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.  

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.

Angels Passing By: August 24 2011

I remember when I was very young, an aunt taught me that, right around the time of sunrise or sunset, when you feel a mild breeze, you know that angels are passing by and kissing you with a breeze.

On many sunsets or sunrises, in different parts of the world, I have felt touched by a cool breeze. Every time, I think about how or what angels look like.

This morning, I received a phone call that one of the most inspirational and helpful people of my life, who I addressed as Chacha (Paternal uncle), had passed away. He was a real angel in my life; not just during sunrise or sunset. His presence affected my entire life. He wasn’t a relative – as we define conventionally; he was much more than that.

I remember the first time I met him and his family, in 1976, he snapped color photos of our family (still quite a rare thing in mid 70s Bangladesh). He was kind, gentle, intelligent and genuine; someone, I instantly knew who was worth emulating. Someone, one can instantly trust.

Over time, I realized that my father had tremendous respect for this man. His commentary was always discussed at our dining table during family dinners. On the day my father died, Chacha had called in the morning and talked to my dad and advised him of my admission to (my father’s alma mater), University of Missouri.  When I arrived in the US as a student, he was my financial sponsor. But he was a lot more than that. He was my moral compass.

I learned from him that my father had followed him to the Oklahoma State University and they were roommates there in the late 1950s. Over time, you develop such friendships that last a lifetime. The future of our family became intertwined with theirs for over 60 years.

Every Eid day, for the last 26 years, his voice echoed on my phone, saying “Eid Mubarak!” Always positive, always upbeat – yet giving his thoughts with the generosity of a father and watching us from a distance, grow up from post adolescence to citizens of this society.

Last year, I saw him last, at his home in Iowa;  we talked till late at night and I remember his smiling face as he waved me farewell. Wherever he is today, I wish his soul rests in peace and he remains in the best of our prayers.

Having lost my dad at an early age, I have sought advice, solace, consolation or opinion from people who have appeared in my path from different vantage points. It may have been a professor at a college, a foreign student advisor, or someone I met at a deshi dinner-party, who, over time, become an informal advisor for life choices. Abdullah Chacha’s passing makes me realize, as we step into our mid-40s, the time has come, for all those we count on as moral compasses, to fade away, one by one.

I dread the day I will hear about other influences in my life who no longer maybe there in a few years. Where will I go for advice? Who will I turn to, when I am in quandary? Who will watch my back, when I make a mistake?

One of the many difficulties of immigration to a foreign land is that we are typically disconnected from our extended families, where hosts of uncles and aunts watch your back, and maybe provide you with solace, when things are difficult.

Maybe that’s what this life journey is meant to be; as we age, on sunrise and sunset, we get too busy, and don’t feel that breeze any more. Angels stop passing by us or worse, stop kissing us on the forehead, when we really need a good wish.

In a few hours, when my plane lands in Denver, I will take a walk outside, around the time of sunset and see, if I can still feel that wonderful breeze that Abdullah Chacha touched my life with, for most of my adult life.

I am not ready to give up on my angels, yet.