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Memoirs: Racing into the seventies…

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Memoirs: Racing into the seventies…
Author Nazarul Islam (Right) with his friend Dr Tanveer Khan

One big juicy, messy, hard, joyful, and a ‘quiet’ life. That’s what my 70 years have bequeathed me.

By Nazarul Islam

All my life, my heart has sought a thing that I haven’t been able to define.

I have breezed through my proverbial three score years and ten. My friends at the gym try to convince me, this is an age of freedom, a young age for an older person to be, but it is the oldest I have ever been by a long shot. It has been well over six decades since I learned in arithmetic how to carry the one, and the rest has sped by like a ‘microfiche’.

One big juicy, messy, hard, joyful, and a ‘quiet’ life. That’s what my 70 years have bequeathed me.

In my teens, already reeling with my share of fun and excitement, I didn’t know what to expect at 21, and at 21, out of control, I really didn’t care what I would  see 30. Surprisingly at 30, I had read tons of classics, dramas, history, literature and the Western thought—books strictly, but then, as a sober friend put it, I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.

Then at 32, I paused for a breath of fresh air. Life suddenly stood still for me, perhaps to appreciate the miracle of my life from which all other blessings flow. My son was born one year later.

The apple fell close to the tree: My son avoided my mistakes, and unlike me simply avoided going off the rails. And unlike me, he didn’t want to make God laugh, sharing his own plans. He was cautious. He took one step at a time.

The baby grew up well, street smart and a sports lover. He went first to his school and then to college, graduating cum laude, got his learner’s permit that turned out to be the gift of a lifetime. My son and I learned our lessons and like skills, and didn’t mind growing up together.

Then after a long search, I reconnected with my school friend Tanvir—a brilliant scholar—truly kind, who helped realize a dream I secretly yearned. Hr published my first book called “Chasing Hope “. And finally, when I woke up, a lot of water had flown under the bridge. I was 70. Seventy!

Nazarul IslamI like to think and foolishly imagine that I am only 57. My paperwork does not back this up. I don’t feel old, because your inside self doesn’t age. When younger people ask me when I graduated from high school and I say 1968, there’s a moment’s pause, as if this is inconceivable and I might as well have said 20 B.C. That’s when I feel my age. But I smile winsomely because, while I would like to have their skin, hearing, vision, memory, balance, stamina and focus, I would not go back even one year.

My older friends and I know a thing or two. In general, though, I know how little I know. This is a big relief.

I know that my lifelong belief, that to be beyond reproach offers shelter and protection, is a lie. Shelter is an inside job, protection an illusion. We are as vulnerable as kittens. Love fends off the worst of it.

I know now that everyone is screwed up to some degree, and that everyone screws up. Oh, my God! I thought for decades it was just me. And that all of us had been issued owner’s manuals in second grade, the day I was home with measles. We are all figuring it out as we go. Aging is like the years at the College!

I know the beauty of shadows. Shadows show us how life can gleam in contrast. Sunshine might be dancing outside the window, but the wonder is in the variegation, with fat white clouds bunched up on the right casting shadows on the hills and gardens, and brushstrokes of gray clouds on the left and — most magical — the long narrow shawl of fog right across the top of the ridge.

I know a very little bit about God, or goodness, or good orderly direction. I am a believer, but I don’t trouble myself about ultimate reality, the triune nature of any deity or the Holy Ghost. I say ‘help a lot, and thanks’!

I know about something I like to call dark hope, most obvious to me in the people who swooped in and helped me get back to a serious life in 1980.

I know the beauty of shadows. Shadows show us how life can gleam in contrast. Sunshine might be dancing outside the window, but the wonder is in the variegation, with fat white clouds bunched up on the right casting shadows on the hills and gardens, and brushstrokes of gray clouds on the left and — most magical — the long narrow shawl of fog right across the top of the ridge.

The day is saying, who knows how the weather will morph, but meanwhile so much is possible. And that is life asserting itself.

I know life will assert itself. Knowing this means I have a shot at some measure of pliability, like a willow tree that is maybe having an iffy day.

I know everything is in flux, that all things will turn into other things. I am uncomfortable with this but less so than in younger years. I recall someone saying “Look into a flower, and what do you see? Into the very heart of nature’s double nature — that is, the contending energies of creation and dissolution, the spring toward complex form and the tidal pull away from it.”

So I don’t sweat feeling a little disoriented some days. I have grown mostly unafraid of my own death, except late at night when I head to Google and learn that my symptoms are similar to some dreadful disease.

I know and am constantly aware of how much we have all lost and are in danger of losing — I am not going to name names — and am awash with gratitude for lovely, funny things that are still here and still work.

I know how to let go now, mostly, although it is not a lovely Hallmark process, and when well-wishers from my spiritual community exhort me to let go and let God, I want to tease them. But I know that when I finally tell a best friend of my thistly stuckness, the telling is the beginning of release. You have to learn to let go.

Otherwise, you get dragged, or you become George Costanza’s (fictional character from the TV show ‘Sienfield” father pounding the table and shouting, “Serenity now!”

I know that people and pets I adore will keep dying, and it will never be okay, and then it will, sort of, mostly. I know the cycle is life, death, new life, and I think this is a bad system, but it is the one currently in place.

I know I will space out and screw up right and left as I head out on my outdoor locations , say things I wish I could take back, forget things, sometimes onstage, and lose things. I just will.

I recently went to Holy Mecca, where my better half was on her sacred journey—the Hajj, which indeed is a spiritual retreat and as life would have it, of all the mundane things, I had forgotten to pack my pants. My pants! And last month, I went to give a talk at a teacher’s gathering two and forgot to bring my write-up. I am quite pale, almost light blue in some places — think of someone from “Game of Thrones” with a head cold — and ghostly under bright lights.

I gave myself an inspiring pep talk on my inner perceptions and the light within. And then I had a moment of clarity: I asked the person driving me to the venue to stop at the Indian grocery store and buy some juicy, ripe mangoes.  Somehow, I have always felt that sweet mangoes create a gloss on my face, and makes me look younger.

After all, Age is just a number when you still know how to shine. And I guess, I shone.

Read: Breezy days…

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The Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his articles.

 

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