“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
― Steve Jobs
Experiences are an inevitable part of the journey of life. Some, you consciously choose and reach out for, some from which there is no escape. But when you look back and connect the dots you realize that good or bad, every experience is integral to life’s grand design. I was 13 when I first experienced loss. It was summer vacation and like every year, we spent the two months with family in Kerala, away from the merciless heat of Punjab. The lush beauty of the tropical land, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, a lot of food and pampering- for my sister and I, it was a world away from school work and exams. That summer, however, was very different. My grandfather was ill.
13 is a strange age. It’s when you’re neither child, nor adult, yet a bit of both and more. A detached view of the world like a child yet you observe more than adults do. As for mortality- nothing more than a concept. The ‘here’ and ‘now’ always in sharp focus and remain firmly etched as memories carried right through life. I watched my dad take care of my grandfather and felt a great sense of pride that I didn’t understand. He took an indefinite leave of absence from work which meant an extended summer for us as well- that immeasurable thrill of not being in school when everyone else was! And the guilt of feeling that way.
There was a lot that I felt guilty about those days. I thought my grandfather very fortunate, my dad never left his side. He was incredibly devoted, so gentle and uncomplaining. There were times when I wished grandfather would get well quickly so I could have my dad back. Instant guilt at my selfishness. I saw things in my dad’s face that made me hug him tighter. Hugs of relief that my world was secure, my father was alright. And then the guilt because his wasn’t. As the days wore on, the thrill of missing school turned to anxiety. I fretted over fitting into cliques that would have been formed in my absence. Guilt over thinking about that.
There were visits from relatives I had never seen before. I wondered why they hadn’t visited last year. Why I hadn’t seen them in the years before. All of them looked sad and serious and I tried imagining how they must look when happy. I looked at my grandfather, eyes closed, a slight frown, a vulnerability about him that made me sad and angry. My grandfather was patient and indulgent with the children but he was also a no-nonsense gentleman who had no patience for theatrics of any kind. I got a giggle out of imagining how he would react if he had been well and woke up to all these people and their hushed whispers. I waited for him to get well.
He didn’t. One day, just like that, he was gone. And just like that, my unwavering faith that nothing is beyond human control, was blown to smithereens. Stunned and in shock, it felt like everything around was moving at a speed I would never catch up to. It was unacceptable. I had never believed that he wouldn’t get well. Everything that defined him was everywhere, impossible that he wasn’t. I could still hear his voice. Grief that came in waves crashed my world. I don’t remember if I cried. I saw grown ups cry and turned away. There was something bizarre about it all. I felt pushed through doors that I wasn’t prepared to open. My heart felt heavy with sadness and regret. I felt cheated out of time with my grandfather.
It’s the most beautiful, the most poignant, the saddest moments that stay with you and separate the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of life as you’ve known it. That day I was pulled out of the shelter that childhood provides and into a world of many realities. My mind wrapped itself around thoughts that I hadn’t had till then. The notion that adults are invincible folded up. In a world that was changing, where people were increasingly self absorbed, I understood my pride in my father. I felt grateful for the people who visited, and the emotional security in having them around surprised and comforted me.
Every experience, it turns out, is what you make of it and every loss leaves a void that takes a little bit of living to fill. My grandfather’s death was a series of revelations. In those dark days, I figured out what’s most valuable. If you are what you leave behind, my grandfather must have died feeling like the wealthiest of people. In watching my father, I know I did. It set the stage for many things later on in life, many life lessons. I know the importance of family and what it is to be there for someone you love- unconditionally and simply because they need you. And when someone is there for me, I recognize it as the biggest and most generous act of selflessness.
As I look back and connect the dots, I see an order to the universe that will not be altered. I want to believe that good or bad, every experience was meant to be- without them, I would have never found those who deeply touch my life. As the journey goes on, I continue to be defined by life’s joys and sorrows, mistakes, friendships, love and grief. Lurking around corners to trip me up, swooping down on me to lift me up, stealing up and making me smile, touching my heart, and making me fly. But life being what it is, also decides, every now and then, to bring me to my knees and in my quest for that silver lining every cloud promises, I teach myself to walk again. And again.