This Moment, This Breath, This Life

It’s Thursday evening and I’m trying to recap Monday’s walk. What always stands out are the people I meet along the way. As I headed out, I ran into Meher Pavri in the long hallway of my building. I first met her years ago at the very first We Are Your Sisters yogathon that my friend Retu organized. We Are Your Sisters is an initiative to show support with the women of India and around the world who are victims of sexual violence. Retu was inspired to start it after she heard about the gang-rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey. At the time, I was deeply affected by it, but it wasn’t until I watched the play Nirbhaya that it became seared in my heart and psyche. Seeing Meher brought up all those emotions, and it was difficult trying to explain the walk to her and why I do it. She was dog-sitting for the weekend, so we went up to her friend Rahim’s place to pick up his dog Rumi (named after the Persian poet/mystic, also “roomie” like a roommate). She was telling me about a play she was in recently called “Arranged Marriage” written by author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Here is a pic of her and one of the lead actors:


The same author wrote one of my favourite books of all time, The Palace of Illusions. I’ve read it multiple times, and it is just as fascinating every time. It is the story of the great epic the Mahabharata, told from the perspective of Draupadi. The other day I was lending a book to my sister and she was debating between that one and Days of Abandonment. She chose the latter and is loving it, but I really think she will love the Palace of Illusions too!!

Meher joined me on my walk for a little bit, but poor Rumi couldn’t keep up so we decided to meet up the next day instead to finish our conversation. I continued on for what seemed like a very long walk. I walked up University and stopped at the Starbucks at 525 to take a break. Then went to Mercatto near University/College where I had some yummy fried asparagus and tea, and read from the Underground Girls of Kabul.

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Azita is at her lowest, having been accused of adultery by her husband and for the first time being physically abused by him.

“Shut your mouth or I will make it silent,” he warns her. He will not hear of any more. He reminds her of how simple it would be for him to shame her, ending any of her political ambitions for good: “I will go to people and say that you are not a good wife and that you have relations with other men.”

Jenny asks her if she’s ever tried to kill herself, and she admits that she has, many years ago when she first got married. Her body told her that it wasn’t right, that he was wrong for her, but she didn’t have a choice. Her body went into shock. She had panic attacks, seizures, chest pains, and shortness of breath. Her body would go cold and numb. It reminded me of how my body reacted so violently years ago, when I was misdiagnosed with dystonia. What I thought was a neurological condition was actually a severe reaction to stress. It’s crazy how your body can react like that.

I made it to Balzac’s and I tried to work on my writing assignment but it was really difficult. I am taking Life Stories I at U of T, taught by Beth Kaplan. This assignment was to write a letter to someone, dead or alive, that will never be mailed. I decided to write one to Tsege, a lady that I had tutored through the refugee centre, who committed suicide this past January. There was so much left unsaid. I couldn’t remember our last session together. I told her that I admired her so much because of her ability to go on no matter what, which seems a little odd now considering how it ended. Suicide is a funny thing I guess. There is a stigma because people think that it is a weakness, but it just indicates extremely intense pain, where the person has finally had enough.

Then I stopped by the reference library and read a bit of Naked Imperfection, a memoir by Gillian Deacon who is struggling with cancer, and through her journey realizes her obsession with perfection. It is beautiful and raw. One of the lines that struck me was how she says that one day today will look perfect in a photograph. Oh how true that is. If only we could experience it as perfect while we are living it, rather than after. That is my goal right now, to experience the perfection of this very moment, this breath, this life.

On the way home I walked through Nathan Philips Square and was mesmerized by the reflection of the Toronto sign on the water.

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Inch By Inch By Inch By Inch

It’s 11:30 PM. I think I’m getting a little better at this Monday routine, but still don’t know how I’m going to do it all – I still have my meditation to do after this! I guess Mondays are just going to be late nights. I’m realizing that this walk that I was fighting so much is really my favourite thing to do. Why resist the inevitable? Sometimes the things that matter to us most are the hardest to do.

My walk along University today was perfect. It felt like spring, and I loved the sunshine on my face, my jacket unzipped, and seeing the beautiful trees along the way. Ever since I learned about the presence of fractals in nature, I’ve been seeing them everywhere. And now the branches that loom out into the sky appear stark and beautiful – I see the patterns in the branches, that seem to never end, so complex yet so simple and knowing exactly what to do and how to continue. I walked through King’s College circle, and the Harry-Potter like buildings brought me into the land of magic and awe, and as usual I savoured every moment of it. I arrived to my creative writing class a little late, just as people were working on the opening writing exercise: “On my walk this morning I saw…”. Our class today was focused on reviewing one another’s writing pieces (200 words maximum). A piece that touches upon the five senses and pulls you into the experience. I was nervous about mine, as I always am, because the writing was not very sophisticated, but from the heart. I wrote about a friend of mine, Tsege, because I want to remember her. She is a lady I used to tutor who is resilient and wonderful and directly in touch with God. She inspired me so much and I felt that she loved me a lot. She suffered from schizophrenia, and unfortunately over the holidays this past December, she ended her own life. I don’t think I’ve processed it fully yet; it is a shock and it scares me a lot. My piece was about her:

I arrived five minutes late, and the door opened automatically. She had used the button from inside, the one she had specially installed to help her with the heavy door. I walked in and there she was, in her wheelchair, with a smiling open face, greeting me with blessings, and happy as always to see me. “Do you want tea?” she asked, as the door slammed shut behind me. “Sure, why not?”, I replied, and already the scent of fresh mint leaves and black tea jolted my senses. She wheeled over to the kitchen. I knew better than to ask if she needed help. I slumped down into the chair at the table, and took out my pencils and notebook for our session. She came back to the room and said “I put the kettle on – it will be just a few minutes.” I commented on her bright blue shirt: “That colour is wonderful on you!” and she acknowledged the compliment with a beaming smile. “Thank you”. Then we began the lesson. She pulled out her red binder and said “I really need help with math!” and I replied “Ok then, let’s start with math”. And it felt the same as every session, yet somehow wonderfully different.

It was wonderful to listen to everyone’s pieces, and offer my comments and suggestions. This skill is an important one, and I’m happy that I’m developing it in this class. I’m also working on it in toastmasters. Wow, writing that last line just hit me hard. I can barely even write now. Something about toastmasters really grounds me and touches upon something in my core. Either it makes me very nervous or I must really love it! (or both) I am definitely grateful for it.

After my creative writing class I went to Balzac’s where I read from Falling Up. I just love this woman; she is such a fighter. She reminds me of myself a lot.  She pushes through with zest and personality, and refuses to settle. And she has faith that it’s all going to work out just fine. There is a part where she tries to ascend a hill by herself in her wheelchair – she doesn’t think she can make it but eventually she does!

I was devastated. I looked at the hill – it was about 30 yards of slight incline, but it looked like Mount Everest. I’d never done a hill like that alone before. Today, apparently, was the day to try. It took me a good 30 minutes to push up the hill by myself. Inch by inch by inch by inch….

After Balzac’s I went to see Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi) speak at the reference library with my friend Gosia. I loved when he talked about a quality that was shared by Jesus, the Buddha, and other enlightened beings. They all have the ability to be fully present. When Jesus spoke to his disciples, he was fully there. Every cell of his being. With an open heart. That ability to be fully present is something we all aspire to.

I wonder if I’ve been avoiding the actual purpose of this walk because it is so difficult for me. Ever since I watched Nirbhaya, I’ve been pretty traumatized. The image of the woman with burns on her face, who was set on fire by her husband because her family did not pay enough dowry, haunts me still. Haunts is not the right word; it has tormented me. I want to bring attention to what is going on all over the world, so that we can join forces and unite in a common goal and plan. I need to be more in touch with the goals set by the United Nations and other organizations, so that I can align my thinking towards that common goal. So much to do, and so little time. And an underlying sadness that I can’t seem to shake.