The world is in a weird state now, where some of us are lucky enough to go on about life as though nothing is different, while others are facing unimaginable suffering. I struggle a lot with survivor’s guilt and all other sorts of guilt. On a day to day basis I try not to let it overwhelm me, but the subjects of mortality, luck, inequality and impermanence weights heavily on my mind.
I feel like I lucked out in many ways, except perhaps in terms of health. But in a really weird way I am actually grateful for my fragile body, because it has taught me early enough in life not to take my time and health for granted. I can imagine a parallel universe version of me who is healthy, probably still stuck in the hedonistic cycle of pursuing approval and success, deprived of a mechanism that will give me some cause for pause. I guess I can thank my fragile body for marie kondo-ing my life, that it forced me to have a laser sharp focus on what truly matters to me.
I fell chronically sick a few months after my grandmother passed away in late 2014. Till today I have no idea whether it was due to unprocessed grief, or that her death ruthlessly swept away the illusion I was trying to live in, or both. Yesterday while having a bedtime conversation with my partner I told her how deeply I regret the person I was when she passed. I can still vividly remember the last time I saw my grandmother, that I didn’t say a proper goodbye because she was taking a nap, and also because I was rushing to leave. I was never present, always trying to escape to the future or somewhere else. I wish I knew how to be a better person back then, I wish I spent more time talking to her, taking her out for meals, to try to truly know and connect to her.
I spend a lot of energy these days trying not to be that person. I spent a long time of my life harbouring a lot of anger and hurt so I was defensive and resentful all the time, not realising I was becoming like the people who had hurt me in the first place. To consciously choose to go the other way: to try to care and tend instead of resent and retaliate takes a lot of work. To say that I wanted to become a better person for altruistic purposes would be a misunderstanding. I just didn’t want to turn into a monster and be stuck in a personal hell.
I think a forgetful person is a happier person. I wish I can be forgetful sometimes instead of being a broken record player playing the same few tunes every time. Is it better to live with the anxiety that comes with the awareness of mortality, or is it better to be forgetful so one can lighter and more cavalier but risk getting blindsided by the shock of loss?
I go back to paraphrasing one of my all-time favourite quotes, that love is a preemptive form of grief. To experience grief is to truly know that one has loved. But here as I type this I realise there is a difference between the grief that comes from the regret of having not loved enough, and the grief that comes from having loved with no holds.
I have always thought that love is an emotion but it is actually a capacity that takes skill to build. I hope to become a person capable of the kind of love that would gift me the sort of deep but regret-less grief, and also to be able to bear the unending streams of grief that will come with the rest of my life. I hope time is on my side.
I am a lot better at being present now, though it is a long work in progress. I am almost 40, but I still feel like a child learning to navigate the negative effects the external world has left on my interior world. Presence requires the capacity to tolerate all the feelings that a moment can bring, and to discern actual reality versus the projection of a deeply ingrained memory. Each time I descend into an almost bottomless depth due to the most trivial of triggers I feel like history is just repeating itself endlessly and I seem to never be capable of transcending my past selves, yet my partner reminds me that though I still plunge deep I seem to surface quicker.
Sometimes I am surprised by the velocity of my tears, it is almost ironic but I feel like now I am much older I can now give myself the permission and safety I lacked as a child to cry with all my might.
The capacity to truly love comes from emotional maturity, and emotional maturity is tied to the ability to tolerate difficult feelings. Society frowns upon difficult feelings and crying, so some of us learnt to repress them, some of us learnt to escape from them. We’re told that grown ups shouldn’t cry, and I believe that has ironically made many of us into emotionally stunted adults.
I am aware how much of child I am still emotionally. My grandmother’s passing was the catalyst for me to learn how much my emotions prevent me from truly living.
Her death gave me an opportunity at life. I wish it wasn’t so, that she could still be alive and I could introduce her to drinking lattes and eating egg benedicts, but unfortunately I know I would still have been the person trying to escape from life.