Turning Point in my lifeI can recall the sharp, pungent taste of the bitter coffee. Time stood still as the television broke the harsh, metallic images of the planes crashing through the World Trade Centre and the Twin Towers, transforming the buildings into confetti and all of it dissipating in a round ball of flames.
Shock and stunned disbelief descended on me like waves, rippling through me. The coffee cup slipped through my hand and shattered into pieces, as my life was about to; into tiny shards of glass. It was September 11, 2001.Everything took on an almost ephemeral, surreal quality.
I remember screaming to my mother, punching numbers on the cell phone to call my dad, who had left for work over an hour before, unsuspecting that death was going to cheat him of all of his dreams. I also remember praying fervently and desperately for the benevolence of a God that I wasn’t sure existed. It was, in many ways, a truth moment, hoping beyond hope, beyond pain, beyond anything, that our worst fears would prove unfounded.I have never felt the same, before or since.
It all comes back to me still, in a flash. Through the trauma of waiting, of experiencing deep, almost physical pain, of the myriad images of us flashing through my mind encapsulating moments spent with him, of hearing the sound of my own steady breathing through my ears, of holding my mom’s hand through her tears, of not being able to assimilate and not being able to function, the mind numbing feeling stayed.It also brought on my first night of sleeplessness. I remember watching the dawn breaking through the next day, the skies beginning to whiten and the remote hum of the traffic blotting the silence of my thoughts.
I found an audio CD of Bob Dylan’s “Time out of mind” when going through his personal effects a few days later. He had bought it as an early birthday present for me. I lived through all of it, but I didn’t believe it had happened, not for a long time.Of course, we lost him that day.
My world changed. The focus shifted. Life would never be the same again.The suddenness of it all made the process of grieving more intense, more enduring and more obscure.
There was helplessness and an increasing feeling of disorientation. Denial, anger, guilt, fear and vulnerability, I went through all of these in stages.This was my first encounter with death. Till then, my existence had been blissful.
There was, of course, the normal existential angst of growing up, but, in hindsight, it was a cheerfully idyllic state of subsistence. I had never had the occasion to question the mortality of life or how apparently infallible we all appeared to be.Besides a deep sense of loss it had a profound impact on my formative years. I was consumed by obsessive thoughts of being in danger constantly, of recurrent nightmares, and a sense of fragility.
What I associate most with his absence is a feeling of blank space, many blank spaces, and a void of nothingness. Evocative memories are those of him solving crossword at breakfast, our private joke over mom’s cooking (burnt toast, rather, burnt everything) which he cheerfully, without complaints devoured, his unequivocal belief that the Nicks reigned supreme, and his passion for reading which was like an unquenchable thirst. I recall him reading indiscriminately, almost omnivorously.He brightened our lives, for the brief while he graced it.
It was redolent of sunflowers turning to the sun. Time, I have heard it said, paints memories with a rosy, almost translucent, incandescent hue, as if everything was perfect. The edges get blurred, the discordant notes fade away and only the happiness remains. But he was my ideal and set the standard, the measure for perfection, and what happened that day would shape the person I would become.
The cataclysmic events of that day resounded through our lives for a long time.Nearly eight years have passed since then. Putting the pieces back was an excruciatingly gradual process, but life does compel you to walk forward or stagnate. Every small task, however miniscule, once accomplished, seemed intensely magnified.
Through the process of defining normality day after day, hope appeared, albeit gradually.I had always modelled myself on my father. I had revered and admired him for being sophisticated, intelligent and successful. My mother, in contrast, had always seemed very passive, accepting of life’s choices, easily subjugated and irresolute.
She appeared to be in the background seeking contentment from the fulfilment and achievement in the lives of near and dear ones. Consequently, almost subconsciously, I took her for granted. But I realized how much courage it took for her to rebuild her life, reorient it, provide the financial and moral support to me so my life was about options again, and not compulsions. I have never respected her inner strength, her fortitude her compassion and her calmness more.
I understand her choices and am closer to my mother now than ever before. I would like to believe that I have assimilated the best from both my parents.The experience taught me to approach life with a new understanding. I learnt to commit to each moment.
It taught me the whimsical nature of life, and that what really enriches it are love, joy and laughter. Nature is capricious and time is not about getting ahead, societal expectations, self involvement and circumstance but about redeeming yourself by not taking yourself very seriously. It taught me about the resilience of the human spirit, the unchanging nature of change and also that transcending tragedy is all about enduring it. I rediscovered my confidence and have the conviction that I can overcome any obstacle that comes my way.
I realized the value of friendships, of how love can heal when you are clinging to life by a very slender, tenuous thread. I learnt that there is no healing, because how can one fill up the vacuum caused by the death of someone so loved? But you learn to build a new life around it and embrace laughter once more. I still treasure my memories and cherish the times spent with him and am thankful for the many good times. Not even time can snatch those away.
In many ways, living after a death is a life affirming journey.