May 11, 2008

The comforter

A close friend of mine back from Shillong just recently lost his dad to cancer. When I heard the news, I was dumbstruck, in spite of the fact that I myself lost my mother to cancer five years ago. Because this friend of mine had taken care of his dad who suffered from stroke, for five long years before he was even diagnosed with cancer. For five years, he sat next to his paralyzed father’s bed, changing sheets, giving sponge baths, taking him to the toilet and back, reading to him or just watching him when he sleeps. For five years, he sacrificed his college education, his social life and all the things that he could have done as a young man. He sacrificed the best years of his life, praying hard at the same time that somehow, one day, all his sacrifice would pay off and that he could see his dad walk again, be well again and get out of bed once again.
I remember, back in college days, our circle would pack up once in a while and go visit the family on Saturdays. We would sit by the fire and talked with his dad. His dad, well, was my mother’s local guardian back in her college days. So, he would talk about my mother when she was young, and I would listen to him, happy yet sad at the same time that I could listen to stories about my mother’s younger days, not from herself, but an old man who was paralyzed the whole left side. Visits to upper Shillong would usually leave me sad to see how the family struggled with the only earning member confined to bed; touched to see how the sons and their old mother cared for their sick father and melancholic to hear stories, bloopers and jokes about my mother when she was my own age.
But the thing that usually touch me the most would be the sacrifice that Mawia gave for his dad. He left college when his dad had a stroke, took care of him and the house as well while his younger brother went to school, and at the same time, working part-time at the little time he could spare. The part time jobs would include anything from loading cow dung cakes to being a local milkman. Here I am, finishing my Master’s in a week or so and this friend of mine, is still an undergraduate because all this time, he had been taking care of his dad. Priorities can be poles apart indeed!!
When I hung up the phone to a friend who passed the sad news, I cried. I couldn’t stop myself from doing so. “God! What am I going to tell him? How will I comfort him?” I cried. In spite of the fact that I have gone through the experience before, and in spite of people thinking that somehow I would know the right words to say, it’s never an easy thing to comfort people who lose a parent. Because the only people who knows how hard life is, without a parent are those without one. And life without a parent, I must say, is something that you can’t prepare yourself for, or something that you can put down in words. It’s something that you understand only when you yourself are in the situation. Comforting people who go through this ordeal is harder still. You just can’t tell them “it’s OK” ‘cause it’s not. Losing a parent or a love one for that matter is never OK!!
So when I dialed his number, I shivered as I prayed once again for God to put words in my mouth and comfort in my soul.
“Hello” his voice was light and cheerful.
“M…M… Mawi” I stuttered.
“Seni?!!! O My God!! This is another miracle indeed” he exclaimed.
I had expected us to cry for an hour and talk for two more after that. But no! It was all about him telling me how thankful he is to God for all that has happened. As he dictated on the last weeks, days and hours of his father’s life here on earth, he was calm, unaffected and cheerful at times. What touched me the most was the first words that escaped his mouth when the doctor told them that their father was no more. “I surprised myself because I was so calm” he said, “then I said ‘Praise God’ and believe me Sen, I mean it with all of my heart!!” I do believe him. Tears flow freely as I listened to him talk about his father’s funeral, how he sang his dad’s favorite song in the funeral and how he believed that it was only an empty shell that they buried in the graveyard, and not his dad.
Half an hour later, we hang up the phone with promises to keep in touch with each other. An hour later I was still in tears, glad to have witness yet another miracle that God works out for his people, sad to lose an old uncle and so very happy to see a close friend of mine at peace with his father’s home going. I was at peace with myself and grateful to know a God who exists for people who are in dire need of His strength. I had called up my friend to comfort him but I was too late. The Comforter was already there before me; the Comforter had always been there and will always be there with him.
“…and the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7

My 'un'fascination with beards

I had always been fascinated with beards. I remembered, watching my father shave, as a child. Each morning when I wake up, I would climb out of bed to see my dad shaving in the bathroom. He would stand before the bathroom mirror, make all sorts of stretchy plastic faces with the fluffy white foam on his face. And then, pursing his lips together, he would go ….. swish swish… with the razor. As a child it somehow amazes me that a foamy face and several swipes with the razor could transform a raspy stubble chin into a soft and silky patch of skin. “My turn!!” my baby brother and I would fight to be the first one to touch the freshly shaven face. Boy! We would kill to be the first one to kiss the silky smooth skin before dad would leave for work.
I remembered once, Dad had been travelling on a gruesome schedule, that when he returned home, he had this three day stubble on his chin. My brother, the moment he saw Dad, burst into tears; while the closest I got to Dad was watch him from behind my mother’s skirt. We were not used to seeing dad with a hairy face. But somehow, we came to love even the stubble. At the end of the day, we would laze around the bed while dad would blow our tummies and tickled us with his stubble. Then came the acceptance that even something so rough and ugly could be enjoyed in such a way.
The fascination with beards grew that one day, my brother and I tried the amazing task of shaving our faces before dad got home from the office. We were ‘rescued’ by the Nanny who snatched the razor from our hands, commanded us to wash our well-foamed faces and march out of the bathroom. When dad returned in the evening, that when the fun begins. The next morning when we woke up, dad, as usual was already in the bathroom. As we peeked inside, he smiled through his soapy face and gave both of us a bladeless razor each. Then he taught us the ‘art of shaving’. After soaping up our faces nice and thick, he gave us the plastic face exercise. Boy! To all the men who shave out there, I really admire your face stretching skills. My brother and I had to pull out the most expressive cartoons faces to make sure that we didn’t miss out a spot. After that, the three of us would line up each morning before the bathroom mirror, with stools and all, and carry out our daily ritual of shaving with bladeless razors.
That experience as a child must have left me deeply fascinated with beards. I admire men who keep themselves cleanly shaven every day, remembering the stretchy faces they must have pulled each morning before the mirror. I also admire men with stubbles at the same time, remembering the blown-tummies and stubble tickling evenings.
The other day, I was with this friend. This person and I had been through a lot together and I must say, we’re really close and comfortable with each other’s company. I can think aloud with this person and so could he with me. Hard luck so!! He looked at me really hard that day, stared at me till his eyes squinted and mentioned with delight, “Hey! Bawih, is that a thin mustache on your upper lips?” Stupid idiot!! My fascination with facial hair vanished all of a sudden, vaporized into thin air. It has been months since he’s made that comment. I’ve never recovered the fascination till now!