So, don’t hate it. Embrace it, celebrate it!
In response to my Blogpost yesterday, on what I took away from K.S.Narendran’s book – “Life After MH370”, a reader wrote to me saying he could relate to Naren’s sense of loss and loneliness. The reader, who is 60+, is estranged from his wife and his children are too busy with their own lives. He wrote, “I feel lonely and I feel isolated.” “How does one deal with being left behind, and with loneliness, when the world chooses to move on,” he asked.
That’s a very important question.
As I write this Blogpost, our daughter is preparing to leave for her Master’s Program overseas. Our son has been living abroad for over 9 years now. So, Vaani and I are getting to be empty nesters. I don’t think any amount of perspective is sufficient to deal with separations. When it happens, when the time comes, you do get weighed down by it. But if you are aware, if you understand what Life is all about, you simply learn to accept it and move on in your own way. And that’s what Vaani and I are learning to do.
It may appear that dealing with children going away to live their lives and dealing with a permanent loss or separation are two different things. But a sense of loneliness, of being left behind, is perhaps the same – no matter what the context.
I have realized that whoever we are and however closely we relate to our immediate circle of influence, we must prepare ourselves to experience loneliness. The nature of Life is such that people will come and go out of our lives. Whoever is in your Life will soon, some day, be out of it. While some people will stay temporarily and leave, some of them will stay for long and leave after making a significant impact on your Life. And some departures and separations may also well be permanent. Such is Life. There is no escaping this reality.
Intelligent living requires that we accept this suchness, this truth, about Life. This acceptance may not quiet help us avoid the pain of separation or help us escape the tyranny of loneliness, but it definitely will help us cope better. I remember this beautiful song Na Jaane Kyun from Choti Si Baat (1976, Basu Chatterjee, Vidya Sinha, Amol Palekar, Lata Mangeshkar, Yogesh, Salil Chaudhury) which talks of the pangs of separation poetically! But although the mind will protest and make it difficult for you to accept your “new normal” and move on, it is only acceptance that can aid in the process, that can heal you, that can help deal with the void in your Life. So when you feel lonely, accept that feeling unquestioningly. Also be understanding of your world, of the people around you – don’t complain if they get busy and leave you alone; they have their own lives to live!
Anything that you fight, anything that you resist, will persist. So, don’t fight your sense of loneliness. Embrace it and appreciate it as a non-negotiable reality. When you respect this reality you will realize the futility of clinging on to your past. If someone is dead, so it is. If someone’s left you, so it is. By clinging on to what is over, to however close the relationship may have been, you are only inviting unhappiness and suffering into your Life. So don’t wish that what is true about your Life is not true. The truth can never be untrue just because you don’t like it. Accept what is, feel your pain, feel your sense of loss, feel your loneliness, and also examine the futility of consistently, continuously, feeling this way. The moment you understand its futility, your loneliness will dissolve.
Bottomline: you came here alone and you will go alone from here. Your loneliness is an integral part of the suchness of Life. So, don’t hate it. Embrace it, celebrate it!
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to face Life. Over time, you figure out your own way!
I just finished K.S.Narendran’s book “Life After MH370 – Journeying Through A Void”! Naren’s wife of 25 years, Chandrika Sharma, was on that flight.
Vaani and I had not known Naren until MH370 happened. Like most of the world, we knew of Naren only through the tragedy. It was our mutual friend Melissa’s Facebook post, in the aftermath of MH370’s disappearance, that pointed to a possibility of connecting with Naren. From what Melissa’s post revealed, Chandrika and Naren had met at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and had started their journey in Life together from there. Having met Vaani, similarly, in college, I could relate to that sense of finding love in your Life…but I must confess I could not relate to what could have been Naren’s pain at that time, in the early days of hope while the world searched for the plane. Initially, all I wanted to do at that time, was to just reach out to the man and give him a hug.
I keenly followed the MH370 story in the media. I wrote a few Blogposts (“Life is a taste” – Simply taste what is!! , “Inspirations from a fellow voyager’s fortitude” and “A lesson in fortitude and gratitude from our dear friend Naren” ) as well sharing how I felt about Naren’s and his daughter Meghna’s sense of loss.
My own Book Fall Like A Rose Petal was being readied for a launch around this time in August 2014. I reached out to Naren – sending him a long-distance hug and requesting him to receive the first copy of my Book. Vaani and I were clear that my Book was not to have a typical celebrity-led, ribbon-opening, launch. We were keen to invite fellow voyagers like us, who were facing Life stoically, to launch my Book. Naren responded warmly. He cited his travel schedules clashing with my Book’s launch date and so he politely declined my invitation.
Vaani and I met Naren personally much, much later. Almost 6 months later. I will come to that in a bit.
Reading “Life After MH370”, I was able to relive with Naren, the days, weeks and months following the tragedy. Naren writes with honesty, baring his innermost feelings, yet he does not sensationalize his grief. This book is not an intellectual or literary expression either. It is also not a tome to pain, grief and suffering. It is a walk-through of Naren’s mind, of his soul, of his minutes and hours, post-MH370, of how he dealt with – and is dealing with – Life after Chandrika. As I journeyed through Naren’s void, I could feel his pain, his anger, his helplessness, his cluelessness, his love for Meghna, his struggle to cope personally with the fact that Chandrika will not return…I could feel his loneliness as much as I could feel his awakening to accept his “new normal”.
There’s a paragraph in the book where Naren shares how he helped Meghna understand their new reality. As I read it, I felt that Naren was both pragmatic and sagacious at the same time. For the same reasons, Naren’s been able to treat this book with a simplicity that is rare to find. It is straight from him to you, the reader. As you read it, you are forced to suspend all social and literary judgment. You just feel what a human being feels when journeying through a void that Life has suddenly sprung on him and his family.
Naren diligently, without getting acerbic at any point, presents the hollowness of the global, multi-national, search effort for the plane. His detailed examination of what-could-have-been-done by Malaysia, by Malaysia Airlines, by the Indian Government, and other governments, and what-eventually-happened is very logical. Reading all his reasoning – which reflected the voice of almost all families who had lost their loved ones on MH370 – I came away with a better understanding of the times we live in. Life moves on for sure, but surely, the world moves on faster. “Life After MH370” perhaps ever-so-gently reminds us, who are avaricious consumers of global media newsbreaks, that there’s a lot, lot more to a news-story after it is taken off the channels and the front pages.
Vaani and I took our first email exchange forward with Naren and we met for coffee sometime in end-2015 at Chamiers Café in Chennai. Over the last several months we have become good friends. I invited him to be my guest on The Uncommon Leader Series that I curate for the Madras Management Association. He weighed the invitation carefully and consented that he was coming just for a conversation with me and that he neither was an uncommon leader nor did he have any wisdom to offer. Here is the entire 90-minute conversation. (Do make time and watch it. I can assure you that it will definitely be worth your effort!)
“Life After MH370”, to me, is an important book. It doesn’t preach. It doesn’t suggest. It doesn’t showcase. Naren simply tells us what he has felt and is feeling, what he has been through and is going through. And that’s how the book makes a very significant contribution to you, the reader – it tells you that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to face Life. You just face it. Whatever happens, experience it. When Life deals you a tragic blow, don’t resist it. Go through the experience. You will struggle, you will stumble, you will grope in the dark, you will be pinned down by hopelessness…but go through it. Because such is Life. There is no other way. And by doing all that, over time, you arrive, at your own pace, at the point of accepting the Life you have, you awaken to your own way of moving on with what is.