Life lessons from the wife
You've met my wife in my columns. She's always been the voice of reason. She's kept my feet on the ground when some motorcycle or the other causes me to fly off in a maelstrom of desire and emotion. She has passed away.
I already knew intimately how much her voice and thought colours my opinion. But I began to get a sense of how much she mattered to you when I started getting messages from you all. Readers who realised how special my Arti was from the references in my columns. Thank you. Your words helped immensely.
There were many columns where Arti had either a direct role or a quieter, more subtle one. The one that got a tidal wave of reactions was Stop Waiting.
Today, I'd like to broach the same idea from a perspective Arti and I increasingly subscribed to in the recent years.
Consider the things you can guarantee. When you strip all the layers away, you will realise that only death is guaranteed, as macabre as that sounds. As Jim Morrison is eloquently said to have put it, "No one here gets out alive."
We are all going to die. Fact. It's the only prediction that must inescapably come true. Don't you think Death's finality and inevitability should factor in your decision making today?
In Arti's case, we knew in 2014 that we had to talk about death - her health was worsening. We needed to deny death the opportunity to sneak up on us. Little did I know that she was making ready in her usually cheerful, pragmatic way.
If we knew when our time would come, our lives would be far more ordered, no? But because we don't, our solution appears to be to live like death doesn't exist.
That sounds wrong, right?
Arti and I altered our approach to life, and it has been a big help. That is also the reason why I'm writing this column in a cloud of melancholy serenity rather than in a fog of tears and rage.
The first thing we changed is that we stopped trying to plan our future too carefully. The idea of a secure future is a powerful seduction. Forty years on you have the money to bankroll your dreams and realise that your body can't cash those cheques. That the motorcycles of your dreams are there for the taking. But age has made you slower, weaker and more risk averse. And you'll never ride with the zest of a 30-something again.
We decided to stop waiting too much. To indulge our passions while our bodies could keep up. Before death ended our adventure. A secure future is an oxymoron. How can we secure something we cannot reliably predict? Is sacrificing the present the solution?
We didn't ignore our future totally either. A long and healthy life is a solid probability. For me, for sure, she was convinced. Knock on wood. In that event, having savings and plans matters. Massively. At the level of survival as well as in terms of being comfortable and happy.
The challenge was to find a balance. We found ours. A selection of choices that extracts as much juice as possible from the present while keeping aside just enough for future reserves. A vastly less conservative plan that I guarantee a financial planner would upchuck a week's worth of meals over.
That's why Ferine. Because a bank loan wasn't what we needed at the time. But we wanted it. And to my surprise, Arti said that by skimping here and there we could just about afford the EMI.
The other thing we learnt is to accept our fundamental lack of control over the world. To focus on working hard to change or fix whatever is within our power.
This idea, 'Circles of Influence,' originated in a leadership class at my ex-employers, NIIT. It's a mechanism I use every day to deal with reality. Once we accepted, for example, that Arti's disease was chronic and irreversible, life became simpler. To deal with, if not to live with.
There were setbacks, but we worked hard at what we could to overcome them. We didn't worry too much outside of not leaving any stones unturned. The low phases and hospital stays didn't dent our confidence, or our drive to get back on our feet and march on. Our lack of control over the outcome didn't cause us to feel depressed. It was merely the nature of our playing field, unworthy of emotion. Steeply uphill but still just a path. Step by step, we marched on.
But here I am. She's not here with me. And this is my new reality. I have a profound sense of loss. Given how much she went through, more than a small measure of relief as well. That's a strange set of feelings to mix.
When I prod these feelings, a memory reminds me that my Arti was far wiser and prescient than I knew.
Many, many nights ago, we lingered quietly in our bedroom lit only by a sense of her immense happiness. "When I go, my love, don't mourn me. I've had a great life with you," she said softly, "Have a good life. Focus on the important stuff, okay? Buy lots of motorcycles!"
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