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.  

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Serendipity, Happenstance and Toast with Guacamole


I do believe in serendipity and happenstance.

And I believe that things happen for a reason. At that happening moment, often, we don’t realize what that reason maybe; over time, we understand why this just needed to happen.

Also, I see, that the series of experiences I have had, were just preparing me for this moment of time.  

Today, I closed on my first holiday-home (and possible final home) in Oakland Park, Florida. For seven months, I have been following the construction of this home; cinderblock by cinderblock, windows, doors, electric wires and tile work. As if, I am preparing for a child to be born. 

When you talk about serendipity or happenstance, on this same date, I arrived in the US, some 32 years ago. Maybe the date is just a coincidence.  

I started my new life in this new country, bursting with desire and ambition. Even after so many years, my heart and mind are just as excited by possibilities of love, friendship, a great meal, or a bottle of wine.  

This morning, Shania, my twelve year old and I drive to sign the paperwork at the closing office; all the way, I keep thinking of the first home I bought on Merrimack Lane in Toledo, some 24 years ago. I remember the night before the closing of my first home; my mom and I kept talking about the concept of buying a “home”. She was worried that if I bought a home in the US, I would never return to Bangladesh. She was right.  

She sat with me through the signing of papers, insurance and documents. At the end she asked me, “Bujhcho, shobkichu?” (Did you understand everything?)  

Today, my strong Shania sits with me, quietly, for more than hour, while we go through some 30 signatures, deeds, titles, insurance….all of it. Later, she acknowledges, it was really boring, but she didn’t bring her headphones to the closing because she thought it was impolite. I am grateful she is here; I believe she is here for a reason more than, just that I asked her to be there. Just like my mother, twenty-four years ago, she is is providing me strength and support to nurture my dreams along.  

We get home and Daiyaan arrives; we unpack boxes and put things away. We are sleeping on air mattresses tonight, just like camping. Sheets are unfolded. New dishes are put in the new dishwasher; new towels are hung up. All to the girls’ favorite music – dancing, joyful and bright.  

In the evening, my friends Toby and Ray, bring champagne. We toast in our new glasses, nibble on tapas, listen to good music and break out into utter goofiness. I feel like I have been designing and planning for this day, all my life.  

The goal tomorrow is to make breakfast for my girls, at our new home.  

Multi-grain bread with Guacamole, sunny-side up eggs on toast, and a sprinkling of Sriracha. Orange juice, hot tea or coffee.  

This is a great day for my family. 32 years from landing in this beautiful place, to 24 years from learning to buy a new home, I am here today because I have been preparing for this day. This is no coincidence. This was meant to be; Guacamole toast for my princesses, and a hot cup of red-rose tea for me.  

Our First Drinks at our New Home

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.

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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.

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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.

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Daiyaan and I on Marco Island, 2003

When the Toothpaste is Out of the Tube

Image

Recently, a student at my daughter’s high school, enquired about a particularly sad and strange incidence that was swooning over our family; Daiyaan quickly texted me, how disappointed she was that someone knew – and were asking her about the incidence. Also, that she (Daiyaan) just didn’t want to talk about it!

Accidents happen; sometimes, things that you don’t want to deal with, engulf you. In the larger storyline of life, the incidence itself, may or may not be significant; the question remains, how you deal with it, and what do you do going forward.

In our Twitter infested and FaceBook encumbered lives, everyone seems to know everything. Do you hide from the reality? Or do you confront it,  and move forward.

One of the lessons I have learned in business, once characterized as one of those Buffet Rules:  “When you put something down on paper, assume that the world knows .” In essence, put as little as possible down on paper (or electronic media).

Often, business leaders are concerned about sharing information that may/not be classified “confidential” with employees or customers.

Most things, we think are ‘confidential’ – everyone usually knows or have a good estimation; they may not know the exact details, but they have a good idea of what’s going on.I have always advocated business leaders to communicate clearly, with relevant facts, and be On Point.

Remember, “Less is More” when it comes to communication. Stick to the point and communicate often. Repetition can be useful in certain circumstances. Repeating the truth is a good thing – repeating otherwise only deepens the suspicion towards leadership and dilutes your personal brand.

Often, as leaders, we simply cannot respond to questions; there was a time, during an assignment, when significant HR issues were engulfing us every day.  Speculation, innuendo and rumor were floating all around us.  As leaders, both for legal and ethical reasons, we just cannot respond to questions about individuals or their behaviors. Staying silent is one of the more difficult challenges a leader faces during a crisis. When people ask me questions about sensitive matters, instead of hiding, I simply say that I cannot talk about individuals or confidential business topics. Usually, they stop asking.

In a very similar tone, when it comes to personal topics, I have found it useful to use the same tactic of staying on point and sticking to “facts” as the best way to get a message across. Often, people will call and ask me this/that and I change the topic of conversation, or just tell people that it’s really not appropriate to talk about this particular topic. Once, I had to tell a badgering “well wisher” that it was none of their business!

I have found, in crisis mode, most of your friends will not even bother you by asking what’s going on and will wait for you to share – whenever you are ready. This crisis may actually turn out to be a good test to see who are your true friends.

When Daiyaan wrote me the other day, about how to respond to this person, I asked her to smile back and just say, “you know, how sad and difficult it is”. This way, she has not shared any more information, and in a polite way, refused to engage in a conversation that need not be had.

When the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to put it back in the tube; try to brush to your heart’s content. Just stop squeezing the tube further!

Searching For Lighthouses: June 2011

Two years ago, my family’s new-year’s card had a saying, “Lighthouses are like good friends. They shine bright whether the sky is blue or grey.  As we pursue our dreams, we search for the beacon that guides us back to our core.” This was accompanied by a beautiful silhouette of the four of us walking towards our Lighthouse.

I had received many comments on this card – and how it reflected the values of our family.

Two years is a long time. Our lives have taken on different texture. Our family composition is changing and we have each become a different person through both success and adversity.

But the lighthouses in my life have remained vigilant – and continuously supportive. The number of calls, emails, Facebook messages I receive every day, from four continents, is sometimes mind boggling.

That’s why, good friends, are so valuable in our lives; like a lighthouse  a friend won’t judge or discriminate against us. During our most difficult times, we can count on our lighthouse friends to be there – looking out for us, showing us the way to safety.

A few weeks ago, I was searching for a place to get away, from all the current chaos of my life. At my therapist’s suggestion, Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, made perfect sense. Surrounded by shimmering blue sea, the cape provides amazing, real Lighthouse “hugging” opportunity.  

What better way to start searching for your own soul than to really look into your friend’s eye – and see a reflection of yourself. I booked myself at a B&B close to Provincetown for a few nights started my journey in earnest.

For three days, I kept walking the streets of little towns, coffee shops and small vegetable gardens, in search of lighthouses and friends.

Cape Cod Lighthouse

At the main Cape Cod lighthouse, I went to the observation deck, where the lighthouse was originally located – and sat there, repeatedly listening to Anoushka Shankar’s “Beloved” on my IPOD; this mesmerizing tune amazingly intermingled my eastern sensibilities with this beautiful western sun, breeze and the blue ocean.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyREq70I9TA&feature=related

So many stories just kept moving through my head!

Breakwater Lighthouse

At the Breakwater Lighthouse, I walked the half mile stones to view this amazing structure sitting next to a small farm-house structure. One has to walk through the thorny sand dunes, to get close to the lighthouse. But when you get there, and look at this lonely structure, at the edge of adversity, innately, you feel safe.

First time in my life, I have taken such an alone vacation; no agendas, no masters – just me, my IPOD and my undiluted curiosity. I was apprehensive about this lonely journey to a new place – where not a soul was known to me – and I had no natural inclinations.

In some ways, these four days freed my soul.

Staring at the Cape Cod lighthouse, I realized that this journey in life is not really that alone. We find companionship in strangers – we seek someone to share our feelings with. However, nature mandates that all we can really find are temporary alliances. Nothing in Life is Permanent, reminds me a childhood friend!

I am grateful to God for giving me so many lighthouses in my life. Starting with a doting family and loving children – friends near and far, that I know will guide me in my difficult times. These Cape Cod memories are attached forever to my sensibilities.

Who’s Got Your Alarm Clock?

My PDA buzzed with its callous tone; one of my high-school friends, had a heart attack this week and is in the hospital; three arteries clogged with things that are not supposed to be there; my High School Friend.

It’s not supposed to start this early; I just shifted into third gear.

There is so much to do, so many places to see, books to read, embraces to relish. Our kids are still so young. I am not ready to face these consequences. With a friend’s ailment, comes the inevitability of my own future ailments and then …

Nope; not ready yet

Both my wife and I lost our dads when they were in their 40s. We both have lived through the trauma of losing young dads and not knowing, why this had to happen to us. My dad’s siblings and friends carried on with their lives without much adversity; they show up during the annual commemoration milad (prayers) but really, my dad’s departure, hardly put a kink on anyone’s plans, except for his own.

As his immediate family, we have also moved on. At the end of the day, in dying young, the person who departs, has the greatest loss; I always wish my dad had the chance to watch the amazement on my four year old’s face listening to the story of Sleeping Beauty; or, wish he could listen to my fourteen year old’s sweet melodic voice when she sings “If I were a Boy”. If this happens to you, you have to be the only and ‘biggest’ loser.

Every day of our life is a gift. One must learn to enjoy life; accept our own (and other’s) shortcomings and live with the vagaries of nature. Instead of fighting nature, we should find some sort of a balance with it.

The fact of the matter is that, it will happen to all of us. It’s just a matter of time.

I read somewhere, if you think you will live for another 20 years, take a ~1000 marbles (1 for every weekend that you have to live) and put them in a large transparent jar. At the end of the weekend, take one marble and put it in another transparent jar. This puts a very different perspective of how you may choose to spend your weekends and the rest of your life. Make every effort to make every weekend (and day) count; filling them with things you enjoy doing (instead of what others tell you to do).

Life is too short to work jobs we don’t like or live in cities that suffocate us, or be stuck in miserable relationships that aren’t accretive to what we always imagined our life to be. Life is too short for sitting through boring dinner conversations or listening to tunes we don’t enjoy.

Sometimes, it’s ok to Eat Your Dessert First; we don’t have to wade through the four other courses.

We can eat healthy food, exercise, take in the best of what nature has to offer. At the end of the day,we have very little control over how long we may live. But we do have control of how we live. In one of my favorite Hindi movies, Anand, the hero commented , “ Babumoshai, zindagi bara hona chaie, lamba nahin” (Sir, life has to be big, not long).

Let’s take a step back and evaluate where we are today.

Most of my peers and contemporaries are in their early 40s. At this stage , we are, who we are; It’s kinda tough to try and have a personality transplant. If you always wanted to be a tennis pro, like Andre Agassi, that’s probably unlikely to happen anytime soon; so let’s accept that reality.

But if one truly enjoy tennis, we should go out and play some, take lessons and make sure we (try to) fulfill our dreams, whatever they maybe. We cannot let others tell us that we can do something at a certain age (or not).

Only we determine our own destiny.

Choose. Dream. Aspire. Build.

I heard an NPR essay that, statistically, happiness has very little to do with material wealth accumulation; it’s all about autonomy (ability to choose), community and social support structure and the kinships we build. As example, people in New Zealand are far more happier than people from Norway (even though, Norwegians earn far more than our New Zealand friends) because of their social structure. It is critical to have a few good friends or a community of kinship. It is the sense of belonging to something, hopefully, greater than oneself.

It is very important that we stay away from people who stress us out (irrespective of how close of a relative or family friend they are). I have an Aunt who is never happy about her (or anyone elses) circumstances. I have tried (and successfully managed) to avoid meeting her in the last 20 years! It’s just not worth spending another minute with people who make you miserable.

Happiness, however academics define the concept , must have a lot to do with the level of stress we avoid/generate for ourselves. This in turn, must have a connection to our physical/mental health.

There are some (non chemical) things that just put a smile on my face. If singing makes one happy (as long as it doesn’t add to the misery of others) we should sing all the time. At this stage of our lives, one must try to do more of what they truly enjoy and do less of what they detest.

We need to go for our annual physicical check-ups (even if insurance doesn’t cover it). If we don’t do it, no one else will do it for us.It’s our life and our loss.

Let’s watch what we eat, exercise moderately, drink a glass of red wine (if your belief system allows it), meditate, if possible, and try to enjoy the people (and things) we think are fun. Let’s do more of it. It’s ok. We have worked hard at this and deserve it.

Let’s choose to live, today. Save, but also make time to enjoy life.

Do we really need a Wake Up Call for life and happiness… a friend to die or have a stroke …. to realize that we have only one life to live and our happiness is tied to many others?

Come on, we’re smarter than that.