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Living to learn

She was the same age as me, perhaps a bit older. Her shack behind the bicycle stand had an asbestos roof, and a stone stove lit with sticks. She was cooking at an age when I wasn't even allowed near the kitchen to feed herself and her baby brother while their mother cleaned our toilets and swept our classrooms. I recall my pointless pride and superiority when my friends and I barged into her home, laden with old clothes and toys. However, our visions of philanthropy were quickly shattered when we took in the meagre furnishings visible only by the light streaming in through the cut doorway. But brighter than any lamp was the smile she flashed at us, genuinely pleased if a bit embarrassed, to welcome us into her home.

That was the first time I thought, “Life isn't fair.”

It was the start of the Christmas holidays. We were driving across the State to spend the season with family, stomachs full from a late breakfast and throats sore from singing along to an old CD of which we never tired. Exhaustion and excitement soon took hold of me, barely a child of nine, and I drifted into a deep sleep in the front seat of our car. Mercifully, it turned out, for soon after I had nodded off, our car slid across the empty highway due to a burst tire, spun in the air, and crashed down, little more than a crumpled scrap of metal. When I was eventually dragged out of the vehicle, confused and disoriented, the first sight I laid eyes on was my mother, blood streaming down her face. If not for God’s grace and the kindness of the villagers nearby, she might not have survived that day.

That's when it hit me: “Life is short.”

The Mumbai terrorist attacks on the Taj Hotel shook the country and the whole world. At the time, I was 600 miles away, safe at home in another State. I recall watching the horrific events unfold on TV, my heart racing as I listened to the news anchor's commentary on the gunshots that killed more than a 150 people. They did not even have a chance to defend themselves. It was the first time the word terrorism meant something to me. It meant fear. I could barely understand it. How could people die and families be broken just because someone with a gun decided they should? Who gave people the right to take the lives of others just because of groundless hate?

That was when I realised: “Life is cheap.”

But while each of these revelations rings true, they do not truly convey what I now believe is the true meaning of life. With the global pandemic wreaking havoc on our world, it might seem ironic to find such meaning among so much death. But it is during this time, when eulogies fill our ears more than the sound of laughter, that I have realised what life truly means.

There is one point of consistency among all funerals: the praises people sing of those who can’t hear them. I have often found it strange and slightly hypocritical that people are eager to speak about the dead but are reluctant to talk to the living. We don’t mind kissing a corpse but hesitate to offer a friend a hug.

If there’s one good thing that has come out of this widespread calamity, it is the shift in people’s attitude towards their relationships. People have begun to realise the importance of their families and friends. Isolation has helped us cherish our bonds and mend those that are broken.

Time and experience have taught me that we are only worth the number of lives we impact, and it is never too late to love, especially when the call of death is as unpredictable as it is during these times. Hence, I wish to never waste an opportunity to touch lives, as many as I can, during the time I have left in this world. For life might be unfair, short, and cheap, but it can also be hopeful, kind, and beautiful.

If we only try.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 2:19:18 pm |