27.06.2010

Thoughts of Success

Fellowship

The sweltering heat of the desert, of India, before the skies send their calmness, their tears to satiate the burning fire on earth, eats at everyone.  I wonder how people have become accustomed to this – why is it normal to wash clothes in the (literally) scorching sun, or sweep up the yard in 110 degree weather, why it is just a part of the summer for everyone to fall sick with some stomach or cold ailment.  I have become accustomed to staring into the darkness around me from 2-4 am, when my body will no longer endure the burning slabs of stone I sleep on.

And after living like this for three months, I started to believe that these details just were, and people dealt with them—it was what it was, for years upon years.  And in the grand scheme of things, that is what I began to think about my fellowship year.  It seemed as though everything that happened – living through death, being ignored because I was categorized into a marginalized group, seeing people lie to my face and laugh, having my personal things stolen from me, being disrespected because I am a woman, and more so, people constantly testing my ability to love humanity, to have trust and faith in the world—just were, and I just had to deal with them because people suffer every day, and have been for years upon years.

To cope, I found myself regressing into a routine.  If I really stopped to think about it, I couldn’t believe it – wasn’t that why I left my job and moved across an ocean?  I wanted to break the apathetic cycle of life I had created; to believe that the common phrase “it is what it is” wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life; to change it.  I had come with the intention to make changes, but now, through the tests and bumps in the road, was I beginning to settle for something less than what I set out to do; because I was caught up in “dealing”?  Whether I allowed the thought to fully materialize every morning or not, I woke up with it hammering away at my existence.

But life is constant and fluid and the breadth of life’s activities will conceal stagnant thoughts.   My current life didn’t allow for lots of those thoughts in the morning – it was a rush to get my chores done, shower and grab a roti and chai for breakfast before I jumped on the city bus with other women from the slum.  And so one day when I stepped on the bus and it was not overflowing, I was overjoyed to have a moment—a moment to sit.  The world was working with me that day, for as I got on, someone got off and I could sit.  I looked at all the people surrounding me—the ones I stood next to everyday but never actually paid attention to because I was busy concentrating on standing as straight and as compressed as possible.  I watched a middle-aged man get on—one I had noticed before because I had seen a young man get up and offer him a seat on a crowded bus.  I remembered wondering why the young boy had gotten up for this man when there were other elderly people standing on the bus; but I had left it at “it is what it is” that day.  Today, for the first time, I noticed the man had only one arm, and deforming scars on his other arm and parts of his face.  I watched him get onto the bus and hold onto the hand bar above his head, gripping it effortlessly through all the bumps in the road.  He was even able to pay without discomfort – and I was amazed because I usually have to prepare my money in advance and then concentrate on balancing not to topple over when handing my five rupees over to the conductor.  As the bus emptied out a little, a seat next to where the man was standing became empty and I watched, expecting him to finally be able to take a seat.

To my disbelief, he kept standing so a woman could sit down, and then it hit me.  What other people saw and thought of his weakness, of his challenge, was not a challenge, but a sort of strength for him.  And through that strength he was not only living and “dealing” with having his arm amputated, he was making the best out of his situation.  He was not compromising himself, his morals, his best self for the punch that life had thrown his way.  He was the kind of person that doesn’t just deal with the heat, he figures out how to make a fan.

Maybe that is what I have always hoped to be able to do, or been proud of doing.  That no matter what has or will happen to me, my strength is unshaken, that there is no such thing as an obstacle that will really stunt me—that those obstacles are really steps to truth.  Maybe I will never have the time to think about my thoughts, maybe I will always have “heat” eating at me, maybe I will always be battling challenges; but in truth, I know my success should not have restrictions or dependencies—it should be its own.\

Asha Gandhi, 2009 Indicorps Fellow

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