Clouds gather overhead. They thicken, culminating into pure darkness.
From the caliginosity, a spark is born. The spark is nurtured until it reaches its precipice. It is too much for the darkness to handle. Suddenly, it escapes the clutches of the gloominess. In wondrous fashion, the spark has evolved into a towering lightning bolt, and, with a thunderous crackle, strikes the earth below it. It’s a beautiful phenomenon, an instance of the Circle of Life, which happens in the blink of an eye. The bolt is born; the bolt is gone. Just like that.
Yet, not all of Earth’s inhabitants find the allure of this wonder. Sometimes, the death of the bolt kindles the creation of another spark. That spark catches wind and erupts into scattered embers amongst the dry earth. Just as your first blink missed the life and death of the booming bolt, your second blink misses the ensuing chaos of a sudden wildfire. Citizens, frantically filled with adrenaline, rush to salvage what they can in a moment’s notice. Onlookers, with mouths gaping, stare in horror. How could something so beautiful birth something so savage?
Now what do you witness? Are you still focused on the disparity, or do you behold its true beauty?
Some choose to only pay attention to the pandemonium of natural disaster. Some, afflicted with mental illness, are forced into this perspective.
Yet, those gifted with expansive vision are able to see the grace garnered by the plight. While there is a fire marching towards massive destruction, as though it was led by the ghost of William Sherman himself, preventative measures take place. Brave men and women of the community rally together to combat what seems like a David and Goliath-like fight. If they’re unable to deflate it, they at least direct it to where the least amount of damage will arise. Mother Nature then hears the Earth and its inhabitants’ pleas for mercy, and she devises a plan to extinguish the flames. She conjures up a storm, similar to that started this whole incident, which weeps for the fire to sleep. And it does. It listens.
Those affected by the fire are lifted up by the community in their hard times. They will go on, and their earthly losses will be reconciled in time; but, they may have lost something they cannot replace, whether it be a memento, a pet, or a loved one. Simultaneously, the Earth begins its reconstruction. The scorched ground is unsightly, yet fruitful, and the forestry will grow back even more lush and vibrant with time. The wildlife will refurnish their territory. The world will return to balance, and even stronger before.
I’m not saying wildfires are great; I send my condolences out to anyone that has been affected. I was in Bondurant, Wyoming — just miles from the origin — when the Cliff Creek fire broke out. It is still raging up in the alpines, and well over 30,000 acres, contained until snowfall, experts say. I saw the pure panic and mobilization of Bondurant’s community. Such a small town mustered so much strength, it was a truly life-changing experience.
We have to be alert of the fact that pain is in store for the near future, but fortitude will rise from the ashes. We must only be aware that misery happens for our benefit. Without it, would we appreciate the beauty of the world? Would we appreciate the joys of life?
The bountiful tears fallen from my eyes in the wake of my sister’s suicide has rewarded me with immense appreciation for my family that remains, and greater literacy of mental health. Quitting my job in the midst of uncertainty led to a far more opportunistic occupation that I find true joy partaking in. My parents’ divorce when I was younger changed my surroundings for the better, and expanded my amazing family even further.
Out of darkness, light will prevail. Whatever your beliefs are, believe in a better tomorrow. Believe that the world is opportunistic, not tragic. Believe in love and hope, not hatred and animosity. When mankind is roused by holistic, beneficial ideology, great things have been accomplished. Greater than any holy war, any terrorist attack, any loss of loved ones. Civilizations are built, role models are molded, and from death comes life.
This is the way I will continue living my life. I have to in order to respect the loss of my sister, and other loved ones. It is the way I’ll continue to preach. It is the way I strive to exemplify for others. It is the way that will lead us through tiring hardships. It is the way the light will be born out of darkness.
“It’s the size of a grapefruit.”
I imagined the bitter, fleshy pink fruit. In my mind’s eye the fruit sat, covered in layer of white, granular sugar, untouched with a silver spoon gleaming beside it. My trance dissipated like a curling cloud of smoke as I listened to my mother’s voice through the phone.
I knew it was too late. It was too big. It wasn’t caught soon enough. It was a tumor, and it was draining my last surviving grandparent of her life.
The air was hot and humid, with the smell of food simmering on the stove. It was the kind of air that makes you feel like just one breath could give you a mouthful of whatever was cooking. I walked further into my oma’s kitchen and peered into the bubbling pot on the stove. With her giant spin in her hand, she wagged it towards me as she asked, “Hungry?” with her mouth pulled back into a sly grin.
She already knew the answer; no one could resist her spaetzle dumplings, dripping with browned butter. I gave her a long hug, pressed against the cool silk of the draping mumu that provided her a sort of sanctuary in the hot kitchen. Then I took the heaping plate.
“Wait, so how far along is she? Like, how advanced is it,” I questioned, still in shock, still hoping.
“Honey, she’s very sick.”
“Should I come home? Is it bad?”
“If you can, I think you should come…” To say goodbye?
It wasn’t said, but then again it didn’t have to be. The short exchange, now seared into my memory, was enough to tell me everything I needed to know. Tears began to well in my eyes, salty and stinging as they ran down my face. The cold night air rested on my tear-stained cheeks like a cold kiss, the dark silhouettes of buildings forming a voyeuristic audience to my grief. Almost shocked by the sound of my sobs, I went back to my apartment and feel into my bed.
“Hoopah-radah-ridah-da-felda-in-da-craada. Oops, there goes the baby in-da-craada.”
Memories of lullabies from a foreign land, dripping with harsh German enunciations, dance through my mind as I look at photos of my grandmother, cradling me as a baby. She was there, gazing down at my thick, black hair, my closed eyes, my rosebud lips, cherishing the simplicity of my total innocence. But now I’m here, cradling this photo of her, observing her in her youth. I take notice of her dark hair that’s so much like my own, and her air of seriousness that seems to radiate from the glossy image.
It never stops—an infallible machine that never needs greasing or turning, wrenching or polishing. Who takes care of time? It certainly doesn’t take care of us. I wondered how long it took for the cancer to metastasize to form the massive tumor, situated atop my oma’s liver. How many seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, it took for the malignant mass to form, and for the cancer to stake its claim.
It took three hours to drive back to Rome, straight to the hospital, when my last class ended on Friday. My mother came to the lobby, to bring me to the sterile hospital room, where my grandmother lay surrounded by family. My mother whispered in my ear, “She doesn’t have long. I didn’t realize she would go this quickly…”
I nodded, and then neared the hospital bed, the ambient lighting casting a glow on my oma’s pale skin. I reached out to touch her hand, still as lovely as it had always been. I heard my aunt murmur, “She’s always had beautiful skin, hasn’t she?” I gazed down at her fingers, interlaced with mine. Over fifty years my senior and little differed between ours, besides my slightly darker complexion.
Of course, she didn’t stir from her sedated state, propped on her side as to avoid pressing on the painful tumor. All I could do was stare at her, sleeping so peacefully, only the slightest signs of her regular breaths. Inhaling and exhaling, her chest mimicked the ocean tides, and I felt soothed for a little while.
The hardest part wasn’t the funeral. It wasn’t the process of cleaning out her home, full of memories from my youth. It wasn’t that seeing my oma’s twin sister when she came to town was like seeing a ghost. It was saying goodbye to her, in that dimly lit hospital room, knowing that it was the last time. It’s an eerie thing, saying your last goodbyes to someone who is still alive. So unnatural and shocking it seemed to me at the time that I couldn’t utter a simple goodbye out loud.
I turned to my family who watched me as I stood by the hospital bed, and sobbed, “I can’t do it. I can’t say goodbye…” But what I could do was hold her hand, and I did.
So that no one else has to feel the pain of saying goodbye, for the last time, to loved one dying of cancer. I relay because cancer has gone too far. It’s taken one too many wonderful beings from this world. For all those who are battling cancer, know someone who is battling cancer, or hope that they will never have either of these connections: I’m implore you to direct your passion to this cause. Whatever your motives are, everyone who relays has the same goal—to beat cancer.
“Is there any way you can get your waist and hip measurements down? Then we’d love to have you.”
There is something very wrong with these words that are being said to many girls across the world. It’s not okay to make girls think that if they don’t have a 24-inch waist, they can’t walk the runway.
That they aren’t wanted. They aren’t beautiful. Because that’s definitely not true. People tell me all the time that at 5’11 I should be a model. But every time I get close to being sucked into the industry, I am sent back to reality and realize that I don’t want to support this industry.
Just because I have good genes means I get an opportunity that others can’t have? That’s not right. I love being in front of a camera and getting to dress up as a new person each time, and that’s something every girl deserves. Everyone deserves to feel beautiful, even more so than the Victoria’s Secret models.
Because there are so many girls out there who aren’t being recognized for their beauty both on the inside and outside. It’s easy to feel self-conscious about yourself, but just know – you aren’t alone. There isn’t a person in the world that doesn’t have insecurities about something. So recognize yourself. Be proud of yourself. Don’t let what you see in magazines and on TV discourage you, because under all of that professional hair and makeup, they’re normal people just like you and me.
So get out there – dance like nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening, and enjoy life to the fullest – and capture it with your memory or camera. We all deserve to feel happy and beautiful. After all, we are just ordinary people capable of extraordinary things. Oh, and don’t forget to smile!
Size matters. Whether it’s with actions or appearances, we are told that our purpose in life is to “do big things.” This, however, is a tall order—one that can invoke much confusion and frustration.
However, to attain clarity in the midst of such extremes, flock to the rooftop of Prem Dan. A home for the elderly, sick, and dying, it is a microcosm in the midst of a city encapsulated by a haze of smog and spices: Kolkata, India.
The streets are alive with beggars and merchants bartering their fresh produce. Rickshaws and tut-tuts compete with taxis and buses for space in the tight mazes that constitute the roads.
The gutters are intricately decorated with trash and dust strewn in piles. Pedestrians shuffle about with careful steps.
Footsteps of thousands of people combined with the staccato of the cars honking set the stage for the bass and treble. From the roof, one can hear the throaty, Islamic call to prayer, the poetic Bengali folk music streaming from nearby window sides, and a train rumbling along the tracks all at once.
The sharp call, of “Auntie!” interrupts this rhythm that snaps one back to the reality that lies behind the doors of Prem Dan.
A little fast thinking and quick hands, and sopping wet dresses and shorts are fling from each direction, slapping as they hit the ground.
Slowly, the roof transforms from a bare no-man’s-land of parallel bars and perpendicular wires, to a rainbow maze of drying fabrics. Within the first few minutes, hands are already stinging from wringing out the laundry laced with lye soap.
Yet, the concept of time itself does not exist—it is difficult to differentiate the third trip from the thirteenth trip up the six flights of stairs leading to the open air. Instead, time is undercover as a metronome ticking with the alternating acts of entry and re-entry.
Entry takes one down with an empty tin pail to the ground level, a chasm of medicine, chemicals, and fecal matter. Re-entry returns the passenger, bucket in hand now overflowing, to the scenic rooftop that welcomes with a comforting inhale of fresh air.
The rooftop is particularly transformative in that it is the source of clarity in Prem Dan. It paints a birds-eye-view picture of Kolkata.
Surrounding Prem Dan is a concentric layer of poverty. Within that ring are many hidden rings of true poverty and organized begging cartels that traffick women and children into a cycle of oppression. The border of this ring is thick with indifference.
There is a layer marked by stark contrast. The ornate opulence of vibrantly colored temples houses gods, and the filth-ridden streets. The streams of friendly greetings to one another are welcoming, while the incessant honking and yelling is disconcerting.
The metal cots are not draped with Frette, and the daal makhani is not served on a silver platter. Yelling and seemingly harsh methods of helping the women and men that reside may not strike a chord of unison with what volunteers would deem as appropriate, but there is an undeniable bond of hope.
It is a community of care that unites thousands from around the world with its Bengali employees and nuns to serve with an open heart and mind. In the midst of another, larger place in which you are less valuable than a piece of chapatti, it is a place in which the good you do will feel rewarding.
Its rooftop shows a vast stretch of city, of which every inch is alive and beating with sensory overload. This makes the goal of making an impact and invoking progress through service seem totally unattainable.
However, there is something about entering the doors of Prem Dan that shuts off any notions of frustration and exhaustion from the chaos of the city that surrounds it. Each exit from Prem Dan back to Kolkata instills a newfound sense of purpose and ambition. This purpose and ambition is to put diligence into every small effort.
Mother Teresa once said that although the entire world may not ever notice what you do, it is imperative to do whatever “it” may be anyway, and to not underestimate the power of the smallest of efforts.
In the small vicinity of Prem Dan, the opportunity to pluck each chance for change awaits; to serve with purpose, passion, and senses of humility and grace. It no longer matters that the surrounding world is ridden with an infinite amount of glorious imperfections. What matters is the small efforts dedicated to serving wholeheartedly.
Though there are moments in which the vastness of Kolkata feels overwhelming, it is possible to find clarity and instill a sense of capability through service at Prem Dan.