He played with his fingers as he spoke. We were meeting our friend after a long time and as we caught up on the trajectory of our lives, he told us the news — the reason sadness loomed in his eyes. “Please keep it to yourself”, he sighed, “he has …”, I didn’t have to hear the rest of the sentence.
A story of a family member and the Big C is familiar turf for me. I watched, as the words of dread tumbled out. A melange of emotions eclipsed his face — emotions I know well — the shame of acceptance, the burden of human vulnerability.
Like they say, you always remember how you felt, but you hardly remember other things. I remember the pain, those nights of dread and the many moments of sheer anger when I cried, “Why me?”
I was reminded of this little chat the other day when the passing of two huge film stars made news.
“How?” I asked myself unsure. It probably had something to do with the pictures that were splashed on the screens with the news flash. They looked elegant with no hair out of place. Their eyes sparkled with a hint of smile and they wore designer clothes that brought out the best in them.
Everything about the picture was so perfect that I wondered for a split second if it was just my imagination that they both had indeed succumbed to various versions of the Big C.
“Could they have gone through the same struggles?”, I nodded in disbelief because, somehow, their well choreographed lives that we had witnessed seemed untouched by human misery. As I continued to look at their pictures, my friend’s voice reverberated in my head, “please keep this to yourself”.
I hate to be the one to know what he meant but, “who would want to share their vulnerable self with the world? And who better to know this than me?”
My own story is no different. Wallowing in self pity, orchestrating my looks, sounding perfect on the phone — were a couple of things I did during that time. I was determined to not let anyone see my agony and I kept the most difficult times to myself.
Like they say, you always remember how you felt, but you hardly remember other things. I remember the pain, those nights of dread and the many moments of sheer anger when I cried, “Why me?” As for looks, I don’t remember much except how I felt when I stared at myself in the mirror.
Yes. I have pictures and video clips. They splash up in my google memory from that year, from time to time. I always swipe them away because, I would rather hoard and nurture happy faces. Why stroke up bad memories from the past, I wonder.
Now as more pictures of these two actors take over the digital space, I bite my lips. A slight dread creeps behind my back. I have a sudden urge to dig those pictures of mine from that time of my life. I hover the cursor over that year’s pictures. Try as I might, I am unable to garner enough strength to see them.
I take a deep breath and I look out. There is a little bird that chirps away incessantly. Our friend’s face and his nervous fingers slip in and out of my memory slide. And, just like that, I know, I am not alone.
Yes. We all have something we want to “keep it to ourselves” — not because we are ashamed but we would like it to stay within us because, human vulnerability is looked upon as bad thing. But, many times, from this lowest point emerges the human spirit that can withstand the toughest of times.
I hope our friend will find that spirit and I also hope he will perhaps then, see, like I do now, that vulnerability is part of the journey. We will all eventually find our path. And, we may grapple with different things but, in the end, we are all in this together.
— Sudha Subramanian is an independent journalist based in Dubai.