When I first started writing this post a couple of days ago, I was so alive and so inspired. I was PUMPED. I had plans. I was going to do that – and then do this. I am going to make all my dreams come true. I am in complete control. I’ll finally take ownership. Nothing can stop me.
Ah, how quickly things change.
It must have been last Friday when I woke up to “breaking news” that gravitational waves had finally been detected – a hundred years after Albert Einstein first predicted them.
This didn’t even pique my interest at first. I mean I’m somewhat of a news junkie and I like just knowing things (I once knew a man who found fault with my hunger for knowledge but that’s another story for another day). Science, however, has always eluded me. Unless you are telling me about a bottle of nail polish that can detect rape drugs, it’s very likely I will not be interested in the latest developments in the big, confusing world of Science.
And then I read a New York Times article by Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist, on the detection of these waves. About this breakthrough, he wrote: “Every child has wondered at some time where we came from and how we got here. That we can try and answer such questions by building devices like Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) to peer out into the cosmos stands as a testament to the persistent curiosity and ingenuity of humankind — the qualities that we should most celebrate about being human.”
After reading that, I spent hours reading up on various news sites, and Reddit threads – and this is what I gathered happened: One hundred years ago, a man you might have heard of, Albert Einstein, as part of the theory of general relativity, predicted the existence of gravitational waves.
What does that mean exactly? Basically, anything with mass (stars, planets etc) will distort the space-time continuum. And any huge events (think two huge-ass black holes colliding and then merging) will result in gravitational waves, just like the ripples formed when you throw a pebble into a body of water.
A bunch of people from LIGO built two super huge detectors – one in Washington State and the other in Louisiana.
Long story short: These things detected a signal from gravitational waves that were a result of a collision and merger of two huge black holes from a billion light-years away.
I like that for almost a century, these scientists never stopped searching for more answers, to make the unknown known. They never gave up. There may be a lot of shit going on in the world, and sometimes we (I) tend to focus on all of that way too much. But here, there are these scientists, with their persistent curiosity, looking to uncover the deep secrets of the universe and galaxy far beyond us and our understanding. And it’s beautiful.
Now we have found a new way to look at (or hear) the universe. We will probably better be able to understand huge events that happened a billion light-years ago.
And it’s all because the unknown excites them. Meanwhile, the unknown and the frustratingly constant uncertainty scares me.
When I started writing this post, it was going to be all about how I am going to embrace the uncertainty. I’m young! I too want to be active in searching for my own answers, my own truths and my own destiny. And more importantly, I wanted to be persistently curious – just like those scientists. I was so excited to tick things off a list that for now only resides in my mind.
For most of 2015, I had completely lost sight of my dreams, and my passions. I was too busy tending to that creature inside of me – the one that’s fed by nagging self-doubts and insecurity.
A culmination of events that began with my trip to Europe then slowly forced me to expunge that creature from inside of me and start tending to myself instead. I remembered more dreams, created new ones, and actually started to form plans that would make them come true.
But even then, I felt that this constant fear of rejection was a hindrance to my growth. I could never deal well with rejection – after all, in my 26 years, I’ve never really been rejected. I’ve been an abnormally lucky person with not many war stories and virtually zero battle scars.
It was only in December when I finally felt that kick in my ass, the one that told me to just go for it. Fuck all the consequences. At least I would have tried with all of my effort. That was enough.
It was then, when I was lucky enough to head to the US for two weeks. The first five nights in San Francisco were part of an Airbnb experience that I was fortunate to be a part of. And it’s also where I met the most wonderful people, whose stories I often think about even today as examples of lives well-lived.
Toby Klayman, a San Francisco artist well into her 80s, is one such person.
I used to think that I didn’t want to live a long life. I would be too tired by the end of it, I thought. I didn’t want physical complications to hinder me from living a fulfilling life. I didn’t want to be alive thinking that I’d rather be doing a whole host of other things. But that was just stupid, because here I am doing just that. I didn’t need to be 80, with a frail body, to be feeling all of those feelings.
Yet Toby, while no longer as youthful, is still learning and is still very much alive – sometimes more so than me.
Born to a conservative family, she too faced a lot of pressure from her parents while still enjoying a fantastic upbringing.
Her parents raised her up to think for herself, and be independent. But when she was at home though, she had no choice but to obey. (It’s something I struggle with even today). They also tried to fix her up with a man to marry (sounds familiar…) – and were less than pleased to find that she had sworn to devote her life to art, which she discovered at 18.
What I liked about her story was that despite consistent pressures, she paved her own way to create her own destiny, to finish her own story. She wasn’t going to let anyone fill in her chapters for her.
More importantly, Toby never lost sight of her goal.
To truly be independent, she moved away from her parents. After that, mistakes were made, lessons were learned, and she kept living – mostly through her art.
She told us that she had experienced a lot of pain and she channelled all of that into her art. I sat opposite her in her cosy kitchen, which was covered wall-to-wall with her paintings (and her husband’s) as she told us her story with such candor, wit and warmth.
When she was 20, she spent a weekend with a black man and then eventually found out she was pregnant. Toby knew that her parents would be upset especially because he was black, and feared that she would end up having to move in with them and have her freedom severely curtailed. So she kept it a secret. Not a believer of abortion, she gave her baby up for adoption five days after she gave birth to the baby girl.
After that, she moved to San Francisco with not much money and poured herself into her work. She found success but never stopped thinking about the girl. It was a closed adoption, so she legally couldn’t go looking for her. But she left a letter in court files just in case her daughter went looking for her.
And she did.
Slightly more than 25 years ago, her daughter, Sue Harris, called her after her adoptive mother died and they eventually reconnected.
Now they share a loving relationship – and Toby has since re-adopted her as her daughter.
I don’t think I can ever forget the way she spoke about Sue. Overflowing with pride is not quite it although I could tell how proud she was of her. It was almost like she was so content with her life – but she knew that there was only more happiness and pride to be felt. Toby was not quite done with life.
And why would she? She is now happily married to another fantastic artist, Joseph Branchcomb. They met when she was 56 at a coffee shop at Mission Street in San Francisco.
I don’t think I’ve ever been convinced of the idea of soulmates. My belief in the idea of soulmates seemed to be confined to movies and literature and evaporates as the credits roll or if there are no more pages to flip. Then it’s back to a reality where “the one” is a concept to be laughed at.
But as I observed the two of them, I started to think that I too could wait 56 years for my soulmate if it meant I could be as happy and comfortable as them.
In the movie Beginners, Hal (Christopher Plummer) has a question for his son, Oliver.
Hal asks: “Well, let’s say that since you were little, you always dreamed of getting a lion. And you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait but the lion doesn’t come. And along comes a giraffe. You can be alone, or you can be with the giraffe.”
Oliver replies: “I’d wait for the lion.
Hal says: “That’s why I worry about you”.
I’ve never been much of a romantic – and I still struggle to believe that there is such a thing as Love. Or rather, I don’t believe that Love is what movies and music make it out to be. It seems like such a grandiose idea that only encompasses the good feelings. No one ever talks about how Love could actually be annoying and a pain in the ass.
I do feel like I have since experienced quick five-second flashes of feelings that are probably congruent to Love. Almost there, but not quite. Isn’t that always the case?
Anyway, I’ve always believed that I’d choose the giraffe. What’s the point in waiting for a lion that might not even turn up?
And then I see Toby and Joe, and suddenly I want to wait for my lion too. Isn’t there something romantic about that kind of faith?
When I started writing this post a couple of days ago, I was full of fire. Nothing could stop me.
And then yesterday, it dawned on me that the more plans, hopes and dreams I had, the more I had to lose. And I was just angry and annoyed at my loosening grip of control over almost every aspect of life. And suddenly, I couldn’t believe all the words that I had written just a few days before. I was mad. I deleted almost everything.
I woke up this morning reluctantly, with my sheets over my head, pleading with Time to stop, so I didn’t have to get back up. But 7.01am turned into 7.31am and I had to come to terms with the fact that my prayers weren’t heard. I stood, defeated, under the shower, and told myself to breathe in, and breathe out and that I’ll be okay even after I step out of the shower. I wasn’t completely convinced but I had to find a way out of that shower.
Over the course of the day, I slowly came to reconcile with the fact that I may not be in complete control. And that’s okay (or at least I’m trying to be okay with it).
Those LIGO scientists were at the behest of the fucking universe and galaxy and an event that happened 1.8 billion light years away. And that didn’t stop them.
Toby kept on going with her art, with her life, with her dreams, despite everything that was thrown in her way. To her, giving up was not even an option. She kept looking, she kept living, and she hasn’t stopped learning.
Even till this day, she is always trying to keep up with the newest apps, the newest technologies so that she can market and sell her art, and help her students learn. (You have no idea how much I learned about Pinterest from her).
Sometime last year, just before my US trip, I read Gilead, an amazing novel by Marilynne Robinson. It is written from the point of view of Reverend John Ames, a 77-year-old man, who married late, and has a young son.
He finds out that he is dying so he writes a book for his son.
Even as he is dying, Ames continues to marvel at the small wonders of life, of the planet – a reminder that even the most insignificant things can bring great amounts of joy. And I know that. Some of my happiest memories are also the most frivolous, insignificant moments. But in pursuit of a kind of bigger, grander version of Happiness, I often lose sight of that.
So this long, long, long, ranty blog post is a reminder to me (and to anyone who needs it) that it’s important to let go a little and continue that search for answers to all your unknowns – no matter how long it takes. And that there will be pain, hardship, confusion, and doubts during that journey. But there will also be moments of joy.
Ames writes: “Adulthood is a wonderful thing, and brief. You must be sure to enjoy it while it lasts.”
I think I will.