Tag Archives: Empathy

We Need Witnesses. We Are Witnesses.

I received a call from an old college friend. It went the way you’d expect such calls to go. A lot shrieking, plenty of laughs, some quiet introspection and a lot more “I am so happy to be talking to you.”

I really am. This is more than nostalgia. We spend our 20s running smack-dab into life and learning to deal with adulthood. It’s jobs, marriage, economy, kids, loans, new homes, first health scares. The 30s have been less frenzied but also lonelier. Slowing down to catch our breaths, realising we’ve taken on wounds that won’t heal unless we do so. It’s chronic ailments, debt, cheating, divorce, career changes, addiction, depression, suicide or at the very least the thought of it. I’m not completely out clear of this decade yet but I’m on the last leg.

My friend talked about some the struggles of the past decade, personal, professional and health and also how people never really understand. My friend thinks he is the only one. Maybe because I always did things on different schedule from my peers (the first dropout, the last one with a boyfriend, the last to get a job, the first sabbatical, one of the few as yet not married, an early entrepreneur), I understand this at some level already. But I frequently forget.

Recently I’ve found myself dropping off revived friendships and conversations, because I don’t feel like explaining a broken engagement or a rising corporate career quit to follow a creative dream. My life feels like such a mess compared to other people. I terminate before it can get to the dreaded question,

“Why can’t you be more normal?”

It is there, if not in words, then in people’s eyes hanging with questions they are too polite to ask. Or in very tense silences when neither I nor they know what to say, and we’re both thinking back to when conversations ran free in a way that we didn’t even know freedom could be.

Yet, as my friend shared, I realised, we’re all living through lives that look very different from the Adarsh Balak posters. Maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe this is real life. We’re surviving (or not) situations that we are unprepared for and for a number of reasons, we assume it’s our fault. We assume that these situations are aberrations from the perfect life, rather than the life itself. We also forget and keep forgetting that all things pass, all things change. And most importantly, we forget in a spectacularly isolating manner that we are not alone. Maybe we go on so long with nobody actually seeing us as we are, that we start to believe the universe does not want to see us. Reconnecting to someone who saw us, at least once long ago is a reminder that we are not insubstantial ghosts. We are. We bear witness to each other’s lives.

In this same group, I pinged someone who used to be a dear friend with ‘Remember me?’. Her instant reply –

“The first feminist of our batch!”

This tickled and charmed and befuddled me in so many ways. Was I? Did I even know what feminism was? I was just muddling through the daily stumbling blocks put in a teenager’s life in the best way I could. Did I carry XX Factor and Sexonomics in me long before these ideas were even conceptualised? Did the people around me see some ideal in me that I couldn’t see? And wonder of wonders, does how I turned out seem ‘normal’ to them? Does my life actually make sense to some others even when it doesn’t to me? This is a profound realisation. Also one that leaves me a satisfied sort of tired. We are not the sole witnesses to our lives.

My friend told me that he reads my daily poetry and that it helps him go on, some days. I can only feel immense gratitude for the technology that allowed my friend to feel my support, even when I was absent in every way. I’ve heard a few people say this before and perhaps my reaction has not been gracious. But to be read is to be welcomed into a person’s mind and heart. It is a privilege, an honour given to me. I should only be grateful. And now I am.

So for all the friends I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet in person and those of you who welcome me into your lives without my ever having seen you – thank you. You bear witness to my life and I am very grateful. If my words mean anything to you, please consider it my way of bearing witness to yours. You are not alone.

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Drama

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Share The Dark

Share The Dark

You carry the night into my heart with you. I have no problem with darkness. It’s the jagged edges of glass hope that I can’t stand.

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Come Out When You Please

Who says only gay folks live in a closet?

We’re breaths constrained by fear, worry and pain. Every leap of faith is a coming out story. But it’s okay if you want to stay indoors. I know slow suffocation can be preferable to the reckless unknown.

I know you’re in there.
But I won’t out you.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

On Judges 

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Drink To That

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People-Watching

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A Pizza Slice Of Kindness

I was watching ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. I know it’s the kind of story that a lot of us sophisticated types turn up our noses at and say “First World problems”. It’s also a story that made me hungry. How wonderful that the first raw mangoes of summer are here and I had one to accompany my sambar rice!

What struck me is the absolute absence of kindness, the hardness of our reactions. How can any one of us possibly measure what pain means to another? Who can truly determine which problems are bigger than others?

A successful white woman in an unhappy marriage versus an orphaned brown child in a war-ravaged country. Yes, I know it seems like there’s an obvious answer to whose problems are worse. Is there? Testicular cancer versus breast cancer. Arthritis versus colic pain. Diabetes versus malnourishment. An abusive partner versus a beloved partner who dies young. Our own problems are always the biggest to us.

I am learning a lesson of empathy.

If I were the chief minister of a state, I might have to make a decision between using my limited funds to either build better transportation in the cities or send relief to drought-striken villages. I can imagine I would have to weigh one problem against another and decide which one merited more time and money. But empathy is not a finite resource. It grows the more you practise it.

I know the real reason we don’t want to be kind. It’s not because we have so little of it to give. It’s because being kind means giving up the chance to blame the other person and play victim.

I thought about my ex. There is so much pain in this memory. But then, there is also sweetness when I let myself acknowledge that. Our relationship began with kindness. At some point of time, we forgot that and we became people who competed with each other. Kindness was lost in our mutual me-firsts and love went down the drain. We haven’t changed. All the things about him that touched me are still true. It is also true that he was cruel and cold and it was unfair. These two ways of making me feel, can exist together in the same person and the same world. Acknowledging this, is my act of being empathetic to myself. How often do we do this for ourselves? I know we don’t. We scream our hurt and we disguise our love. Or the other way round. But we rarely acknowledge and honour either one. Well, I’m doing that now.

I won’t take the self-help angle of give empathy in order to receive empathy. Karma is not a business transaction. This is about how lightly you tread, how smoothly you move through life. I know a lot of people will not be kind back. Many laugh. And a lot of people in the kind of hardbitten, cynical city life I live, may even try to hurt me.

But I think I’ve stumbled onto something here. I’ve survived deaths of family, friends and colleagues. I’ve survived abuse and rape. I’ve survived politicking and three recessions. These are not experiences I treasure so why would I want to put them up on a pedestal and determine my life by them? There is a lightness in not knowing, not remembering, not worrying. And I would rather look forward to a life that’s a feast, a carnival, a haven, not one that’s a battlefield. Empathy makes all of the first possible, cynicism makes the last.

171Exactly a month ago I wrote about the desperation of feeling nothing. I was sinking into the quicksand of what my life was then. A month before that I sliced my deepest emotions with a scalpel of resignation. This past month, I’ve cried a lot, broken out in acne, fallen sick five of these weeks and had a baffling period. I have lost two close friendships. A goodbye I’ve been ignoring and dreading is here. I have also met someone I like. I’ve been taking a lot of walks. I’ve been to the sea more often than I have in two years. And look at how much I’ve written in this time. Something is shifting, something is giving. Something definitely is happening.

And from what I thought was ennui, something new is coming. Maybe tomorrow I will have pizza.

All Is Well

I took the first step today. I asked for help.

I’ve had a fracture and a ligament injury within a year. I’ve had a recurring cough for over 2 months. I have probably fallen asleep before 3 a.m. some 4 times this year. And I don’t remember the last time I woke up feeling refreshed and excited about the upcoming day. But I vaguely remember that once upon a time, I used to.

I went to an Ayurvedic clinic that worked wonders with my health problems a few years ago. It took about an hour to capture vital information about me. It was the first real conversation I’ve had in many, many years about myself. That is odd, isn’t it? I have one of the longest running personal blogs in the country. For ten years, I’ve talked about my feelings, my relationships, my dreams, my goals, my observations, my angst.

But in telling her why I stay up late at night, why I sleep fretfully, why the frown lines on my forehead are deeper than the smile lines on my cheeks, I found myself talking about another me. I found myself realising, I’m not happy.

Well, I know that already. After all, I’m me. But I feel like there has never been any space to say this. Here are the things that I’m scared will come in response:

Why? You have such an awesome life!

You are so lucky. You should be grateful!

Do you know how many starving people there are in the world?

At least you didn’t have to go through a divorce/miscarriage.

Nobody forced you to quit your job. No one asked you to write for a living.

You are so angsty. You complain too much. You whine too much.

You know the odd thing? I’ve rarely said ‘I’m not happy’ and yet I carry that sentence as well as all these above ones that weren’t given a chance to be said, inside my mind. And the weight of them is crushing me.

I don’t even know why I’m unhappy. Not yet, anyway. Though, I can think about it and hazard a guess.

I’m still so tired from the effort of rising from a relationship gone sour, a failed engagement. I’m still hurting from the judgement. I’m scarred by the things that went wrong.

I’m suffocating under the pressure of labels like ‘feminist’, ‘strong woman’, ‘role model’, ‘committed’ and ‘responsible’. A label looks harmless — light, papery and fluttering in the wind. The ink scrawls on it seem deceptively ordinary. But they stick to the skin and to the identity and the force of peeling them away, takes away a part of yourself. It does.

And I am tired of cruelty. Wanton, random cruelty. Unwarranted spite. Needless meanness. Unjust ‘but you promised you’d never hurt me’ heartbreak. So cruel, so much.

I don’t want to go to war with the world. This is not about how badly the world has treated me. This is about my losing my way, forgetting the only things that really matter, that make any of the other stuff worth doing.

This is about remembering to live. This is about remembering to choose living over suffering. It is a choice and this is about remembering that.

This is about remembering fun. What it looks, tastes, smells, feels like. It’s remembering what it feels like to have your eyes light up, what that feels like from inside you — the internal wiring that makes everything come on and send the charge to your eyes that the world can see.

This is about being okay. Shouting that you’re more than okay, is not being okay. It’s just being.

This song came up minutes before I walked into the clinic.

I’m not a teenager under relentless pressure to conform to someone else’s ideals. And yet, concentrated H2SO4 ne pura jeevan jala daala. I did that to myself, to appease the stern, cruel, goal-oriented, never satiated maniac in my own head.

The specialist said something that cheered me and warmed me from within. He said my disposition was one that instantly zooms in on the positive in situations and people, and sometimes forgets about the negative. And he told me that it had made me able to rise above a bad relationship more easily than some others. He was telling me one simple thing that I’d stopped telling myself for so long that I forgot it was true. He was saying,

“Ramya, you’re okay.”

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I actually wrote this post on 11 Sep 2014. But true to the reality of this post, I either didn’t have the time to or I didn’t feel I was ready to publish it (perfectionist me). Today, six weeks later, I want to report that I’m feeling much better. The cough is gone. And the doctor says I’m healing. Accepting that all is well, is some way off though.

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