Monday, November 30, 2009

Post 11 - The Failed Stoic

When you sit across the table staring at the face of death, how does your mind work?

It’s not very different from the usual human thought process in that it follows no logic or sequence. It’s, as always, a stream of consciousness, except that with the menacing presence eyeing you from across the table, there appears , in the substratum of your consciousness, a novel and composite feeling comprising fear, sadness, panic, loneliness, and perplexity born of ignorance of the “shores from which no traveler returns”.

It was a long wait in the lobby of Madras Medical Mission Hospital. Waiting for eight hours for confirmation of the deadly news is no fun. Among the thoughts that hobnobbed with each other during those long tense hours, were those related to a few Ph Ds!

Susheela was doing research with me. She is a brilliant person whose research got delayed because of her health problem, which she overcame determinedly and got back to business as soon as she could. She was in the process of submitting her draft, chapter by chapter. Sitting there in the lobby of MMM Hospital, I panicked thinking about her. Oh God! What will she do if I cease to be? Not that I am indispensable to her work, but the formalities of finding a new guide and getting registered could prove to be an endless and time consuming task. Poor girl, she didn’t deserve this delay for no fault of hers. I prayed hard and earnest that I could hang around till she submitted her work. The road ahead of me was certainly not the best for a research guide. I was well aware of the fall out of surgery, chemo and radiation. Yet I hoped and prayed with great pain and anxiety that Susheela could finish her work while I was still around to put my final signature on her thesis.

And then there were my children, both working on their PhDs in the US. There was nothing I was looking forward to more than seeing them complete their work and fulfill the dream they were pursuing, much against the common practice among young people of their age group who who had chosen the much traveled and therefore the safer path of professional education and were already in full employment. As a parent I needed to validate our support given to their choice of academics as their career. I also rather badly wanted to see them vindicate themselves in the choice they had made. Also, there was always that anxiety at the bottom of my heart to see the successful completion of the first imperative milestone in a career in academics.

Thinking about them, wondering if I’ll be around to see the D day was a terribly agonizing experience for me. Sitting in the lobby there, I prayed hard. God, please give me an extension till these three Ph Ds reach the finish mark.

This year, between April and August, all three got their Doctorates. And it looks like I’ll still go on for some more time.

God has been good to me.

But I keep wondering. Why do we think we are indispensable? Why do we pin so much happiness around ourselves and our dear ones?

Why do we humans want to cling on to responsibilities when it is none other than God himself who decides to relieve us of them? Why is it that we are so reluctant to let go of life?

I remember putting these questions to myself sitting there in MMM Hospital, waiting for my death warrant. I remember sighing to myself at the thought of the futility of all the training I had put myself through in developing a stoic attitude to life. Stoicism, I concluded, comes with some ease when the problems that confront us lie within the jurisdiction of life. But when they transgress into eternity, into the to be or not to be question where the choice, unlike in Hamlet’s case, is not in our hands, all the philosophical wisdom that we ever tried to convince ourselves and others of, returns to mock at our inability to walk the talk.

'Cos Life is too beautiful!