Sharing The Hurt and Pain Index of Life: October 2015

You hurt when your child is hurting
You hurt when your child is hurting

Recently, I got an interesting comment on my Facebook page, “Are you ever unhappy or do you not take pictures at those times?” Pray Tell Zain Mahmood”

I am surprised and a bit taken aback, by this comment.

Since this is from someone who went to middle-school with me, about 35 years ago, and we haven’t stayed in touch, it’s difficult to decipher the motive.

And neither does it matter. This odd comment, makes me think.

I realize that, I am not really accustomed to, nor am I trained to express my frustrations, pain or anger in public.

I know how to smile wide, and accept whatever comes to me.

When I am frustrated, angry or hurt, I go for a long walk, or just take a nap. I don’t numb with food, alcohol or rage. Most difficulties, I have found, look and feel different, after a good nap.

In the midst of crisis, I reserve my emotions aside, and assume the role of a risk and project manager;  I look for every inevitable possibility, of things that could go wrong, and try to mitigate the risk.  This creates an interesting situation, where people perceive me as an emotion-free robot. I leave my grieving for later. And in private.

Recently, I experienced pain, anguish and frustration, all at once.

One morning, At 5 am, I get a call from a nurse, telling me that Daiyaan, my 20-year-old, is being taken to the ICU for observation, because her heart rate is unusually high.

My mind goes on overdrive, arranging logistics for Shania (my 10-year-old), and my travel arrangements to get to Daiyaan quickly, all the while, talking to her physicians and friends, and monitoring her condition.

At this juncture, I see no point of howling with pain or questioning the Universe about why my child is suffering.

After all logistics are complete, and I believe I have the necessary actions in motion, I  say a silent Universal prayer: to have the strength and ability, to handle this sudden and grave adversity, and do what is required of me: stand up and be a Dad.

The pain and loss one feels in a situation like this, is tough to describe.

One has to surrender to the vulnerability that surrounds us at every minute. This is not just my anguish;  I know every parent feels this, when they know their child is unwell.

I have felt the same anguish, as I saw my father pass away in front of me, and still feel it, as I watch my strong and athletic mother, lie in bed, unable to move freely.

About 5 years ago, I felt the same way, when my beautiful marriage of 15 years, collapsed in front of my eyes; I blogged about the emotions I felt at that time: Jumping into a Meandering River.

Every time, I feel I am surrounded by opaque walls; its like watching a bad movie, in slow motion, that I am a playing a role in. I have no idea, what’s behind those walls, and who I will become, when clarity returns.

I know, something inside me is churning and changing, at that very moment. Even though, I may want everything to remain constant.

During these moments, there are two things that help me stay focused.

First, I think of one happy memory, with the person who maybe hurting – this allows me to project into the future, and think about the possibility of more happy times and remain grounded.

Second, I imagine my particular safe place at my home, a quiet, simple and serene room, with zen music, and the smell of eucalyptus.  It’s that place I feel safe, and look to go back to go, whenever the chaos ends. I can feel Shania’s deep hug, and that same sensation, when I gently kiss Daiyaan’s forehead.

I am not sure why my inconsequential friend wanted me to journal my hurt, pain and anxiety on a public bulletin board. I have never understood, nor have I been trained to share my darkness; If you believe in Newton’s Third Law, Every Action has an Equal and Opposite Reaction – I can say, every light has a shadow.

I will need a whole different Facebook, to learn to share my pain, anguish and sadness.

For now, I am comfortable, sharing my sunshine. God knows, everyone has dark moments.

My Sunshine
My Sunshine

Continue reading “Sharing The Hurt and Pain Index of Life: October 2015”

Thirty Years to Lose A Homeland : September 2015

The Crooked Roadsign of Gulshan
The Crooked Roadsign of Gulshan

I walk the side streets of a prestigious Dhaka neighborhood; large quixotic holes, stoundingly high speed-bumps and crooked road-signs litter most streets. Everything seems crumbling, misapplied, and fractured – as if someone just haphazardly shoved a bunch of dirty clothes in their closet.

There is garbage and the smell of feces everywhere. People navigate this squalor and walk-around to get to their destination, as if nothing bothers them; this filth and stench, is a normal part of their lives. Drop an hour of monsoon rains, and these same streets become a combined sewer cesspool.

The roads here are so congested that it takes over two hours to go eight miles during regular business hours. Dinner parties start around 10 pm just to accommodate the traffic fiasco.

This is the same city I was born in. From the look and feel of it, it’s hard to understand why and how one would deliberately choose to live in a city like this.

I meet several groups of friends and family during my short stays; everyone acknowledges the development in the country during the last 3 decades; however, I don’t hear a single one taking a “stay-cation” in Dhaka. They can’t wait to escape to Bangkok, Singapore, Colombo or some Exotic European city for “a breather”, as they put it. Hope for improving Dhaka, as a livable city, seems to have completely gone out of the window.

Paradoxically, property values have climbed so high that sometimes a small apartment here costs more than that of Chicago, or even some areas of New York City.

I realize, I am frustrated, upset and anxious.

The last 9 months, I have been traveling back and forth to Dhaka to visit my convalescing mother from a debilitating illness. From the moment, I land at the cramped and moldy 80s style airport with a really long name, I am not myself.

I try to cheer-up her caregivers, work with the team of people, who help orchestrate the necessary infrastructure to provide care and comfort to my ailing mom.

And then, I swiftly run back to my home in the United States.

Because, I just cannot breathe here.

As if, just like my ailing mom, I am slowly, but painfully losing my city of birth.

Nothing appears the same here as I knew it. My close friends have all migrated to Europe, Australia or North America. There a couple who chose to stay, express their remorse and regret staying back.They are now in a hurry to make accommodations for their children somewhere.

The house where my parents lived has been replaced by a 11 story unremarkable, concrete monolith.

I don’t recognize my home, I don’t recognize these people, nor it’s filth, squalor or just abstract randomness.

Definition of home always includes a safe place, a warm place, filled with peace and love.

I feel no peace in this city.

Once my Mom passes, the biggest portion of that love that I have felt here, will also disappear. I can feel it’s imminence creep on my back, like one of those spiders.

It has taken me thirty years to lose my homeland.

Or maybe, just maybe, my homeland has lost me.

Searching for Contentment: Letting Happiness Find Me: July 2015

A particular Bangla word has recently been prominent in my thinking: Shontosh (contentement), or Shontushti (the act of reaching contentment) or even Shontushto (the person who is content).

Daiyaan's Source of Happiness: Walk by the Beach on a Sunny Day!
Sources of Contentment: My daughter walks by the ocean, on a sunny day!

 

Over the years, I have written many times about happiness and trying to capture the essence and origins of this term in blog essays: Terms of My Happiness (2012), Happiness By Choice (2011), When Happiness Just Shows Up Without Notice (2013), The Discontinuous Patchwork of Happiness (2011), and even my most recent blog The Eternal Wish: Making Happiness Last a Little Longer.

The science (and art) of the search for happiness has been a recent fad and has been a rich research topic in academia and the media for the last decade. There are boutique Oprahs everywhere, doling out commandments on happiness!

My recent search has been more around that leveled field, which may not be “perfection” but a calm, steady “satisfied” place. Where I am neither elated, nor sad.

When I hear the word: happiness, I connect it with a euphoric episode – that great few minutes or hours, I feel ecstatic.  While I tried to plan for it, program it and even pray for it, under the most stringent regime, some days, that eupohoria, never materializes.

Just this weekend, I was invited to the wine social – to be with friends – at a lovely wine bar – sipping good vino – how can one not be happy in such a setting! From the moment, I stepped into this charming wine bar, I just felt meh; no euphoria, not even contentment. Something was not right!

I was not unhappy (watch double negative) but wasn’t enjoying the late afternoon wine social. Still can’t figure out why I didn’t enjoy my typical happiness setting.

We left the wine bar, went to a restaurant for a simple meal of appetizers and had wonderful conversation and the whole tempo of the evening changed.

I realized, even in the perfect setting, doing what I love to do, may not always produce happiness. Happiness really shows up wherever, whenever.

I am starting to believe happiness finds us, versus us trying to look for it.

Searching, expecting or strategizing for happiness, here or there, and orchestrating our lives around that goal is somewhat meaningless

Contentment, on the other hand, can be sought.

I went to see my ailing mother in Bangladesh recently. This amazing person has been a single parent to me over three decades. She inspired, cajoled, set boundaries and loved me, all in one lifetime. Watching her fade away, slowly, is never easy. However, seeing that she is being taken care of by loving family in her own home, in a pristine-clean environment and watching her being surrounded by constant care and affection, brought me to a leveled “contentment” with the situation.

My Vibrant Mother: In her high days of building institutions
My Vibrant Mother: In her high days of building institutions

I went to Dhaka anxious and worried; came back knowing that she is in peace and in good hands of her caring sisters.

During our interactions, I sang to her, brushed her hair and read her stories. We cried and laughed with the same sentences; this cannot be happiness; watching your strong parent fade away, is not a happy moment. However, I know I am content with where she is and understand and respect this relative peace.

Mummy Well Jan 2014

After this experience, I am convinced that I have been searching for an illusion of happiness: which cannot be found by searching– it finds us,  through the energy of the Universe.

Contentment, on the other hand, is something you can search for.

I don’t believe it’s a cop-out from excellence or continuous improvement; I think one can continue to search for excellence without sacrificing contentment. On the other hand, one doesn’t have to be content with starvation, deprivation, torture, or any other form of abuse. In those negative scenarios, we must fight back.

My current thought is more centered on practicing contentment, whenever we are at “ground zero” or in equilibrium, personal or professional.

On a late Summer afternoon in Dallas, when the temperature is still in it’s 80s, I am content with a walk in the park, enjoying the greenery and taking in all of what nature offers today. Yes, it’s not a perfect 75 degree day, a few bugs are flying around, and there is a bit of traffic noise.

Still I feel a peace around me.

At this moment, this is where I am supposed to be.

My most content moment is when I am with both of my princesses: hanging out somewhere!
My most content moment is when I am with both of my princesses: hanging out somewhere!

How You Do Anything, You Do Everything: February 2015

My Serenity: On the Blue Atlantic (Photo Courtesy of Peter Stringer and Toby Blades)
My Serenity: On the Blue Atlantic (Photo Courtesy of Peter Stringer and Toby Blades)

Yesterday, I heard this quote mentioned in my yoga class; it makes me think about the things I do, almost in a pattern, and how they connect together to form the person that I am.

After a day of tumult at work, I seek refuge in my temple: my bedroom, where the it’s serene, flowing curtains, low-rise furniture, bubbling water-features, calm whites, greys and blues. The smell of mahagony touches my soul; soft cotton is the base for everything.

This desire to calm the space around me, has been a craving for a long time – maybe even a carry-over from quiet Joypahar, where I spent my early formative years.

I fulfill this inner need on most Saturday mornings, when everyone else is asleep.
My routine is to wake early, make myself a cup of milky “cha”, put the diffuser on Lemongrass, a mild meditation music, and wander off into the world of newspapers – searching for what happened around me this week that I missed; this is the time, when I do my best thinking, and planning.

Even during some recent, more difficult times, I never let go of that feeling that, a calm place exists, somewhere. I just have to go find it; sometimes, I may have to re-create it.

Because, I never let it go, invariably I do find it. It may not be in a very expensive home, but it’s wherever I am, at that moment.

At work, when I interview a new team member, characteristics I intently look for are, calmness and rationality. Will I get a rational, mathematical response to the problems we need to solve; or will it always be surrounded by grandiose drama.

I have figured out that I don’t work well with dramatic people. Drama is necessary at times; but I know that I do my best work surrounded by calm and stillness.

On a vacation to Santa Fe and Sedona over the last two months, I realize how much I crave this silence of my surroundings. I feel the clear air and ability to look forward in the amazing blue.

I am reminded of the time I spend on my boat, out on the calm, azure blue, with nothing but the gentle movement of the ocean to accompany me.

I know I am perfectly happy there.

Realizing and accepting that the world around is often going to be stormy and tumultuous, is the other side of this equation.

As long as there is also the ultimate surrender: at some point, I will return to this calm again.

During the last four years, after almost eighteen months of tumult, I started a new chapter in my life; as I have made new friends in this new life, I believe, that my best friends are also those that bring that calm to my life.

Deliberately, one by one, I have let go of friends (and relatives) who bring chaos and confusion to my quiet stillness. Once you “de-tox” your relationships, you find your calm space, very quickly.

No relationship is worth the tumult that creates the inner conflict with who you are.

I am learning to accept who I am. I need that calm of the ocean blue to bring out the best of me.

That is how I Choose to do anything, everything.

One of my favorite places at sunset on Pompano Beach
One of my favorite places at sunset on Pompano Beach

A Father’s Day Tribute to “History Teacher” Dads

Zain and Daiyaan Daytime Red RocksShania and Dad for 1st Dance

Our Sundays are usually bright and sparkly; on a typical, school-year Sunday morning, I embark on making breakfast for my two princesses. Nutella covered Paratha and freshly sliced bananas; we discuss the upcoming week, homework, projects, field-trips and many other things about school and how we may navigate through the next week.

Later, we decide to jump into the pool and splash around together, or maybe take a walk down to the beach to play in the Atlantic! In the evening, we fire up the grill for some hamburgers and hot-dogs and enjoy it with a spectacular sunset on the balcony.This is our typical Sunday; some food, some play, some homework and a lot of relaxation – rejuvenation for another week of work/school/routine. I want to keep my eight-year old energized while enjoying our time together.

This Sunday, when a friend comes to visit, Shania seems overjoyed, almost ecstatic. I ask her why she is so happy to see my friend; her answer is quite blunt, “Dad, you’re like a history teacher, your friend is more fun to play with!”

When did I become the history teacher? I thought I was the fun Dad!
I take my daughters to their first rock concerts, I swim with Dolphins with them, we discover exotic lands, and build castles out of cardboard boxes.
Learning and maneuvering through the different challenges of parenthood, I realize, at some point, routine and familiarity does cramp one’s “style” and the day-to-day monotony sets in.

I remember my father, as a quiet, serious man; I can count, with my fingers, how many times my Dad spent time with me for the eighteen years that we lived together. I don’t remember him ever laughing out loud with us. I remember him playing cards with me, or Monopoly, or reading books. I remember playing tennis with him once. But that’s the extent of our interactions.

I don’t remember him swimming or biking with us – or taking us to the ice-cream store for spontaneous mint-chocolate-chip ice-cream. It makes me wonder whether I have become the “history teacher” because, I just don’t have a great example of a “Fun-Dad” to emulate.

Striking that delicate balance of craving to be a fun Dad (or parent), while setting boundaries or maintaining routine sanity, is one of those most difficult, yet nuanced decisions in our lives . In fact, similar to a photograph, it’s not a particular decision or snapshot – it’s a series of decisions – more like continuously playing video. Every day you adjust, focus and continue to move forward.

I have found that while most children enjoy the “fun-Dad” specter once-in-a-while; they continue to like and respect boundaries, they like some structure, as long as it’s not burdensome, illogical, irrational or suppressive. With the relentless encouragement to do their best, children seem to thrive, push our boundaries and make us better Dads (parents).

This morning, my eight-year-old Shania tells me that she doesn’t want me to prepare her morning cup of hot-chocolate anymore; she adds, “I like your hot-chocolate, but I like the way I make my own”.

It’s awesome, when children grow up and take over their own responsibilities, and from far away, we can sit back and watch them grow up – and silently reminisce (almost crave) for that last Sunday morning, when the pool water was warm – and I was the History Teacher, soaking in every drop of my summer. I know these days of being a History Teacher are limited and not going to last forever.

Suddenly, being a History Teacher, for a few more days, doesn’t seem like too bad a role!

Darkness, Dogma and Everything Else: The Fears of Parents

When I was a teenager, my mother had an absurd rule; I had to return home before sundown. You could leave in the next hour and be out late – but you have to be home at sundown!

I always wondered what was her fear – was it the darkness of the night, or some sort of superstition of the Jinn? Or is it just a lack of spatial awareness in the dark.

This week, for the first time, Daiyaan, my almost eighteen-year old, is off on her own – far away in a foreign land. On the first evening, I sit on the balcony of my high-rise condominium and feel like crying as I watch the sunset. I wonder how she is doing, is she safe, did she eat her meals properly. Now, I know how my mother must have felt, when I first didn’t return after leaving home.

Such is the nature of parenting and a parent’s inner fears.

Some fears are inherent in us – unique to us – while some have been passed to us from generation to generation. As we grow older, our fears get embedded in us and we try to implant these in our children.

My father had some fear about children having their hair wet. Even in my teens, he would come out with a towel trying to dry my hair, just a bit more. He was convinced that we could catch a cold, if our hair was wet! This habit now has passed on to me and I keep running after Shania, comically, drying her hair after she comes out of the shower.

All irrational, unexplainable fears – but also part and parcel of who we are and what we have become!

Don’t go out after dark!

Don’t eat (bone-in) fish at night!

No Bananas to be eaten at night!

Don’t draw attention to yourself!!

Don’t enjoy life too much, and, if you choose to, don’t put it on your Facebook profile for others to see!!

We grow up with all sorts of dogma – all sorts of fear; often that fear takes over our day-to-day activities.

Once, some twenty-two years ago, driving through the New Mexico desert, as the sun was setting, in all its glory, I heard my mother weep at the back of the car; I couldn’t quite understand why this super-strong Principal of a High School was crying in this beautiful setting. I didn’t understand her fear of the dark – nor did I realize that it was something that was embedded in her, most likely at childhood.

Today, my fears are around my children – and them possibly getting hurt. I know there is just not enough time in the day, nor moments of sheer lucidity, to simultaneously keep track of every movement of a teenager, on a foreign trip – or a eight-year old who is just learning to spread her wings.

I think, the only thing a parent can do, is try their best.

Since we have very limited capabilities, the goal is to give them those values and decision frameworks that allow them to make the right choices to avoid a dangerous path – or try to make a decision to not associate with all that’s evil around us. Some of us try to give them everything we have (and sometimes what we never had); once we have given them our best, we just have to learn to take a deep breath and sigh.

The children have to make their own mistakes; take their own “road less traveled”.

The best we can do is not to install our dogmas and fears in their lives. Allow them to live on this beautiful earth – sampling everything with the fearless abandon of life.

Shania gets ready to go to bed; she reads her book for twenty minutes, says her prayer, clutches her stuffed toy and turns towards her pillow. I kiss her forehead and say a silent prayer so that she gets a restful night of sleep. That’s all you can really do. You can’t be there watching over them – or give her all your fears and dogmas. She deserves her own fears and her own new dreams!

Commemorating a Disaster: 2 years and a few days later

It’s easy to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, a victory or a successful completion of something meaningful; but it’s excruciatingly painful to remember that particular day that your child was hurt, or your parent died, or your loved one left.

It happens to all of us; in one way or another, in small or big ways; tragedies and disasters are part of the human landscape and in many ways define who we are or who we become.

How does one get over that day, or that particular moment when the car accident happened; how do you remember that moment that you throw soil on the draped body of someone you truly love or that day you watched the disoriented face of someone you thought you loved, on a TV or hospital monitor, with the blazing lines of security lights flickering on and off.

Life is all about moving forward; every day, every minute is about that particular moment and the next moment that comes after that. The past is “water under the bridge”. Still, the past creates a context of who we are, why we are here and in a lot ways, provides clues to where we may ultimately end up. It’s impossible to forget the past and not acknowledge that these challenging times define our character and how we treat the rest of the world.

One of the first tragedies of my seven or eight year-old life was the day our little, happy-go-lucky daschund puppy disappeared. In our tranquil Joypahar, the absence of him wagging his tail, whenever I came down the stairs, was a void that took a few days to fill. Time went by; we made new friends and learned new sports and somehow filled that void.  Still I remember that sultry evening, when Bimbo never came back. We had people looking for him all over the hill – calling his name till it got pitch dark and my mom assured me that he would be back in the morning.

In my teens, it was one hot May evening, as I returned home after watching a play with some friends, there was the unfamiliar “woo-woo” sound of the ambulance on our doorstep – and I saw my father being carried away in an unconscious state to the hospital. I still remember the moment in crystal clear detail– the time of the pronouncement of his death – my dramatic mother wailing – while at age eighteen, I knew that the my life had changed, forever.

In many ways, my life has been defined by that incidence, on that fateful day. As the “ground beneath me shifted”, I started to climb, without hesitation and didn’t know that I could stop, rest, breathe or dream any more. I didn’t know where I was headed – or why I was headed in that direction. I had to run away from my past and move towards an undefined future.

Even though, that may have been one of those most important days of my life, rarely do I spend that day, celebrating or commemorating. I don’t say a prayer on that day or light any candles. If anything, I try to forget that day ever happened.

A little more than two years ago, I had another unique tragedy that changed the lives of all my loved ones. I have written a series of essays around that time as I was experiencing that tragedy in suspended disbelief; The First Day of the Rest of My Life or The Day After the Tragedy,  Jumping Into a Meandering River, Decisions with “No Regrets”,  are all essays of that time with no instructions of how to move forward in life.

Time has passed by; I have moved forward and so has everyone.

This year, on that particular day, my seventeen year-old and I exchange simple texts, “Do you remember this day, two years ago;” She replies, “I was just thinking about it”. We don’t discuss any further.  The wounds are still open and it still hurts to have a discussion.

Grief and mourning are part of all our lives; even animals grieve tragedy. We must give grief its due. How we handle ourselves during and after the grief is what defines who we are or who we become.

Some exploit the grief to become “victims” – orphans of a tragedy. Others take that tragedy and make something out of it – learn from it, not let the scars completely change their world-view.

If you let tragedy change who you are, than you must not have been that person in the first place.

Sunrise at Pompano

Tomorrow morning, as the sun rises over the clear-blue, I wish to walk the beach – notice the fresh layer of sand beneath my feet, touch the salty water, and promise myself to live the best I can, for however many days are gifted to me.

While tragedy may engulf us any day, we must find the new sand to re-vitalize our own lives and promise to live the best we can. Nobody said we have to live the exact life we lived in the past. The future, however, can be momentous and full of joy – if that’s what we choose for it to be.

I will look forward to that day when this particular month or that particular date will not be a considered a “black” day/month and I will pass without commemoration or memory.

Time heals all wounds; I know, that day is coming.