August 07, 2012

Parents Children and Being Orphans

This is not a reflection caused by any anniversary. We all eventually become adults. Just think back to when as kids we wished so badly to grow up. Once we grow up, however, we probably realize that it is not so fun being grownups after all. And we wistfully look back upon our childhood days.
And eventually the moment comes when our parents die. It’s a moment of transition in our lives. But why do we grieve when our parents die? What a stupid question, one might think. But I preferred to think about that when my father died.
I think we grieve because as long as our parents are alive, we are still kids at heart as we once were. So we become orphans when our parents are no more. I think we are all lucky to have parents – most of us anyway – who are happy to have been our parents. They have learned to live with their kids’ limitations in skills or achievements in life. We too eventually accept our parents for who they are.
So it’s a bond like no other. Immutable, everlasting, unquestioned.
It seems to me life is like walking on a rickety footbridge made of wooden planks attached to steel ropes over a valley. Imagine the valley high up in the mountains covered in mist. I think there’s such a thing somewhere in Indonesia or Malaysia – a tourist attraction if you are so brave.


And if the mist is dense enough, obviously you will only be able to see a little bit further ahead and behind you and beyond that, you’ll be covered in mist in all six directions.
If you parents are alive, it’s like you can see behind you for quite a bit – it’s not that misty. Once they’re dead, it’s as if the mist is so dense that if you pause while walking the bridge and look back, you see nothing but a deep fog and you don’t know what’s behind you and where you came from. It’s like the whole world that you once knew has sort of vanished into nothingness. You become a person without a past. That’s scary.
If you have children, it’s like you’re able to look a little bit ahead on the rickety bridge and the mist is not so dense. You get to see WHERE you’re GOING or you witness others ahead of you and you feel good.
What about those who have no kids and no parents left. They’re truly lost, right? It’s like the mist has enveloped them from every direction and they just keep aimlessly stepping one foot ahead of the other without knowing where they came from or knowing where they are going.
Someday I realize that I will be that person who knows not where he came from and neither where he’s going. Is that so bad?
We might leave children in our wake. May be Einstein and Feynman did too. And may be the kids had kids of their own. And a part of the cursed Kennedy family tree ended when JFK Jr. perished along with his wife without leaving any kids. And Marilyn Monroe did not have any kids. And neither did Kalpana Chawla or Sally Ride. But Gandhi had kids. Lots!
But we do not care so much about Einstein’s or Feynman’s kids as we do about Einstein or Feynman. We love Neil Tyson for who he is without reference to whether he has kids or not.
Whether our parents are alive or dead, we can at best look back or CARE about our ancestors from 2 or 3 generations back. some family trees might be traceable over five centuries. But I am not sure if it makes any difference whatsoever – I am sure my ancestors five hundred years ago were probably farmers somewhere in the same villages of India that I myself come from. But I am not too curious about them. They were probably very backward.
But if you really want to attain immortality through fame, it’s not quite possible to do that by being children of famous parents or being parents to famous children. You got to do something BIG yourself.
And so we, the godless, childless ones (and parentless too inevitably) continue to walk those planks one step at a time knowing not too well about our past and travelling to a future that is completely hidden to us …

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