FIRST STEPS ARE NOT ALWAYS CAKEWALKS!

Escapades from the din and humdrum of routine life are fun, exciting, adventurous, a tad scary at times and offer elements of surprise that one would cherish or banish from memory forever. A first step taken either literally or symbolically in any avenue is more often than not, a step to remember – especially if you had been scared to take that step.

To kickstart this week’s topic – ‘Taking that first step . . . when you were afraid’, let me share one such fun episode from more than a decade before.

I was in the University pursuing my Post Graduation. The famous apparel chain Pantaloons had just opened their first outlet in Bhubaneswar. My University being just a few kilometers away, my friends and I decided to pay a visit after classes got over one day. We were excited, especially because there weren’t too many big brand outlets and malls in the city that time.

We weren’t disappointed! The stock of apparels and accessories pleased our eyes, though being students still, we didn’t have much money at our disposal to splurge. Once we were done with the ground floor, it was time to move up to explore what the other two floors had in store. There came the catch! Having been designed as a mini-mall of sorts sans food court, there were escalators to ferry customers to and from each floor. No staircase. No lift.

My first exposure to an escalator and the accompanying hesitation to take the first step! One by one all my friends stepped on the escalator and reached the first floor while I was still stuck in the ground floor. Somehow, I couldn’t muster enough courage to take that first step. My friends soon realised that I wasn’t with them and called out to me, to which I simply gave the excuse that I had to explore a few more collections in the ground floor.

After some time when I still didn’t reach up to the first floor, one of my friends understood the reason. It was very sweet on her part to come down to the ground floor, hold my hand and take me to the escalator – all the way assuring that she would be going up with me holding my hand. And, that is just what she did!

Lo! We reached the first floor hand in hand and joined the others in exploring the stuff there. The same friend held my hand while descending from the first floor to the ground floor as well. The others who had by that time known what had kept me downstairs, went down and and encouraged me to do so. But, this friend stayed back, held my hand, stepped on the escalator with me and gave me the courage to move downstairs.

It has been more than a decade to that first exposure to an escalator. Surely, I don’t spare a second before stepping onto escalators now! But, the memory of that first step sure makes me chuckle 🙂

As I stepped out of Pantaloons that evening thanking my friend endlessly for lending her hand to help me overcome my fear, I learnt a very important life lesson – first steps aren’t always cakewalks!

Across life’s pathways, being sensitive to others’ first steps helps makes the journey pleasant for them. At times encouragement from a distance helps. But at a few other times, what is needed is to extend the hand to hold on to and take the step together. It helps address the inner fear and the accompanying hesitation along with providing the confidence and the courage for an independent step in the future.

Coming to escalators, now that I don’t bat an eyelid before using escalators, I always look out for people who might be in the same place that I was years before and extend them a hand with a few words of courage. I am grateful to God for teaching me such a vital lesson from the experience that day and also for reminding me how He holds my hand across life’s myriad pathways with His promises – “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you . . .”

So yes, a fun outing turned into a vital learning that day. To be sensitive and respond to someone’s inner fear of the first step does more than you can think of in many ways. It helps keep your conscience alive and responsive (that’s to your benefit) and helps the other person reach a new level of confidence along with accomplishing the immediate goal at hand.

 And if you are a person hesitant or afraid to take a first step in any area of your life – literally or otherwise, I would like to encourage you that a helping hand would soon come by. Don’t stop . . . move on!

THE SEEMING LUXURY OF WORKING FROM HOME VERSUS SQUIRMING ONE’S WAY TO THE WORK SPACE

The outbreak of Covid-19 forced governments worldwide to impose lockdowns and shutdowns which in turn locked down and shut down several work places with many being given the mandate to work from home and not physically be present at the work place. The fear of endangering one’s own life and that of others was too real to ignore.

‘Work from home’ was not a much known concept for most of India until March 2020. Though the corporate world was acquainted with working from home, the rest of the job goers weren’t as familiar. A larger part of India being agrarian farmers, daily wage labourers, government office bearers and the business class, work from home was often considered a privilege of the corporate sector. And so while corporate India switched from ‘work from office’ to ‘work from home’ with relative ease and clarity, the rest of the working class was left at crossroads, with many being shown the exit doors forever and others wondering what it exactly meant.

Slowly and surely, a few other sectors caught up with the new normal called ‘work from home’.

Be it in India or elsewhere in the world, ‘working from home’ seems to entail unimaginable luxuries extended to job holders on a platter. That must mean lazy mornings, late night TV shows, more family time, less travel, saved leaves, working from the comforts of home, breaks as often as one wishes and of course more me-time. A treat of a lifetime (hoping that Covid-19 is the last pandemic of all times)!

Though the picture seems rosy and tempting, it surely is not so – at least not for everyone. The mandate of working from home brought out many hurdles in its smooth implementation for all stakeholders.

Not everyone is blessed with decent residential apartments. For the many who live with their families in single-room spaces, having to work from that very same place surely isn’t a welcome mandate. And for those with spacious homes, exposing parts of their homes to lesser known colleagues proves nothing less than inviting intrusion into one’s privacy.

And then for parents, working from home is highly challenging with kids interrupting work every now and then or zoom-bombing during meetings and presentations, leaving parents embarrassed and sorry.

Digital technology has literally kept the world afloat these last few months. Not all would agree to this with ease! I have known people who didn’t own laptops or desktops before the lockdown, simply because they didn’t need to. With the sudden imposition of lockdown and orders to work from home, they spent frantic days trying to borrow them. With shops closed, buying wasn’t an option. Working for long hours using smartphones wasn’t feasible beyond a few days. To top it all, percolation of internet connectivity to all areas and weak signal strength are two major hurdles that interrupt work.

For many job holders, going out to work is an escape from the home environment – be it in because of abusive family members, nagging children, unending household chores, or the sheer boredom of familiar spaces and people. Many people find their me-time not at home, but outside home, often while travelling to and from work or in the office cafeteria. Endless days of work from home with no avenues for change is surely punishing.

To talk of those who do not hold jobs outside, tolerating the constant presence of the usually absent family members has been quite challenging.

So you see, ‘work from home’ is not that goody goody!

While people working from home desperately wanted to breakfree and come out, those working from their job spaces were equally desperate for breaks during the lockdown. With only emergency services operational, we had overworked medical and administrative personnel almost everywhere with no respite in sight.

With performance demands running high, tempers seem to run high as well. Having been one among the ‘work from office’ people with all holidays cancelled, the frenzy of endless activity with oscillating emotions all around were everyday normals for me. Working from the workspace and returning home after the day’s work is what each office goer either craved for or dreaded. Those away from home stations were the ones who craved for it, while those stationed in home towns dreaded the thought of returning home as carriers of the virus.

With things creeping slowly to normal, we are now aware what to expect from situations in future.

‘Working from home’ in normal times is either occasional or one’s personal choice for extended times. And so, it never brought out the hurdles as the imposed ‘work from home’ in 2020 did. Similarly, work spaces were not that obstructing in normal times, as the no-home, no-leaves work demands of the lockdown-shutdown phases did.

We can best vouch for a work culture with mixes of both forms of work in normal times. After all, you cannot have the luxury of settling down on your couch and stretching yourself a bit with a cup of coffee or a glass of juice at your work space! As for future emergencies as in the present situation, we better be digitally prepared!

STOP WACTHING ME NAKED!

I had a relative who met an accident and broke his knee. He went through a difficult knee surgery and was in the hospital for almost two weeks. I was shocked when he told me that he didn’t use the bedpan for 11 days. Because he was shy to pass stool in the presence of a nurse or other strangers. So he was holding onto it for such a long time. It was very difficult for an adult to show his nakedness even when he was so helpless or in an emergency case. Just imagine, he was a male adult, for a female it will be all the more difficult for sure.

Why only adults? If we observe a young boy or girl of 5, he or she will surely be ashamed of getting undressed in the presence of a stranger or outsider in the house.

So the bottom-line is whether it is an adult or child no one likes to show his/her nakedness to the other (or a stranger).

The above examples are quite small or lesser in comparison to my experience which were way more pathetic than embarrassing. I remember, in the year 2001, I was lying on a hospital bed with my hospital dresses on. A nurse, a beautiful one, came to me and announced that the barber will come and shave all your hair before the surgery. I nodded and quickly took my shirt off and lay down like a good boy, exercising my advantage of being a male. But when the barber showed up, he blew my mind.

“Sir, take off your pant too… I will shave all the hair of your body.” He said.

“What? Why?” I protested.

The nurse appeared and requested, “Sir, one hair on your body can cause infection, so he will clean shave you. And I won’t be here”. She said and pulled the curtain before leaving the room. The barber was waiting with his sharp weapons in his hand. He didn’t wait for me to push my pajama down but simply pulled it quickly and started shaving me, leaving my head only.

“Urrggghhh” Yeah, that much I could express at that moment of embarrassment. There was only one consolation for me that the barber was a ‘he‘, a male. 

When I found myself alive getting back to my senses after my heart surgery, I heard a lot of noises of children screaming at the top of their voice. I was in Paediatric ICU after the surgery because I am a congenital (from birth) heart patient. When I came back to my full consciousness I realized, I am stark naked underneath the blanket. 

A nurse appeared and smiled at me. I smiled back and asked, why there are only children I can see and hear around me. She explained the reason. I was satisfied and kept quiet. But in the name of dressing and sponge bath when she removed the blanket, I was like, “What are you doing? I want a dress.” 

She smiled and responded, “You are my 25 years old baby, and now it is not right to wear anything as there’s a pipe connected from your wounds to drain out all the waste blood out of your body.” 

I was so vulnerable, exposed, and naked, yet so helpless at that moment. I let her touch or do anything to me as she wanted. Thankfully, the nurse was in her forties and I felt okay afterward. 

The very next day, came a much younger and beautiful to follow the same duty. My whole being was screaming inside me, “Stop watching me naked”. But to my embarrassment, it continued further for the next two or three days till the pipe was taken off my body and I could stand or move around on my own feet.

Now, stop imagining me naked, you guys… 😛

I will never want to feel helpless and embarrassed like that again in my life. But as I was thinking about these events, God gave me two thoughts in my mind to share with you all as lessons from these embarrassing situations. 

Whenever we do a mistake or commit a sin, we always feel ashamed, embarrassed, or scared to face our near and dear ones. Because we fear that a loved one can easily know what we have done. I am completely naked before him or her. We definitely feel uncomfortable being so naked or exposed before our loved ones yet we get corrected. It benefits us. But the flip side of it has a terrible repercussion in our life when we hide our nakedness from our loved ones till we are caught at a moment of no return. It is the same or more dangerous when we try to cover up our nakedness from our Creator.

If the husbands are hiding something from their wives or the wives have any secrets that kill them from within, it is better to get naked in front of each other and sort it out. Yeah, I know there are exceptions but it is always good to come clean to get rid of any infectious disease called, “SIN”. 

The statement like, “… I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” is fatal. 

That is why even when I feel naked and exposed before God Almighty, I pray as king David prays which is written in the Bible: 

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

I don’t have to say, “Stop watching me naked” when I come to God, but ask Him to see my nakedness and cover it with His love and saving grace so that my life would be restored. 

Stay Blessed!

 

IF I CAN TRADE MY WORDS . . .

“If I can trade my words I would invest them in your smile”

That’s pretty much cheesy, right out of a popcorn romantic flick, isn’t it? Don’t blame me, I am currently watching way too many Disney movies – Prince, Princess, Love story, perfect fairy tales. They not only entertain me but a perfect recipe to cheer me up. Apart from that my phone’s gallery is my hideout. Binge eating, unforeseen shopping (apart from groceries 😜) are more or less commoners in the world of “let me cheer you” force.

But it is undeniable that no matter how much ammunition one has to ward off shadows of gloom, a strong shoulder to lean on and an empathetic & soothing word is still an unmatched comfort. We can falter and crumble at some point, all while throwing around a charade of being strong. We do need someone to ask and say “How are you?”, “I understand”, “I am with you”, “what can I do to cheer you up”, “you are strong”, “you deserve much more”, “relax, I am there for you”, “just chill”, ” let’s hangout, don’t bother for anything else”

Why do one need someone or something to Cheer themselves up? When one gets tired of chasing dreams, battling adversaries, struggling demons ranging from bullies to inner enemies of that of depression / anxiety, our mind send us SOS. Nursing of a dented spirit is so much needed to bring it back on its feet. All the apparent and oblivious battles deplete us of our both physical and mental strength and that’s when exactly doubts trend – Can I fight it out? Can I do this after all? Seems I am unworthy? This is proving futile, let’s quit? I have lost everything? Was it meant to be this after all? If these questions left to knock too much one’s soul they can bring sabotage the same beyond repair. That’s the very reason we are talking about this issue at the first place today. Be attentive dearies!!

Me as a person on the other side of the fense, in the capacity of a friend (universal relationship with every related person in our lives) got a weird sense of intuition (I can be boastful sometimes, kindly excuse me😂). With people whom I am in regular touch with can easily read between the lines from our seemingly “Fine” conversation. From dry OKs, lifeless HMMs, tone of “I am fine” in chats I can tell not everything is fine. May be rapport over years is the reason. Whenever I sense something off, the first thing I do is to pester them with one question “what happened”. Sometimes no matter how close you might be some investigation is imperative. *Note: an immediate call in person rather a chat always scores. Lending an inquisitive ear is very important. I believe in strongly saying this “I know it’s easy to say that I understand and be strong because I am not there in your shoes. But also I know that you have fared much better in more worse situations in life before, you will surely see the shore surely. You are loved. You matter to us, just remember this. And for anything else I am here, Talk to Me”.

A page from my therapeutic experiences (if you can call talking one): a friend of mine who now shifted to Switzerland had her share of self esteem blues (parenting can really take a toll). We used to talk a great deal. My only aim was to cheer her up invoking her love and confidence in herself. I used to say “You are doing great”. These words seem very simple but might rekindle the positivity streak within one self. Might work at least 5 out of 10 times. Even if it is 1 out of 10 it’s worth giving it a try!! And what made be happy was she used to say “talking to you brings positivity to me, I feel relaxed”. Can anything beat that?

Words can make or break so I chose the first one.

“If you are giving chocolates don’t forget to mix sweetness of words – for someone sweet like you.

If you are hanging out don’t forget to imbibe these words in the itinerary – it’s always so much fun with you.

If you are gifting diamonds to lift up the spirits don’t forget to polish them with words – for someone more precious than these.

If you can only talk then don’t forget to send your warmth via vocals – thank you for being with me, so PROUD OF YOU!!!❤❤❤”

Words make a lot of difference – period.

AND I DID LIT THE FIRE

The very moment I opened my eyes as I took birth on this earth, I had already a purpose set before me by God, the Almighty. And the foundation of my life was laid on pain and suffering which became evident only after two years of my birth when I was taken to a doctor for some other normal check-up.

So, I had known pain and suffering very closely. I was deprived of every happiness from the very childhood because of my health conditions. It is quite obvious that my ill health affected my mental health as well making my life miserable.

There was a constant feeling of worthlessness which made me fearful, pessimistic, irritable, sad, and lonely. That again led me to get indulged in weird habits and obsessions. I developed a habit of daydreaming and fantasizing about things that could have never happened in my life.

I had shared a story about a close friend many times on this webzine and I want to mention her again today. It was because of her suicide incident, I decided instead of dying daily with self-pity I need to take care of the people all around me. And I kept searching for different ways till I came up with an idea of starting a printed booklet. named, ‘Candles’. Every woman gives birth to her child after bearing it for 9 months, but I carried my child many years within me before I delivered it.

It was through my child, ‘Candles’, I decided to reach out to many people who are suffering and in pain, in desperate needs emotionally and spiritually.   

But what is the significance of the word or the name, ‘Candles’?

Some time ago, I remember someone asked me about the significance of this name, ‘Candles’. “Does it have any religious significance?” She asked. My answer was, NO. And today, let me clarify it again, why I chose that name, ‘Candles’ for my child that I delivered in January 2006 (28th December 2005, launched 3 days later of inauguration)!!?

Have you ever watched a candle made of wax closely?

(Image Credit – Google Inc.)

Firstly, it is small and insignificant in comparison to other luminous objects like kerosene lantern, petromax and tube light, etc. Secondly, it is only one piece and never gets a refill anytime like lantern and petromax. Thirdly, it never requires external energy like fuel or electricity to emit light and heat but it burns itself to fulfill the purpose. And last, but not least, it emits light to remove the darkness in its shorter life span. It gives light throughout its lifetime.  

I quite relate myself with a piece of candle, even if I am not exactly like it but I am striving to be one. I am insignificant and weak in comparison to others; I know that very well. But I will burn throughout my life, giving light and warmth to the people those who avail me and my help. I wanted many such candles to join along with me to burn together illuminating in this darkened world.

I want to quote one Bible verse that inspires me always to use my frailty and suffering as my strength…

“…we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the His Holy Spirit…” 

And when I kept on experiencing that hope of God’s love burning in my heart through my pain and suffering every now and then in my life, I desperately wanted to spread that illuminating hope among many more as well.

And there, 15 years back, I lighted the fire to this one candle inviting many other candles to burn along with me together then, now, and till the end.   

Stay Blessed!

LET THE SEED OF BELIEF YIELD FRUITS OF WISDOM

A few months back I got a packet of carrot seeds and sown them in my garden. Days turned into weeks but no result. Instead, unwanted weeds cropped up all around. I pacified myself thinking maybe the soil isn’t of good quality or the seeds aren’t supreme. Yet kept checking. Meanwhile, in a small pot, I scattered few tomato seeds and surprisingly saplings did crop up in no time. What made the difference? In the first case, I buried (literally) the seeds quite deep making it hard for the feeble saplings to make it to the surface. On the contrary, I sowed the tomato seeds quite close to the surface and covered them with a thin layer of soil. Keeping the soil loose lets the seeds breathe easy and develop well.

What struck me actually? Not the principles of Horticulture but a valuable lesson that those tiny particles have taught me. When the seeds are sown really deep and the upper layer of soil is decked up too tightly the saplings never find it easy to develop – not just tender leaves but strong roots; roots strong enough to brave the weather and stand upright. And this has a close allegory to the way we perceive devotion or seek wisdom in our lives.

We have strongly and successfully confused ourselves with devotion towards God and attaining wisdom with a set of ritualistic practices. And that resulted in FEAR. Fear of facing God’s wrath if we fail to perform or practice rituals as per the rule book which is amended and molded as per personal conveniences!! And unfortunately, we forget that God can’t be a synonym for fear and which is conveniently cashed by few “caretakers” of religions in the name of God. And that forces the rigidity. Rigidity to do things as mentioned and deemed to be God’s will. Just as the seeds need the soil to be loosened to let them breathe, the rigidity of practices must be done away with. The fear-mongering must be stopped, enabling the emotion, the devotion of heart – “God Loving” dwell in.

Fear never lets the love thrive and when love ceases to exist the desire to know more extinguishes and that blocks the route to wisdom, period! On a lighter note, we must remember that God is not our thrice removed maternal uncle to sulk and swear at every trivial matter. He has created us to achieve higher purposes in life rather than navigating directionless with fear of choosing five minutes of folded hand prayer over 50 minutes of chants.

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

Ever imagined a world without conflict, division, war, hatred and strife – where peace, tranquility and harmony reign over every heart and soul? Utopian fantasy, some would say!

Rightly so, considering the quantum of chaos and discord all around – deep inside the mind, in the family, at the workplace, in social structures and in the world at large – peace seems to be as elusive as the silver lining beneath the dark cumulo-nimbus clouds that augurs hope but then slips into oblivion.

A world that was groaning and moaning in the aftermath of two World Wars has been spared of a third one till date, thanks to the astute role of  the United Nations which deserves a fair share of credit for achieving the purpose of its inception to a great extent. However, the world has not been completely rid of wars and conflicts. We still have heart wrenching graphic images and stories of strife-torn countries, broken families and lost lives.

What we need to understand is that as long as there are disparities and divisions, there will be conflict. And, such credentials will continue to be companions of the world as long as it exists.

Taking an example, close to home – think of sibling rivalry. Why does it happen? It happens when one child ‘perceives’ his/ her sibling/s as being loved or attended to more than self. In case such a perception is real, the rivalry stays on along the years and continues into adulthood and may be the cause of deep-rooted enmity between/ among siblings. If such a perception is faulty, then parental intervention helps dissipate the apprehension and restore peace.

This is true for every other spectrum and all relationships that we can think of.

Ronald Reagan said, “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”

So then, if differences create strife and differences cannot be completely gotten rid of, can peace be ever attained?

Peace is an internal construct. It is not an external construct that needs to be attained by certain means. We cannot attain peace by doing or not doing certain things. It is purely a gift of the Spirit of God to man. But, our actions sure play important parts in helping to retain or renounce peace in our lives and in that of others.

The story is told of a man who was in the quest of peace. He quit his job and started on his hunt for peace. Each morning he left home and wandered far and near to catch hold of peace which he could then spread everywhere. But, each evening he returned home disillusioned and got into drunken brawls with his wife. The rapidly depleting resources soon brought them to a point of mounting debts and starvation until one day the young wife, moments before breathing her last sighed, “Ah! Peace at last!” But before she could explain what this peace was, to her husband, she drifted off into the other world, leaving him alone to continue his quest for peace.

And so go on the stories of many men who wander off to attain peace and in the process drift even farther from it, while all the time it is very much within them.

With conflict continuing to reign massively in the world, each one of us can be peacemakers in the roles that we play. But, so as to be peacemakers we must first have peace within us. Without our own internal peace, all our efforts in peace-making no matter how sincere they may seem, would end up being fruitless. Peace within, would create the desire to see peace restored everywhere.

Calming down heated arguments and signing peace pledges may give us the satisfaction of playing significant roles in restoring peace, but these are simple indications of the soul within that has been designed for retaining and yearning for peace.

More than being a virtuous act, it is indeed a blessing to be a peacemaker. The Bible says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Even as we strive to be peacemakers, let us first receive the gift of peace from God.