…and let there be lights!

A traditional candle bearing Chanukkiah.

Being raised in a conventional Christian home, Christmas used to be a pretty huge deal in our household. Come December and the air around was pervaded with festivities. Christmas meant so many things for me- cleaning and decorating our home, helping mom in preparation of sweets and goodies, shopping for that perfect Christmas dress, house-keeping a house swarmed with guests for almost over a week, frequenting church for carol practice, and so on. While all of this sounds like lots of fun, there was something that had always been missing and that something is something which I have always been after in my life- MEANING.

So for many years I was stuck in the rut of performing a religious activity of celebrating Christmas. For a very long time, I had been meaninglessly observing festivals just for the outward frivolity of it. Even as a kid the question often use to surface in my heart- “Was Jesus even born on what the world celebrates as Christmas day? If yes, where does it say so in the Bible?” I carried these questions in my heart for years. But the very fear of asking questions and the fear of sticking out like a sore thumb, kept me from doing anything about it. Now, however, its time for a change.

As believers, it’s time to celebrate festivals which the Bible talks about. It’s time to observe the Lord’s feasts which are dress-rehearsals for the great day. And now it’s time for Chanukkah (also spelt Hanukkah)! (John 10:22-23- “Then came Hanukkah in Yerushalayim. It was winter, and Yeshua was walking around inside the Temple area, in Shlomo’s Colonnade.”) Also known as the Feast of Dedication, it is a festival of lighting candles, spending time with family, sharing gifts and enjoying fried foods! I don’t want to make this a blog about the history and the facts about Channukah. There are a plenty of resources online to read up on that. I am here only to share with you how I celebrated Channukah and what it’s celebration speaks to me.

My makeshift Chanukkiah- pretty and colourful candles

Chanukkah is all about  the lights. Traditionally, the candles are lighted on a Chanukkiah, one candle a day for eight days of the week along with specific blessings and other related intricacies. Some of the nitty-gritty of candle-lighting in Judaism truly enchants me. There are so many deep nuances to each and every bit of convention. No wonder Judaism is more a way of life than a religion. The candles are to be placed such that they are either close to a window or door, so that they are visible to the passers-by. This practice holds so much meaning for me. One could have a lot of zeal, fervor, love, care, compassion, like an illuminated flame of a candle, in their heart but unless it’s made available to the people around them, what is it’s use really? Like it says in Luke 11:33- “No one who has kindled a lamp hides it or places it under a bowl; rather, he puts it on a stand, so that those coming in may see its light.” 

Another take-away from these burning beauties is the fact that no matter where they are placed, no matter what is around them; all they know is to shine! They can’t help but radiate their light, that is the nature of a candle- spreading light is it’s destiny and it will do it regardless of it’s surroundings. This thought speaks very personally to me. I have been in situations where things around me had started to seem very bleak and I did not have a good fellowship, people around me did not seem supportive and I lacked the sense of community in my life. But Yeshua very clearly states in Matthew 15:14 – “You are light for the world.” And nothing needs “light” more than darkness itself.

Also, a fascinating revelation that came to me was that a candle which is not burning, is just a lump of wax! It is no good! There has to be some burning. some flickering, some effort, some pain to be borne by the candle. Otherwise, you might end up with a lot of potential in you and without the burning process- all’s a waste! There’s always a price to pay. For everything. Always. Especially if you desire to be the light.

You see, MEANING… so much of it…. in every little thing!

Along with these wonderful gems of wisdom, Chanukkah brings with it a cascade of scrumptious food!  This time around on the eve of Chanukkah, this is what our dinner table looked like! –

Our dinner spread for Chanukkah: (From the top left to right- Fried cauliflower fritters in asian sauce, banana and caramel cake, baked vegetable pasta. and in the centre- baked challah bread in the shape of a Chanukkiah with tea-light candles)

Wish you all a very happy, joyous, peaceful, fun and light-filled Chanukkah!! 🙂

Chanukkah lights at our home this year! 🙂


Image Source (Chanukkiah) : http://www.auction.catawiki


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A Renaissance

So much has changed since the last time I wrote here. It’s as if I have come back home; home to a place I abandoned- literally and figuratively- and in every possible sense of the term. You could think of me as a prodigal daughter, who left home because of her self-centered motivations and after having exhausted her father’s resources, returns with nothing yet with everything- the knowledge that her existence is pointless without a relationship with her heavenly Father. Foggy information, huh? Stay with me…

Life has a terrific sense of irony. It will teach you to appreciate that which you once valued most, only by snatching it away from you- meanwhile training your inner being to grab on to it with all your life, the next time around when you find it; be it opportunities or relationships. You will not TRULY FIND something until you have lost it first. You know why? Because at that moment when you already had it, when it’s been given to you free of any cost, you had not chosen it! But the moment you lose it and you search for it intently, that is when YOU ARE BEGINNING TO CHOOSE IT IN YOUR HEART. YOU ARE MAKING A DECISION TO HAVE IT, TO VALUE IT, TO VENERATE IT MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE.

A thought cuts across my mind as I type – how are my friends/readers who have known me to be a “secular” person, writing “secular” articles, taking this ? Is it going to be too much to ask of my reader to get on board with this massive paradigm shift in my life? Are my blogs going to be irrelevant to them? Will they not be able to connect with my writing anymore?  Perhaps the answer to these questions could be yes. This reminds me of something beautiful Stephen King once said and since I remember only the bits of his rather lengthy quote, I take the liberty of excerpting him here – “The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”  So I am going to stay true to myself and write, hoping to find an understanding ear in you, my dear reader 🙂 I am going to let this blog fulfill its destiny by being an amphitheater for what I learn and for my journey. I am going to try to bring justice to the thoughts, feelings, ideas in me, while hoping for you to have an open mind and an empathetic heart.

For a very long time, my spiritual life was a matter of chance. Being born in a conservative Orthodox Jacobite family clubbed with my shy and reserved personality, did not leave me much choice- in terms of choosing my God/ my beliefs/ not choosing any God for that matter. God was introduced to me as a disciplinarian- who seemed to love children who did “good” things and that is how I learnt to see God all through my teenage years- a distant, rather unforgiving and seldom emotionally available father, who makes sure I do the “right” things. It wasn’t until I moved away from my parents’ home for work, that I was lead to a church where my entire foundation was shaken and fortunately so. I was able to relate to God like never before, all thanks to the prayers, commitment and emotional energy invested in me by the Pastors there. Suffice to say that I began to see God, myself and people around me as loving, caring, compassionate beings. I began to see how God had been misinterpreted for centuries and had been robbed of His original Jewish identity. As time went by, and the unfinished business from my past started showing up, it just seemed to become too difficult to handle and the prodigal daughter ran! – away from everyone and everything that had anything to do with God! * Sigh * And after three long years of sprinting (which seemed like an eternity in itself), ultimately sense decided to dawn on her. She returned. To herself. To her God. To the only One who gives meaning and purpose to her very being ❤

Nonetheless, as of today, it is with such ethereal peace I say that I have begun to treasure my relationship with my Father in heaven, only after once I experienced this exile of sorts. And now I am out of the woods and boy! what a roll it has been so far! And here I am, at the end of one, only to find myself standing at the threshold of yet another journey!

So as I embark upon this beautiful odyssey of re-discovering my God, my Messiah, whose Jewishness I am just beginning to learn and understand about from a fresh perspective, and in the process also discovering my identity and the essence of my individuality in His amazing plan for human-kind, I wish to scribble here about my thoughts and my experiences, especially from the weekly Torah Portions (weekly divisions of portions made in the Bible to aid in learning). I heartily wish for you to be able to just walk with me as I share my learnings from these resplendent “Pearls of Torah”.

Image Source: https://www.freepik.es

Millennial-ized, yet?

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So I am just going to have it this way. I am going to write when I really want to and I really can. Somehow Mr. Want and Mr. Can never decide to show-up together. Some generational animosity, it seems. And then, to make matters worse, the obnoxious Ms. Guilt arrives, with her “should-haves” and “could-haves”. Arrgh! How I loathe her!

Teaching has been, by far, one of the most soulful involvements I have been into. As a teacher, there has been a whole gamut of experiences that has surrounded me and has made me richer in ways more than I can say. It is so enchanting to see children have so much to contribute to the class by way of ideas, energy, excitement, feedback and lethargy too at times. And I guess, I can safely say that I do give them that space to speak their minds out. There have been times when they would just shut the book and say that they were not in a mood to study. Being a teacher, wanting to think logically was my first instinct- about how I needed to complete my course and what do I tell my higher-ups,  were thoughts which plagued me and to which I have had succumbed more often than not. But then, at many instances I have willfully played along and have shut my book close. And we have talked about what was on their minds- the good, the bad, the ugly, you name it!

There is a very very fine line between being a friendly teacher and being a friend. There is a certain sense of authority involved in being a teacher for the sheer purpose of being able to direct the troop, which is lost when you become their friend. And a classroom of students with no direction is pretty much like a group of friends hanging out, hence teaching-learning goes out of the window! It is no less than art to be able to strike that right note of relationship with ones’ students which is quite an intuitive process and involves evolving overtime. I’ll gingerly admit that there have been times when I have plunged across the above said line and gone so far ahead that the line had become a dot to me! (F.R.I.E.N.D.S fan alert! :D)

Teacher-student relationships have seen a major shift since the time I was a student and you would know what I am talking about if you have been a kid of the 1900’s in India. When I look back on times gone by as a student and think of my teachers, an image of a figure dressed in a sari, an authoritarian tone of voice, a condescending attitude; pops in my head. And any teacher who used to be even a tad bit different from the above description was idolized- any teacher who smiled, or greeted the students back- I would be in awe of her. And if she greeted me first, I’d go bonkers! In my school days, I had taken “geeky” to a whole new level. And to this day, whenever I come across a teacher of mine, I run up to them and wish them and be all sparkly-eyed, while my other friends would run in the opposite direction! Hey, being a nerd was in, ok!! 😀

Also there was fear. Teachers in those days made for really strong figures of ascendancy. They operated more or less through instilling a sense of fear. Their means of getting things done from students were primarily threats which could be ones like corporal punishment, diary note to parents or worse- calling for a meeting with them. Then there were more deal-able ones like- “go kneel down outside the classroom”, “write things 100 or thousand times” or a nice, eloquent, long, seemingly subtle threat- a morality based lecture, which used to be the most painful thing for a guilt-prone soul like me. The thought of not being liked by a teacher was gut-wrenching and would swallow me up! Fortunately, fear doesn’t seem to haunt children anymore. Or at least they are not terrorized as some of us were back in the day, thanks to some good work by Education Boards in India. The millennial kids seem to either like or dislike a teacher and are quite verbal about their disagreements. It could be said that most children then had fear camouflaged as fake motivation to “respect” their teachers and the kids of this day have no such pretend-motivations unless its intrinsic.

Who is to say what’s good and what’s not?! And honestly, we boggle ourselves a lot with “children these days are very disrespectful!” Well, may be they are! Then we have got to device something to help them see that and behave. But most certainly, instruments as obnoxious as threats and fear should not be the resort. These are nothing but redundant tools which need to be buried exactly where they belong- right in history’s grave.

Enough with the tags of “glued to his X-box”, “doesn’t go out to play”, “fussy-eater”, “disinterested in studies”, “too much into her looks”! Enough already! They were definitely not pushed out of their respective mothers’ vaginas with a phone in their hands! It’s a learned behavior. The child is only reacting/responding to the various stimulants in the environment. If as parents and as caregivers, we cannot create a wholesome and holistic ecosystem, befitting the needs of the present generation in mind, we have no rights to label them or admonish them!

Stories of how we walked 10kms to reach school; helped our fathers in milking the cow and studied late night under the street light- sure can be inspirational but these lasses and lads don’t know what to do with that now! Its quite irrelevant to them. Perhaps these anecdotes are aimed at helping them to value what they have?! Well then – appreciate them. Compliment them. Feel free to ask them questions about things you don’t know. Challenging stuff, huh? Because our parents hardly ever praised us or patted us on our backs, it takes some work to get out of our cozy-cribby comfort zones and do what this situation calls for. Arrive to terms with the fact that they are smarter in different ways and not in the ways we want them to be. These babies are born in a different time and age. They are born in a time when the entire cosmos has been shrunk and stuffed in a capsule placed right in their palms. Jupiter is just a click away! Let’s face it, life is easier for them. They don’t have to climb mountains or bend over backwards like their parents or grandparents did. Raising them requires a different sketch which ought to be engineered for a world of today and custom-made for every single one of them, like a pin-plug for their DNA.

Gone…yet stays.

I know I have been away for a while now. Away from this space, away from my ability to make sense of the world around me, away to a land where there were no means, no faculties to translate emotions to words.

Life decides to show its ugliest side at times. You find yourself being caught in a web of desperation, striving to get a hold of whatever’s happening; trying to make sense of your situation, struggling to exist, to breath and to like just be. I found myself in a world like that, when I saw her breathing her last; when I saw her blank eyes, pale and devoid of any emotion. Her jaw tightening, foam seeping from the corners of her chapped lips, her ice cold shaky hand gripping on my useless-helpless arm. Spatters of water fusing with the sweat on her face, trickling down. She did not wipe it off in one quick untraceable motion, like she used to. She did not ask me to make her a steaming cup of chai when she felt chilly, like she often did.

We got her to the nearest emergency and every beep we heard as they tried to revive her, gave us hope. Like she was going to be fine, like she was going to jump and sit right up to brawl with J as she often did – those cute little mother-son scuffles they always got into. Like she was going to argue just for argument’s sake, like she was going to be our Mom- just as we had known her to be- chirpy, jaunty, full of life and alive. But as it seemed, no amount of hopes or prayers or tears or attempts of revival were going to bring her back. She had left. Taken off to some strange universe, from where it was impossible to return; where arms of retrieval had frozen. Just like her hands when she was dying. Just like mine, out of impotence to save her.

The guilt is too tremendous to live with. That guilt of helplessness. That feeling of watching your loved one succumb to death and not knowing what to do. To hold them and yet not have them. That powerlessness to make them look, say, hug and keep them for life. As much as the realm of practicality screams to convince me of how darn impossible it was to make her stay, the whispers of my inability scream much louder. “There must have been something you could have done”- they say.

 

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She endured a lot of pain, silently. You’d know if you peeped into her eyes. She had been fighting the nasty beast called cancer, all by herself- probably wanting to feel independent as any woman would, or perhaps to save us the trouble of having to take care of her, or to run away from it and hide under the wings of denial. Yes. Conjecture, is all we can do now. We would never know what made her not tell us about her struggle, what made her fight her battle alone. Like the many other scrambles in this strong woman’s life.

All her hopes, her dreams and desires to have a school of her own to provide education to the underpriveleged, gone. Her culinary skills, her sabudana vadas, her to-die-for upma and egg roast, her appam and chicken curry, all gone. Her laughter, her smiles, her knowledge, also gone. The passing of her husband, her father, her beloved dog Ruby, her illness and all the other such hushed battles which she fought all by herself, gone and buried with her. Never to come back.

What we have now is the sound of her laughter, which still makes us happy. We have now vivid memories from the times spent together, sketchy mental notes of her impeccable recipies, pictures which make us smile, words of love and encouragement which make us think of her fondly. This legacy of hers will be cherished.

Though gone, she still stays.

 

Tell me why?!

“Anonymous” would not give up. He kept shooting the pencil and trying to basket it in the trash bin. A few of the students were outside in the corridor rehearsing their play for their drama class assessments and the rest were engaged in a casual chat with me ( their substitute teacher- one of the many pains School Counselors in India would relate to! :D) From the corner of my eye, I spot Anonymous’s vain attempts. He just would not give up. ‘The teacher’ in me badly wanted to snap at him and say, “What are you doing?! Go sit in your place!” I fought that instinct for a while. Even as the other kids were talking to me, I had a parallel conversation going on in my head. Why do I want him to stop doing that? What is it in me that wants him to go sit in his place? How can I dictate when a person should stand or sit or dance? But I could not let it go on either. I gathered my thoughts and I decided to tell him exactly what I thought- “Could you please not do that as its really distracting for me. Why don’t you come and join us in this discussion? May be now you can tell us what is the best thing about your class.” And much to my expectation, he did comply. Very readily so! And I gave myself an imaginary pat on my back. Eeee 🙂

The other day, the Mr. and I were talking about our school life and as we were reminiscing good old times, we got talking about some of the ridiculous rules we were made to follow. One of them was walk in a straight “line”, at one arm’s distance and hands at the back. Both of us admitted that we never cared to know the reason behind that rule. We were told to do and so we did. “What would happen if I walked in whichever way I wanted?!”, just as I finished uttering that, I realized that the “rule” was to reduce commotion in the hall ways and corridors and to prevent injury by the swinging hands. We felt smug at our newly derived understanding and also a little sad at the fact that we were never told why we “must do” what we “must do”!

Probably, if any of us even mustered the courage to ask, “Why should I walk in a line?”, only response I can possibly imagine of, is a whack on my back and being asked to stand aside from the “line” for having “broken the line” because how could I even do that and because gosh! darn it! there has to be a “line”!!! 😀

Yes, we need to teach children things. Yes, we need to discipline them so that we prepare them for what lies ahead. But, all of these are the subsequent steps after once we have established a relationship comprising of love and respect. If we cannot respect their questions and quench their curiosity with honest, appropriate and sensible responses, we fail at level one. If we do not know the answers to some of their questions, we either ask them to “shut up!”, ignore them, or give them some random gibberish. You must have noticed the struggle we go through as adults to tell a child, “I am not sure about the answer. Let me get back to you once I find out for myself.” More often than not, we trample on their inquisitiveness owing to which they might mindlessly follow our instructions and put on a show of respecting us outwardly, but in the process we have lost their heart, their will and their genuine respect. Let’s use logic with them. Let’s reason with them instead of stifling them with meaningless rules.

Before we think of children as students, let’s think of them as people. Let’s think of them as individuals. Each one of them is as much a person as you and me. We often try to feed our ego through our expectations from children. Wish your elders first! – why can’t we wish them first? Don’t argue with elders! – why can we not stop arguing? Do unto them as you would have it done unto you! As simply as the Bible puts it.

We, as human beings, as a collective, have a repository of questions inside of us. Some of them are lucky enough to get answered, some dawdling around looking for a resort, others more hurriedly seeking immediate solutions and the rest have given up, having lost all hope to find their explanations. The more the unanswered questions, the more the chaos, the more the struggle in our world. We don’t wanna do that to our kids, do we? They have enough already on their plates.

 

The Egg That Did Not Crack Open Right

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The husband and I are “Eggomaniacs”. I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard of a thing like that. Because I just made it up! 😀 And I do so as I feel that we are the only ones who could set a new benchmark in egg-love. Or probably the only ones who would even care to think about such a thing. 🙂

You might think that this as an exaggerated bit. Well, check this- if at any given point in time you drop by at our apartment, we would have either just made eggs, or our man would be educating me and/the family as to how nutritious and protein-laden they are, or you’d catch us gorging on some, or perhaps, burping it! 😀

Such is the love for eggs in my home.

Love is a beautiful thing. It is the only power in the whole wide world that makes us willingly overlook the flaws of our object of love. And I am so glad that the husband has decided to look past my “disability” to make the perfect fried egg for him. He and his giant heart, I tell ya! 😀

Each time I break open this little magic ball into a searing hot pan, hoping to make my man happy, either it does not crack open quite right and the yolk snaps or I see a teeny-tiny speck of the shell floating around, or the greatest disasters of all – the perfectly stable yellow smears itself all over the pan, the moment I flip it over.

However, yesterday was one of those one-in-a-millionth-times, that it happened! The impeccable and gorgeous fried egg was made. It was perfect just the way he likes it, with the yolk in the center and a thin film of white over it and the lovely gooey yellow enveloped inside. Our man excitedly stuck a fork-full of it in his mouth and he looked at me and he smiled. Only when I took a bite of the crispy scrap of its remnant from the pan, I realized that I had been a tad bit generous with the salt! 🙂 We had a hearty laugh with the salty egg! 😀

I am not sure if I will ever master the art of frying eggs as per this guy’s liking but what I am sure of is the fact that I would always want to, and that we would always be able to find something amusing even in the most dullest of moments. 🙂

I feel that’s how life is too. We are all striving for perfection. If we have a house, we want a bigger one. If we have a car, we want a better one. Our jobs, our clothes, all our material needs are pretty much like a bottomless pit. We never seem to get exactly what we want. Exactly something that would make us Not Want any more. That is probably because there is always room for “better”. Striving for better is good. That’s what we all do. I just hope we don’t miss all the fun at where we are, on the way to wherever we are headed.

I just hope we do not become oblivious to a Good Today, as we toil for a Better Tomorrow. 🙂

 

 

 

 

Of boxes

 

I have very vivid memories of reading some of my friends’ blogs and being awestruck at how beautifully they express themselves. I have always been an admirer of people who have their own way with words. To me, there is nothing more fascinating than the art of finding just the right words to aptly convey what one thinks or feels. Hopefully, I will get there, someday. 🙂

I am a psychological and behavioral counselor for children by profession. And unfortunately, I have been at the receiving end of oh-so-many strange responses each time I have shared this with people. Ranging from “So can you like read my mind?!” to “Don’t you get really bored listening to problems all day?!” to “How many students do you get per day? Not many, right?”, the questions keep getting more and more bizzare. I don’t want to make this a post about “What I really do?” and stuff. The reason I brought this up is just to illustrate the fact that how we as humans have a tendency to box anything and everything that comes our way!

“So do you party every weekend?”, “Do you have a lot of friends?”, “Was your’s a love marriage?”..blah blah blah and blah! All of these questions are means for us to put people in the little boxes that we have created in our heads. If the answers to all the above questions is “yes” then they are “the-fun-kinda-people”, if not “the-boring-kinda-people”. So everything regular, everything cliche, everything understandable, is ok! But who wants to take the effort to make “new boxes”. This logic, to me, explains why people fail miserably at comprehending my profession. Why stop there?! My life has been an exhibit of pretty unbox-able stuff, so to speak. My husband is an inch shorter than me in height and believe you me, the looks we get from people sometimes are scarring! All the boxes in their heads screaming out, “There’s no space for them here!!!” 😀

When I meet a person, I would like to see nothing but a being. A being who is essentially a human life; a saga of joys and grievances, a rigmarole of love lost and found. Every story, every bit that I would have ever heard about their sex, race, caste, region, religion or any detail about the way they carry themselves, their appearance or any group they identify with, i.e every box ever created in my psyche; I would want to lock it tight and chuck it out of my realm of understanding. There’s so much we miss out on, each time we judge a person. There’s so so many new learnings and experiences that evade us, when we decide to frame our perceptions solely on the basis of our past encounters.

I read this beautiful quote by Bill Bullard some time back. It keeps coming back to me time and again. And it also happens to be the inspiration behind this post.

“Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge… is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.”

So, for a change, lets not have an opinion.

Let’s decide, to not decide 🙂