“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” – Steven Pressfield
Seventeen years ago this month, Barry and I arrived home from our three month trip circumnavigating the globe. It was a trip of a lifetime. The lessons I learned have been invaluable to my personal growth. I would not have been able to understand some of the things that happened to me without my journal.
Barry and I were reminiscing about our trip the other day, and we both agreed that, it’s India we think of most often. India was the most challenging place for us to be. The contrasts were so stark, modern high rise buildings with cardboard villages at their base, people sleeping on the street, whole families riding on one scooter, the din of traffic, the brilliant colors of the women’s saris, the hands out stretched waiting for baksheesh. To say we experienced culture shock is putting it too mildly. I experienced sensory overload. Thank heaven for my journal to help me organize the chaos of emotions I experienced every day we were there.
Last month at our book club meeting, I related an experience from those days in India that I’m just now understanding. I’ve written many pages in my journal over the years trying to understand my feelings about this incident. Something about the book we’re reading, Women Who Run With the Wolves, and the course of our discussion made me relate the story. Here’s what happened.
Barry and I were walking down the sidewalk in Delhi, headed to the government tour office to arrange our trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I felt a light brush on my elbow. I’d seen the mother and her small child sitting near the wall that surrounded the lush grounds of a four star hotel. As we passed, the mother sent the child to beg for money. The touch was so delicate. I wanted to turn and look at the tiny girl, but I ignored her. The day before, we’d taken the government sponsored tour of Delhi, and our guide had cautioned all of us to ignore beggars when they approached us. Even to look at them would invite them to press harder for money. If we acknowledged them, or gave them money, we could be mobbed by others wanting money too. Tourists had been seriously injured and even killed in such situations. My heart was broken and I cried. I cry still when I think of that little girl’s light touch.
One of the women asked, “Why do you feel so bad? Was it because you didn’t give her any money, or was it because you have so much and she so little?”
“No. The reason I felt bad was because I wanted to look into her eyes and see her. All I could do was send out a prayer for her.”
“But at least you did that. Most people wouldn’t even do that.” the other woman said.
Yes, at least I did that. Prayer can be a powerful thing. Maybe it helped the girl in some way. All I know is, the brief encounter with that little girl continues to teach me something. I hadn’t been able to articulate what it was about that encounter that still haunted me until that day. Now I know. I wanted to let that girl know, I acknowledged her existence. I think of her often and every time I do, I send up a prayer for her. She must be a grown woman by now. I wonder what her life is like and if she knows that she’s much more than her life circumstances. I think of her as changing the world in some profound way. She certainly changed my world in ways I would never have imagined. I guess I was ready for the lesson she was teaching.
That brings me back to my practice of keeping a journal and now this blog. We can learn important lessons without writing about them. But, I think it’s important to do the inner work necessary to understand what we’ve experienced, then share what we’ve learned with others. We never know who we’re going to affect. We never know the change we’re going to bring about. I don’t let anyone read my journal. It’s my private friend a place where I can go to make sense out of confusing situations. However, after I’m gone, my friends and family members may read my complied journals and may gain some insights that will help them with their own challenges. I don’t expect my journals to affect large groups of people. Blogging is different.
Blogging is a more immediate journal. I’d resisted writing a blog for a number of years thinking I didn’t have anything important to share. Or maybe I liked the anonymity of keeping a journal. Once you publish a blog entry, your thoughts are out in the world and they can affect people for good or ill. Not only that, you invite comments back about what’s been written. I’ve hidden my true thoughts for so long that I was surprised when I felt the urge to express ideas that I’ve held inside for most of my life. Like the story about the little beggar girl and what I learned from her.
Now that I’ve been writing a weekly entry for three months, I find blogging helps me do deeper inner work. I feel good about sharing my personal outlook on life with others. I guess at this stage in my life, it’s time to share a little of what I’ve learned. I’m excited to say, I’m still learning.
2 thoughts on “Memories of India”
Good post. Heart tugging. I had similar feelings when I stepped over an old woman sleeping on a sidewalk in San Diego in a cardboard box. I came back a couple hours later and found she hadn’t been sleeping. She had died. I wondered how many people simply stepped over or around her and didn’t even know she had died, or maybe even that she was there. Yesterday during my walk I saw what I thought was a bit of shredded tire in the middle of the road in Saint David. On the way back it was light enough to see that it was a kitten, probably three months old. Not tiny, but not grown. It hadn’t been run over, but had obviously been hit and killed. I still “hear” it gasping for a last breath, wondering what it had done wrong. My only hope is that it died instantly and did not gasp at all. Your little girl, the old woman, the kit—all are the same for me, all undeserving of their fate, grease in the wheels of a humanity that’s simply in too big a hurry to admit their existence and their value. Good post. h
Oh, my. I think I’d react the same way you did, if I’d found the woman. I know what you mean about the kitten. Barry and I hit a pigeon once. It flew up into our car. I cried for the bird. Thanks for your comments. It’s great to know a sensitive man. When we aren’t affected by events like you describe, that’s when we lose a little bit of our humanity.