The Ups and the Downs
Three days in bed, an odd house visit from an indian doctor, and handfuls of medication later, I am finally feeling like myself again. After suffering from what the doctor referred to as a “tummy infection” (I can only assume that he meant a bacterial infection in my stomach), I have learned a fair amount of lessons. First, no matter how careful you are, when it comes to India you are bound to get sick. Second, 38.9 degrees Celsius is roughly 102.1 degrees Fahrenheit. And lastly, I am so very loved. I’m not sure I would be okay without the little community I have here in the middle of Kolkata, India. From checking in on me every couple of hours, to lending me a magical healing crystal, and making me dozens of pieces of buttered toast, Claire, Makena, Riley, and Megan nursed me back to health.
Its funny to think that I’ve traveled to the other side of the world only to get so close to a group of people that have lived down the street from me for the past three years. In the past month I’ve shared so many moments with these four. Some so wonderful I wish I could relive them everyday, and some so miserable I can hardly stand to think of them.
The time I’ve spent in India can be summarized as a mixture of ups and downs. At first I really struggled with the downs. I was angry with myself for being sad and frustrated for days at a time. I wanted to be present and to love every moment of every day. I think what frustrated me the most was seeing how happy the women I work with are. Why was I so sad despite how fortunate I am, and why are they so happy despite all of the atrocities they have experienced? I spent a lot of time forcing myself to put on a happy face even though on the inside I was physically and emotionally distraught. I avoided journaling and writing my blog post because I had no idea how I was going to muster up the strength to put a positive spin on things.
Then, one day as I walked down the street covering my nose from the smell, stepping over feces and dodging people and cars as they pushed past, I remembered a poem. On Joy and Sorrow by Kahlil Gibran.
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.”
Sadness is an unacceptable emotion in both American and Indian culture. We treat it as a plague that we want to avoid and rid ourselves of as quickly as possible. It is shameful and weak to be sad. But, as this poem expresses, it is not without sadness that we can feel joy. Sadness is a natural emotion that we all feel, regardless of how hard we fight it. It wasn’t until I stopped fighting the sadness that I was able to be fully present again.
This is hard. I am sure all of the fellows understand what I mean by that. There have been moments where I’ve felt euphoric and full to the brim with joy and gratitude. And there are moments when I’ve felt scared and despondent. I’ve come to realize that you can’t have one without the other. And if you let yourself fully feel the sorrow, let it hollow you out and almost break you, the joy that follows could change the world.