Upgrades of Life. March 2018

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

Some upgrades, in accessories, are definitely good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

The Pull of Contradictions (Dotana): November 2011

It’s easy to love one thing, people, nation, religion or race; it’s a lot more difficult to
love different types of things or people, which may contradict each other.

As a child, it’s difficult to grasp the symbolism of a game of tug-of-war during a friend’s birthday. We pull, laugh and fall on the ground as the rope keeps moving in one direction or another.

On a trip back to Bangladesh, like a game of tug-of-war, I feel a tug at my heart.

The warmth and affection, from friends and family,  is addictive. When you are “visiting”,everyone loves you for these precious moments. They visit you, invite you to join them for a meal, shower you with gifts, and offer you unsolicited advice – in no particular order.

While sitting in my mother’s living room, thousands of miles away from home, I feel
the craving to play with Shania, my six-year old, in our pool or go on a sunset boat ride with Daiyaan and get a salty kiss from the Atlantic! I want to be here and there at the same time.

The classic immigrant dilemma: I want my two worlds to commingle.

At the end, though, how we sort through these contradictory urges, makes us human.

Is it, by taking the path of least resistance? Or, is it by making the most difficult path?

Many immigrants, face a trigger-decision at one point or another; give up your career goals or the interest of your children’s education, to fulfill your wish to be with and take care of an aging parent? Or – abandon the parent, to achieve your life-long goals and to ensure the future safety and security of your children?

When the heart is involved, I think it’s difficult to think about all of the options and consequences with a clear mind or perfect heart. Sometimes there is a triggering event that forces one to make a choice – a tragedy, disaster or some pinnacle event. It’s easy that way – blame it on the circumstances! “Ja hoi, bhalor jonnoi hoi (Whatever happens, happens for the best).”

Last Year, I wrote about making decisions with “No Regrets”. (https://zainmahmood.wordpress.com/decisions-with-no-regrets/)

Sorting out a dotana however, is not always that simple. There are (at least) two options to
consider.

  1. Give-in and let pre-determination, “whatever happens, happens for a reason”, take over.  Let destiny choose its course, look for divine intervention to sort out the dilemma. And pray hard.
  2. Seek an “elegant” solution that meets most of yours, and other stakeholders’ needs.

Neither path is perfect – rarely is there a guarantee of blissful happiness.

The deterministic path makes some nervous – mostly those who believe that outcomes can be managed, maneuvered.

The elegant choice path requires working hard, prioritizing, making choices and acting on those choices.

Having tried both paths, my personal inclination is to try the latter first, and if no
headway, succumb to the former! This path, if all fails, gives me the excuse, that at least, “I tried”.

In college, I knew studying Engineering was the more practical option – but passionately loved Economics as a field to study. The solution was to pursue a major in Engineering and a minor in Economics. The practical outcome-based decision overruled my heart. Clearly, that decision has served me well for twenty years!

However, not all decisions in life turn out that simple, or with a pleasant outcome.  Sometimes, one finds themselves making the decisions on which path would lead to a “lesser negative” outcome. Recently, a friend shared his personal experience of disconnecting life-support to one of his parents after many months of coma; everyone looked at him to make that decision. Even today, he wakes up in the middle of the night, crying and perspiring.

After everything is said and done, there are no perfect decisions.  As we grow older, we confront our decisions with courage and some level of moral intensity – or with a deep belief that God (or some Universal Energy) will aid and abet us in sorting out the outcome – the only choice we really have is to prepare to live with the consequences of that particular decision.

When things go haywire, we can choose to be a victim or, own up to our decision and live
the best we can, under the changed circumstances. Second guessing ourselves, “could’ve,
should’ve, would’ve, done this or that” is rarely of much use. Instead, let’s accept the new reality, learn from the experience and try to make the best, again, whenever the situation calls for it.

On a dusty Dhaka evening, outside the airport, I put my bags on a trolley, kiss my mother’s
forehead and tell her that we will see each other soon. There is lingering anxiety and questions in the air; in silence, our eyes ask each other, when will I see you again, are you going to be all-right in this alone world. I see tears in her eyes and turn away because I don’t want her to notice mine. I can hear her saying from the back, “Bhalo Thako, Baba
(Stay well).”

I wish, like that childhood party game, every tug-of-war life decision, was simple, scar-free, and didn’t involve getting hurt or hurting someone else. We could laugh, scream, pull harder and worst, fall on the ground; after the game, there was always lemonade, a nice frosted cake with ice-cream and maybe another game of hide-and-go seek.

The Lining of Silver: April 15, 2011

 

Accidents happen. Failure overcomes us. Tragedy churns our life into shreds of unnoticeable scrap. Still, at the end of the day, there’s always a Silver Lining. It’s called hope. Hope that shows us the light to something different. It may or not be bigger and better than what one possesses. But, the hope, gives you a light – a path to follow on your next journey.

Recently at work, we sold a multi-million dollar project to a multi-billion dollar international customer – the product not having been tested and approved fully. A large team of engineers and planners worked relentlessly to make the technology work. We had plans B, C, D through Z ready to launch, if the current action item lists didn’t work. The risk of failure was not acceptable.

After more than six months of gut wrenching decision-making, finally the project worked. While every day of the past six months, the team felt as if we were in a cesspool of sticky mud – unable to rescue ourselves, eventually things improved – and the project delivered on it’s expectations. All along the journey, there was a team of people, who didn’t believe that this project could be accomplished. Every excuse in the world was in front of us, why things would not work. The true heroes were a handful of people who persisted that the changes would work and we would overcome the obstacles.

It’s during these times, you see the character of your team and how they react to the level of uncertainty.

Similarly, during a recent personal calamity, a group of my friends and family kept advising me to abandon ship and move forward from my predicament. Then there were those, who advised me to hold steady and move forward within my current trajectory.

The only thing that keeps one going, in a difficult circumstance, is that silver lining – that hope, that things will get better – and the world will move forward. Maybe the topography of the world, as we know it, has changed, but still reason to look forward to a tomorrow – a better tomorrow.

This has to be the indomitable human spirit.

If you remember the Gulf Oil Spill about a year ago – or the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, you see examples of human perseverance to look forward and search for a silver lining that life has to move forward.

In our personal life-journeys, hope is all we have.

It would be very difficult to get out of bed every day, if we only pondered the disease, war or accidents that happen around us.

Instead, if we look at the smiles of our five-year olds when they splash around the pool – or beautiful, loving eyes of our fifteen year olds – and see the opportunities that God gives us every day –one must be grateful – one has to reach for that silver lining that makes life worth living.

The Day After the Tragedy: March 2011

I remember the death of my father very clearly. It’s one of those tragic times, the memories of which, linger on my skin.

On that Friday morning, our house swarmed with people. I don’t remember what they said – but I remember there were hundreds of people. The funeral had a thousand or more people.

After the traditional four days of mourning, the number of people dramatically subsided. I went back to work – the rest of my family resumed back their activities. It’s as if nothing had changed – except – the tragedy had left a big scar on our hearts and lives.

That is the way life evolves.

Highly ecstatic happy moments – or sad ones, are commemorated and shared by your community of friends and family; it could be a wedding, birthday or a celebration of a specific achievement. Similarly, you are typically surrounded by friends and family when tragedy overcomes your life.

But, more importantly, what do you do on the Day After?

High notes in life, whether it’s a tragedy or sheer ecstasy, typically leaves behind a mess; someone has to clean up after “the event”.

After my father’s death, it was the sorting of the will, the bank accounts, the property documents, the life insurance; the list goes on. At the end of the day, very few people are around you, when you have to clean up the mess.

Once the mess is cleaned up, one needs time to grieve and heal. That’s the most difficult time. The vacuum, left by the sudden change, takes time to fill. In fact, I am certain, after twenty-six years, there is a part of my heart that aches for an hour with him. To ask him, what I should do during my current stage of uncertainty.  

Today, during another tumultuous turning point, I see the same signs. I get phone calls or texts from many well wishers, or people offering guidance, prayers and help. I am grateful for all the support.

But my mind looks out to that day, to that morning – after the difficult period is “over”. I know I have to start picking up the pieces, that’s left of shattered glass and put it back into something cohesive, meaningful and joyful.

I keep focusing on all the gifts in my life: good health, two beautiful and loving daughters; a wonderful childhood upbringing with the best parents in the world, a great education and a wonderful set of experiences, an amazing role in a wonderful organization – a loving family, friends and well-wishers – all over the world. I have so much to be grateful for.

For as many days as I am destined to live, I want to cherish every moment – every day – creating memories for myself and for all my loved ones.

Someone recently told me that if God was present in my life, accidents would not happen – tragedy would not befall our lives. I sincerely believe that God is within us – inside us all – part of our bright sunshine and dark dungeons. She guides us to that day, when there is hope again, to make things right, all over again – with all our scars and imperfections. I am confident that She will help us shine the light through the kaleidoscope of our broken, yet colorful glass.