Serendipity

There was this one time, I was in town for a concert at the Moore. 12 mins from the start time, I was searching for a curbside spot in the busy streets of Seattle, circling the blocks, amidst rush hour and the one ways. My friends say, I have good “parking karma”. It was now 6.59 p.m. and I hadn’t still found a spot. And nope, I wasn’t going to shove my car in a lot as is my wont.

Up until now I’d stuck to the higher streets as my luck is better there, but I finally made my way to the busy 2-way cluster that is 1st Ave. As I approached the intersection of 1st and Lenora, I caught something from the corner of me left eye, there was this man standing on the opposite pavement of Lenora (so diagonally opposite from where I was) waving his hands. I turned to look and it was this homeless guy flailing his hands wildly and seemed to be looking in my direction. Perplexed. I looked around me, was it me? I wondered if my headlights were off? No. Was something broken in my then 13 year old car ( 🙂, which I ultimately drove for 16 years)… Not that I could discern. From his hand movement he was trying to indicate something to me. And all this while the light was Red, so I had the time. He wouldn’t stop. I have to say I was a bit weirded out, but then I noticed something else. There on Lenora, behind a big-ass truck, which was blocking my view, was a vacant spot and he seemed to be pointing me to it. I was a bit skeptical at first, often these spots are vacant for a reason and then that whole left turn would be a wild goose chase and a waste of a few more mins delaying me further. Then the light turned green and I did turn left and slowly pulled up to the spot. It was indeed vacant and did not have any timing restrictions on it either!!

First of all, how did this guy know I was looking for a spot? Amidst all that traffic, its not even liked I’d circled 1st ave multiple times. My then vehicle, an old silver Honda Civic (nothing that stands out really) couldn’t have attracted that much attention. What was it about that moment that he just knew and decided to communicate to some gal at the light? I was overwhelmed. I emptied my pockets of whatever change I had (Had no notes on me that day) and gave it to him. He accepted them (it did not seem to me like he was looking for anything at all). He seemed to have this “knowing” look on his face. Our eyes locked for a bit. And he said “just beautiful”. I was just grateful. I went on to walk toward Moore and enjoy the rest of the evening, but remained stunned by the experience prior to the concert. Parking karma indeed.

And then just the other day, I was returning from a morning run, the last leg of my circuit being a hill. I’d just crossed Mercer and was on 5th, hoping to run another 5 mins or so, but just stopped with a big audible gasp and switched my Garmin off and was thinking to myself just how out of shape I was. A combination of self-chiding and acceptance. There was this homeless guy dragging his belongings in a trolley and walking on the pavement. He saw me stop and said “You coulda gone another 1/2 mile easily there!!” and smiled revealing big gaps in his teeth. I smiled back at him and shook my head and said “Thank you”. He said “Nice job there lady”, very encouragingly.

How much outside their own heads must these men have been to think about someone other than themselves, with no other agenda. And they had every reason to not.

Interconnectedness

12+ years ago, I fractured the 4th metatarsal of my right foot. At the ER (thankfully I was with a friend at the time it happened and got a ride to the ER), the doc put a brace around my foot and handed me a pair of crutches. I was not to put any weight at all on the right foot for a good 2.5 months and could choose to use the crutches if I needed to move. Needed to move!?! After the 2.5 months, I’d be able to walk with the brace on until my foot was ready for me, if I’d healed well.

Thinking back now, it sounds simple enough. But back then, living by myself, a hospital-phobe and a somewhat self-contained person, who was juggling a bunch of complexities in life, living in an apartment that did not have an elevator, having lost the use of my right leg entirely (and my driving foot along with it), and having to hold on to crutches for every single task, to get up from bed and go to the bathroom, get me a drink or make me a meal, leave alone anything else like getting out of the house, driving to work, or do anything at all, was an interesting experience to say the least and very revealing. (Oh and speaking of getting me a drink, there was no question of carrying my drink “with” me, since I’d need both my hands to hold the crutches to move back to the couch or the bed.)

It was a tough first couple 3-4 weeks, draining on many levels. Physically, I experienced pains in every muscle group in the body. My arms, to my puzzlement, had become rock hard like I have never seen them (no exaggeration)… because they were doing all the hard work of carrying the weight of a 127 lb woman and propelling her forward and back, to make up for the defunct right foot. My back muscles ached due to the over work too and that in turn impacted almost every other kind of movement. I got to know every inch of my muscular body and realized just how interconnected the whole design was. If the right leg is down, it was amazing to see just how many other muscle groups (over)compensated to keep it going. I could feel exactly which muscle group was being used for which activity and that extended way beyond the obvious.

Mentally and emotionally too, it was an interesting time for a whole host of reasons and was just one of those self-defining (or was it self-discovering) experiences. But I’ll keep this short.

My realization was how in any eco-system, whether the system is an individual, a family, a community or a citizenry, when one unit hurts or is down, the other units just swing into action…and sometimes, that even sees them rise to their higher potential, like my arms did.

There is no box

While in Shanghai, I had followed my instincts and persevered to reach Puxi on my own and ran into another spirit on the Pudong waterfront, Dr. Jean Pegouret (French Dr., engineer, linguist, free spirit, part-time Shanghai resident). Jean was a complete stranger to me and yet we ended up spending the whole day together, walking in Puxi. He spoke to me about the country, the city, the customs, culture and couture and surprised me with his fluency in Shanghainese, as he joked with the local people, ordered food at a restaurant and spoke to the metro officials to sort out my ticket situation. I was pleasantly inspired by Jean’s giving nature. He gave me his time, energy and spirit, so freely and had such a great attitude about it. Little surprise we had so much in common – a wanderlust, a comfort and one-ness in an “alien” surrounding, music, writing, very similar thoughts on spirit, philosophy, intellect, connectedness, progressiveness nature, freedom… It did not matter that he was French and I was Indian. Back home in the evening, I was narrating the day’s adventures to my parents and spoke about Jean. In an attempt to understand and place him in her head, my mom’s first question was “What’s his job?” true to the philosophy of her generation and cultural background. I just think Jean’s spirit embodied much more than what “job” he held. Such people have transcended materialism and have an almost ethereal approach to life. They may not fit in a box, but I feel like they are ahead of the majority in their spiritual ascension.

“Beam me up”, he said.

<Names altered to protect the privacy of the subject>

This afternoon, I attended the funeral service of my batch-mate (from BITS, Pilani), Arun Ramalingam. He passed away on Friday, April 5th, amidst the mountains of Snoqualmie Pass. He is survived by his young wife, 2 young children aged 8 and 4, his parents, 2 brothers and a sister.

The turn out for the funeral was large, his family, friends, colleagues… and then there was the local BITSian turn out as well as a few folks from around the country. Speaks for the wonderful soul he was. I did not know Arun either on campus or off campus. We moved in completely different circles. All these years in Seattle and I had no clue such a person existed and that he was here. Several times, the topic of BITSians has come up in conversation and I have combed through my rolodex to identify BITSians in the local area, but Arun’s name was nowhere in mine… and yet… there was a certain connected-ness I felt when I heard — BITS, Seattle, hiker, spirituality… just a good, simple, innocent soul (who had an appreciation for melancholy and yet spread happiness — all this I gleaned from the ceremony). I felt a draw (even before I knew all this) and contributed to his memorial fund as well as attended his funeral ceremony including cremation.

There were speeches and notes from friends, local and from afar. But when his father Mr. V.Ramalingam, came to speak, it just killed me. Such a simple man, clad in a simple shirt and veshti and a sweater, being from Chennai (and having flown at 2 days notice), so articulate, put together, grateful, humble and yet emotional and empathic to his daughter-in-law’s plight. My heart broke when he came up, and thereafter each time I saw him. Still does when I think of him. God bless him and the entire family with lots of strength, fortitude, reconciliation and peace in their hearts sooner rather than later.

This is the first time I have attended a funeral in my physical lifetime. I have experienced deaths in other forms, and deaths of elderly grandparents while I lived away from them; but this was really a first, well, I remember one other from a long time ago (a distant elderly relative by marriage, who lived in the same area I did growing up). And I am also no stranger to the concept of losing one’s child, from experience in my own family (I’ve seen my beloved late maternal grandmother lose her son, my beloved uncle). Maybe it was that knowledge and experience, that made me feel so much this time around, and yet it gave me new respect for everything she went through.

I later learnt, Arun was alone on the hike. It was a working day and he had chosen to work from home, but decided to go on a hike to this spot that he apparently frequented to clear his head. His body was found the next day, thanks to the signal emitted from his iPhone, who’s charge was still alive. His body was found in a spot that one could get to only if one had fallen off a ledge, which itself is off the path and couldn’t have been hiked up to. So no one seems to fully understand.

There is something about these souls. They are people who find themselves in special situations, unlike most others’ (in a spiritual sense), there is a certain inner sadness, perhaps from a certain realization, but they radiate happiness and invariably give comfort to others in so many ways. They are usually honest, sincere and funny. Their physical ends are tragic (to the rest of the world)…. but I almost feel that in that moment of decision, they are free-est and I like to believe they are in a better place.

A weekend getaway

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Roaring waves against rocky shore
Sea lions and surfers galore
Welcoming the morning tide
View from the mansion at Seaside

Inside I hear a pin drop
Aromatic Java till the last drop
Chirping birds and clinking chimes
Fill my senses in the morning times.