First off, we had the most number of people show up – 11. There were riders born in Colombia, riders born in Mexico, riders born in India, riders born in the USA and I think one rider was born in East Africa.
For me this was the longest ride – nearly 200 miles. Crossed the 1000 mile ride in a month mark for the first time. And did the Suches route for the first time too!!
With all the breaks and all, it took us over 6 hours or so.
As exciting as it is to spend time with and help hospice patients, the one inevitable thing you are signing up for is that eventually they will move on from this world. After going thru over half a dozen such patients transitioning in the last nine months that I have been working with hospices, you would think that I would be used to it. And yet, the hard truth is that you never get used to it. Each and every one of them hits you and hits you true. No amount of reminding yourself everyday of the finiteness of life ever prepares you to deal with it when the end actually presents itself.
I was in California earlier this week. After the meetings, I noticed that there was a mail in my box titled “Mr. Forrester” (name changed). I quickly opened it and read that he was “declining”. “Declining” in hospice speak means you are now transitioning. It is a matter of hours or at best a couple of days. I responded quickly that I had seen him the previous Thursday and will swing by moment I was back in Atlanta.
I should not have bothered about it. For five emails later, there was another email informing me that I was not going to get a chance to see him again.
The flight back seemed much longer than it really was. I was given charge of Mr. Forrester about three months back. Towards the beginning, he was able to speak somewhat coherently. I had read up on his case study. He was a Colonel by rank who had seen active duty for some time. One day, I had visited him when his daughter was there too. She had sat me down and told many a story of her dad.
I knew that he was deteriorating rapidly. He could barely talk. Whatever little he did, he was completely incoherent. The last day when I saw him, he was constantly drooling and could barely lift his head. He lifted it once and cracked a smile. It was mostly quiet time with me asking him gently about small stuff and he taking quite some time before nodding to indicate yes or no.
This picture is from a few weeks back (he is the one closest to you). That was the best spirits I had seen him in. We had some very old songs put on the TV (you will be amazed what Spotify can do !!). Many of the patients like him seem to get energized – some – like him – even tried to sing along.
The hard part of getting to know each one of them and their life story is realizing that you will not see them again. I will still go to the hospice and meet others but he won’t be there. I will, by habit, poke my head into his room and realize that somebody else is there. I will probably go in and talk to the new patient too (I do not have to confine my time only to those that have been assigned to me). But it would not be Mr. Forrester.
Sometimes those long hours with somebody like Mr. Forrester where you are essentially having one way conversations among bouts of awkward silence can be trying. And then you realize in times like this – that was so much better than now – when you do not even have him to go sit next to.
And yet, that is by design. If you accept life, you have to accept death. Presence can be defined only in the context of absence. A journey eventually will end in its destination.
One just hopes that in those walks pushing him in the wheelchair in the yard, in those helping with Kleenex to clean the drool, in those squeezing of his hands before leaving, in those putting a blanket on him when his hands got cold, in those feeding him with the afternoon snacks… somewhere, somehow, one made the journey a wee bit easier…
As the weekend started rolling in, I figured it might be a good idea to go ahead and try a mezcal drink. Upon some research, came across a bar in Chicago called Barrio (actually it is a bar in the restaurant called Barrio) where mixologist Calderon has concocted The Hot Mezz. It is watermelon, jalapeno with some sage syrup, lime juice and of course, mezcal.
My taste in mezcal is still growing. The part I like most is that earthy tones. Which lingers for quite some time in the finish as you exhale. Like most cocktails with these many ingredients and ice, there is no strong nose – although the earthiness and the citrus still comes thru. To the palate, it is a little biting spicy. Towards the end the water melon comes in a small wave.
“Ekush dofa dourey maarey” (from “Ekushe Aain”)
As many as 21 runners showed up for the Chalupa group run. Remarkably, three of the youngsters – Uma, Raya and Nikita – forsook sleeping in on a summer vacation Sunday morning and came out. We had four out of town visitors – Aniruddha and Indrani from Dallas, Texas and Shilpa and Scott from Birmingham, Alabama. Funnily enough, Scott introduced himself as Scott-esh 🙂 🙂
The usual culprits – Mrinal-da, Seemita-di, Indrani, Rituparna, Tania, Sharmila, Malobika, Ashok, Samaresh, Haimanti, Sreerupa, Bhaskar and Rakhi were all there. We missed Mrs. Banerjee who is visiting India.
In the excitement of taking pictures of such a large group, three other non-Chalupa runners who we run into every Sunday morning joined us in the melee too!
By the way, our run almost did not happen. As we approached the trail, we realized that a tree had fallen and effectively cut off the entrance of the trail (see the picture). Many of us were secretly thanking our luck figuring that we would go straight to Starbucks for coffee and chit-chat. Except that the three youngsters who were leading the pack, jumped off the trail (it was about two feet deep or so), found a way to hunch down and tunnel thru the tree and once they cleared the tree, jumped back up onto the trail.
We had no option but to follow them.
That was a good run!! Has to be one of the largest turnout for the Chalupa group!
This is a remnant post from our destination-less journey that Sharmila and I undertook last month. My school friend Partho, his wife Jaya and his daughter Rohini and the two of us had just spent a beautiful evening on the Jersey shores – entirely unscripted. Finding a place to have dinner was a little chore but we did find one and settled down there.
Not sure how the discussion progressed but I soon found myself in a familiar zone. I was the only one fighting for one side of a debate – pitted against three others in this case. Rohini kept a diplomatic silence thru the debate. I can argue for a case with so much passion that I can come across almost self righteous – triggering many an opposing view from others as an instinctive reaction. This case was probably more than that.
Again, I am not terribly sure how I landed up there but I know I was explaining the concept of “Memento Mori” (remember, you will die) and how that drives what I do. In essence, I wake up every morning and remind myself that I am going to die. I have one less day left. And that helps me set priorities on what is truly important for me that day and over the longer horizon. Many of the things I have done in life will be considered counter-intuitive. Some may even call them stupid. But as I explained that evening, it all starts with the end. In fact, I think I talked about the book “The Top Five Regrets of a Dying Man”.
There was spirited – and I am not merely pointing to the spirits in the glasses – pushback from the other three. A big catalysis was that discussions around death and regrets cast a negative cloud on the the whole perspective. Such a gloominess should not be the framework of how we live.
In fact, after about twenty minutes of back and forth, Partha succinctly put it – “Do you wake up in the morning happy? If you do, that is all”.
I resisted all the knee jerk reaction to give an answer. He repeated the question. I let him know that I understood his question. And strangely, I found myself very conflicted to answer that question. I let him know that I will think about it and see what I come up with.
Frankly, nary a day passes without me thinking about that conflict for some time. And I am still not sure where I am on it. Thought it best to pose in front of you.
At the root of it, the conflict is the following: Does contentment work against improvement?
If I wake up very content and happy everyday, would that imply that I will never seek how to better myself and achieve them? On the other hand, if I am constantly thinking of proper priorities because of an impending end, will I be incapable of fundamental happiness?
This question can be extended from the individual to the larger human kind… If everybody imbibed into the “Pura Vida” spirit of Costa Rica, would we make great strides in our lives? Doesn’t fundamental change for the better come a lot from being unhappy with the current state of affairs – that triggers the desire to change the world?
Wake up every morning with a sense of happiness and contentment – for we do have a lot to be happy and content about?
Recognize that the number of mornings left is down by one and refocus your life to make it more fulfilled at the end of it?
Is there a way to think of this where they are perfectly compatible with each other?
What do you think?
P.S. Sharmila, Jaya and Partha, I hope I have represented your side of the argument well here. I know I have my own biases and that can come in the way of articulating the opposing view.