Creating Your Next New Normal: A post-Covid dream: April 2020

When your biology is shocked, all your cells fight to reject the outside intervention and wants to go back to it’s previous “normalcy”; similarly, when your system is shocked, your mind searches for straws of normality, some semblance of sanity. Typically, you don’t get a chance to think about and plan for a new normal. You may want to continue doing the same as you did before and dealing with the crucial pain of loss.

Invariably, the new place you have arrived, is different than where you were before. Often, that requires us to re-write the rules or, at minimum, change some existing norms.

In today’s pandemic stricken world, we keep wondering what our future holds. Especially after such a “group shock” to our system; when will we hug our loved ones without fear of hurting them? When will be able to touch a guardrail without wondering who touched it before? When can we go to watch a movie at a theatre again?

I’ve been through 3 significant traumatic events in my life; I have learned that my loss is entirely personal, and very few people can understand or empathize the pain I may have endured. Similarly, every time, I have arrived at a new state of mind, it took adjustments, and there is a lingering feeling of loss; however, I have learned to make this new “normality” my only reality and moved forward to accept the new rules, norms and roles.

Losing my dad, at the age of eighteen, migrating to a new country/continent/culture, and much later in life, going through a divorce – each one these new circumstances have created a personal “new normal” for me. At least two of these three “incidences” were beyond my control and migration, can be argued on either side of the coin.
One afternoon I left home to go to a theatre lecture and came back to find my young Dad being hauled away in an ambulance and the next morning, he died, suddenly. My world was jarred and I had to grow up quickly, make decisions on my own and carve my own future. I realize that my Dad’s death has made me more resilient – while making me anxious about relationships. I have also become acutely aware of the shortness of life and have understood that the only connections that matter are your close family and a few friends.

Within three months of my father’s death, I took a long journey and arrived to go to college in the US; leaving a doting family, friends behind, I set out on a journey to define and find a new home. It took me almost twenty years, after living in 8 states, to finally land in Florida where I feel grounded again. Earning my own right to exist in this hyper-competitive world of my new homeland and constantly proving that I can do it, without known connections, is the true test of being an American.

A decade after arriving in the US, I met my princess and proposed to her on our second date. We married, had two lovely children, traveled the world and lived our idylic life on a beach town.  Some 15 years later, another tragedy struck our lives, as my “picture perfect” life was shattered by mental illness and our marriage fell apart. I learned to become a single dad; and to connect with the two most important people of my life. This very personal trauma, also taught me who my friends are, and who suddenly went on an offensive, religious rant to discard me or my children.

I have often said to friends, “Most people don’t get one dream in their life – and I’ve had the privilege of 3 dream jobs in my life” – the only dream job left is to be an “awesome dad” to my girls – and leave them with some amazing memories – something I don’t have a lot with my own father.

Each one of these incidences, death, divorce and migration, are traumatic. Each of them changed me in different ways. I can’t clearly remember who I was before or compare with, who I am today. All I can say is that I know trauma leaves us as a different person Expecting things to be like they were, is unrealistic.

What I discuss with Daiyaan and Shania today, is that we know that things are going to be different in a month, two months or six months from now. We know school for Shania and work for Daiyaan is going to take on different dimensions. We know sports or leisure will be different for all of us. So will our dream to travel; while our tourist souls crave another touch of Barcelona or Mykonos, at least for a few months, we don’t know how we will sit next to strangers on an airplane, or sleep in a hotel bed where someone else slept a few hours ago.

Preparing for the new normal is the key. Not in an intense way, where we hoard food, or toilet paper. But knowing that many of the things we are accustomed to doing – even simple things like hugging each other, will take on a different dimension. Doesn’t mean that we love each other any differently. Just our expression of love may have to morph a bit.

After a week or so, I stop by at Daiyaan’s home and she asks me to wash my hands and sit a table width away.  In the past, during such short visits, we may have been sitting next to each other, on her comfy sofa, watching an old episode of Friends; today, a socially distant interaction is all we feel appropriate.

There will be normalcy again;  I am confident. I will hug my daughter freely one day.

For now, the little girl I brought back from the hospital, some twenty five years ago, sits across from me and tells me about the sushi burrito she ordered via Delivery Dudes or how delighted she is with her Shipt groceries and that she needs to return to a Zoom conference call in the next thirty minutes!

A post pandemic friends Wine Social

My Best Is Yet to Come: Nov 16 2019

I just came back from an amazing vacation with my sister and her husband; they were traveling for work and I accompanied them to Israel, specifically, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Maybe it’s because everyone had scared me about airport security, or maybe my knowledge base of this particular country was limited, or a combination of both – had created very low anticipation for this journey.

Islamic section in Jerusalem
Christian Quarters
Visiting the Wailing Wall on Sabbath

For six days, I had one of my best life vacations! The town of Jerusalem, steeped in the history of 4000+ years of monotheistic religions, was gritty and experiential. On the other hand, Tel Aviv with a young, crisp, artsy, foodie modernity, as if a crafted Malibu experience with a generous dose of  culture and ethnic flair, made it all very heady.

During a sunny Segway mobile adventure of the Tel Aviv coastline, I realized something crucial that sometimes I don’t often give attention: while this is truly an amazing time in my life, The Best of My Life is Yet to Arrive.

The world around me is changing and all my experiences from the past, I believe, have prepared me for this journey – to embrace the change and become a part of it.

Couple of  weeks ago, I attended two back-to-back conferences, SOCAP (Social Capital) in San Francisco and Capital Days in Miami. Young entrepreneurs, from all over the US (and some from overseas) are changing how capital is being deployed and used for the good. Major institutional investors, pension funds and large bureaucratic corporations (that have become so big that they can neither innovate nor create an incubation experience) are taking notice and trying to join this wave. Women and minority entrepreneurs (mostly millennials) are playing a significantly large role in this change.

My interactions with a dozen entrepreneurs over the last two weeks describes how the concept of “tech” is changing. Technology is at the center of all new moves, and to say that this particular startup is “tech”, and that startup is not tech is, no longer valid. Similarly The tech Mecca of San Francisco and Boston are shifting to other smaller metropolis’s like Denver, Austin, Atlanta, and Miami and even smaller cities like Charlotte or Nashville. This is a true game changer for what work means for us and our next generations. I know I want to participate in and contribute to this change, in some form, as I move forward.

On a personal front, 2019 has been a reinvention year for me and my family. We uprooted from Boston and settled back in Florida, to be close as a family unit. Consolidating two households into one, and finding a challenging school that suits Shania’s future growth, has also been a big focus, as she readies for high school. Daiyaan’s stepping into true adulthood (and taking on debt) to buy a home has also been an awesome experience. Cleaning up from the past, we have finally sold our maternal home in Bangladesh. I ended a four-year personal relationship which probably should’ve ended two years ago. Many of these steps were not just necessary, but the natural progression in starting a new chapter in my life.

Bali Swing Jan 2019
Aruba Spring Break March 2019

Sailing in Maine June 2019

I had the most amazing vacations this year. Starting in Bali in January, Aruba in March with Friends, NYC in May with my sister, solo week in beautiful Maine in June, Istanbul in July with Shania, Sonoma for a couple of days in October and capping it all with the dream vacation to Israel last week. During all of all these trips, I have loved, laughed, learned and truly lived.

Sunset and Tea on the Bosphorous Jul 2019

This year I have finally started to feel centered, doing more of the things I love, with people I love. Most of my life, I have tried to meet others expectations, or some societal standard of doing this or that. David Brooks in his new book, “The Second Mountain: The Quest For a Moral Life (Random House, 2019)”, talks about being useful and purposeful. Finally, I feel I am starting to live a life that is more of what I believe in. I am privileged to have two beautiful souls on my journey, who understand my need and love me unconditionally. They give me purpose every day. As they grow older, I am re-defining and re-shaping my own future as well. It’s not just about providing a livelihood, or paying bills anymore. It’s about doing more of what I love, and being useful.

My two amazing daughters!

Whether I live one more day, or another hundred years, it doesn’t matter. I know that every day going forward will be different, experiential and something I believe in.

I am confident that my best days are yet to come.

Sand on the Soles of my Shoes: July 21 2019

We watch this amazing Atlantic sunrise this morning. The breeze is perfect. Florida has beautiful summers.

As we wash our feet at the beachside shower, I notice sand stuck on my feet; I do my best to rinse my feet. As I enter my Q5, the freshly shampooed carpets import a dusting of that sand.

I have a feeling, it will irk me when, the next day, that sand attaches itself so callously to my shoes, with some sort of a romantic vision of changing Italian leather.

Like a small blemish, on perfect skin.

Deep Breath.

It’s all in my twisted thinking.

My daughters openly protest my OCD habits of cleanliness and organization. When I unload the dishwasher, the glasses need to be lined up in a particular manner. And absolutely no transparent objects (like drinking water glasses) can be in the same area with translucent (ceramic coffee) cups or bowls!

For years, I have told myself that things “out of place”, give me anxiety and I don’t correct it. I try not to modulate this expectation and just surrender. In this constantly changing and chaotic world, I organize, whatever I can organize.

This morning though, after sharing that magnificent ocean sunrise with Shania, I look at that sand and encourage my mind to think a little differently; I ask myself how often, and how many people get to do what I do? How often do they soothe their souls with the lapping of waves on their feet. How often do they get to sip their favorite latte, while listening to their favorite tunes, with someone they love! Today is a special day in my life.

I need to let the sand linger on my feet, for as long as I can.

When tomorrow that hard pair of dress shoes pick up some of that sand, its actually a good thing! It’s a reminder of a softer time in my life, when there was a perfect moment of alignment.

I want more blemishes like this on my skin.

Love the beach with my Shania

Everything Will Change In A Year: April 20, 2019

I saw a quote this morning that made me think: “Look around you, and enjoy, be grateful; in a year, everything will be different.”

Last Weekend, April 13, A beautiful day in Ogunquit, ME

As I look back a year, with or without the help of social media, so many things have changed, for me. Especially, in the lives of my children. But also, in my own life.

Last Spring, I was a pensive from the roller-coaster feeling from my constantly changing role at work; I was also in pendulum motion, from my home that I love, in Florida, to the cold of Boston. I had a feeling that this Boston chapter of my life, has to come to a close soon. And, by Fall, my role ended; allowing me to seek what I have wanted all along.

This Spring, I am ready to move to Florida, permanently.

Some things have become more certain, and other, more dispensable things, people or feelings, have dissipated. There is no lingering nostalgia about losing these feelings, which didn’t serve me.

My children have made tremendous strides in a year.

After a re-defining 2018, Daiyaan graduated college in 2018 and found her professional footing, bought her “dream” Jeep (that she has named Natasha, after the singer Natasha Bedingfeld) and now wants to buy her first home this Summer/Fall. She is starting to put down her own roots, in a place she loves. She has chosen a healthy lifestyle of balance. She took her first ever solo trip, and conquered Puerto Rico; she has grown up.

Last Spring, Shania, competed to become her Middle School Vice President and won! She has switched from softball to golf and today, loves basketball as her main school sports; instead of acting in plays, now she is co-directing, for the second year, a school play! She was accepted to attend the prestigious Dana Hall school in Wellesley, MA, but instead, is heading to be with family and joining the pre-law program at her new choice school in Florida.

As their lives unfold, and I see these two beautiful women take their next steps, I enjoy listening to their musings, and life interactions. The new friends they make, and the relationships those fray over time. I tell them my stories, from that particular time in my life that maybe relevant to their experience.

Even though I was raised as a teenager in a different continent, in a completely different era, with no electronic gadgets, or Google, to help answer my questions, the struggles of all awkward teenagers, or young people defining their dreams, are still the same.

Whether you are 13, 23 or 52, Constantly, we search for belonging, love and certainty; it’s tough to accept that none of these feelings are constant, and just to maintain an equilibrium, is a lot of work!

This morning, five of my close friends (same age group), are in deep pain: one from a broken hip (from a fall), another from domestic abuse, and one more, with cancer. Two of my best childhood friends lost their mothers in the last weeks – I knew these loving moms – I have eaten meals with them at their dining tables; having lost my own mom a few years ago, I know that big hole in their hearts are not healing soon.

I pray that my friends have the courage and support to bear the pain they are feeling today. When you experience pain, the depth, the excruciating nature of it, numbs us. There is nothing anyone can say or do, to make you feel differently.

Like last year, I know with certainty, this year, there will be those moments of joy, and sadness. You know there will be a Spring of hope, and the still of Summer.

I know, that whatever incremental, or disruptive changes we are experiencing, pain or happiness, it too shall pass.

It fatigues me to think that, the pain and frustration of the political turmoil we experience today in the US (and resultantly, the world) will only sharpen in the next twelve months.

In my adult life, I have seen and experienced progress, and I don’t give up hope, but I choose to take a long view on history. While things are not perfect, I see progress in health, well-being and innumerable sources of joy.

This weekend, in my little microcosm, I am again, taking a good look at everything and everyone around me.

Acknowledging and accepting that change is continuous and constant – I will do my best to appreciate all those gifts that I have in my life today. I am grateful to the Universe for the love, beauty, health and contentment that I am experiencing today.

I know, everything will change in a year.

Hanging out with Daiyaan and Shania @Portsmouth, NH

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.  

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

Toothpaste and Tea Stories

My dad with my sister and I (1968)It’s still warm in South Florida. The pool water is in mid 80s; after a two hour long swim with my mermaid, I take her for a shower in the cabana. After she comes out of the shower, I feel this compulsion to dry her hair thoroughly.

My Dad used to be a compulsive hair-dryer for me when I came out of the shower and didn’t feel the need to towel my hair (yes, one day I did have hair!). It’s amazing the things you pick up from your parents or you see them do, and feel compelled to do to your children.

After shower, we enjoy some wonderful spinach samosa, veggie egg rolls and orange juice; Shania and I devour to our hearts content. It’s almost 2 pm and now it’s time for our Saturday afternoon nap; I will open a story book and we will travel the land of princesses, green fairies or tulips that hold little people. I love reading stories to my princess and watching the amazement in her eyes when suddenly the dragon of my story explodes into a hundred little dragons and take over the empire! No worries, the brave prince and his lion side-ling always wins the day with their courage and audacity and rescue the princess! I will massage her forehead until her eyes close and her face fills with a glow that you notice only when she is asleep.

I remember the times my mom lulled me to sleep in Joypahar in the afternoons with some such story in hardcover books; my father was also a wonderful storyteller. He would also massage my head and make me fall asleep instantly. He was so good that one of my sister’s friends wanted to exchange her dad with ours. We were a bit appalled by the suggestion, because it came with promises for additional goodies.

Our children are fortunate for all the material things we surround them with; however, we were fortunate for the love, warmth and security that surrounded us in our early days in Joypahar, Dhanmondi or Poribagh. The world was such a beautiful place, where no war, famine or treachery could touch us…because our parents were there – always protecting us – always shielding us from the world.

Somehow, time passes, and we recognize that we are not young princes or princesses anymore; reality of scorched earth, unfulfilled expectations, prejudice and tragedy compels us to change our world view. No one protects us from our nightmares or the stark reality of the world around us.

Sometimes, I sit gazing at the blue thinking what I would do, if I could spend a few hours with my Dad again.

I would ask him about his childhood, youth, decisions in life; how he made this transition from youth to adulthood; how he felt when he first arrived in the US in the late 1950s or whether he trembled like I did when I held my first born. I would like for him to meet my princesses and Wasima.

When you have a parent around, you take them for granted; it’s not always easy to appreciate their love, protection and care for us.

Recently, one of my friend’s dad passed; another friends mom is going for very serious brain surgery this week. I realize their generation is starting to fade away. I know it is the “cycle of life” and this will happen to us in a few years (if we are lucky).

But for a few more years, I would like to protect my princesses from this unscripted reality; if I am permitted, I would love for them to go through college without this worry of paying bills and dealing with the daily stress of making difficult choices. Their innocence and incongruence with this harsh reality of our daily lives makes me feel like I have a greater purpose, to protect them and answer their questions. I realize, it’s naïve to try and protect, but, I just love it when Shania asks me what kind of toothpaste do mermaids use!

In a few weeks, I hope to see my mother after a year. We will share good stories, great food and some wonderful memories. We will fight about innocuous and irrelevant issues like President Obama’s healthcare mandate, because, that’s the fun of a parent-child interaction – arguing about irrelevant issues. I know I cannot hold her forever either; but I want to spend this time, enjoy the creamy/sugary tea with Horlicks biscuits (cookies), for as long as I can.

Let’s cherish these toothpaste and tea stories… all wonderful times, in our short journey through this beautiful world.