The Weird and the Wonderful – There’s Something You Should Know

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On a spectacularly sunny California afternoon, the love of my life asked me to marry him, and I said yes.

There are certain things girls dream about. We fantasize, subconsciously or not, about the perfect ring, the ideal proposal, the classic dress and of course, the right guy.  I am no exception and while I’ve found the right guy, there is one thing I don’t think I’ll ever stop wishing – that he could’ve met you.

I think you two would have really hit it off. His sense of humour, though jarring for me at first, is so infectious that I now find myself cracking his kind of jokes right back at him.  We laugh more than we actually talk and I think you would’ve just loved that, I mean, you were quite a funny guy yourself when you were around.  If the two of you could be in  the same room, I think we’d all hear you both guffawing miles away.  He likes to horse around and just be silly, and, as grown up and adult as I sometimes consider myself, it’s a relief to just turn that off with him.  It’s a relief to just…be.

That’s not to say he can’t be serious.  In all my life, I haven’t seen anyone as dedicated to their goals as him.  When he makes up his mind to do something, that shit gets DONE.  You’d appreciate that about him, just as I do.  It’s reassuring to know that if I ever need help with anything, he’ll be there.  Even when it’s something he has no idea about, he’ll still do his best.  That perseverance calms me down.  I get worked up so easily about small, nonsensical things, and his steadfastness anchors me. It also makes me feel safe.  It’s a little like how, when I’d tell you I heard something outside, you would take a round of the front and back yards in the middle of the night, cricket bat in hand, ready to strike.  He’s like that, for me, all the time. It’s like having a bodyguard around 24/7, except this one safeguards my soul, too.

One thing you two would truly bond over is music.  His playlist is one you’d easily want for yourself and his love of Coke Studio could rival yours. Granted, you were only around long enough to listen up until Season 2, but the sheer joy and passion with which he enjoys some of the newer tracks often reminds me of you.  There are moments when he’ll be singing aloud at the top of his voice, and then suddenly pause to lament why he doesn’t have a good enough voice to properly carry a tune.  I tend to smile then, because that’s when I imagine the two of you together, listening to this music, with you actually singing it, and him being your happy audience, the way I once was.

You’d like him, you really would. I don’t just say that as a little sister who wants her big brother’s approval on her choice of partner. I say it because if you could see what I do, you’d agree. You’d see that he already makes Ami laugh and smile without even really trying, and instils in Abu a hidden hope of a son’s shoulder to lean on.  You’d see the effort he makes in learning about you, and keeping your memories alive for me, going as far as playing one of your favourite songs for our proposal. You’d see that he wants to move mountains for Ayana and get her every toy under the sun, without ever having met her yet.  You’d see that he worries about the aches and the colds of every member in the family, as if we were his own. You’d see that, in a matter of just mere months, he is family.

I never allowed myself to think too much about who I’d marry or how it would be, because anytime I did, my heart would shatter remembering that you won’t be around for any of it. Now, when I have someone who makes all the cliches about love and life ring true, I think about how it will be and I wish, more than anything, that you were here for all of this. I wish you could see your baby sister next month, getting engaged in front of family and friends to the man she loves. I wish you were around for all the planning, and the gossiping, the freak-outs and the dancing. I helped you make your wedding playlist, and I had always imagined you helping me make mine one day.

I wish you could be a part of this magic, in person. But because you can’t, I will console myself with what I know to be true – that I chose someone my brother would get along with, fantastically well.

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If I Were You, I’d Have Just 5 More Years

I turned 25 this week. In my head, that always seemed like a definite sort of age.

At 21-22, you’re still figuring your life out, getting used to the real world after the college bubble, learning how to deal with the perils of a full-time job and finances and bills. 22-23, for me, were years when these new adjustments solidified, and I began to make real choices about what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be and be with, and where I wanted to go exploring.  24 was quieter and louder at the same time, a sense of restlessness creeping into the routine of work life, but not enough to make me want to up and leave again, helping me build a resolve to stay and power through whatever needed sorting out. 25 seemed to me more decisive than others, a turning point from struggling to figure it all out to actually having a game plan set and in motion. Is that the case? Not really, and oddly enough, that feels more than okay. I didn’t expect much from 25, or from the months leading up to it. Perhaps this is why, the happiness is a welcome surprise.

I didn’t expect I’d want to celebrate this year, seeing as it hasn’t been much of a priority the past handful of years.  I didn’t expect to feel the euphoria I did, surrounded by friends and family at home and otherwise.  I didn’t expect to rediscover the old excitement I used to feel on my birthday, counting down the days like a kid and planning what I’d do, wear and experience. And, as much of an advocate of happiness as I can be sometimes, I truly did not expect to be so fundamentally happy.

A last thing I also did not expect was to be visited by you in my dream this week.  It has been so long since it last happened, that it actually took dream-me a moment to recognise you and register that it truly was you, my brother.  If someone had told me 10 years ago I’d have a hard time recognising my brother if he appeared in front of me, I’d have laughed dismissively.  But that is exactly what happened.  You showed up and my dream-state-mind needed some time to put the puzzle pieces of your face together.  The shock and surprise dream-me felt then, I can still recall that feeling right now as I type these words, and that fact, is as sorrowful as it is real and true.

The first year after you died, I had phases where I was in so much pain, I’d make myself feel better by picturing a time much later in life, maybe 4-5 years down the road, where your death was simply a fact of life I’d gotten used to and thinking about it wouldn’t hurt me. Heck, just the thinking itself wouldn’t happen much.  Guess what, though? That time is here, it’s right now. It doesn’t hurt to think about you, and it’s true, I actually DON’T think about you a whole lot normally. In day-to-day life, there are things alive that preoccupy my heart and mind.

This might sound callous or harsh but there’s only so much of the past I can allow myself to emotionally relive. I don’t usually talk about you or allow myself to think about you because I haven’t wanted to share these thoughts or tales with anyone.  It’s been an entirely internalised process, silent and inherent, not to be shared, not even to be self-acknowledged.  Lately, however, there’s been a slight shift.  I’ve been sharing your stories, and just through this act, I’ve been thinking about you, remembering your characteristics and habits, recalling your likes, dislikes and irritations. By using you as a topic of storytelling, I’m able to fondly step back into a time where I’m 10 and oblivious to what will happen to you when I’m 20; I’m able to think of you as ‘my big brother who plays the guitar and can charm an eskimo into buying snow’; I’m able to trick myself into putting you back into the present tense again.

It’s soothing to recount anecdotes of your life that make me laugh, because I can now share that laughter with a keen listener, who will join in and extend the joke and talk of you as if you’re still around.  It’s probably exactly what I needed without knowing it.  It’s been tough to recall the stories, not because it hurts but simply because they’re old and muddles in my head, and my memory muscle isn’t too strong.  Maybe your long-awaited reappearance in a my dream a gentle reminder from you, of you. There’s no way to know, but I’ll go with that interpretation. There are some bits I remember all too well, like how enraged you became when I secretly decided to tune your guitar and broke a string, and others that are blurry, like a song you had taught me how to play which I can only remember the first few notes of. Certain triggers, like this song, are still as strong as ever and will cause my eyes to smart quicker than raw onion juice.  Other triggers, like seeing the car you drove on the road, have, over time, settled into a state of relaxation enough for me to drive past with ease.

I just turned 25, which means that, in a few days, you would have been turning 35.  I used to wonder how my life would be if you were still around but, as alarming as it can seem sometimes, I have come to like the life I have right now, even without you around.  I’m powering through, trying new things each year, visiting unfamiliar places, connecting with unexpectedly like-minded people, and attempting to set goals that don’t always align with practical considerations. Am I fulfilled? No, because I keep wanting more and more and that’s okay, because if I were you, I’d have just 5 more years.

Happy birthday, to you and me both, this month.

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3 Years: Choosing Happiness

Around this time last year, I’d made a silent resolution.  I had decided that I was going to be happy.  I had made up my mind that I would, as often as I could and for as long as it was possible, choose happiness.

My brother’s life may have been brief but it was never dull.  I don’t think he was ever conscious of it, but everything in his life, every event, incident or occasion, was amplified.  Perhaps it was just his flair for drama that contributed to this, but his emotions ranged in the extreme.  When he was happy, he would be overjoyed.  When he was angry, his wrath would evoke dread.  Whatever mood he’d be in, it was always exaggerated, always infectious to the point where the whole house would be subdued if he ever was. Maybe, without knowing, he was compensating for all the emotions he wouldn’t be able to feel after death; maybe, in living large, he was making up for the short span of his actual physical presence.

He was nowhere near perfect, but one thing he always got right was happiness.  My brother was not the type of man to lull around days on end in a haze of depression or melancholy.  Certainly, he felt despair and anguish but he didn’t cozy up to those sentiments and hold on to them for long the way so many of us, including myself, tend to do.  A free spirit like him, he always turned to his music.  It was through composing, singing, playing the guitar and performing that my brother found the true way back to happiness, every time.  His music was not just his passion or his hobby, it was his north star.

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Last year, I had resolved to follow my north star, wherever it may lead me to.  For a while after my brother died, I clung on to one, simple dictum: life is short.  He died at 30 because his heart suddenly decided to stop beating and that’s all I could think of: that maybe I only have till 30 as well.  I used it as an excuse for many of my actions, and as a basis for decisions both made and avoided.  I’ve refined that approach a bit this past year.  Life is short, certainly, but it must have some meaning. Quality > Quantity.  For me, meaning derives from experience, and I wanted my life to overflow with some top-quality euphoria-inducing instances.

The past 12 months have been full of surprises, mostly good.  In my pursuit of happiness, I have been to more concerts this past year than I have in the 22 years preceding it, I have traveled to brand new places all alone and fallen in love with new cities that feel like home, I have taken risks and forged connections with new names while erasing some old ones from my memory book, I have rediscovered an old hometown and reconnected with faces I hadn’t seen in a decade, I have changed the course of my professional life and plunged head-first into avenues I had never imagined I would ever be interested in.  Through it all, I have had this one constant thought at the back of my mind: just be happy.

It doesn’t take much, I realised.  It can be found sitting on the front steps of a purple house with a perfectly gooey cookie in one hand and a book in another, or in that breathless red-faced moment when you’ve finally beaten your own personal best time in a workout after weeks of training.  It’s when you manage to, after constant scheduling and rescheduling, get around to Skyping with your long-distance best friend and end up talking 2 hours longer than you’d planned.  Sometimes, it’s even when a client ends a long, frustrating thread of slightly passive aggressive emails with a simple ‘thank you :)’.  It happens when you’re lying on the grass in a way you haven’t since you were 6 and all you can see is sunlight speckled with cloud fluff and leaves and you’re bewitched by the simplicity of the scene.  It’s when you’re walking along a sunny street and are suddenly overcome by the impulsive need to hold the hand of the person walking next to you and you give in.  It’s when you realise there is no rush to finish the novel that you’ve been working on and writing under pressure just makes for crappy prose and you can take a short detour into verse and indulge your love for poetry for a while. It happens when you finally get to dance at a live concert to the song you’re used to simply hearing on your headphones and tapping your fingers along to.  It’s that glorious moment when you bite into the softest, flakiest pain au chocolat you’ve ever had and are glad you waited 35 minutes in line to order.  It’s when you see your baby nieces holding hands and calling out to you to come play with them.  It’s in that moment where you’re driving down a highway and waiting for the next song to play but there are too many commercials so you switch stations and Angels by The XX comes on and you grin like a sociopath and roll down all your car windows and pretend you’re driving a convertible because that’s how great it feels then.  It’s when you finally figure out that those beautiful droopy yellow flowers you saw in California actually have a real name and are called Angel’s Trumpets.  It happens when someone who hasn’t seen you in many years looks aghast and exclaims loudly about how much weight you’ve lost and you’re tempted to bust out a few moves to ‘I’m sexy and I know it’ but instead just nod and smile sagely instead.  It happens after you’ve written a few lines of verse and you re-read in amazement that the words turned out just how you wanted in only one go.  It’s when you receive an out-of-the-blue call/text/email/whatsapp/bbm/tweet/inbox message of concern from one of the many people who know and care about you.

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My north star, I have realised, lies in forming connections. I find happiness in shared history, common ground, similar likes and dislikes and the ability to discover something about myself I had no idea existed simply by virtue of seeing myself through another individual’s perspective.  These lead to great stories and, as anyone who knows even the bare minimum about me, I am a sucker for a good story. My happiness experiment has given me some grief this past year, it hasn’t led to permanent contentment, and it was an important part of the process for me to realise that it doesn’t have to.

Going all the way, going after what makes me happy, striving for things that bring a smile to my face – it’s this leap that matters, and I would take it again in a heartbeat.  Because, sometimes, that’s what stops. The heart.  Bhai’s did, and someday mine will too, and when that happens, I don’t want people talking about what I owned or achieved.  I want to be known for the unlikely connections I was able to form, the surprising friendships I pursued and the unexpected yet fantastic stories that emerged out of them.

It’s not easy.  Nothing real is ever easy.  Just writing this post is taking Herculean effort because what I’m typing out is how I think on most days but its conflicting with what I’m thinking RIGHT NOW. Right this second, I realise it’s the 18th of December and I’m suppressing flashbacks of seeing my brother’s body and remembering the touch of his cold fingertips.  At this moment, I’m trying to not recall the weeks and weeks of sleepless nights that ensued that first year and I am now wondering how I can ever get married without having him around to sing at my mehndi or walk me down the aisle.

Happiness is really hard work.  It still requires making tough decisions to eliminate factors in your life that limit your joy, and then communicating and implementing what you have as just airy-fairy ideas into actuality.  Happiness is a process.  It’s taken me 3 years and a dead brother to realise that, and I am nowhere near done.  But I’m trying.

The answer must be in the attempt.

Are you there, big brother? It’s me, your baby sister. Help.

I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately.

You’re often loitering at the back of my mind as it is.  Bulk nestled into the grey beanbag, legs sprawled out so long it’s hard for anyone to cross the room, fingers lazily plucking chords on the guitar in your lap, foot tapping against the adjoining table leg to the acoustic rhythm. You seem to be waiting for something.

Usually, I am able to distract myself. I’ll run an extra mile, raise the volume on my headphones, read another dead poet’s verses, watch a half hour of mundane television.  It’s become increasingly difficult to do any of that now.  You’ve shifted from the periphery of my mind and begun to make yourself comfortable at its forefront and I question why.

You’ve set aside your guitar now (against the wall, careful) and are now sitting up.  The anticipation is as palpable as the tufts of hair that fall when I brush my hair each morning.  Light enough to float away into obscurity, but visible enough to stand out starkly against the white linoleum. Tangible. Dead.

I rack my brain for what to do but it seems to have taken flight in your considerable presence.  I’ve been overworking it lately. It’s likely to have left me out of exhaustion, with a sole lingering sentiment of comfort, “Your big brother is here now. Talk to him.”

And I want to.  It’s unbelievable how badly I want to talk to you right now.  I think back on our last interaction, a few hours before you left.  We’d sat across from each other, I on my laptop, you on yours.  I remember the song I’d made you listen to, and it angers me now.  I could have used those 3 minutes to tell you how much I love you instead.  But that was quintessentially us, affection manifested in a shared taste in music and words.

I try hard to remember some of those words now.  Each attempt seems as feeble as measuring a mile with my fallen hair strands.

I want to be 10 again, in the car with you to Dairy Queen, slurping sagely on a Peanut Buster Parfait as you speak about your current heartbreak.   Did I think it odd then that you were already talking in reminiscence of something that was still present in your life? I think the fudge may have been a sufficient distraction.  You didn’t want any, though, you were too preoccupied voicing the obscure notions plaguing your mind: love, life, and companionship.  I did listen, though, I promise.

I want to be 16 again, choosing to sit in your car and no one else’s, as we head to a family lunch.  I want to sink into the passenger seat, head and heart embroiled in the pitfalls of teenage romance, and stare out the window with eyes still swollen from the waterfalls of the night before.  You hadn’t said much on that drive, the need for conversation had eroded when you’d turned on the stereo.  Ronan Keating’s ‘I Hope You Dance.’ “Listen,” you’d said, “just listen to the words.”  I listened then, too.

I want to be 20 again, trundling around the airport parking lot behind you with my too-heavy suitcase.  I want to turn up the AC as soon as you switch on the engine and remark exasperatedly how the weather in Lahore is just so much better than Dubai’s.  You’d bait me into a playful argument, and I’d keep smiling, holding my tongue, as you poked fun at my new found Punjabi-ness and asked whether I ate channay and lobia for dinner every day.  For the record, I didn’t, but I never much had the chance to say so because then you’d move swiftly on to loudly claiming that you were sure I was failing.  You’d made the exact same claim just a few months ago when I’d called home to report that I was on the Dean’s Honor List.  Each drive home from the airport concluded the exact same way, with you asking if I was hungry and wanted something to eat.

But I am not 10, or 16, or 20.

I am 23, and poised at a liminal point in life, my head has abandoned me and my heart is in no mood to co-operate.  Don’t just sit there, help me.  Give me advice, tell me about a song, point me to the right words. All I want is a conversation with you, Bhai.

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2 Years: It’s been long, but not long enough

Let us take a moment
to pause and stare
Pause and stare at the fresh grave.
At the immeasurable spoonfuls of dirt
that will soon fill
it to the brim.

He died on a spectacularly sunny Saturday.  We left Canada almost a decade ago to relocate to the UAE, a country with one season reigning supreme all year long: summer.  Unlike this year, December wasn’t all that different from March or October in 2010.  To me, it had just been a day like any other in Dubai, hot, humid, and treacherously sweaty.

I had returned home for my annual winter break from college a few ago, and spent most of my time writing or playing with Ayana, my one-year-old niece.  Like my father, my brother was a banker and though Saturday is a working half-day for most banks in Dubai, my brother had been home all day.  In fact, he had decided to take his annual leave early and was going to be home every day for the next two weeks, a fact that did not register too well with me since I’d been planning on spending my days careening across the city and roaming the endless malls.  This would not be easy to do, with an older brother at home who had an inclination to call every hour, enquiring of my whereabouts.  Unknown to me, God had his own plans in motion.

Let us go
Let us embark on a journey
of thought, and descend
six feet under
to pause and stare some more.
Pause and stare
at the body that lies
beneath.

 4:30 pm.  I left the house with my sister, anxious to get some shopping done and spend some of the money Bhai had given me the night before.  This was new.  Usually, I’d have to pull my ‘I’m a poor, broke student’ routine to make him cough up some pocket money but this time, he had given me way more than ever before without even needing to be asked.  Perhaps I’d shouted out “Okay, I’m going now!” from my room downstairs or maybe I’d just flounced out of the house without a word.  Either way, there had been no real goodbye.

7:30 pm. My sister and I were browsing for sportswear, and dreaming aloud about all the things we’d do in London next month, a trip we’d been planning for the better half of a year.  At the same time, my brother had left home, bidding his mother, wife and baby daughter farewell for the very last time, to come to the same mall we were in, Mirdif City Center.  He had a weekly cricket match at its indoor play ground. Till date, I feel uneasy going near that area.

8 pm.  I was strapping on my seatbelt, and my sister and I were about to head out of the mall and back home when we received an unnerving phone call from my father.

“Beta, Bhai has collapsed.  Come to Playnation right away.”

My sister and I had been bewildered, but not as shocked as we should have been.  I’d always seen my brother as having a flair for the dramatic, with every little symptom exaggerated to generate the largest amount of sympathy possible.  I saw this as typical behavior, rolled my eyes and actually thought to myself: Well it’s not like he’s dying. But he was.

8:05 pm. As we maneuvered our way back through the parking lot, a series of phone calls followed with the last one falling like a jagged boulder on our souls.

“Beta, Bhai has died.”

How could my father possibly sound so calm?  His voice seemed wooden, jarringly inappropriate to the words he had spoken.  I couldn’t think, couldn’t move but knew we had to reach him.  I ran through the mall, panting and crying simultaneously, face etched into a mixture of disbelief and hysteria.  My sister must have been running with me but I was no longer aware of anything else but how fast my legs could take me to my brother.  I focused my thoughts again on my father’s tone of voice, the inflection in his words, rather than his actual words themselves.

Notice
the freshly cut nails,
the neatly trimmed hair.
One will yellow gradually,
the other will be nothing
but tufts and wisps
of dark brown.

I pride myself on my descriptive prowess, but even after all this time I cannot figure out how to fully convey the impact of what happened that night.  What i’ve realised is this: its not so much the immediate impact of the death that matters as much as it’s long-term effect.  Our swollen eyes, sleepless nights and struggle to put on brave faces were all just temporary afflictions. It’s what we’ve all experienced since then that is vital.

  • We can say your name without being overcome by a wave of tears every time.  When people ask me how many siblings I have, I am able to mention you.  I can say, ‘I had an older brother’ without my voice breaking.
  • We can smile and fondly remember things you liked to do.
  • We can do some of those things on our own.  We had a bbq last weekend, the first since you left.  You weren’t there to do all the work, but just as we were about to eat, it drizzled for a couple of minutes.  Was that you telling us you’re still with us?
  • We can talk to Ayana about you, and try answering her many, many questions about her Baba.  I can tell her that her love for singing and music probably comes from you, as well as her desire to have a pet turtle.
  • We can still go through moments of hysteria while thinking of you, but then we move past it.  Coming back from Karachi last month, I saw a man who looked a lot like you.  Same stature, same face shape, even a similar way of dressing.  I probably unnerved him by how much I was staring, and my heart broke a little when I lost sight of him, but I survived.
  • We can have dreams about you but still wake up to face reality the next day.  For the past few months, I’ve had this recurring dream in which you come back to us.  I don’t know from where or how, all that’s certain about it is the elation we all feel, and the sweet relief that this whole charade is over.  And when my eyes blink open and I see the framed photo of you I have on my bookshelf, I don’t need to lash out.

Notice
the glassy eyes slightly open.
They have witnessed the yellowing, falling leaves
Of only thirty Octobers.
Notice
the ears stuffed with cotton.
They have heard a crowd roaring, an audience clapping,
a baby crying.
These senses thrived for three decades
but now are dormant.
Not seeing, not hearing.

The truth is this: nothing fazes us any more.  Nothing rings truer than the oft-quoted saying: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  The cessation of your heart ended your life, but the end of your life did not kill us.  It made us stronger.  And with each passing year, our strength grows, our resilience grows firmer.  There are still moments of weakness, but that’s okay.  It’s been two years since you died, sometimes it feels like twenty, sometimes it feels like no time at all has passed.  That’s okay too, because though it has been long, perhaps it hasn’t been long enough.

Time has ceased.
Temporality is no longer
an affliction.
This body will lie forever,
Still and silent.

Let us go now
and ascend back into existence.
The moment to stop and stare
has passed.
It is time now
to let the spoonfuls of dirt
do their duty.

To 2012: Till 30

For a few weeks now, I’ve had this nagging feeling that I’ve been wanting to express.  It’s a feeling that can’t quite be contained within just one word, or even one blog post, for that matter.  It’s a feeling of limbo, of being in a phase of transition between two dimensions of life, of waiting in a playground before being tossed into the middle of a busy highway.  It’s a feeling you try to mask up as excitement but in its raw form can be easily classified as fear. It’s a feeling of uncertainty laced with anticipation so intense that the butterflies in your stomach have now been replaced by bats, blind and raging, flapping about without direction.  It’s a feeling that’s shared by the entire graduating class of 2012.

I’d been toying around with the idea of verbalizing this feeling sometime soon, maybe just a day before graduation.  But now I feel strongly compelled to do it tonight, because, once again, I was reminded of the brevity of life.  I heard about another young death today, another life full of potential extinguished out of the blue, another bundle of hpes and dreams saved for the future and cultivated over time to bring to fruition later.  Because that’s what we tend to do, isn’t it?  We hope, and we dream, and we wonder, and then we gather all these musings up in a box and store them away, thinking “Later, I’ll do all this later.”  But that’s where the error occurs.  That’s where we foolishly get ahead of ourselves.

I wouldn’t say I have experienced a whole lot in my 22 years, but one thing I’ve learned the hard way is this: as easy as it is to think that we will always have time to do things later, it is just as easy for that time to be taken away from us.  It has nothing to do with who lands the dream job first, who gets into the competitive post-grad program, or even who gets married off first.  The simple, honest, and brutal fact is this: EVERYTHING matters.  By everything, I mean, every single moment you spend mulling over life choices and moaning about what’s fair and what’s not and what you could do as opposed to what you should do; these very moments are the ones people take for granted.  This is not a ‘carpe diem’ message or a shout out to motivate people to live life to the fullest.  No, it is a simple call for people to just be aware. 

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My brother died at the age of 30.  Being just some years short of that, I try to wake up and go to sleep with just one thought in my mind: I may have just 8 more years to live, I have to make them count.  My brother led a good life: he lived abroad, he traveled, he loved, he worshiped, he worked, he sang, he created more life.  I can only try to do all these things by the time I am 30.   If there is one graduation lesson that I would like to communicate to everyone, this is it: Live as if you just have till 30.  Don’t wait for a life event to bring you to this realization like I did.  Make everything count, and always, be kind.  Power, fame, and wealth are all great and worth coveting, but the most lasting thing you leave in your life in an impression.  Your legacy will not be what you leave in your will, it will be the amount of goodness you spread, the wisps of memory you leave behind in each person you met.  And you don’t need to be a saint to do it; heck, I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not always the nicest person around.  But once again, all you have to do is be aware.

All those dreams, hopes and wonders that you’ve got tucked away in a box saved for the future, take them out.  Look at them closely, and think hard: are all of them really what you want or just what you thought you wanted before?  Surround yourself with them, and one by one, go for each one.  It ceases to matter whether the end result is failure or success once you become aware of the magnitude of your actions: you’re pursuing phantoms, and eventually, they will become real.  Live in the real world, and don’t box up things that you think don’t match it.  It IS possible to do both, and I know that for a fact.  In the one year following my brother’s death, I chased dreams into reality: I designed my own clothing line, I interned at a corporation, I wrote a novel, and I traveled to a new place.  On its own, each achievement is unique, but together, they form a bundle, one that I had once labelled as “To do in future.”  My bundle turned true, and the main force driving it is the same thought that I share with all of you again: Live as if you just have till 30.  You will be amazed by how much better you will become.

Things are a little different now

I don’t think about you as much anymore.  Wait, that sounds wrong.  The way in which you enter and remain in my mind has changed.  For a long time, the thought of you would strike me suddenly, it would engulf my mind completely and refuse to leave.  I would become strangely paralyzed, unable to go about my day normally.  I would mope around in my room, or take walks to the isolated areas of the campus, and maybe sit in a window alone and let my mind wander with possibilities that could have been.

Things are different now.  You don’t just arrive into my mind and hold it hostage anymore, you’ve sort of set up camp there.  You’re always present in there somewhere, mostly as background music.  When something reminds me of you, your face comes into focus, but only for a moment before becoming pixelated and disappearing again.  I don’t sulk as much or obsess your incompleteness as often, but make an effort to be around those who laugh more naturally, people whose main worry in life isn’t about how to get out of bed and face a new day but about what to wear to do so.

It’s not like I miss you any less now, I suppose the manner of missing has altered.  It used to be a constant ache, but now it’s more of a companionable yearning.  I feel more at ease with missing you now than I did before.  That’s not to say that I don’t still go through phases in which it all happens in front of my eyes again, fresh and frenzied.  That happens too, just not as often as before.  At first, I was upset about this, I thought I was beginning to forget about you; there was even this one time when I panicked about not being able to remember what you looked like.  But of course, that was ridiculous.

(Even the word ‘ridiculous’ has an entire new range of meanings in my life now.  For example, a friend of a friend passed away recently and I heard someone ask someone else, “Is the family dealing with it okay?” and honestly, it took immense self-restraint for me to not burst out laughing and shout out “Are you kidding me?!” Because, honestly, what a RIDICULOUS question to ask.  But of course, for ‘normal’ people, that is a perfectly valid query to put forth.  To them, it sounds like a question of serious concern.  To me, it sounded like a joke. Of course the family is not okay.  Nothing about a sudden, young death is ‘okay.’)

I guess what I’m really trying to say is, I think I’ve become a little braver ever since you died nearly 16 months ago.  Even when I think about how, when I graduate a couple of months from now, I won’t see you sitting in the audience, watching me receive my diploma like you did 4 years ago when I graduated from high school, I tear up, but only for a few seconds.  I don’t let the thought take over my day.  I cope.  Just like I will on every other occasion in which you won’t be there.

So maybe I’ll add this reason to the long list of answers I’ve been recording to the question of “Why?”  Maybe, along with “it was God’s will” or “because the good ones leave early,” I’ll add this to the list.  You left to make us stronger, to make us better.  If only I could tell you now that we were just fine being weak and average.