The Mender

I owe a deep thanks to VE-Global and all the people that together make the organization what it is – a place for sharing. I wrote this as a goodbye to my friend Amanda. I hope it indeed was a good bye : ) .

 

Tender rain showered the forest, and the Mender ran. She had not planted every tree, nor had she befriended every creature. But, she knew them all. For thousands of years, she walked amongst its boughs, danced in clearings alongside sparkling, gurgling springs and slept warmly below a canopy of night songs and stars.

She had not met one of her people for many years. She hardly remembered her friends, parents and ancestors. The journey to the forest is a journey to an isle. An isle a sea and a half away, an isle shrouded in hungry mists and festering storms, an isle hidden in the depths of doubt and uncertainty. As a child, she heard stories. All life spoke the same language. And most things were alive in one way or another. The coexistence her people shared with the isle was an ethereal mosaic of spiritual harmony, a ballad of love and camaraderie. Yet, even when time is plentiful, things do not last. Eternity is only the burden of immortals. Eventually, beauty planted wickedness in the hearts of the weak. Desire and greed bathed and blinded eyes, poisoned souls. Blood and fire cracked like a viral whip. Guardians of lore had no choice. Her people were banished, and with ancient magic, the isle was sealed. And great beauty was lost to protect beauty itself.

Yet, there was a whisper among the wind, a rumor among the elders. A pure soul could attempt the voyage, could hope to survive, could dream of feeling the silky sand of perfection’s shores. But, one did not know if purity reigned in the soul until judgment was upon him. To fly, one had to jump. There was much she could do with her life amongst her people – the typical occupations that society requires for preservation and advancement. They did not appeal to her. Life was pleasant, but she longed for a deeper binding, a sturdier footing, a closer embrace. She longed for unity, coexistence, harmony. And so she worked all her youth to discover, understand and master the fleeting and mischievous concept that was ‘goodness.’ Several hundred years later, she said goodbye.

The passage was brutal. Wind, earth and water nearly killed her. Her vessel was swallowed by wrathful, churning mountains, her supplies dragged to the depths, her will torn to bits and her mind emptied and trampled upon by a cold fury known only to the unwritten pages of history. But, not once did she regret her decision. Not once did she attempt to turn back. Not once did she forsake her life’s mission for the seductive tranquility of comfort. She endured. Persevered. Fought. Hanging limply upon a miserable shard of what was once her ship, utterly lost, hungry, thirsty and weary to the bone, she closed her eyes. I will arrive soon, she thought. In this life or the next.

Gentle waves tickled her awake upon the shore. She laughed – she made it. Paradise lost was once again found. The air was sweet, the light playful, the creatures joyous in their songs. Her spirit was thrown upward, and as she let it go, she witnessed what the eyes could not. The stories were true – the isle was freedom incarnate. A savage glory forged in flames of natural order, a higher order. She felt it. The sense of belonging was overwhelming. Hierarchies did not exist; time was not fragmented into the past, present and future; death was but an ugly word for change. As the grace of life united washed over her, she wept. She wept for the beauty that no one thing could ever deserve. She wept for the folly of her ancestors. She wept for the love that enveloped and entered her. She wept, for she knew there was no going back.

Over the years, the Isle had named her the Mender. She tread lightly, not disturbing the flow of life. When she encountered a plant withering, a stem shaking or a leaf breaking, she mended. When she felt the suffering of another, she went toward it. She mended what she could. When the water was bitter or the wind resentful or the soil sullen, she sat down and stayed with it. Listened, and offered what she could. Mended, what she could. The trees welcomed her, made towering homes for her within the majestic and long-undisturbed canopy. The Isle became part of her, and she part of it.

At times, she longed for her past. For her family and friends. But, she was never unhappy. She had answered a higher calling. She dedicated her life to what was, essentially, a fool’s hope. A wish. A plea. A sacrifice. And the goodness within carried her to a place evil without. And, with so much beauty around, love was always to be found.

 

– JiNiT

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For a teacher

We meet a lot of people. Most of them are like the colored leaves that dance toward the ground on an autumn day. You hardly even notice them. But, a few stay with you, like the most persistent of cockleburs. Friends. Family. Loved ones. Then, there’s the people with whom your time was limited from the start. For example, every teacher has a particular group of students for a particular amount of time. The teacher teaches, the students learn – and then they both (usually) move on. Every now and then, we are pleasantly surprised by who we meet in such circumstances. By who we remember from years past. By how much we hope that we never forget.

My sophomore year of high school, I took AP U.S. History with Mr. Graham. A year or so later, I wrote ‘A Role Model.’ I’m sharing it with you for a couple reasons. I think it’s constructive to see if and how my writing has changed. I invite you to compare and contrast, and, of course, to share your thoughts. Mostly, though, I want to pay tribute to a man and a profession I immensely respect. Good teachers help students understand; great teachers inspire a desire to understand. It goes without saying in which category I would place Mr. Graham. Furthermore, my thoughts on pedagogy are probably not the same today as they were a few years ago, but nevertheless, I would love to hear your thoughts on the ideas and declarations I put forth in the course of the little essay.

I hope, if nothing else, that this piece brings to mind someone who changed your life in a beautiful way. Someone who walked into your life and walked right back out – and yet, you keep an eye on the door, making sure it never closes.

A Role Model

I knew him really well. We all did. That was just the way he taught, the way he lived. Short, stout, rotund, balding – yet his aging was only aesthetic. In spirit, his vigor for his subject matter never wavered. His passion for his art never faltered. His dedication to his students always kept him awake. Sophomore year, I do not remember sleeping a lot. If eye shadow is any indication, Mr. Graham did not either.

People complained – quite regularly, actually. His lectures would have nothing to do with the assigned reading; taking notes was often a test of hearing and attention span; oh, and his tests. Needless to say, a headache and a hand cramp were good indications of knowing the material. Yet, there was something about the class, something about him that gave resounding worth to all the seemingly futile efforts.

Truly, teaching AP United States History was his niche. Mr. Graham sincerely cared about this nation’s past – so much so, he refused to say the pledge. A historic moment would transport him and his oration to another level – his voice down to a whisper, a far away look in his eyes, and the final nodding and finger wagging that spoke for themselves. To him, walking Pickett’s charge, standing in the Roman coliseum, and being present at Obama’s inauguration were gratifying remembrances as to why he teaches history. Moments inspiring to witness, inspiring.

Mr. Graham did not have a status-elevating Alma Mater on his resume or a family on cruise-control. He had History. In my mind, more than enough to be an exemplar of the liberal arts and sciences. There is no greater accomplishment than embracing wholeheartedly one’s calling. His contribution to his art is simple – to pass the torch. For some, it ignited a similar longing for history. For me, it ignited a longing for learning. The chaos settled down near the end. Debates, papers, study guides, notes, lectures – a Jackson Pollack whose meaning is revealed when all is said and done. I was tired, for I had never worked harder in my life. I was sated, because I had never learned more in my life. Hard work, commitment, and genuine lust and respect for Knowledge – a trio that worked for Mr. Graham. A trio I will employ as I pursue Medicine. A trio that will take me to that special place I know Mr. Graham never left.

– JiNiT

A Decision

He usually came with friends. This time, he climbed by himself. As he looked around, he saw eager tourists and locals chatting in small groups, taking pictures and eating sugary and salty snacks. Several languages drifted through the air amidst a cacophony of laughter, bargaining and infantile wailing. The sun was setting and the sky dimming – the once bright yellow of the day dissolving into murky lavenders, blues, oranges, and pinks. The twinkling of the night’s lights below him grew ever steadier, as if welcoming the stars above. He loved this place, loved it for how unnaturally peaceful it always seemed, for the beauty that enveloped it and extended from it endlessly. A wisp of doubt surfaced and edged towards the cognitive structure that was his decision. It gathered thickness, spawned new tendrils and neared ever closer, momentarily threatening to cloud his thinking, and then it was gone.

Cerro San Cristóbal rises gently to a height of over 800 meters within the heart of Santiago, Chile. The hill is quilted in sparse foliage and towering trees and offers several paths to reach the summit where the Virgin Mary awaits. She stands solemnly, majestically, expectantly. The smooth, flowing white stone that is her hair kisses the wind sixty feet above her robed feet. With her arms slightly raised and outstretched, she looks out over the city, watching it, loving it. Hernán sat on the steps near the base of the holy colossus. Surrounding the statue is a leveled surface with rails on the edges, where people often stand to look out at the snow-capped mountains, the glossy skyscrapers and the miniaturized versions of everyday forms of life. On days like this, Hernán is usually helplessly transfixed by the dance of unearthly hues upon the horizon. He walked over to the rail, but instead of looking out, he could not help but look down.

He could see where he lived. On the far side of the city was a collection of modest single-family homes, one of which was his. It was an old neighborhood, and most people knew each other. Friends his age, their much younger kids, and their even younger grandkids would often drop by, asking to hear one of his stories, to seek advice or just to try a bite of what he had baked that afternoon. A weak smile wiggled into his lips, and he chuckled lightly to himself. A deep sigh followed. It was not enough. He rested both of his wrinkly, worn hands on the partially rusted metal; it felt colder than usual.

Almost everyone Hernán knew was Catholic. Yet, he realized long ago that he met many more ‘religious’ people than he did ‘faithful’ people. It is easy to be religious, he mused; others write the rules for you. Putting faith in something requires thought, patience and confidence. Keeping faith requires making the same decision over and over again, even when blindfolded by uncertainty and crippled by suffering. You must choose, and you can only hope you choose right. Hernán embraced life in all its forms, put faith in love and lived to learn. Ever the student, he was not one to shy away from disagreement. The Catholic Church promoted the sanctity of life for its own sake. Happiness was assumed to be a natural and unyielding byproduct of our existences. Hernán was not so sure.  He was spiritual and brimming with passion, but he was never very religious. Perhaps that was why he felt strangely at ease as he breathed in the cool of the oncoming darkness.

The night was steadily approaching, its celestial blanket being carefully pulled over the world by Helios and his chariot.  The chill nestled into his bones, joining the ache that he had harbored in his heart for the last twenty-nine years. There was not much left of her anymore. The crookedness of her smile, the melody of her laughter, the deepness of her eyes, the smooth of her skin and the feel of her hand intertwined with his – time had stolen almost everything. He was left with fragments, a sad, tattered patchwork of her essence. And the pain. Time left that, too. He devoted himself to the happiness of others, thinking it would suffice. The restlessness, nevertheless, continued to noiselessly burn, the intensity of the heat stubbornly growing one year at a time, one ember at a time. He would not let it consume him. He tried to be good to himself and to those around him; he tried to love truly and deeply; he tried to seek beauty, even after she was gone. Now, he was just tired.

It was dark. Quietness replaced the sounds of life. He glanced back at the Virgin Mary, now illuminated by the lights at the base of her feet. It was beautiful. It was time. His best friend had been waiting far too long. He turned and began his descent.

– JiNiT

Insecurity

I’m a ‘Guju.’ I was born in India and raised by Indian parents (and an awesome but slightly racist grandmother) for the majority of my life. What that means, for those of you who don’t already know, is that academic success was not an option. It was (and still is, really) obligatory. Getting straight A’s. Being cherished at parent-teacher conferences (yea, remember those?). Bringing home fancy certificates and awards. The whole ten yards. My parents ingrained somewhere in the depths of my neural circuitry the importance of academic excellence. Being taught that an education is valuable is invaluable. I really cannot thank my parents enough for helping me cultivate a thirst for learning, a thirst that ceases to ebb to this day. Nevertheless, one of the (I hope) many things I have learned over the years is that dominating the classroom is, well, dominating the classroom. There’s much to life that exists OUTSIDE of the classroom. Much to happiness that shies away from the manacles of competition and modern conceptions of ‘smartness.’ Much to your self that has nothing to do with the numbers on your CV.

My early years were amazing. OK, sure, I knew I had to keep my grades up. But, as long as I did so, all was quiet on the Eastern front. I could play outside until it was too dark to see. I could stay up all night with friends playing NFL Blitz on Playstation 1 or Pokemon on Gameboy; I could go biking and scootering whenever I felt like it. My greatest fear was being verbally obliterated by my mom. And even that wasn’t so bad. I didn’t really give much thought to my identity. Surely there’d be time for that later. Or, so I thought.

Pikachu

High school was about doing anything and everything possible to get into the best colleges. I spent a lot of time thinking, but my conclusions were Impressionistic at best; obscurity from pressure and expectation was inescapable. I am fortunate in that I have incredible friends, and I am thankful for the time I got to spend with them in high school. I had some unforgettable teachers. I did a number of things for the first time. I went to a prestigoius high school, and I was anything but miserable. Nevertheless, upon graduating, my ‘I’ was poorly formed. The inner ball of clay I hoped would take on definite form, alas, remained soggy and squishy. Then, college came around.

For aspiring medical students (like myself), college is a more brutal version of high school. And, the stakes are higher. Volunteer there. Research with this person. Suck up to that person. Don’t take these clases but those instead. Thought and action stream from the coercion of society’s whip. A student born and raised, you know ‘success,’ so you fall back on what you know. The mentality best suited for the classroom, suddenly, metastasizes to all other parts of your life. Thoughts unrelated to polishing your résumé or getting the next ‘A’ are cast aside. Introspection and self-understanding seem trivial. You push forward. Day in, and day out. Meaning loses, well, meaning.

The title of this piece is ‘Insecurity.’ Why, you ask? Well, I’m insecure. No, I am not ashamed to say so. By no means is my lack of absolute certainty paralyzing, but its presence is undeniable. When I tell others I aspire to be a physician because no other profession befits me, an icy voice whispers, “Or is it the money?” When I work out because I think being healthy is a moral imperative, a chill echo sounds, “Or are you defending your vanity?” You get the point. At times, I find it difficult to put faith in MY answers. The thought that I DO know who I am almost makes me uncomfortable. Weird, right? Yet, I don’t think that I’m alone in this regard. I see hesitation and uncertainty everyday. Why do so few people participate in class? Why do personal conversations generate so much unease? Why does the impersonality of social media appeal to the masses? The explanations to these phenomena can all be tied to a lack of self-awareness. It’s just not very fun to share a misshapen, soggy blob, much less claim ownership to it.

Rich doc

Academic excellence, as it is traditionally defined by society, is probably important for most people. Planning on going to graduate school? Asking for recommendation letters? Applying to internships? Your grades, test scores and extracurriculars probably apply in the above cases, in addition to a host of others. So be it. Learn as much as you can, apply yourself – do what you gotta do. But, what is success really worth if you don’t know WHY you seek it in the first place?

Listen to yourself. Feel your intuitions. People, events and memories will always inundate your consciousness. Figure out what matters to you and what doesn’t. Then, act accordingly. Your answers do not have to be ‘right;’ they just have to be YOURS. Do not feel compelled by paradigm, obligated by circumstance or helpless to peers. Live by truth, and live true to yourselves.

If you value learning, you’re already halfway there. You need do little more than just turn your gaze from your screens, achievements and peers – and study yourself. You may be surprised to see what you learn. You may be surprised to see how quickly clay hardens in the heat of scrutiny.

– JiNiT