The toughest journey of them all…
I am back at an airport to go to India with my suitcase, backpack and a picture being taken on a timer with the phone propped up against whatever it is that airports have to prop up a phone with. This is when I usually tell you how this is a secret from my parents or that I have a few goals to keep.
This one is different though. There is nobody to keep my secrets from. I do not even know how to set goals for myself this time. For all the best laid plans I had, life upstaged the cards such that I could not even accompany them on their individual last journey. If not thru the eyes of my brother and sister who lived close to them, I would have always wondered what that journey looked like for my parents…
I have always believed that my parents had lives that we should celebrate. Coming from a level of financial situation I cannot possibly fathom, they pulled themselves to a successful life and in that pulling, gave me and my two siblings enough momentum that we hurled ourselves to what my parents would undoubtedly judge “greater success”. That is what they lived for. That is what they died for.
I can quibble over the details of their choices, but I cannot begrudge even a bit what they have achieved thru their three children.
So, again, let us raise a toast to them.
And then, as I put my glass of wine down at thirty thousand feet above the Atlantic, I am confronted with the inevitable “Now what?” question. How am I going to escape the fact that I am going to walk into the same house and find nobody there? For all the irritation that I used to have the moment I entered the house every time – for what I thought at that time as excessive fawning from them, there is going to be none this time to worry about.
How am I going to face my own siblings who gave – thru their sweat and tears – accompaniment thru the intense suffering that my parents went thru when all I could do was see them on a WhatsApp video call? For all those intense internal burning downstairs in the basement by myself after seeing my parents on video, what must have it really felt like to see in real life with your own eyes?
But any emotion expressed has to only flow towards the celebration of their lives. The pangs of something being taken away ought to be outweighed by the realization of the gift that was presented to begin with.
So, I am going to put only 3 simple goals this time..
You may remember how my parents often told me that as the eldest sibling, I was like the engine of a train. Wherever I went, my siblings would follow. In accordance, in this trip, my goal is to stay strong and in every step and word, exude the marvel at what our parents achieved thru us. The countenance of mine has to be of celebratory in nature. The mood has to be that of counting the blessings of what we had and not what we lost. From the moment I walk into the empty house with my siblings in tow to the time when I wave them goodbye to come back to America … I have to be the reason why they see hope and the positive in everything the three of us have had.
The crying can wait. (I am still human; I just need to control it)
I am not sure what is the right way to say Thank You to my siblings for all the hard work they did in the last few years of my parents. And none of this was easy. I have to believe this has created a lot of tensions in their own families and frankly a level of frustration that life dealt them a tough set of cards. For me – I was pushed by my family to go abroad and secure the financial stability of the whole family – but that also meant, I did not have to deal with the day to day grind. Now that it is all over, how do I express my gratitude? I am not sure how, but my goal number 2 is to put in the first installment by creating a couple of memorable days for my siblings – whichever way they want.
“And then… there was one…”
Right now, between Sharmila and I, we have only one parent left (her mom). While my mother in law and I cannot possibly think of anything any more different, I do realize that that is the thinnest of strings that we are hanging on in terms of the “previous generation”. She has had one vaccination already and I have had two. My goal is to see if I can sit down with her and have some quality time. If I can only pull her out of the kitchen trying to make more food for me, I might just be able to…
Normally, I love seeing my old friends, teachers, parents of my friends and so on … anytime I go to India. They have all influenced me in ways small and large to be who I am today. I owe that – if not for anything else – just to say Thank you. This time, though, I will have to constrain myself to spending all my time with my siblings and mother in law (and a couple of relatives that were close to my mom and dad). I do promise to make up in the next trip though…
A final thought… I am struggling with “What does India mean after this trip?” question. Sure, I have my siblings – but they have their own lives. Parents were why I fox trotted to India every quarter. They had all the time for me. Now, why do I have to come to India to visit my siblings? There are so many other places we could meet. Will trips to India eventually lose all the significance to me? Will a big part of my own identity be lost for ever?
I wonder if I could switch places with my parents. Sort of. Could I possibly become to my two nephews and one niece what my parents were for me? And by that I mean, can I create a relationship with the three of them that would be so strong that I will still get on to flights to India with the suitcase, backpack, selfie and all that? Maybe, instead of a train engine to my siblings, I can be the same for my nephews and niece?
Fourth goal this trip, you think?