You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2005.

Ignorance.
Between the knowledge I choose not to assimilate,
     Just yet,
And the Truth that lies concealed behind
     Dense
Clouds of illusion,
I stumble
Around
     And around.

Love.
She is indescribably
     Beautiful.
With her perfumed, overflowing
     Rapture
Waiting
Its chance
To spill freely
     And freely.

Being.
Bouncing around, part of this world
     And that,
Endless discoveries
     Arriving
And leaving.
Not all wanted, nor wasted;
Everything always changing
     And changing.

Wisdom
Knows there is nothing
     To know.
Dropping all pretense,
     Silence
Fills up the room
With emptiness,
Trusting in everything,
     And everything.

js
29 October 2005
Ahmedabad, India

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shamePerhaps we define our journeys or perhaps our journeys define us, or more likely it’s somewhere in the middle where they converge. I hadn’t anticipated such a dive into illness but it has lasted so long that it’s now become impossible to see it as something outside of my journey.

When I started this blog, I realized that just as there were parts of my story that I hoped to share, there were also parts of myself that I didn’t want to share. In the spirit of being true, however, somewhere along the line I intended on exposing these things as well.

Ever since I was a kid, I have been ashamed of being human. Some people are very comfortable with reality as it is, or even enjoy the humor of it, but those little ‘secrets’ that we tend to keep socially concealed have always been a great source of shame for me.

Just to name a few of those shameful things: urinating, defecating, masturbation, body image, farting…

As if hepatitis A and jaundice weren’t bad enough, I discovered a small lump, which in one day doubled in size, and by the next day, it was the size of golf ball. Unfortunately, this little lump was located in the perineum region, which is an area where, no matter which common words you choose to describe it, is just damned difficult to do with any kind of grace – between the scrotum and the anus. Ouch.

golfballAnd ouch it was. The pain of this golf ball lump was extraordinary. Because there is a strong history of prostate cancer in my family, I quickly consulted a physician, got a PSA test, and a sonogram. Fortunately, it proved to be an infection which probably raged out of control due to my severely compromised immunity.

Being a white guy here in India, I tend to get more attention than most. When lying on an examination table with my pants off and privates exposed, this attention turns to fascination, and as many people who were able to come and check out the scene did so. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the dreamlike, over-the-top pathetic-ness of the situation and got through it, with humor intact.

I was happy I didn’t have cancer and came back with my examination report – filled with graphic descriptions. Although I was willing to share this with others around me, I didn’t feel it was necessary as I was now on antibiotics and it seemed like it was likely under control.

When no one was in my room, I pulled out the report and began to read it. Without notice, a doctor who was in the house (a friend of the family) magically slipped in the room and immediately grabbed it out of my hands with doctorly curiosity. With as little warning as he had slipped into the room, he slipped out of the room, report in hand.

And then a silence ensued.

I sat in that profound, uncomfortable silence knowing that Mark and Yoo-Mi, Nipun, and others were outside, and all my spidey-senses told me that this private report was soon to become a fully public document. I could have run out of the room in protest, but what would be the use?  To protect my ego?  With the same humor and dreamlike pathetic-ness, I sat there vulnerably awaiting what would come next.

My senses proved sharply accurate as everyone soon entered my room as if some kind of intervention were taking place. Less secrets, less shame. Somehow the universe wanted this one revealed and so it was.

After waiting a few more days to see how the antibiotics responded, the swelling had increased to the size of an egg, and then even larger. And this bulge was built of pure pain. Lying in bed, it was a 7 on a pain scale of 1-10, and standing up, it shot to a high 9. Between the constant, intense itching of the jaundice and the agony of the infection, I had almost no sleep for about six days. I was becoming concerned about the possible loss of my fertility if the infection were to spread more and decided it was essential to see the most capable doctor I could find.

I got checked out and was told that the puss had to be surgically drained. Though typically a minor surgery, with jaundice, my blood was thin and there was a risk it wouldn’t properly clot. After taking some more tests, I was deemed good to go and surgery was set up for the following day.

As I lied there on the examination table, there were about 17 people in the room, including 3 women. The same doctor who spontaneously grabbed the report out of my hands felt the time was right to spontaneously pull my pants off for mass inspection, and half the people quickly darted for the door. The other half stayed to view the show. “Oh, man,” I thought to myself. “In terms of burning ego, this is definitely the good stuff.”

catheterWith less of a crowd around, and without anesthesia, a catheter was inserted into my penis seemingly without end – I never knew that’s how it was done. I had my pubic hair shaved off, and feeling fully violated and beaten, I walked into the surgery room, expecting things to get even worse.  Fortunately, I was quickly put under.

I woke up very soon after, in the center of a mandala, in the company of God, and slowly returned to the room. I’m not sure what they gave me, but it was pretty awesome.  Jayeshbhai sat alone with me in the room and I told him I had been with God. He started singing bhajans and the room became a temple.

I spent that night in the hospital and then came back to Jayeshbhai and Anarbhen’s house and lived with more pain and the awkwardness of carrying a catheter around with me wherever I went for nearly a week. One thing you may not know about jaundice is that it makes your pee turn fluorescent yellow and for some inexplicable reason, this radioactive color turns an ugly-ass amber brown when concentrated. As if the urine bag wasn’t bad enough, its unusual color could escape no one’s attention.

I suppose that what this story teaches is that it’s just plain stupid to be ashamed of being human. Yes, I’m humiliated that I have an anus, but then again, so do you. We all share these things that are somewhat awkward and to pretend that we are above them is to deny reality as it is. Though perhaps this lesson has somewhat helped deepen my humility, I know that I still have a very long road to walk until I really accept my humanity for what it is – a miracle of nature. It is only my Almighty mind that is in denial,
and wishes it wasn’t so.

sevacafe02When I arrived in Ahmedabad, there was craziness all around. People were all busy making and packaging diyas and candles to sell at Gramshree. A team of writers were all working on content. Everyone was doing something. Except me, of course. I just sat there in the center of the storm, watching the mad commotion.

The first thing I had wanted to do when arriving back was to see the progress on the café. I had participated in its design, had a vision, and was hoping it would go in a particular direction, but there were so many people involved, that no one was really in full control. I somehow just had faith that it was all going to work out.

Everyone kept me locked up in the house, but I managed to make it there finally on the night before it was to open. It was important for me to witness the miracle in progress. Over 60 volunteers were all working on various tasks. The café and store were nowhere near being finished, but the Grand Opening had been set and ready or not, it was going to open on October 13th.

When I got there, it was just so beautiful. Clearly, it was in shambles and there was no way on Earth it could ever become ready in the final hours that were left, but people were working day and night, doing their very best. Dozens of people hadn’t slept for days. It was truly an extraordinary effort by so many.

sevacafe04_2The following day, I returned again to be there for its opening and somehow a miracle had occurred that left everyone in disbelief. Though there were touches still left, the impossible had been accomplished and everything was in order and both the store and café looked beautiful and brilliant.

It was my dream that Nipun and Guri, Mark and Yoo-Mi, Viral, and Harshida and Dinesh Mehta (Nipun and Viral’s parents) could be there for its opening. For 9 years, the Mehta’s have opened their home every Wednesday evening to anyone for meditation, sharing of thoughts, and dinner in silence. For these nine years, Harshida Mehta had selflessly cooked without fail for guests numbering from a dozen to a hundred and there, every Wednesday, the spirit of service was always in full demonstration.

The spirit they have exemplified is exactly the spirit this café aspired to embody and to have them all there for its opening helped to grace the space and set it in proper motion.

A lot of credit was thrown my way for this café, but my part was very minor. I had a few ‘Aha!’ moments and contributed in various ways, but my involvement was little compared to the tireless work, and selfless and fearless commitment of so many. The extraordinary efforts of Anarben, Jayeshbhai, Vandana, Abigna, Maria, Anjali, Smita, Nipun, Guri, Mark, Yoo-Mi, Raju, Jagatbhai, and so so so many others were beyond comprehension. It is only because of everyone’s collective merits that this café has come to pass. And it is exactly because of this collectivity that the magic has come through in such a rare and pure form.

You walk into the café at night and the lights are dimly lit. The energy is exciting, fresh, and exuberant. The kitchen is full of committed volunteers and waiters are on the floor serving and sharing the philosophy of the café with its guests. It’s a place that is charged and everyone just wants to be there.

sevacafe01For the first few weeks, most of my experience of this café has been vicarious, but everyday, the stories come in, full of miracles – from a 10 year old who signed up to cook pasta with Mark P. one evening, to a man who offered to donate a room full of computers – from the guards coming in to partake of food in the after hours to millionaires coming in to clean the toilets. In just such a short time, the idea has already touched so many lives and it is still just beginning.

A lot of kinks are being ironed out, and there are risks of burning out a volunteer staff over time with the long hours. Overall, though, the space has exceeded all expectations. The food is the most wholesome available in all of Ahmedabad, with its menu changing daily, offering a wide range of cuisines from all around the world. It is truly a blessing, and to be a part of it, even if mostly vicariously, has been such a treasure.

Now only to learn what it has to teach – “living is giving.”

sickindia02Life is cruel. It just is. Living beings eat each other in a never-ending quest for survival. We are on are own, yaar – but fortunately not always.

When my friend, Mark Jacobs, worriedly urged me over an email to get to a hospital and get intravenous fluids, having lost a close friend to hepatitis A, I questioned it for a while and thought it was probably a good idea as I was hardly eating anything. I also needed to get some follow-up blood tests.

In the morning, I caught a rickshaw to Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi where a doctor had told me to go and it was like a massive train station, with dozens of queues and huge display boards trying to provide direction.

I tried to find out where to go, but was lost in endless lines and confusion. So many people were sick or busy that no one seemed to notice me. I was very tired and weak and wasn’t supposed to be walking around, but I found myself hopelessly ignored and realized that if I were closer to death, the world would have let me die there.

sickindia01After some time, I gave up on that hospital and took a rickshaw to a smaller hospital, where again, I was ignored and lost, jumping through hoops trying to find my way to care. I was growing weaker and again, it was evident that had I been closer to death, the world would have simply let me die.

Eventually I gave up on that hospital as well and took another rickshaw to a lab for a test, giving up on the idea of the I.V.. On the way, I passed so many poor and sick people and even a fresh corpse lying on the street. I’m not sure what kind of accident had caused such a massive exposure of some poor person’s innards, but I knew that the universe was giving me a lesson on this day – exposing me to the misery of the world.

It took several more hours of work to finally get the tests taken and I was drained.

sickindia03Days later, Mark P. befriended a neighborhood couple and told them about my condition. The husband was a seriously high ranking police official and had me driven and escorted to AIIMS Hospital – supposedly the best hospital in India to meet with one of the best doctors. Outside, the sick were lined up, hoping for care, but this hospital generally only takes the more serious cases or referrals. I could have protested the inequity, but when you are sick it is hard not to accept care when it is offered.

In direct opposition to the neglect I had experienced earlier, I was now being treated like a VIP.

This illness has exposed me to so many extremes. Some of the people closest to me have been unimaginably uncompassionate and even cruel, while other strangers have gone far out of their way to ensure my well-being. When I was near my worst, I told Jayeshbhai about my condition and he immediately wanted to fly to Delhi. I told him that was sweet but silly and he arranged for Nirmala Deshpande’s staff to bring me food. They went out of their way to nurse me back, and perhaps they saved my life.

Later, I left Delhi for Ahmedabad and have been staying at Jayeshbhai and Anarben’s house. My friends Mark and Yoomi took a train all the way from Pondicherry to see me and brought with them lots of healthy products from the US. Here, I am being served a never-ending stream of drinks and food, with friends and compassion abounding. And even under these ideal circumstances, when sick enough, life can often seem pretty hopeless.

bouquetliliesKnowing how pampered I have been, all I can think of are the millions of ill people in the world, lying in poverty, in their baking huts, with access only to bad water, lacking the money or support to get proper medical attention.

Basically, without a network of support, most of us are pretty vulnerable in this world. Perhaps my first instinct is to want to reject my fortunate network because of the gross inequity existing in the world, but I quickly realized that this network of support is the thing that is most right with the world – what we need is to expand this net until there is not a being left without optimal love and care.

jaundice

Wow. Hello Mr. Jaundice.

Once a strapping 6’0’’, 180-pound construction worker, I have been reduced to a 125-pound, yellow, stick of a man.

Although our food choices in India as vegans have been indeed lacking, the intense nausea and inability to eat that began a month back were not so much the result of my diet, but of hepatitis A that led to an acute case of jaundice.

I would have been tested back then, but Mark was feeling the same symptoms, got a complete blood test, and came up normal, so I assumed it must be our diets. Apparently, I just found out yesterday, his complete tests didn’t cover things like hepatitis which I thought they had.

Jaundice is just not a whole lot of fun. It struck at a very peculiar time – the time in which we would have otherwise been cranking everything to the fullest. Instead, I have had to just take it easy, and it hasn’t been much of a fight, as nearly all motivation for everything simply went away with my energy.

Today, for the first time in a month, I have eaten two small meals. That alone, is such an enormous sign of progress and I think everything is on the verge of returning back to normal.

The month before I got hit, for no obvious reason, Mark pretty much stopped functioning and it seemed pretty apparent that he would soon have to drop out completely. I was really surprised to find out that he was still coming with me, and now, thanks largely to a great new restaurant discovery, his health is the best it’s been since the beginning of the trip. He’s ready to get things going, and it’s just unfortunate I have to lay low and recover during prime time.

Sometimes I feel like I am just faking it, but then it hits me that my liver is actually not working. When one of your primary organs stops functioning, it’s a pretty good indication that it’s healing time.

There is a lot to report, but more than anything, questions. Tomorrow, back to Ahmedabad for the Seva Café opening and to see my friends, Mark and Yoo Mi.

Coconut drops.
The sun blazes down.
     Improbable
To survive these conditions.

Mother is wise.
She has given a thick skin
      To shelter
Her babe for some time.

Coconut sits,
Awaiting its turn
     To sink
All hope in the soil.

Mother is wise.
She has provided the nourishment;
     Enough
Perhaps to get started.

I go to the street man,
Machete in hand,
     Slicing
The top off, he hands it.

With lips on a straw,
I stop just in time
     To understand
The significance of what is unfolding.

Sacred Life,
Can you accept this fate?
     Your birth
Is now lost in my being.

With humility, a request:
Come share my existence.
     Together,
We can reach for the skies.

js
2 October 2005
Delhi

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