the best laid plans

My dearest,

I am unable to quite say goodbye, because in many ways I’m still in denial that you’re gone. It was only a short time that you were in our lives, but the vacuum you have left in your absence is one that will take years to fill. Maybe you remind me of the child I should have had – intelligent, funny, peaceful, passionate, and loving. What wasn’t there to love about you? I had never actually seen you mad, despite your sisters’ taunts and the painful ordeal that took you away from us all.

It feels like yesterday that we heard that something wasn’t right. That something would never be right. And I cried that day for you. I was so afraid of what you must be thinking. To believe that something is wrong with you is something that I never wished for you. Someone so perfect shouldn’t leave this life thinking that they were wrong somehow. But, that was the case and you drew the short straw on health. Yet, in other things you were so rich. After all, you had me at hello and I decided that you’d be mine forever.

Forever was so short though. And I have not yet made peace enough to say goodbye. As the pastor said so rightly at your funeral, we all thought we’d see you lead this country. We had such high hopes for all that you’d bring to this world. In your eyes there were experiences that many ten times your age had never seen. And in that big brain of yours there was the imagination of a man who would bring us solutions. You always had an answer and, oddly enough, it was easy. Never harsh, always thoughtful, and so simple. Be nice and do the right thing.

But God had/s other plans for you that are bigger than our plans.

As tio told me as I sobbed, “you feel like destiny cheated you, right?” Well, I certainly could not have said it better. That’s exactly how I feel. I feel robbed. I feel mad and I feel wronged. I feel confused about where to direct my rage and my emptiness. And you, my love, aren’t here. I can’t imagine what your parents are feeling, because they saw this day well before we all did. I can’t imagine what they think of my outburst of emotion. I can’t imagine so many things, including a world without you and with it all the big plans we had.

When I heard you were gone I knew for sure that I’d have to revisit a conversation I had with God about this time three years ago. It’s an old wound that gets reopened on occasion, but after you – I’ll need stitches.

God and I had many a biting conversation at that time and in that ordeal I grew some level of respect, rather than fear for the big “G.” What I learned then is that peace is a painful process. It isn’t a simple resignation to allow events to occur around us. Instead, it’s a constant cerebral negotiation between logic and emotion, participation and recusal, love and loss. What all this pondering and crying brought me was an understanding that forgiveness is an act that I don’t need to engage in with humans. It is the one act that I reserve fully for God. With humans I come to peace, but with God I have to forgive.  Not that God needs my forgiveness, but much like with terrorists you can’t negotiate with God.  In my mind, that ends the conversation on peace.

The terms and conditions of peace are beyond me when the power dynamic is just so skewed.  There’s an end game that’s beyond this generation or the next. There are puzzle pieces that are unseen and there are reasons that are never articulated. In the end, peace is a game of war for equals. Forgiveness, however, is an individual and personal choice.

So, I knew the day that I heard you were gone, I would have to work privately to measure my forgiveness quotient again. I’d have to forgive God for taking you away, for cheating us of what you were supposed to become. I’d have to forgive God for thinking that you were more needed elsewhere, beyond where you were loved beyond words. I’d have to forgive God for making you leave this world in such a harsh way. And I’d have to forgive God for thinking that all of this was right, when it is so apparent to all of us who knew and loved you that this… this… was wrong.

So, while you’re up there and fraternizing with the big “G,” do me a solid. Maybe your being there is an opportunity to speak truth to power. In your easy, imaginative, solution minded way, could you explain that this really sucks for us? Empathy maybe is a human emotion that we expect God to share, but perhaps that’s a faulty assumption. Could you maybe explain it – in very simple terms of course? It hurts to lose someone you love. And it’s very little consolation to think they’ve gone on to heaven. Physical and emotional pain linger for all of us, not just the one taken. We live hamstrung by survivor’s guilt. We feel lost for a time. We never really get to say goodbye and our hearts are never fully at peace. By we, I mean I. But, I can’t be alone in this.

I hope you remember that we love you very much, present tense. Your 5 short years were so action packed that we’ll be talking about them the rest of our life time. We hope that you know that our absence from your life isn’t our choice and that your absence from ours is no one’s fault. That, my love, is your homework for the next life time. And we’ll all be very appreciative to you for it.

With that, I simply want to say that we love you. We can’t forget you. And I hope you’re simply not resting in peace. I hope you’re giving the next world all the greatness and joy you planned to give to us.  Such talent can’t be wasted and such love can’t be for naught.

Forever yours,

XOXO

P.S. #cancerisacoward

Finding Philanthropy

khirkee ext 1Delhi is a city of extremes and contradictions. For me, the issue of giving to the poor, perhaps, is a combination of the two. I have found the begging children, elderly, and disabled to have generated – in me – emotions that are in extreme contradiction to my nature. I admit that I am repulsed, not by the poor, but by the business of being poor. It’s one thing to see “Slumdog Millionaire” and to sigh at how sad those people over there are living. It’s an altogether different thing to see those people every day. Every single day, with their hands outstretched in the same conditions – after you gave them food, after you have seen others give them money. Every single day, those people are on the same street corner, sometimes holding different drugged and drowsy babies each day.

It’s a pathetic scene. It’s sad to hear that most of these people are part of a racket. A racket that pays them a minimal salary of chapati and a few rupees so that they won’t dare starve, but survive to beg another day. The money those of us passersbys fork over goes, instead, to gangs who collude with police to ‘own’ street corners like drug dealers in inner city America. It’s hard to see the value of giving, when there’s such a senseless market of taking.

I can say that I have been deeply affected by this situation. For all the community service I’ve done in my life time, the food banks I’ve donated to, the Salvation Armies I’ve frequented, I have been very reluctant to engage India’s poor. For, while this poverty seems so abject, it also seems so self-induced. While it seems so self-induced, it also seems so inexplicably, dramatically exaggerated in the direction of downtrodden. It is not poverty that causes children to beg in the streets for a pittance, when government schools are free. It is not poverty that causes women to re-open gash marks on their bodies to produce more gore with which to guilt givers. The poverty itself is not pretend, but these theatrical advances are all too frequent and all too irresponsible on the part of the actor. The whole scene has turned me off.

Delhi has left me with a bitter and miserly taste. I find myself despising street children, because I know it’s just a matter of time before they come begging and whining incessantly for something I will never give – money. They’ll touch you. They’ll poke you. They’ll touch your feet as a sign of respect and also as a nuisance – hoping that you’ll be so annoyed that you’ll give them money to go away. And, I must admit, I do want them to go away. Not because I don’t want their poverty in my face, but simply because I know there’s nothing I can do to help them. Their extremes can’t be helped by money, and this sick theatre won’t be abolished by my guilt. Yet, as I am gearing up to leave a city that has – despite all my complaints – allowed me to make significant progress personally and professionally, I have decided that I will learn to trust.

Finding a charity that one can trust in Delhi is like differentiating melted chocolate from fresh cow dung – not using your sense of smell. It’s a dirty and involved business. It requires research and personal investment. Or else the consequences are grave. Word has it that there are over 3 million non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India, hundreds of thousands of which are New Delhi based. Corruption is commonplace and an ever-present crime of opportunity. Yet, in my quest to accomplish #24 of my 30 before 30, I found 3 charities that I’m willing to support.

While at a work organized volunteer day I finally got a chance to engage with the children of Salaam Balaak Trust. I’d heard for years that these street children gave city tours (dare I say, slum tours), but I never could actually find time in my schedule to go on one. Over an art project with children of all ages, I came to find out that the organization takes in children who are found in and around Delhi’s train station. Many are runaways who left abuse, prostitution, and/or child labor in their local villages and towns. Also, they work to serve children who are not orphaned, but whose parents are otherwise slum residents or homeless. So, this art project outing rekindled my interest in the organization and has compelled me to again revisit the sore subject of street children.

While browsing the web for some academic research I was working on, I came across Deepalaya – a non-religious, NGO focused on eradicating urban and rural poverty. With options to sponsor a child or support specific projects of health, sheltering, or girls’ education, it seems this almost thirty year old organization is doing good work. My contact with this organization is new and, for lack of time, mainly financial. Yet, I suspect it will be sustained. As the communication between the organization and sponsors is really detailed and steady – understand that this is not usually the case with other organizations I’ve been in touch with – I can believe that I will continue to build confidence in the organization and a relationship with the child I sponsor.

Kamalini Village Walk, 2013Kamalini came to me in the mail. I received an ad about a women’s vocational school that was not only accepting volunteers, but also in-kind donations of any kind. I had long grown tired of donating my old clothes to the same organization and wanted to build a relationship with a new organization. I found the organizers at Kamalini to be a dedicated and concentrated group of both foreign and Indian women working together to provide vocational skills to women in urban villages in and around Delhi. While some chose to use these educational opportunities to get better at their professions, others were just starting out and seeking the financial independence needed for traditional Indian women to make tough personal choices. Kamalini has teamed up with a local tour guide to give a guided tour of the Shahpur Jat Village neighborhood and then a tour of the Kamalini facility. See below photos of my tour, which has effectively changed my relationship with this city and my feelings about philanthropy.

This can’t be life: A Free Writing

Kindergarteners and teachers are dead and a 23 year old med student has lost her intestines.

If India and the U.S. have anything in common, it would be a whole slew of ‘isms and schisms’ and an inability to stop violence.  They are inherently linked, some might say – the crime and the cure.  In our multi-ethnic societies class saves.  Or so we thought until working parents in Connecticut dropped off their 6 year olds in Newton for a day no one would forget.  “How could this happen here?” is the question heard on both continents, struggling to figure out just what the fuck is going on and what the hell we do now.

See, she is like me, except I’m sure she’s smarter.  She was in med school for goodness sakes.  And she did what everyone says to do in this town, ‘never go out alone. Always go with a man.’  ‘A man’ (actually I was with 2 men) didn’t stop that guy on the motorbike from grabbing my breast in the middle of Vasant Vihar, and it clearly didn’t stop a penis parade and a bus driver from raping the life out of her.  And we live in the good part of town.

There’s something about class that makes you feel safe.  Like you bought out of petty violence.  Sure, someone could kidnap your dog for a bribe or steal your car – but that’s because you have something and they don’t.  It’s about stuff in these areas, not life.  Life is what gets taken in ghettos and poor neighborhoods and slums and villages, where people get stabbed for cheating, women get acid poured on their faces for reasons unknown, where Black people sell drugs to each other for kicks.  Cash saves you from crack pipes and crackpots.  It is the bubble that insulates your life from ignorant bloodshed.

But nothing can save you from deranged men.  It is always men, isn’t it?  Men get bored too easily.  They are simple-minded creatures that always need something to keep their fingers busy so that they don’t get it into their heads to use their hands for more destructive purposes.  Don’t dare give them knitting needles though – they’ll stab your eyes out!  White men with mommy problems.  Brown men who’ve only seen naked women on web sitesBlack men who get paid to play football.  You know, I’m noticing a trend.

We ask, ‘How do we keep our kids safe if we can’t take them to school?’ Ban guns! ‘How did we keep our girls safe if they can’t take a bus?’ Ban tinted windows!

Is anybody asking that we ban men?  It is a question worth asking.  I don’t recall the last time a group of women got together and rammed a man with a metal rod that just so happened to be within arm’s reach.  Women with daddy problems become activists or prostitutes – they don’t shoot up an elementary school for fuck’s sake.  What is wrong with half of the world’s population that the rest of us have to be victims to their whims?

Do you sit down with your sons, your uncles, your brothers, your dads, your nephews and ask them who they hurt today?  Ask them if they think it’s their right to hit or harm?  Have they had desires to do things that would make someone else cry?  Well, maybe you should ask.

There are things they aren’t telling you about themselves.  And you should not permit them to lie to you or else you’ll have no explanation for the questions the reporters will ask.  They will surely come probing, ‘What was going on at home?’  How many hot chappatis were you making while he was driving a bus around town to the soundtrack of a young girl’s screams?  How many times did you let him believe that he deserved an education more so than his sister?  Or that you would arrange his marriage with a fair, homely girl, after he was 25 and had done something with himself?  Why would you even think this is a good idea? Well, because he deserves the best.  This is what he is entitled to: a woman.  A prize on the backs of so many other female sacrifices.

Who would want to be the mother of a rapist?  The father of a baby killer?  Do you think they ever thought that it would be their kid that would go out at night – or in the middle of the day, for that matter – and dash the life out of somebody else’s baby?  Oh, and she’s not dead yet – for the record.  But what kind of life is there to live after that?

She was your Emilie once.  She liked glitter and pink too.  But she made it past the age of 6, past the age when many Indian children die of preventable diseases like dysentery.  She made it past infanticide and the abandonment of girl children.  She made it to medical school.  She made it to the movie theatre.  She made it to the bus stop.  But she never made it home.

I’d like to blame the NRA, and Sheila Dixit, and the private bus companies.  I’d like to blame Satan, the manufacturer of metal products, and those who took chastity belts off the market.  I’d like to blame people who told us we didn’t need metal detectors in kindergarten, and those of you who don’t send your children to school with Kevlar vests.  I’d like to blame you all, in addition to the perpetraters.  And I’d also like to note that proposing that religion in schools is a way to fix things is just about the fucking dumbest idea I heard since someone blamed rape on blue jeans.

Give me a damn break.

There are protesters in New Delhi.  And there are mourners in Newton.  There are dead hopes and dreams, and there is resignation.  We do not have answers.  The investigations will be a farce.  We will debate the future of two nations – but we don’t know what we want.  India wants to be modern, but can’t handle having women going outside after 7pm.  And America wants to be inclusive, but it hasn’t yet found a place for all the mentally insane people walking around.  All the things we want to be, all that we aspire to become, are illusions.  We are what we are.  We are what we have always been: a violent, murderous, deceitful bunch.  A people with no sense of the future, and a predatory present.  You don’t survive this hell to make it to heaven, quite the contrary.  You must die here – really die here.  Quit fighting, be an innocent 6 year old and let the Lord Shiva take you.  Be a brilliant young woman with your whole life ahead of you, and let them pull the umbilical chord of the children you can no longer have.

We are a world of martyrs and executioners, and you can’t buy that off.  Who do you bribe – or in the case of my countrymen, pay your taxes to – in order to afford protection from your neighbors in your safe neighborhoods?  So, we need militias in Munirka is it?  People in Newton ought to give their teachers nines, huh?  There is no police force.  There is no army.  There is no people’s coalition strange enough and strong enough to protect us from the will of the deranged – a guy with an idea.

A guy with an idea has no price.  He can’t be deterred, only momentarily distracted.  He can’t be told how much your dad makes in lakh rupees.  He can’t be concerned that you are only 6 years old.  He is the unmoveable.  He is unshakeable.  He is the God of small things, just as you are if you consider the ant under your foot as a small, very small thing.  A woman is a small thing.  A child is a small thing.  Ants and insects and people who only count for target practice for those feverish for feigned power.

Please have some Kool-Aid, my friends of two far away continents.  What brings us together in tragedy, is the end of something that was worthy of this place.  When even survivors are victims, who make a mockery of the tragedy and become assailants in their own right, what do we do next?  Should we party in Mumbai for New Year’s Eve?

What exactly do we have to celebrate?

The Mayans were right.  Something died this year.  Humanity died this year.  Something that we used to have that made us creatures worthy of this earth is no more.  We have lost our redeeming qualities.  We have reached the pinnacle and the shit is going down hill, folks.

On an abandoned dingy in the middle of the ocean, we are supposed to drown.  You are not Richard Parker.  You are the French cook – and you eat people! YOU EAT PEOPLE!  We are not meant to survive.

(I love you mom & dad!)