Changing Before My Eyes

I’ve been working out of Illana’s coffee shop for a few years now. It’s a small, quiet joint in a city where shops like this are a dime a dozen – often in business for less than 5 years, but there is something oddly special about this place.

I don’t know if it’s the brawny, aggressive and loud Irish construction workers that come in every morning and order their patented combination Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich, or George, an elder millionaire psychologist/lawyer that walks around with his light grey sweats, loose maroon shirt and obscenely large gold necklace with a medallion that reminds me of Flavor Flav’s clock chain, or maybe it’s all the Asian business owners that congregate in the mornings while gossiping about their customers as if they’re trading war stories.

I’ve grown to love my neighborhood in the Richmond District. I’ve made this place home for the past 3 years and have many friends – some even became close to kin. I moved a lot growing up, but I intend to stay here for a little while.

I first laid eyes on this older vietnamese couple 3 years ago. They would come in at about 11:00am every morning. I’ve seen them so many times but have yet to share a conversation, but when we play tic tac toe with our eyes and smiles – it’s vividly apparent that we know each-other more than we think.

They are nice to each-other. He would read his books. He recently got a kindle which I think he loves because it’s never not by his side. She is always gossiping with Lan – Kevin’s wife and the head-honcho of Illana’s. I obviously don’t understand what they’re saying, but the moments they crack up in laughter I can’t help myself and do the same. Lan usually tells me what they were laughing about, and I laugh harder finally understanding the joke.

Lately the husband has been sick. He’s in a wheelchair, he doesn’t read as much. Instead he looks at the wall, sometimes at me, sometimes I don’t know where he looks. His granddaughter comes sometimes which gives him energy and his woes of not walking are temporarily lifted as he lives vicariously through her.

As I am writing these words he’s sitting at the table across from me. We just shared a glance and a smile.

Their story speaks heavily to my heart because I know what is to become of him. I know what is to become of me and you.

Like many of us, I feel lost at times. I don’t know if I’m doing the right things, but because I know this journey will end one day – I live and continue to progress, I keep moving.

The somber contemplation of death gives rise to living another day with vigor.

Below I have listed what death has taught me

  • Kindness and Love – Everyone that I hold close will leave soon. I can only be kind and show love now.
  • Someone else’s problems are not yours – This is very hard for me to put into practice and I am still trying, but we will all die with our own problems. We can be there for people and help them, but should never take on another’s sorrow as our own.
  • Compassion – I will never know the struggles of my family and friends. Although many of us look at the sky the same way – we perceive it differently. I have compassion for all views because they are intrinsic and unique to us. Compassion is the closest we can get to putting on another’s shoes. Think of this when talking to others who open their wounds to you.
  • Ego – I don’t know what the ego is, but if it’s a need to be right at the expense of calling someone wrong, then I am slowly leaving that because at my death bed I will not care who is right or wrong. In essence, I’m living in my death-bed now.
  • I don’t care for things – I know I will not take anything with me so having enough is not just a minimalistic clique of new age thinking, but rather a way of life. I care for people because once they depart, something leaves with them. This is the mystery that fuels my love for the unknown and my dismissal for the material.
  • Urgency – I am not an ambitious person. I will die, so I have a sense of urgency to complete things for the sake of completing them.
  • Every moment is special – If you knew you had one more meal for the rest of your life, how would you eat it? Would you eat it fast, or would you enjoy every morsel? I’d pick the latter. Take this example to life – what if life was your last meal? The thing is, that life is our last meal. It’s ending with each moment. My showers, conversations, walks in nature and almost every thing I do have taken on a new meaning because they are ending.

Death has given me the strength to dust myself off and try again. I leave you with one of my favorite movie quotes from, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” A great movie if you haven’t seen it yet.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” 

I am not perfect and screw stuff up sometimes, but because I know I’ll die soon (relative) I’m not hard on myself. I can always try again.

After-all, we can’t go anywhere, we can’t escape. We can only see moments like we feel our breath – slowly coming and slowly going. Be attentive, take the time to observe, and contemplate more. Cherish time with others and experiences, even the most uneventful ones. The small things in life will always be the big things.

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With Love,
Anand Swamy