When you have to, How Do You Let Go?

I am not very good at letting go. I cling onto memories of things “I lost in the fire“-lost friends, relations and places left behind. I sob, every time I move away from a place,  even after a mere sojourner. I hate to let go. Yes, I even have separation anxiety, close to the beginning of a new school year. I cry at the thought of sending my child back to school. That’s crazy, right?

Biko and Grandpa (RIP)

Biko and Grandpa (RIP)

More confessions…I have been known to cry over relationships..not too many. I know of only two…Oh! Maybe, three.
One was a guy I was engaged to [Yes, once upon a time, I convinced myself that, “I am the marriage type!”]. Our relationship was transcontinental, but we would visit each other a couple of times a year. When I would go to his country, I preferred to stay in a hotel or temporary rental, instead of moving into his family home. He would come stay with me, while I was in-country. Once, I asked him to move back to his place, because I did not want to continue with the relationship. I ended up crying the entire night over my decision, that he caught a cab and came back to me that night.

The second is the man I fell in love with, aka “the only man I ever loved”. Our goodbyes were filled with buckets of tears. I remember crying, holding each other so tight, at the gates of “Cambridge H-Square,” on the morning of our ‘separation,’ as he was leaving town and I was heading for my final exam. Amidst the goodbye and good luck hugs, we cried so hard that we did not wanna let go..

I thought I had no more tears left to cry for guys. But there came a third. The type you cannot easily or willingly extricate from your life, no matter how hard you wish. I remember crying because of what felt like the end of a chapter, ”…leaving me out to the dogs…” A dream jettisoned…! Letting go has never been an easy test for me.

I will spare you recalling the buckets of tears, I have cried, each time I am separating from family and friends, in Uganda, or scattered around the world. The separation kills me, it is not so easy to let go….

But recent events dwarf all those trying moments. I found myself asking, When it is the only option you have, how do you really Let GO? Especially when your life depends on it, how do you let go? How does a family make the hard decision of, letting go of a loved one?

I am talking here about the loss of my son’s Grandpa, this past Sunday, after a long and shabby illness. It ate him up. He suffered through it. It was painful, especially the last five months of his life. A little bit of relief here and there, but most of it was nasty pain!

I was the perpetual optimist, that he would pull through. Perhaps because, I watched him through all the pain and suffering. The times he would literally drag himself to walk, to make a bowl of soup in the kitchen or drive to pick up grandma from The City bus, or drive across the country on family trips. Throughout it all, he kept his humility, and drive to keep going, with bouts of relief, recovery and laughter.

Grandpa delivered on his commitments, whether to family, friends or within social circles.
This one gesture particularly stands out to me, involving a family of a single mom and two girls from the grandparents’ muslim community. The mom left for work early morning before the school bus arrival time, yet the family lived away from the bus line. So, grandpa offered to drive the two girls to the bus stop on school days. Every morning, he left home shortly before seven o’clock, drove twenty minutes to pick them up from their home, to bus stop, and back home another twenty minutes. Again in the afternoon, he drove out twenty minutes, picked the girls from the bus stop and took them home, and drove back home. Even in the brutal, gruesome winter, grandpa woke up, and drove through the snow, up the windy mountain roads where they lived.

On my part, I was always in awe of his humility, sometimes to my discomfort. Particularly this year, he was not in great shape, but still committed to help the single mother and her two girls. Nor was I a stranger to his humility, even though I turned it down sometimes. I noticed that somebody was emptying the trash basket in the bathroom, every week on “Trash Pick-Up Day”. Once I found grandpa emptying my basket, and I asked him to please not worry about it. I knew it came from a good place, but the African in me does not believe in making the elderly ‘wait on’ me. Instead, I, the child should work for them.

And there is more to grandpa’s helping hand that I partook of. When child and I returned to the US after a couple of years abroad, we decided to move in with the grandparents, closer to my job market in NYC [and the North East corridor]. Grandpa drove 850 miles down to Georgia to pick us up, and another 850 miles back to Pennsylvania. Saving us what would have cost an arm and leg, to transport the two of us and all our property on a plane ride.

He did it again, earlier this year, when I ran the Boston Marathon. Grandpa offered to drive me to Boston, though I decided to leave home with child of mine two days in advance, to allow me ample time to pick up my runner’s package and rest before marathon day. Still, he and grandma drove over five hours to Boston to cheer for me on marathon day. They arrived on Sunday night, bless their souls, but grandpa could not join grandma along the marathon route on that cold rainy Marathon day. Instead, he stayed in the hotel room, kept his eyes glued on the TV marathon screening, and waited to catch a glimpse of me. That is the true human spirit.

I think of grandpa, and I think of humility, commitment, dedication and dependability. I think back to all the times I asked him, “How are you doing grandpa?” And he would say, “Same.” Sometimes, I did not want to ask him, because there was nothing new to ask about. Or because I felt useless, asking how he felt when I was not gonna change a thing. At times I self-doubted whether to help or not. Was I undermining his ability and drive to do things on his own? Would I ably fill-in for his close family? He probably shared similar concerns.

Grandpa also had trouble letting go of — carrying large suitcases onto the car roof when preparing for a family road trip, or his daughter’s large laundry bags from the house into her car. He had trouble letting go of driving long distances. Even on our last road trip with him to Maryland, he insisted on driving the entire trip, when I offered to help drive. I was amazed at his mental stamina, driving without much to eat or drink, so he did not have to get up to use the bathroom. By then, his health had deteriorated, with excruciating pain from every part of his body. That would be his last road trip, followed by indefinite hospitalization.

Yet, he soldiered on for the love of his family. He loved his wife and children, so dearly! He even raised more than his biological children. The stories he shared with me, and the stories I heard about him in life and death attest to his true love for people. While quite reserved, he was a “Man-of-the-People”. He loved to engage with and reach out to people. Whether as a part of the “militant community patrol,” that cleaned drugs and pimps off his Brooklyn neighborhood, back when the NYPD would not venture into some neighborhoods. Or Summer Camp organizer (with grandma) for young muslim kids when they lived in NYC.

While I do not want to romanticize grandpa’s life, as I knew it, I hope to underscore that, we each live multiple lives in our lifetime. Given a chance, we would do ourselves a favor to right the wrongs, that are always part of our human experience. For most of what I knew about grandpa, he turned a new leaf, or leaves in his life. He credited his conversion to Islam for rescuing him from street life. As one of his friends said at the funeral, he was in praise of Islam for transforming his life.

I am grateful grandpa saw the good in me. I told him, “I am grateful that you always say good about me.” Whenever I met his social circles, I did not have to introduce myself because he had already done the introduction of me as a runner, highly educated, excellent mom and healthy eater. In a way, he was my cheerleader. He cheered on child of mine, or as he called him, Biko-man!

But time came, when grandpa could not hang onto his strength, when life was draining out of him, and the family had to take the toughest decision to “Let Go…”
I felt like a denialist. I thought he would pull through. He suffered too much not to live to celebrate beating the illness. I watched the surge and slumps in his health. When he could not sit and eat, and when a smile returned to his face. He tried scientific and religious medicines. He tried homeopathy, and chiropractic treatment. He tried staying positive, looking forward to returning home, and eating my health food. He asked me to cook for him. I obliged a couple of times; Not anymore…

So, the lesson for me, from this experience is, even when we have to Let Go, we do not entirely lose out. We keep fond memories, always close to our hearts. Because those memories never fade. So, may we always see the good in people, and hang on to the beauty they possess. Because even when we have to LET GO, we can still keep them close to us, in our memory.

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Lost In Translation…Between Santa and Religion…

I am revisiting the discussion about parents celebrating with their children, or is it children celebrating with their parents, or parents imposing their will on their children. I am still “Lost in Translation”, not an outcome of feedback I received on my most recent piece parent-children relations, but a feeling of “unfinished business”. I still cannot understand how a parent would expect his/her children’s excitements to be about or around them, not the opposite!
I have heard that, if your message does not come out as you expected, it is most likely because you did not communicate effectively. At least that is agreed upon by those who put the interests of their audience over and above theirs, and are comfortable accepting blame for not being understood. Others would be quick to blame their audience for “not understanding them” or missing the point. I tend to belong to the former, preferably because it helps me grow as a public communicator.
N’way, I still believe that every person has a right to their beliefs, grounded in own social, economic, cultural political or religious understanding. I am comfortable tolerating different belief systems, as part of my commitment to humane social living. I lose nothing by not disagreeing with others about their beliefs. Everybody believes in some unexplained power or authority: buddha, meditation, yoga, running, deity, karma, giving, good luck, prayer, handwork, capitalism, democracy, community, social living, family, religion, or something.
I am a great observer and learner from different belief systems. Though, I steer clear of directly confronting anyone about their belief systems, unless of course they are a source of social injustice and disharmony. I will not hesitate to challenge notions or pronouncements that undermine other forms of social organization or social living, like racism, sexism, ethnocentrism or capitalism. However, I have made my peace, to never engage in arguments about politics or religion with anyone in my circles, who I do not care so much about, but I would not dare to lose. Typically, anyone I regard as an acquaintances or not very close relationship. I am comfortable engaging my family and close friends because of the relationship and trust we have cultivated overtime, which would unlikely end due to religious or politics disagreement.
And while many religious followers often emphasize that their faith embodies love, peace and hope, on the contrary, I have experienced religion as a source of high social exclusion, intolerance and self-centeredness. Many religious believers preoccupy themselves with convincing you that their way is right, righteous and loving, while implicitly judging your [alternative or non-religious] beliefs and lifestyle choices. I was once told that I would not pass the test on “Judgement Day” [whenever and wherever that would be], because I have no religious backbone to lean on, other than my belief in humanity. I have sat down with a religious family, where one stated in my face that a child born out of wedlock brings great shame to the family. I was also scolded for privileging “Santa” over “Jesus Christ”! I could not be more misunderstood than in the last incidence!
For those who know me, I do not subscribe to “organized belief system”, except perhaps my cultural affinity as a Muganda. Even then, I pick and choose what works in different situations. I do not subscribe to most fantasies either, like Santa, dead people or nativity. Put more appropriately, I ceased subscribing to such fantasies, the more I learned about the world. Then I became a mother, and my ‘mystical-free world’ made a u-Turn. Now I sit through TV or Video shows of action figures, ninjas, anime; open myself up to learn about fictional characters through books, outdoor activities or tales from my child. Sometimes I am tasked by my little one to research facts about all sorts of characters in videos, TV and children’s reading books, or listen to long and windy stories that I have no interest in, but because that’s “What’s hot in the KidZone”!
Lately, I am a victim of the expectation to honor all sorts of celebrations and holidays that were never of any interest to me in my solo world. For my son’s birthday, I have to come up with cakes of all shapes, sizes and toppings from what fascinates him at the time. I have directed the production of cakes that look like Lightning McQueen, fire-spitting dinosaur or Sonic the Hedgehog. For Halloween, I lost the right to present him with a costume of my choice, such as Curious George custome for his first year. Now, it has to be either Ben10, Captain America, Ninja Turtles or some other Ninja, in addition to coming up with a costume for myself, per his request.
For Christmas, he does not care whether I give him any presents. My presents are highly expected and appreciated any other time, except Christmas, when it is “Santa” comes down the chimney with presents from his workshop in the North Pole. While I do not worship at the altar of Christmas, I have to ensure that gifts are purchased, wrapped, and left under the chimney the night before Christmas, so that he wakes up to the magical giving for that kindhearted mysterious creature. While others might find their mystery through God, Jesus Christ, Allah, Jehovah or Messiah, to many children, it is the Tooth Fairy, Ninja Turtles, Sonic or Santa. Mysteries help children cast their imaginations far and wide, expanding their brain power to dream big, and that is why I support my son in fully experiencing them.
So, do not demand that your child’s fantastic mysteries be about you or what you believe to be the “perfect or acceptable mysteries”. Allow them to create their own mysteries, and support their ability to enjoy their mysteries. Until such a time when their world view changes, when they will learn that there is more to life than mystical characters and fantasies. Social living involves thinking beyond oneself, accommodating everyone’s belief systems and lifestyles, which might one day have to be their own children!