Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Afloat in New Waters

2017 has been a fantastic year.  It has also been quite mystifying.  Let’s rewind to a conversation that I had on Jan 1 with my dear friend as I was bidding goodbye to him.  I had had a memorable reunion with my group of friends.  My wife and child had been unable to join me since we had other family visiting our place.  As my friend and I hugged, he noticed that I was feeling downbeat.  It had been three years since I had met the guys and the thought of another wait was making me feel heavier than my weight suggested.  He said to me, “I know you are feeling low.  But remember that your family is waiting to receive you back home.”

In response, I smiled and said, “This may sound simplistic, even a little sappy.  But that’s a different part of the heart!”  Almost a year has passed by.  And I still think of that line that I uttered.  What I didn’t realize on that day was that this whirlwind of emotions was not a standalone entity; rather, it was an usher to a deeper whirlpool that was sucking me in.  Being a single child was something that I had dismissed as a mere fact of life.  Now it was starting to be a sentiment.  So, I gave it its rightful space in my mind, not pretending to be oblivious to its existence.  By letting it simmer for a while, I began to formulate some thoughts around it.  After all, I had to learn to let thoughts float as opposed to letting them sink me. 

The first stream of thoughts that I experienced was in a pool of wistfulness.  My friends are a wonderful set of people- warm, funny and generous.  But as distances, familial priorities, work commitments all vie for space, it is unreasonable, futile even, on my part to dwell on times when distances were manageable and the feeling of being an integral part of a friend’s life was a definite charge for me to lead my own life.  The feeling that every dear friend is just a call or a whatsapp message away is a reassuring one.  But as they say, sometimes what is near might seem quite afar.  When my 49-year-old Aunt passed away without much warning, my friends rallied around me beautifully.  It is lovely to have someone chosen by you, not related by blood, be a core part of your life.  It is yet another thing to be a part of someone else’s life.  And with their constantly evolving set of priorities and responsibilities, I see it almost as my own duty to be gracefully accepting of being more on the periphery of a loved one’s expanded circle.  But as a result, that “part of the heart” feels emptier, yet paradoxically heavier. 

The parallel torrent of emotions that floods my mind is around the passing away of my Aunt in October 2016.  A well-wisher in whom I confided recently about the spate of these new feelings asked me to think in a more focused manner about the death of my Aunt and its effects on me.  I think about my Aunt a lot but not in this context.  Following my well-wisher’s advice, I introspected a little more and realized that even though I had never quite taken my Aunt for granted, her presence in my life had been more akin to the sky than a rainbow.  It was so constant, so predictable, so unassuming that I hadn’t fully appreciated its value while it lasted.  The heavens had come crashing down last October and had pierced through yet another “part of the heart.”  But the fact that my Aunt had been a motherly figure, a sister, a friend all rolled into one meant that her absence was now going to make me swim alone in the sea of memories and the oceanic legacy that she has left behind.

Alas, there is a nuanced yet discernible difference between feeling ‘alone’ and feeling ‘lonely.’  I tell myself that to experience fleeting, disquieting thoughts might be okay as long as I learn to deal with them.  Acceptance and empathy are trustworthy lifeguards.  And above all, I tell myself that the very reason I am able to stay afloat is due to the buoyancy gifted by my loved ones. 


Viveka parasuram said...

Being a single child can be rough. Parents and caretakers ensure kids play with their friends so they don't feel lonely or feel like they should have had a sibling. Parents will go any lengths to ensure their kid gets the love and affection of thier friends as they are the ones who can be like a sibling( buying costly presents for the friends or spending for their food etc). When I was growing up, it was a trend in my class (I was especially aware of this and we even have had discussions in the classroom about this topic) that the ones who were more clingy towards friends were the ones who were a single child. In fact, my very close friend always felt low that she didn't have any sibling. She would call her cousin her "brother".

Viveka parasuram said...

Love your post, Ram. Very well thought out as usual. And, a treat to read esp during the holidays. :)

Shilpa Gupte said...

Yes, we do hold our friends closest to our heart and feel heartbroken when they drift away, or move away thanks to their many responsibilities or reasons unknown. But, that's how life I have realised, and it's best to befriend yourself than depend upon others, even if they are close friends.

Lisa said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I enjoy the way you write using metaphors to help describe your feelings.

Stacie said...

I'm sorry for your loss. Being an only child can feel lonely (I'm told by my parents, who were both only children) but some people don't get along with their siblings. Close fiends can be even better than family for some.

IASoupMama said...

There is a huge difference between alone and lonely; I like how you puzzled through that here.

D3athLily said...

I liked how you spoke so honestly about your feelings here and the difference between being alone and being lonely. It must be difficult being an only child, but I can tell you, as well, that sometimes close friends are better than siblings, because they know you and stand by you because they love you, where family can sometimes feel obligated to stand by you. I'm very sorry for your loss.

Ram Murali said...

Dear all -
Thank you so much for your lovely, thoughtful comments. MUCH appreciated.
I totally agree with the sentiment that friends, as D3athLily mentioned, "stand by you because they love you, where family can sometimes feel obligated to stand by you." That's what has made my friendships so special. My friends stand by me, give me good advice, act sensibly and sensitively as the situation demands. I just wish I had more time with them :)
Anyways, once again, I thank you all.

Zola said...

While reading this I had to grapple with the many issues you've raised just like my son is grappling with the "blessing" of being the only child.

It's wonderful that you've been able to build a wall of friendships to mitigate the headwinds of being alone. More power to you !

My father used to keep cribbing that his brothers were wastrels. Though I've never told him my view is that he made good because he had brothers...period - wastrels or otherwise. Siblings and relatives are the thread are invisible threads that serve as links to the past and make us grounded.

Very well written Ram !