By any standard five years is a long stretch of time. Manjula was very much aware of this fact. It was five years since she had had her stroke, which left her professional life totally messed up and her body steeped with deep disabilities. When left in solitude and silence, Manjula pondered, ‘in five long years I should have been able to accept all the devastations stroke had caused in my life, gotten over it, leave that burden behind me and move on with my life’. Life still stretched out in front of her. In five long years she should have been able to pick up the pieces, accept the irrevocable loss and march down the life path.
The reality was far from that. She still remembered the days of her hospitalization following the stroke very vividly. When she closed her eyes, she could even smell the disinfectant alcohol smell of the hospital. She could see in her mind’s eye how flocks of doctors in their white coats floated around on the polished hospital floor, How the open ends of their white coats fluttered in the air, how they plunged their hands in their white-coat pockets, pulled out prescription pads with arrogant flourishes and wrote out prescriptions of various chemicals for their sick patients, without much care whether they were chemically poisoning the patient or not.
In case of Manjula, only later on, by her vigilant husband and her physician daughter it was detected that she was being chemically poisoned by her own doctors. That's how liberally the doctors prescribe chemicals and often times a sick patient ends up with a list of medications as long as the arm. At any rate, the fact that disturbed Manjula the most was that five years had passed by and she hadn’t been able to accept the fact that the stroke had messed up her professional life irrevocably, what she had lost would never come back. She had lost her thriving medical practice, her patients of more than twenty years, her secretaries of more than twenty years, who were also her dear friends, her place of work. Later on she also lost her medical license, her driver’s license and her beloved car.
Often times Manjula was gripped by an intense impatience, in the same way a crocodile grips its prey between its jaws, never to let go of the prey. Manjula felt as if she might die from the death-choke of impatience and tried her best to get the process of acceptance be done and over with before she perished, she wished to be done and over with it immediately, at this very moment, if possible to be done and over with it yesterday, or even better, getting done and over with it day before yesterday. But she had no patience to wait till tomorrow or day after tomorrow. That was the time when she received Botox injections in her arm and legs to relax the spastic muscles. The injection was similar to waking up the asleep princess by the kiss of a prince in a fairytale. With her relaxed muscles, Manjula took long walks again, with her left arm she did repetitive movements again. She accepted her physical being again, just the way she was. There was no full length mirror in the house. But there were half length ones.
She stood in front of one and loved what she saw. Her short curly hair poked out from her scalp in every which direction. They entwined and curled with each other like a flock of girls busy playing hide-and-seek and hopscotch, with no time to disentangle themselves. The soft brown skin on her face was gently stretched out keeping creases and wrinkles to the minimum, imparting the face a content, peaceful expression. Her neck not too long, but creaseless and curved. Her deep brown eyes always twinkled with mischief, further down, jutting from her chest wall, like two flowers from a vase were her breasts, well shaped and well formed, resulting from using well fitting and well shaped brassieres since her adolescence. Her two tits looked forward like the two dark eyes of a baby. Further down her chest wall sloped down. She didn’t possess a narrow waist but had a well shaped abdominal wall. All in all Manjula loved her imperfect mirror image. That told her the truth that, her process of accepting herself had begun. She was down the right path.
She decided to discuss this matter of acceptance also with her psychiatrist. Since, after all, literally speaking, the word psychiatrist means, ‘the healer of the soul.’ On meeting him next time she asked,
‘Don’t you agree that I am a person of average intelligence?’.
‘To be honest, I believe your intelligence is more than average,’ was her mind-doctor’s straight-forward answer. He was always a straight talker. No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ in his sentences.
‘Then why am I having such a hard time to accept all the inevitable devastations that the stroke has left behind in my life? With all my damn intelligence why can’t I accept all the changes as fast as a stone drops on the earth?’
‘Can you make a snail run? Can you make a turtle sprint? No, you can’t.
Because that’s the way they have been created by Mother Nature. In the same way certain feelings are created in certain ways. You can’t make them move fast. Anger can sprint, laughter can run, but acceptance moves at a snail’s pace. It moves so slowly that sometimes we don’t even know that it’s moving. But, we human beings are intelligent creatures, we are aware, no matter how undesirable or how devastating a situation is, in our final account we have to accept it, otherwise like termites the lack of acceptance would eat away our souls and our souls would die. That’s why for the sake of self preservation we bring unpleasant matters to a closure and accept it.’ He lowered his eyes and rubbed his lips with his fingertips. ‘The other human feeling very close to the nature of acceptance is forgiveness. It, too, comes at a snail’s pace, but finally it does arrive, because we need it for self preservation. Otherwise, once again, our peace of mind would be ruined.’ Now he moved away his fingers from his lips and his straight talk came to an end.
‘When shall I be able to accept all the changes in my life and be at peace with myself and with my Higher Power?’ Manjula asked in a clear tone.
‘Do you see a crystal ball in my hand?’ asked the healer of soul. ‘No, I don’t have any crystal ball, I can’t predict any timing.’ The mind-doctor said, ‘But, my guess is, you’d reach it soon, since you are thinking about it, working at it. That’s all that matters.’
This open ended answer from her trusted psychiatrist sent a shiver through Manjula’s body. She sent out a silent prayer, ‘Dear Divine Mother Durga, please don’t turn me into a Vietnam Veteran (VV) and make me suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even decades after the war, when they meet other veterans or in their dreams they can still smell the acrid putrid smell of the swamplands back in Vietnam, hear the blowing of wind bashing against the coconut fronds in Vietnam, hear the bullets swishing past their ears in Vietnam, see their Vietnamese enemies, men women and children, standing in the line of fire, with their eyes bulging out in fright. Days later when putrid smell emanated from the same spots in the swampland, the Vets could easily deduce that the stench was from the rotting flesh of the bulging eyed enemies.
So went on the saga and that’s what they recalled vividly decades after the war, a war that they didn’t want to fight, a war that they had to fight, because their Commander In Chief commanded so, a war that never won a glorious spot in the pages of the history books, a war that even their own countrymen didn’t appreciate. But, no matter what, the Veterans were left with their PTSD and nightmares to cope with. Manjula’s heart went out to the veterans. At least in her case she knew she didn’t have to struggle against many of the demons as the veterans did. Yes, she had high blood pressure. She took her medications religiously and kept her blood pressure under control, she took care of her diet, her weight was within normal range, she exercised regularly, and after that it was a draw of bad luck that she had the stroke. Now, once again, she is taking care of herself and trying to get over the devastation of the stroke. After leaving her psychiatrist’s office, after coming home, Manjula wondered, why does the feeling of acceptance have to move so slowly? Why does it move at a snail's pace?
One doesn’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out the answers, Manjula deduced. In certain parts of our minds acceptance is perceived as a weakness, a failure. That’s why human minds put stumbling blocks on the way of acceptance. The same formula holds good for forgiveness. One part of the mind considers it an utter failure to forgive an enemy. The excuses that come up look so logical, what the enemy said was utterly abominable, then why should I forgive him? What the enemy did was totally abhorrent, then why should I forgive him? At the final end, however, the desire for self-preservation wins out. So we accept, we forgive, otherwise our souls would die. At this moment Manjula recalled the TV advertisement, that she had seen many times over and every time she had laughed out loud.
The ad was that of a facial cream, to keep away facial wrinkles. One middle-aged woman, with daintily placed crow’s feet beside her eyes, declares in a sharp clear tone, ‘I don’t want to get old, that’s why I shall fight aging at every step of the way, I shall use the cream XYZ and keep my face free of wrinkles.’ That’s when Manjula laughs out loud. What does she mean when she declares I don’t want to get old? Does she wish to die young with a wrinkle free face? None of us wish that. All of us wish to get old and get our faces overcrowded with wrinkles and live till ripe old age, don’t we? Of course we shall use cream XYZ. But we shall also accept the inevitable aging, in all its glory, in cradling the grandchildren and welcoming the son-in-law and daughter-in-law, in getting old with the same life-partner and in gathering more memories together, singing all along, ‘the best is yet to be.’ Live out the glorious final years under the golden sunrays.
Finally Manjula concentrated on herself. Her business of accepting the altered state of her life. A life devoid of the privilege of practicing medicine. Manjula had spent most of her adult-life in universities in different continents. Her basic medical degree was from India. Then following her husband Pallab’s footsteps she went to Berlin, West Germany. There she acquired a Medical Degree from the Free University. Later on the two of them together immigrated to Ontario, Canada, where she renewed her Medical Degree and worked as a Family Physician in the city of Queenston for thirty long years, till the stroke arrived in her life, when the final curtain of her medical profession fell and she had to retire.
When it came to picking up the pieces and finding peace with her present life situation, at the start she found it very hard. She felt as if practicing medicine, offering medical services to more than two thousand patients at any given time, offered the most substantial purpose in her life. Without medical practice her life seemed empty, devoid of any purpose. It was as if her life was stripped of its life line. That was the moment when she recalled the time-old adage, ‘when one door closes another opens.’ At first Manjula was baffled, wondering what door had opened for her? Then one morning as she was confronted by a cleaned out desk, with a neatly placed notepad and a pen on top of it, she toyed with the idea whether God had sent her the message to try out her ability in writing.
Immediately she took on the challenge, sat down and wrote down a short story in the next few hours. When Manjula sent that story to a dear friend of hers in San Francisco by email, the friend’s prompt reply arrived bearing the note, ‘ekta apoorbo golpo.’ One excellent story. Immediately in a helpless cry Manjula E-mailed back, ‘what do I do with it now?’ Her friend answered back, ‘publish it.’ ‘But where?’ The friend answered back, ‘I know about one website that I like very much, which is also very popular among the East Indians residing in San Francisco’. The friend gave Manjula the name of the website and after editing the piece thoroughly Manjula sent it to that website. Lo and behold in three days the piece was published embellished with a beautiful picture of sundown. The title of the story was, ‘As the sun sets.’ The publication, and the picture to boot, transcended Manjula’s soul to the ninth cloud. Now she knew exactly which door had opened for her, the door of creative writing was wide open for her and through that open door Manjula entered the new world courageously, with her head held high and her shoulders braced back. From that moment on all she could think of were short stories, one after another, after another. Where was this flow of creativity coming from? Manjula wondered with astonishment. Later on, as she underwent an extensive test to determine her brain capacities, it was found, her left brain, the brain responsible for creativity, was totally spared. The doctor who interpreted the results informed Manjula with a beguiling smile, ‘Get into doing something creative. Your left brain being totally intact, in creative fields sky would be your limit.’
That’s what Manjula is in the process of doing, she has accepted her post stroke situation wholeheartedly, and some more. She has spread out her strong creative wings in the wide open sky, where, along with the flying birds and floating clouds she shoots up and swoops down, sometimes glides noiselessly, at night she casts a shadow on the moon, in the daytime under the scorching sun she seeks refuge in the shadows of trees. The timeless adage is so very true. ‘When a door closes, if we let go of it, not one, but ten doors open.’ After all, the sky can never be the limit, because the blue color is an illusion, a fake canopy that poses no limitation at all. It is nothing but an open endless vista that Manjula calls her home, her present abode, after she has let go of medicine. Yes, the sky has no limits neither has a creative mind.
Now Manjula knew Acceptance was not a momentary happening; it was a long process, a prolonged journey, where a devotee wished to visit the temple that housed the statue of her beloved Divine Mother. The devotee walked days and nights on bare feet, since that’s the way pilgrimages are made, on dust covered roads for miles and miles, till at the end of the journey she reached the temple and threw herself prostrated at the feet of the statue. Only then did the devotee realize the truth, the truth that the Divine Power was truly in charge, the Divine Power determined the distance the human body could traverse and the agony the human soul could endure. She also realized the truth about herself, the limitations her own body and mind presented. Her mortal body was overwhelmed with exhaustion, the soles of her feet were peppered with calluses and blisters and bleeding spots, her soul, once saturated with hope and expectation, now lay empty and hollow with extreme fatigue, her eyes once bright with vision, now lay bleary and hazy from days of glare from the sun. Finally her acceptance had come. The long painful journey had come to an end. She had picked up the pieces of her stroke-tattered life.