“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou1
Many years ago, I lost someone close. The weight of bereavement was compounded by all the rage and confusion I was experiencing as a teenager, and that part of my life over time came to overshadow everything I did or became subsequently. There was a lot to process, and it took years. However, there was one thing that always remained unresolved, like that knot, which only gets firmer instead of loosening as you tug on it. Things left unsaid...
People who are interviewed at the end of their lives often say that their biggest regret is not expressing their feelings. To me, my experience of loss led to the antithesis of this: not expressing how I felt to the person who was no more. I wish I could say that my behavior transformed overnight after this profound experience, but unfortunately, our social structures aren't as capacious as our hearts. So with the same subterfuge that seasoned politicians use to make their voting constituents believe in what they want to believe in, I became a 'reality' of myself that wasn't real.
Over time, with age comes maturity and the ability to introspect and find contradictions within oneself. Such self-discovery combined with a bleak outlook towards society can sometimes help you break free of social conventions and accept a personality and associated behaviors that are more in sync with your inner self. You become braver and more accepting of the consequences of non-compliance [this is different from the brazenness of your teens when you broke norms because you did not fully comprehend the consequences of those actions]. For me, this new-found valor brought outspokenness.
At first, I thought maybe it was bravado and it would compel me to become more brash. Maybe the frustrations and disappointments I have experienced thus far will find an outlet. But I was surprised to learn that as I grew, I had also learned to live with disappointments. Instead of becoming acrimonious, my outspokenness had instead led me to become more appreciative and patient and I started to wear my heart on my sleeve. I wouldn't say I became a messiah and all forgiving but definitely far more affable. The lifetime of experiences of rejections and failures taught me to expect little from people while giving and be more independent and rely on myself for the most part. Then came the bend in the river...
In my mind, I am never trying to be nice, but "free"—my logic and behavior are completely consistent in my mind. Most people respond to me with measured enthusiasm or apathy. But to some people, I do seem bizarre [many times people have questioned my motives behind my behaviors], and sometimes these people given labels I don't quite like (easy to guess!). I remain defiant (of course!) and ready to have my proverbial heart broken. It is also easy because overtime we forge so many social connections that in adulthood we can carefully curate friends based on positive affect [:-D]. But sometimes I am left puzzled and confused and also brought to think: Is our society so broken that we cannot accept a kind word as is? Or am I not thoughtful and articulate enough to precisely convey my emotions and feelings as intended?
I also wonder at times whether this general social skepticism [maybe in part due to my linguistic 'in'abilities] will change me and bind me back to the social totem pole. In those moments of doubt and uncertainty, I try to remember the advice my grandmother has always given me: 'Be like water! Water flows through crevices and over rocks, but it never changes its fundamental nature, and it always flows on.' It ebbs and flows in measure but thus far I feel free. But who knows someday I might take a wrong turn that first sequesters me and overtime leads to eutrophication. I will stop being water and become land then! Just as I had found liberation suddenly, I will also unexpectedly fall off the precipice. Until that happens though, I can take solace in that fact that I only make people feel good even if they remain skeptical. There I will remain in their memories - as water!
“It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure on the world.”
— John Steinbeck
Date: 6th June 2023