My Birthday

The fragrance always remains on the hand that gives the rose.
~ Mohandas K. Gandhi

Today is my birthday.
32 years ago today, I came into this world.

In most of the world, birthdays are a time of taking.
Receiving wishes, getting gifts, being treated like royalty.

But when I was in India, I learned that in many parts of the world, birthdays are actually a time of giving. The children at the school where I volunteered had the opportunity to be out of uniform for the day so they could  wear their best outfit, and they handed out candy or sweets to all of the students and teachers.

The most beautiful part was that, since this was a school for underprivileged children - from the streets, the slums, or orphanages - they had nothing, and yet, on their birthday, they still gave. Even though their families may not have enough to feed themselves some days, they gave.

It was humbling to be in an environment where, even in the midst of perceived nothingness, there was so much generosity. And here, we have so much, and in the midst of all this too-much-ness, we often still want more.

I read an article about a young guy who, instead of doing a "bar crawl" on his birthday - where you and your friends jump from bar to bar and drink yourselves silly - he invited his friends to do a "service crawl", instead. And they walked the streets of Manhattan doing good things for people.

What an inspiring idea.

To take your day and show the world exactly why it is better with you in it.

Definitely an idea I can ascribe to. 

So today, I ask you this:
Celebrate my birthday with me. Do something nice for someone else. And as a birthday gift, tell me about what you did.

Holding a door open, smiling at someone, or volunteering at a shelter. There will be no better birthday gift for me than receiving messages of random of acts of kindness around the world.

I hope this is my best birthday ever... for all of us, and for everyone we meet.

For it is in giving that we receive.
~ St. Francis of Assisi

Just in case it's my birthday

Just in case it's my birthday...
~ Reya Amel Davis

For months now, my little niece, Reya, has been obsessed with the idea of her birthday.

The other day, my sister and Reya were leaving the house for the day, and when they got to the car, my sister noticed Reya was carrying a dress in her hand. When asked why she was taking the dress along with her for the day, she scrunched her nose, nodded very seriously, and said, "Just in case it's my birthday."

Reya is two.

Clearly, she hasn't yet exactly grasped the concept of a birthday and the fact that it doesn't pop up unexpectedly when you were looking the other way.

But she's ready for it, just in case it does.

After my sister told me the story, I realized that as much as we think we know - Reya's actually got life all figured out. She's excited about the possibility that there may be something awesome right around the corner. What a way to live!

And I realized that the older we get, the more we get entangled in fear. Fear of the unknown, of the unexpected, of all the bad things that could happen if we're not paying attention. And we forget that it's not just bad things that can catch us off guard. Amazing things could be eagerly anticipating our arrival, too. Happy surprises could just as likely be waiting for us around the bend.

She taught me that life is not just about preparing for the worst all the time. It's about being prepared for the best, too. Like Reya, we could all use a little enthusiastic anticipation at the possibility of the great unknown. The fantastic unknown. The unknown that's going to knock us off our feet, laughing.

So the next time I head out for a day of unknowns, I'm going to carry a dress...

Just in case it's my birthday.

Towards the great unknown

The Rules of Defeat

We are not defeated when we lose:
we are defeated when we quit.
~ Paulo Coelho

I have a story I tell people about all the things I quit in my life.

Piano lessons after 12 years, right before I passed the exam to college-level.
Swimming lessons right before I got my final badge to go to lifeguard classes.
Bharat Natyam lessons because of my teacher.
Skating lessons.
And I can go on.

These are the things I choose to remember. 

I almost tell this story as if I should get a badge of honour for having lived it. And then I feel crappy about myself. Every day I carry this story around with me, it reminds me of all the things I failed at in my life. All the things I never completed. All the things that, when it came time for that final oomph to succeed, I dropped, as if success were a hot coal and I couldn't bear to carry it any longer.

There is a fine line between the fear of failure and the fear of success.
But if you let them, both fears end in defeat. 

There is a comfort in staying right where you are. A warmth in being surrounded by what you know. I know this place I'm in. And the places I could go scare me. So I stay here. In this place where I am comfortable, but not exactly happy and not exactly unhappy.

We all have a story. And we can change that story whenever we decide to. But we often choose to stay exactly where we are because it's what we know. And what we know is so much safer than what we don't know. Safer than all the things out there that could go wrong. What we know is the lesser of the two evils. Because what we don't know is a scary place full of the monsters we tell ourselves are out there. We're scared.

We're scared of being defeated, so we stop trying.
And when we stop trying, when we quit, when we let that fear win, we are already defeated...
by our own Self.

I think, in the back of my mind, I am scared of succeeding, of being completely happy, and then having it be taken away from me. I've had and I've lost. And I think I am scared that if I do have again, I may lose all over again, too. And I think that's a bigger torture than not having at all. So I stay here. In limbo. Where I neither have nor lose.

But the truth is, every day I stay here, I lose.

This is not a comfort zone, it's armour. A shield against the bad stuff. Be careful. Watch out. Don't get too successful or you won't be able to handle it. Don't love too much because you might get hurt. Don't get too happy because the universe might suddenly feel the need to balance things out.


But there is a little voice inside that says

I think I'm going to start listening to her.

Caution: Speed Bump

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
~ Jalal ud-Din Rumi

Every day for a few months, I would pass by a sign that said

The thing is, there was no speed bump there. It seems there used to be, but it must have been removed, and someone probably forgot to take down the sign.

This made me think of our own lives and how, when we are hurt - which we all are at some time - we begin to build speed bumps in our heart. These speed bumps remind us of what people have done to us, the ways in which we have been failed, the things that have gone wrong in our lives. These speed bumps tell us that we should be careful with love, that we should not trust easily, that we should be wary of the world.

But when these hurts pass and we learn to love and trust again, we keep that sign up.

Just in case.

We think it will help us to be more wary in the next situation. That we can learn from the mistakes of the past and tread more carefully throughout life so we don't get hurt again. But that's not the way it works.

Yes, getting hurt is not fun. But it is part of life. And it will happen again. Trust me, it will. There is no barrier against it. And if we want it to, it can make us stronger and better people. But what it shouldn't do is make us shut down. We should let love and friendship in, enjoy every part of it, and maybe even get hurt again.

Because we know we can heal.
If we choose to.

And I think that's the thing with love. We start building so many barriers in our heart against it, so many conditions that must be met, so many "rules of engagement" that we forget that love is something that is meant to be done freely, with an open heart, with no speed bumps and no signs to tell us to slow down.

So for those of us living every day with caution signs up, who slow down when we don't need to, remember:

The speed bump is gone.
Take down the sign.

The Old Man in the Box

Do not allow me to forget you.
~ Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

I have a picture of an old man whose name I never knew. He sits inside a cement opening covered by a tin sheet to stop the rain. Stuffed into a crease above him are a few rags. I pass by him and he looks at me and brings his hands together in Namaste. His eyes are so full, they are empty. They have seen too much. His folded hands look like a plea.


The cement opening is his home. The tin sheet, his roof.
He wears white. The colour of mourning. Because he knows I will forget.

We all do.

Day in and day out of my life, I won't think of his face. I won't remember his poverty. Instead, I will get caught up in my own poverty. A poverty of my own making. I will count pennies and lament rising prices. I will think of all the things I do not have. And I will forget that he lives in a cement enclave that might already be bulldozed through because the government decided it was illegal for some people to have a place to call home. I will forget that he has to pay a fee to use the latrine so he goes by the train tracks instead. I will forget that some days, most days, he does not eat.

And I will forget that he folded his hands in prayer to me. In thanks. For taking his picture and giving him a story. For looking at him in the eyes and reminding him he is still a person.

He had forgotten.

And even though I forget him most of the time, sometimes, I remember. And when I remember, I want to fall to his feet. I want to beg him to stop looking at me. To unfold his hands. I am not worthy of his respect. I forget him. All the time.

I forget him when I look through my house and feel bored by the vastness of what I own. I forget him when I take too much food and throw away what I cannot eat. I forget him when I sleep in my warm bed. I forget him when I cry.

I forget.

But I have a picture of an old man whose name I never knew. Sitting inside a cement opening. His hands folded in thanks. So I fold my own. And I remember.

Even if only for a moment.
I remember.

And I am grateful.