A Beautiful Day In A Soft Neighborhood
This has been a month of recolonising my life. I’m repopulating my world, spring-cleaning my soul. Actually I’ve been doing that all this year, not by choice but because as Anais Nin said,
‘there came a time when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom’
It has been a hard life. Literally. One of being born into a fighting stance. There is no room for pause in survival mode or softness in a warrior. But this year, the final dregs of my rusted armour & the last of my blood drained away. Dramatic? Yes. I have lost all sense of self, identity, relationships and home. What remains when that is all gone? The space to build anew. That has not gone.
I bought a new bed, my first. I’ve always slept in homes where the furniture was chosen by somebody else. At first, I was too young to choose. Then I was bound by renter’s limitations, the lesser rights that of a transient life or someone wanting to travel light. The last time I moved bedrooms, I had been thrown out of a home I’d been building with limited resources, in the midst of an abusive relationship. My family rescued me and brought me back to a space that none of us had thought I’d occupy again. I was not in any condition to do anything. So, in the same vein of the transient life, a temporary bed arrangement came into being.
It has been a decade since that time. It took me years to rebuild myself from the devastation of that period and in that rebuilding, I accumulated things that I could not discern as crutches or possessions. My life also became the dumping ground for other people’s sad excesses. In seeking safety within an unsafe life, I tried to become a space of all that I had been denied – acceptance. And unfortunately as one of my meditations predicted, this meant hungry energies from every direction came flooding in.
Earlier this year, in a massive restructuring that I had no control over, I found myself having to let go of a lot. Deadweight possessions, gifts that were bribes, objects that were excuses to control, flags that were markers of other people’s colonisation of my life. And hence, traumas. I’ve spent six months since then in a much emptier space. In that time COVID came knocking once, then twice. And I found myself having to let go of expectations and everything.
The best I can explain this is with swimming (a love, a reprieve I’ve been able to return to after nearly three years). When you’re underwater, there is such an overwhelming influx of scary things – garbled noises, blurry visions, burning in your nostrils – that you forget to worry about the things that otherwise embed themselves as part of you. All you care about is your next breath and in that breath, everything but that in you which breathes, dislodges and floats away. I have been swimming longer, better, faster and with less resistance this year. And the same goes for my sense of self and hence my space.
Sometime last month, I became aware of the sheer misery I wake up in every morning. When you’re so burdened by worries, you start to pick the most urgent ones to deal with and the non-urgent (but still corrosive) ones continue eating away into your being. Ten years I’ve slept in a makeshift arrangement, a box rather than a bed, editing down my being in the one time I should be spreading out – sleep. I think I’ve forgotten what it is to truly rest. In making space of acceptance for the rest of the world, I didn’t even realise I had eaten away into the space I occupy in my own life. So I bought a new bed. And new bed linen. Softer, the softest furniture I’ve ever used regularly. I’ve been existing between planks & walls for long enough now. It’s time for cushions and comfort.
There is this interesting thing about memory foam. It yields to your touch and pressure. Not immediately, so it doesn’t feel weak. More like an indulgence, a consideration. And when you retreat, it pauses with the impression you’ve left on it, as if ruminating. Just as meditatively it returns to its original self. Maybe I should take my life lessons from my bed linen next.
There is somebody I’ve only seen in person a couple of times when we were both performing on the same stage (though not at the same time). And I found ideas, solace, laughter & growth in his writing. Checking in on what he’s saying, missing him when he’s not and asking how he’s doing – these have become routine now. He wrote a post some time ago and it helped me center one of the feelings that eventually grew into this post. And in a rare conversation (we seem to speak in Likes & 👍🏽 a lot), when I told him about one of my difficult things, he called me FRIEND. Is there anything purer than being a wayfarer in another person’s life, sharing lightly the burdens of a journey without taking them on for yourself or dumping yours on them? What’s a more profound relationship than one that wafts lightly like a breeze around people, instead of manacles tying them down? All labels are chains. I like the weightlessness of our co-existence, S.
I watched ‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood‘ across three days. It’s about Mister Rogers, a children’s entertainer. It took me that long because I had to keep pausing to calm down unwelcome trauma flashbacks. Then I’d have to rewind at some points because I’d zoned out inside uncontrollable memory floods. Through it all I cried. The hurt mind is as a stuck record, unable to yank free of its rut. Mr.Rogers powerful gentleness (and there’s no other way to describe it but as a superpower) was like blinding sunlight after one has been trapped in a wet dungeon with rats eating away at the flesh. He also spoke about swimming as a way to balance the pain he took on from other people. I wonder what sort of a pillow he used. But there it was again – yielding insistence in place of rigid resistance. Empathy without saviour complexes. Individuality, not aggression. A straight gaze with no pressure in it. Softness.
The most life-changing scene in the movie says:
Think about all the people who loved us into being.
When I let go of the hard sofa/bed I’d been using for a decade, it was quite anticlimactic. I wondered if I should take a picture for posterity. I found no trace of nostalgia, (not even bittersweet) within myself. There wasn’t even rage. It served its role in my life. And now, there is nothing left for me there anymore. I have no idea whether it will be used by someone else (and in what circumstances) or if it will be broken up for spare parts & scrap. It doesn’t matter. Our life together is complete.
I write this in the hour before the Christmas of 2022. There have been a lot more celebratory notes in the city than in the past years (Christmas being a minority religion festival in India). We are all in need of some cheer after the last three years. I have been pondering going to Christmas Eve mass at my old school church. I have experienced so much trauma in that area, such hostility from the people I grew up with, so much discrimination and bitter loathing confusingly mixed in with affection, invitations to parties, attempts at reconciliation, gossip offered as gifts. I’ve been enmeshed in the tangled web that any organised religion is, even as I profess atheism & trace the troubled histories of colonised/converted Indian Christianity. Today I realise, there is nothing left for me there anymore. Our life together is complete.
Amen and a very happy new year to you. It’s going to be a beautiful day in my new neighborhood.