not see any of these loved ones again. This churns me inside and out.  Suddenly every second feels so much more precious. There is so much beauty on this earth – and I have so much to be thankful for – that I really don’t want this life to end.

florence-summer-2016
One of those perfect moments, with Shania and Atiya, Summer 2016

 I realize that every moment is precious with our loved ones. This time cannot be repeated – and it cannot be reincarnated. It is, what it is; it is all about NOW. And I have only responsibility – to make it as joyous, for myself and for them.

It’s a cloudy, drizzly Sunday here in Cambridge. Shania has a sinus thing going this weekend. We decide to stay in and just chill around the house. We have left-over Italian and watch a Disney movie together. We toast some samosas, and make hot tea, to keep us company.

At the end of the movie, Shania thanks me, for being lazy today and just hanging out with her. I am grateful to her, for reminding me, at this moment, at this point of completeness.

Not looking back, not winding back time, not even looking forward. Just Now.

on-a-florida-beach-with-d
Daiyaan and I on Marco Island, 2003

We Will Carry On: April 2016

Five years ago, I came back from an overseas work trip and found empty card-board boxes in the lobby of our beautiful South Florida home; family pictures were off the wall, things were strewn all around the place, there was disarray in my carefully manicured paradise.

In the weeks following, my life changed forever. Unbeknownst to me, I became a FAMY (Father Mummy) that week.

Shania recently taught me this new term she learned on TV: FAMY (pronounced FAH-MEE).

Fifteen birthdays, five New Year Eves, one learning to read, and one high-school graduation, one learning to drive and one learning to ride a bike, one buying a first car, first loss of front teeth and one getting her first job,  and many other “firsts” later, here we are; undeterred, unapologetic and, each of us, in our new trajectory. There is no looking back; no retrieving time with a “back” button.

Five years ago, if someone had told me that Daiyaan, at almost twenty-one, is going to school in Florida, while building her career in insurance – or that Shania, at almost eleven, is growing up to be a sparkling, amazing, foodie-movie critic-worldly-loving and compassionate child, I would have been surprised; not because, I don’t want them to be this way, but more so, because I had no idea –how to be a FAMY, what it meant and what it entails.

I also had no idea that I would be in another global business leadership role, in a major publicly traded corporation, or living a new life, in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Five years ago, I blogged about Jumping into a Meandering River, because that’s how it felt.

We started swimming in a stormy dark night with no destination in mind; I could taste the saltiness of three streams of tears, while the rain beat down on us. Fear, loss, anger and pain, commingled, all tears taste the same.

At that time, a wise friend advised me, “Remember, YOU are the pole that holds up the tent, if you fall, the whole tent collapses.” I keep thinking about that phrase, and shudder.

As a FAMY, there is really no looking back, or falling sick, or for that matter, being out of commission. The tent could fall apart. It’s a lot to digest in one sitting.

Some thirty plus years ago, on a May morning, my mother also took up a similar role. In a lot of ways, I am following in her footsteps.

When my father died, there was a discrete reason for the change, it was clean-cut. Death happens and you learn to live with that. There’s defined mourning periods for death in most world religions.

In our case, the world of mental illness is undefined, taboo, and spooky as hell. You can’t really talk about it in public. There’s shame, there’s misunderstanding and guilt. Death is explainable and you know it’s inevitable; who does one blame for mental illness?

Even in movies, they photograph mental illness with a grayish hue, a cloudy or hazy lens. They usually end the movie with someone sitting on a chair and the lens moves far away. Worldly religious books don’t provide you with guidelines on how to behave when your world is struck by mental illness.

In situations of ambiguity, you create your own rules, define that path that brings the best possible outcome you can imagine.

So we started our journey, one-step-at-a-time. Didn’t pre-plan, didn’t have time to strategize a grand outcome. One school-lunch, one parent-teacher meeting, one birthday party and one doctor’s visit at a time. Just had to get it all done.

The Three of Us together Oct 2011
Three of Us Happy in October 2011

Once I was dating someone, who asked me who was “first” in my life; my answer was simple, I am not even first in my life!

Today, looking back, so many changes and heart breaks later, I look at these two beautiful gifts in my life, and feel blessed.

We didn’t choose this life, in many ways, this life chose us.

Our lives are not perfect, neither are they festered with disaster. All we know is to make the best decision we can, with the information we have, in hand.

You do your best, every day.

If life has taught us anything over the five years, there is no single path or stream of happiness. It comes in bursts, sparkles and shows up without notice.

We have to be ready to accept happiness, embrace it.

Recently, the three of us are vacationing in Amsterdam, just after Daiyaan’s close call with a terrorist attack on the Brussels airport; Shania turns around and tells me that she wishes that she could time-travel back to my childhood and be my friend. That’s when I realize the gifts of a FAMY.

Tomorrow may not be as happy as yesterday; it may be a lot better!

 

A Special Birthday Awakening: January 26 2016

Family Photo

Today is no different for the Mahmood family from the standpoint of daily activities; wake up to my morning alarm, jump into the shower, start preparation for another day of work adventure and Shania gets ready for her school: gloves, headband, cap, Kumon envelope and her backpack with her collection of button pins.

My emotions, however, are all jumbled up today; partly sad, partly confused, partly worried and tense. It’s my 49th Birthday. It should be a special day to celebrate life.

Three reasons, this is a special birthday for me:

  • Last year of my rockin’ forties started today
  • Last time I saw my #1 role model, my dad, was exactly 49; my age as of today
  • For the first time in my 49 years, the first person I met on the first day of my life, my mom, isn’t going to call me; I won’t hear that “happy birthday baba” message or song to celebrate our mutual, life-exclamation kinda event!

Text, FaceBook and Linkedin messages started pouring in, the night before, wishing me a warm and wonderful birthday.

I am grateful that hundreds of people, from five continents, thought about me on this day. Reminded by their app or not, I think it’s a nice gesture. This is the symbolic recognition, affirmation and celebration of another milestone that I woke up on the right side of grass.

I turn my phone off and start the day.

Morning meetings later, I still don’t feel celebratory. A friend invites me to lunch and we get a chance to catch up. The sun and warmth (helped by a glass of wine) brightens up the day.

In the evening, Shania and I enjoy a nice Bangladeshi dinner (from our favorite corner restaurant in Cambridge) accompanied by a nice Malbec, and some artisan crafted salted-caramel gelato (coconut based!)

As one of my routine evening events, I sit back and watch Anderson Cooper on CNN; as I am chatting with a friend, I learn of some very sad news. A friend’s daughter, in her early twenties, is in the hospital with a very difficult illness.

Electricity jars my brain; I have been so worried about myself and all the “things” that were happening or NOT happening today. I was concerned that my 49th birthday was not super celebratory!

Drowning in my self-pity, I was completely losing sight of all the things I am celebrating and mile-posting today.

First, I won grand lottery of life on this day; born to one of the most distinguished and educated couples (of their time) in Bangladesh which set in motion, for an amazing and relatively privileged life of great education, friends, travel, love and kinship that less than 1% of the world can enjoy;

Second, two amazingly loving daughters, whose world revolves around me; yes we had a tragedy in our lives five years ago – but we have all come through – healthy, happy and most importantly, together. They are my North Star and keep me focused on what’s important;

Third, a super-smart, loving sister and her family, who support me, no-questions-asked; takes care of me every day and lets me know in her gentle way that at the end of the day, we are family;

Fourth, an awesome, ‘exclamatory’ career stretching five continents, working with super-smart people, solving awesome puzzles every day, beating the competition, kicking ass, celebrating and making life-long friends along the way;

Finally, understanding and having the ability of enjoying my sources of happiness; a boat ride on water, a good glass of wine, some culinary discovery in a town square, a good cup of gelato, a delicious book, searching for lighthouses in Cape Cod, endlessly lying on a hammock (of course with a drink and a book), singing in the shower, a gentle hug from a close friend….. sipping life, one sip at a time.

Another 49 years? Why not?

What if that’s only 1 more day? It is, what it is. I have no control over that.

I am grateful.

I am grateful for the 211 Facebook messages, 43 texts and a few dozen Linkedin greetings today. Life’s not made with numbers, it’s made with moments. And I have great moments, and great memories.

I am grateful for my 49 years and can’t wait to enjoy what’s in store next.

I missed your call today, Mummy; I know wherever you are, that smile is always with me. Papa, I haven’t seen you for 30 years; but I remember the dream xylophone you brought me on my 3rd birthday, and I know you have magical presents stashed away somewhere, like you always did! At some point, somewhere, I will see you both again and celebrate the gift of my life.

In the meantime, for a few more years, I will celebrate it with Daiyaan, Shania,  Atiya and all those that have extended their hands or their love, on this beautiful earth.

Cupcake Eating Jan 2016