SMILING, AT LAST:
THE SURVIVOR CIRCUS
by SHEILA RAJAMANI
How apt. Writing a piece on survival is apt.
No, it is not just apt... it is necessary.
For all of us who have nursed our loved ones through their toughest times, it is a circus, not unlike the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey fiestas where one OOO's and AHHH's as the circus performers take center stage and perform. This survivor circus is paved with pain, suffering, tears, fears , sometimes a battlefield or even a minefield, featuring all performers and spectators hoping for that little glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel some day.
In this circus, taking a bow is an illusion.
When my youngest son Ashok asked me if I would like to pen something for his magazine, I hesitated for a brief moment, and then I built up my courage, telling him '"I would."
It would be cathartic, I thought, to write about that one moment in time, barely a decade ago, when our universe changed, a moment in time which gave Ashok and I unlikely gifts: for Ashok, a horseshoe souvenir, a reminder of the horseshoe-shaped scar which resulted from his post-brain hemorrhage brain surgery; for me, as his mother, learning about the strength I didn't know I had and dealing with tears I never thought I would shed.
I took a deep breath and headed for the shower. The touch and feel of the warm water pulsating my back, I shut my eyes, and all the memories returned of that fateful day and the years that followed.
Brain injury left Ashok with a scarred brain and for me a scarred heart. Life changed in a matter of a heartbeat. It was a roller coaster ride for Ashok and myself. No one had prepared me for this journey of helping my brain-injured child navigate back to life, just as no one had prepared me for parenthood many years before. All the classes, and all the talks with the Neurologists and nurses in the NCCU were just encouraging words. The experience, the journey, was mine and mine alone to undertake as Ashok was trying to put back the pieces of his young life together.
"Why him," I would repeat each day , and weep finding a place of quiet solitude for some reflection. I did find some peace in the knowledge of Hindu scriptures, which insist that everything is momentary, and "this moment in time will pass". Each day I would chant to myself, Ashok will reclaim his life, and both he and I can start living once again.
There were endless hours and days, for what seemed an eternity; this was a deep abyss beating in my heart. I never quit wondering if Ashok would ever be a participant in life, instead of just being an observer looking in from the outside. "How long before he exists in the inside?" I would ask myself continually, as if repeating a neverending mantra. A mother's optimism knows no bounds, and her tears and fears were drowned by this gushing current of eternal hope. I tightly embraced that hope, wondering each day if he would ever come out of this fog that was getting thicker and reducing his visibility. Would he be lost to me forever?
The recovery proceeded slowly. very slowly. But it was a recovery nonetheless. I eventually saw the fog lifting timidly, the sun breaking through the clouds at a glacial pace. And now I recognize this beautiful sight, at last: my child, slowly emerging from the abyss, feeling the heat of the sun embracing his almond skin, realizing there is light to feel, life to live, love to embrace, as he leaps into the sunlight smiling ear to ear.
It took its time , and slowly but surely Ashok is learning to define his happiness, his truths, one day at a time, with a stream of joy flowing into the well being of his consciousness.
It is a new beginning.
Ashok is ready to rejoice, to dance, in the spotlight of the Survivor Circus, the next chapter of his life.
And I smile.
To all survivors, loved ones, caregivers:
"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will."
Sheila Rajamani is a poet and writer in New Jersey.
She is currently working on her first novel, Tea Unbrewed.