Keeping the Faith

Whenever I think of subjects like faith, I sometime spare a few moments to marvel at the beguiling nature of words. Faith – seems like such an innocuous, succinct word with a  straightforward definition of “complete trust and confidence in someone of something”. But when one does begin to imbibe its meaning in life, it puts their entire existence in perspective. For some, faith is a deeply personal matter and for others, it is ubiquitous. I have spent many years contemplating the meaning of faith and its implications in my life. It is not easy; to question the beliefs you have grown with, to reconcile your teachings with your own view of of the world.  But it has to be done. It is the only way to grow your mind and become a truly wise person. I have seen many families which pass their faith from generation to generation. While I appreciate this sacred tradition, I believe the best thing to pass on would be the way one discovers their faith.

I have grown up with my deeply religious  mother with an unflinching faith in God. When I was a child, I had many impassioned discussions with my father about the existence of God and the relevance of religion. I am still not completely sold on both but the significance of faith was not lost on me. When I tried to delve deeper into it, I realized the beauty of it. There may or may not be a higher power governing our fortunes. However, even the strongest force in the world cannot make misfortunes inevitable. But faith is what gives us the strength and conviction to fight them. Faith is the blissful comfort that there is someone ready to pick us up when we have fallen; someone is dedicated to showing us the right way and to make us a stronger, happier person.It makes life happier and gives it meaning. It keeps us from being consumed by our own demons and shows how much beauty there is in this world.

I believe that humanity is the supreme religion and I have chosen to repose my faith in people around me. My family, friends are all keepers of my faith.  Be it keeping me brave in the face of adversity or making me laugh in my dark moments, they always have had my back. Most importantly, they make me maintain faith in myself. It is very easy to be fraught with self doubt, to be unable to back oneself. Everyone faces moments when everything they have known about themselves start appearing as an illusion. But one must come up with the strength within themselves to fight them and break the shackles binding their abilities. I know that it is easier said than done but keeping faith makes it that much easier.

Written in response to daily prompt: Un/Faithful

 

 

 

 

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Summer in Shimla

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When we visited Shimla, we did so with the optimistic and desperate hope of escaping the intense summer which was unleashing its wrath on the whole country. But when we arrived, I realized that Indian summer is an affliction few can be spared of; scorching even our beloved hills. The drive from Patiala to Shimla was hardly the breezy affair we expected it to be and we entered the hill station glistening with sweat.  The air was far from crisp as the sun danced openly on the compact, tapering streets. The throng of tourists strolled languidly with a slightly palpable disappointment of having to abandon their sweaters. The charming little cottages, neatly arranged into pyramids appeared as if they were simmering away in the juices of the hills they were perched atop.

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But the hills turned out to be nothing short of a consummate showman and every bit of a charmer. Whenever I visit Himachal Pradesh, on more occasions that one, I find myself thinking about Ruskin Bond. It was through his eyes that I took my first trip to the hills and truly appreciated nature. No matter when I read his works, it almost sickens me with an inexplicable longing and grips me with a raging urge to rush to the mountains and simply gaze at them. This time too, I could not take my eyes off of the magnificent hills before me which were awash in golden hues. Mountains have a strange quality to them; they are as much a symbol of might as they are purveyors of beauty – a perfect blend of menace and magic cloaked in enigma. Once you have seen them, you are forever in the grip of their echos. Their sight never leaves you, haunts you in the most enthralling of fashion. They hold the sweet comfort that everything is pure; the very epitome of clarity.

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Shimla is a busy tourist spot, especially during summer when people from all over India come here seeking an escape; an escape from their routines, an escape from the heat, an escape from the world in general. The whole town crawls with humanity; eating ice cream or steaming momos, taking pictures, shopping for nick knacks or just taking in the sights. Despite the constant deluge, Shimla manages to retain its quaintness and continues to be a window into a simpler, unhurried pace of life.

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This church is located on a slope in the heart of the town. Colloquially called as the Shimla Church, it was built by the British in 1857, when Shimla served as the summer getaway of British officials. It has survived many upheavals and still stands and elegantly watches over the bustle of visitors as they lose themselves to the trance of the hills.

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Himachal Pradesh is one of those enchanting states where arriving at a destination seems inconsequential. One can just drive along the hypnotic, curvaceous roads for weeks and be thoroughly content. It has the majestic Himalayas to boast of but what is most striking is its mystical aura of utter simplicity. The hills are unflinchingly seductive, be it in their endless allure or their promise of tranquility. Most of all, they seduce with their silent vow to never leave your memory, to come to you whenever you need a balmy reminder that there is beauty in this world.

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Poovar – Of Mangrove Trees and Hidden Surprises

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Quaint little towns dotted with eccentric houses, sleepy fishing villages gently swaying in the tropical breeze, serpentine backwaters with towering coconut trees, lush mountains peppered with tea gardens and fragrant spices wafting all over; the majestic state of Kerala is the closest I have come to experiencing paradise. For obvious reasons, Kerala is one of the most talked about holiday destinations and internet is swamped with countless pictures of every popular spot in the state. While I was planning my trip to Kerala, I was a little worried that this information overload would scrape off a bit of sheen from my experience. However, when I landed in the rain-kissed, lush green Cochin, I realized that my virtual tour was no match for the sight before me at that moment. Needless to say, my stay in Kerala was serene and picturesque as expected. However, I happened to stumble upon a gem of a place which was not on our itinerary and it convinced me that this state has magic in every nook and every corner.

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My family and I were returning to Trivandrum from an early morning trip to Kanyakumari and Suchindaram temple and were tired and drowsy. Our driver stopped at a fishing village near Kovalam and told us that our trip would not be complete without visiting it. Fresh from our excursions to Munnar and Alleypey, I was unsure about what more this little village called Poovar could offer and thus thought that we could give this is a miss. But my father had different ideas. Having lived in Kerala for a number of years, he has a sentimental attachment to this place and is well aware of its ability to spring unexpected but very pleasant surprises. We agreed to take a boat ride on the backwaters and could not believe our eyes, thus adding one more item in the long list of things I should thank my dad for.

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I felt like someone had taken notice of my wish to visit a Marquezian village and had transported me there. As our boat powered towards the gateway to the estuary, my jaws dropped as we saw mangrove tress flanking the narrow strip of water. Time seemed to have stood still and everything else was forgotten. We sat back and sighed happily as we sailed across the marshy, muddy water and took in the chirping of tropical birds. Every now and then, we would spot a kingfisher or a crane. We passed a few fishermen spreading their fishing nets in the water. As our boat tore through the humid, sultry air, a beach with golden sand appeared before us. I was enthralled as the spirited waves crashed against its pristine, golden shores went back to meet the sea. A few feet away from the beach, stood a rock with an underground church and on the banks, were a few floating restaurants and cottages. We spent around ten minutes sailing around the beach and then the boat turned to return where we had started. It was time again to return to the swampy marshes and muddy water reflecting the shadows of mangrove trees hovering above. For a moment, I felt as if I were in the swamps of Amazon and an alligator would leap out of the murky water. We spent around an hour and a half on the backwaters and with a heavy heart alighted the boat.

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Travelling is not merely checking off exotic places from a list. Travelling is meant to surprise, to astonish, to stir one’s senses. It is a profound way to teach us that the the world is vast and it’s treasures are limitless, much greater than one person and their ambitions and problems. As I was returning from the lake, my philosophical side kicked in. I reflected about how unpredictable life is. I was expecting a quiet ride back and one turn was all it took for me to gather a memory I would treasure all my life. And also, dads are always right!

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Banaras – Land of Truth and Salvation

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Banaras – the city is ancient in the most profound sense of the word. Time is the greatest foe of civilization; it wields a megalomaniac influence. It is the one true hallmark of strength, of endurance, of relevance. History is witness to countless lives, to innumerable cities buried under the harsh tides of time. And yet, stands a city which is unfazed by this cruel dimension. It seems like this city precedes time; it has never daunted this extraordinary city. Instead, time has stood as a sentinel to Banaras, gently bowing its head to generations after generations of humanity that has passed through its gates. It is not difficult to infer the tremendous value family name holds here. Older the family, greater is the respect accorded. Understandably so, after all they are accomplices in nature’s greatest feat – conquering time.

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Banaras wears many hats. Not only is it one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities, it is believed to be created by the Gods themselves. With the holy Ganges gracing the city, the mystical aura surrounding it draws millions of travelers in search of divinity and salvation. I have always struggled with religion and still don’t fully grasp the purpose of it. I get baffled by the ease with which people around me have taken to religion and God while I grapple with the most basic principles. Thus, when I was planning the trip to Banaras, I did not expect it to be a sacred experience. But I was counting on it to provide me with some perspective on religion, to give me a spiritual context which I could build upon. 

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My first reflection of Banaras was that it was unbearably hot and delightfully chaotic. One has to tear through a sea of humanity and an army of cattle to discover the serene quality Banaras is famous for. This did not come as a surprise to me because I know that like the rest of India, madness can seamlessly coexists with the mystical here. We made our way to the famed ghats and as I descended the ancient stairs to make our way to the river, I could not sense an air of divinity right away. It was business as usual as we haggled with a boat owner to take us on a ride along the holy river. As I sat on the boat, I wondered if this was underwhelming for the rest of the visitors as well or was I just not spiritually qualified enough to appreciate the beauty of the ghats. But as we rowed along the river and I looked around, I realized that the entire circle of life was unfolding right before my eyes. I could see children learning to swim, people making a living, some sadhus meditating, worshipers taking a dip in the river, newlyweds seeking blessings and dead bodies being cremated; all in a single panorama. What a complex, profound sight it was; people going about the business of life and death with an equal degree of diligence and sense of duty.

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Hindus believe that being cremated in Banaras brings salvation and sends them straight to heaven. Many come to die here, it consummates their lives. Out of the 85 ghats, two of them are dedicated exclusively to cremating dead bodies. Cremation is a lucrative business run by some of the oldest families, responsible for providing livelihood to thousands. This is the most striking aspect of the ghats; in a way it honors the starkest, deepest meaning of life – death. Even death is a ritual laden affair executed with a businesslike stoicism. One slip in the ritual and the path to heaven may close. Hundreds of pyres burn along side each other, difficult to distinguish one body from another. What is the point anyway, they are all going to the same destination.

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All the hustle and bustle at the ghats culminates at dusk in the grand Ganga Arti where six priests offer their prayers to the Ganga, the giver of life. This is a sight to behold; a beautiful contrast is created with heavily lit lamps against the background of the darkening sky and the resting river. For about an hour, the air is charged with the sounds of conch shells, bells and chants as thousands of people gather to witness this spectacle. The arti is a classically Indian affair, a perfect blend of spirituality and splendor. The atmosphere is a melange of deafening noise and dignified prayers and falls into silence after it is over. The devotees then bid adieu to the river for the day, leaving her in the presence of the faint smoke of incense sticks and gradually dimming lights.

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 Mark Twain said that Banaras is older than history, time and legend put together. This land has fascinated many; from scholars to commoners, from saints to sinner. It promises to hold the answers we all seek, the secrets to the truth of life. Many people wander around in the city, scouring its dusty, time honored alley for divine wisdom and spiritual illumination. I did not have the good fortune to spend more than a day here and am hardly an authority on the limitless wisdom the city holds. But I am happy to say that it brought me a small step closer to appreciating the greatest creation of all – life.

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Nepal Quake

Nature is the greatest equalizer. Every accomplishment, every virtue, every vice becomes inconsequential when it strikes. All that is left are hapless men and women, scampering to protect themselves from the cruelty they did not know was simmering underneath their feet. No one deserves to watch their city reduce to ruins. No one should have to dig up their family from the rubble that was once their home. It is the most terrifying thought, isn’t it? Someone going by his day as usual, acutely unaware of the fact that his life’s work will be gathering dust in the next few minutes. How does one overcome this kind of utter, thorough loss?

Our neighbor, Nepal fell prey to a horrible destiny last week and I am still grappling with the magnitude of devastation in that beautiful country.India is no stranger to natural disasters by any means. She has endured her fair share of loss of humanity. But there is something about this earthquake that refuses to leave my thoughts. A few hours after the news of the quake reached, it struck me that I had a school friend living in Kathmandu. I hadn’t seen her in over a decade but the thought of someone I knew trapped under a collapsed building filled me with unimaginable dread. Thankfully, I later learned that she is now safe and back with her family and I couldn’t be happier. Sadly thousands of others were not as fortunate. Earthquakes frighten me the most, mostly because they strike without any warning and take everything with them. Everything vanishes; exposes the stark vulnerability of human life.

When I was younger, I experienced a few earthquakes, although of low intensity. Even at that age, the panic it created shocked me. I could not believe that everything I was and knew could end so unceremoniously. Growing up on Bollywood movies perhaps gave me unreal expectations that life was a like a theatrical production which would never be deprived of a proper climax. Well, now I know that is not and it is quite unfair, isn’t it?

I am very proud of the relief efforts carried out by our government in Nepal. They are not alone in this time of need and India does stand with them. I request everyone to donate to the relief efforts in any way they can. Nepal is staring at a onerous task of rebuilding the nation and they deserve every help.they can get. I really hope the wonderful Nepalis get back on their feet soon and show that there is nothing that can suppress human will.

Fact – Stranger than Fiction?

The readers of this blog must be no stranger to the fact that I love books. There is something inherently soothing in the sight of a book; the enchanting scent of it’s pages drawing you towards it and its words promising to enlighten, exhilarate and comfort you. A book doesn’t ask questions, it does not judge. All it does is take you on a journey, lending you the wonderful chance to live vicariously and above all, letting you amass a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. I always tell my friends that a book is the best substitute of a time machine and an excellent cure of boredom.

Ever since I started working, I have made it a monthly ritual to buy books as soon as my salary is credited. My sister and my friends have come to terms with the fact that every shopping trip of ours has to feature a trip to the bookstore. As a result, my house now looks like every bookworm’s dream and every mother’s nightmare. My bookshelf, having being crammed long ago refuses to induct any new book. Creaking repeatedly, it has made its message clear that my books can go someplace else. Hence one can find my books strewn across all the rooms, settling wherever they can, cheerfully making themselves at home and incurring the wrath of my family. However, the flip side of owning too many books is that it takes ages for me to make up my mind about what I should read. All the unread books clamour for my attention and I try not to make eye contact while deciding. I ask myself what I am in a mood for, in order to assuage my dilemma. Each time I ask this question, I come up with a different answer.

“Fiction or no fiction”, every self respecting reader has had to face this pressing question. Answering this does not seem as easy as it seems. One gives the reader a chance to forego reality and the other looks to reinforce it. I have tried but have never been able to come up with a consistent answer to this question. For, there are times when we are worn out by the world around us and immersing ourselves in someone else’s world seems to be a plausible escape. And at times, we realise that truth is in fact stranger than fiction and we do need a dose of it.

I am a great lover of fiction but have learnt far more from reading non fiction. When I was younger, I used to scoff at works of non fiction and I thought there was no fun in it. However, as I grew up, I understood that I was missing out on a treasure of knowledge. I take great pleasure in reading biographies. As a student, I loved reading biographies of business and political leaders. Lately, I have taken to reading biographies of my favorite authors (Dicken and Hemmingway are the ones I have finished) and have been staggered by the way their mind worked. Another favorite reads of mine are the works which trace the history of cities and explain how their culture came into being. I got interested in such works after I read the incredibly insightful Maximum City, by Suketu Mehta. Travelogues are another obvious favorites of mine and I particularly love the works of Paul Theroux. What really impresses me is the amount of research driving such books. I have great respect for such authors who strive hard in ensuring that the truth is presented as accurately as possible. However, few make non fiction as mesmerizing as Bill Bryson does. His body of work is awe inspiring and I admire the way he traces the evolution of mundane things with humour and insight. Brimming with trivias and anecdotes, he is by far the most engaging writer of non fiction I have had the pleasure to read.

I like to strike a balance between fiction and non fiction. However, there are times when works of non fiction really surprise me. It is enlightening to delve deeper into the world we live in and the one we have evolved from. Not to mention the trove of trivias that makes one chuckle at humanity’s quirks and be wowed by it’s ingenuity.

Written in response to Daily Post – The Great Divide

Ten Minutes of Tirade

If time were a person, he would most likely be a sadist, despotic megalomaniac with a singular agenda of controlling the world. I can picture that tyrant; incessantly cracking his whip, reminding the lesser mortals of how transient and powerless they are in his hands. I can imagine his uproarious laugh when he would trap his clueless subjects in the diabolical dungeons of deadlines and watch giddily as they scamper around to break free.

My not so benevolent thoughts towards this dimension called time often comes to the fore when I am faced with unwanted deadlines. Giving ten minutes to write about anything must be the brain child of my arch nemesis I am yet to meet. Maybe it is their way of hinting that they exist and are coming to get me. I am sure they must be enjoying watching my brain scramble for ideas and zero in on one. It is indeed frustrating as ideas for blog posts circle my mind all day long but desert me at the most inopportune time. Hence I have decided to settle for a rant against the culprit himself.

Well, I have realized one thing; I am eloquent when I am ranting on a deadline. Is that a lesson you are trying to teach me, time? Are you trying to prod me into self discovery? Wipe that smirk off your cruel face and go away. I am trying to rant!

Written in response to Daily Post – Ready, Set, Done

 

 

Critic Critic on the Wall

If I had to weave an Utopian society in my mind, absence of criticism would be one of its pillars. However, Utopia exists only in fiction and unfortunately we are the stuff reality is made of. The real world with its many trappings is the place where we are to lead our lives; with our actions in plain view of our peers and theirs to critique. Receiving criticism is seldom a fun ride. It is gut wrenching to see someone tear apart something which were the fruits of one’s imagination, efforts and passion. More than anything else, it is a cruel reminder of the fact that one’s vision and intentions were not as flawlessly executed as planned; that someone is questioning their capabilities. On the other hand, criticism is also a great eye opener; a stepping stone to improvement. How one takes criticism reflects greatly on the strength of their character. Having said that, in my opinion, how one chooses to criticize others is also no less than a litmus test of his psyche.

As everyone else, I have often found myself on both ends of the criticism stick; the critic as well as the criticized. In my opinion, we should render criticism in the way we would wish to be criticized. Similarly, we should be able to accept criticism in a way we would want others to take our critique. Sadly it is all easier said than done. Although I am nowhere close to achieving this complete absence of hypocrisy, it remains as one of my life long goals. When I started working, I was often put in a position where I had to review and critique other people’s work. I then realized how quickly words can be misconstrued, sentiments can be hurt and personal relations can be strained. Objectivity is a part of being a professional but diplomacy is equally essential. Criticism has a way of making people defensive and somewhat hostile. The perfect criticism would be where the receiver can see a positive light in the midst of the flaws. And for this, the critic is as much responsible as the one being criticized.

When I am on the receiving end of criticism, my first emotion is that of dejection and bewilderment. The fact that sooner or later, I have to own up my actions registers gradually. It is easier to respond to gentle criticism but life never gives us what we want. When I am being criticized incessantly and brutally, I initially feel lost for words and disappointed in myself. Thankfully, after a while, optimism powers through and provides me hope. Over the years, I have learnt that it is very important to understand the intent of the criticizer. Some people are chronic critics; pessimists who are more interested in undermining confidence rather than encouraging others. It is important to identify such kinds. It just makes life easier. It is equally rewarding to identify well wishing critics; the ones who are eager to guide and groom us. It is a boon to have such people in my life and I take their criticism as positively as I can and follow their word like gospel. What I am trying to say is that it is wise to be analytic about criticism and not let everyone’s opinions affect us.

It is also important to realize that we are our biggest critics. As someone who understand our aspirations and capabilities from the closest quarters, external forces are rendered insignificant if we don’t feel the innate desire to improve. There is no fooling oneself; in the end, we live with no one but ourselves. We are the only ones who can change ourselves and self critique is something which should hold more water than anyone else’s opinion.

Written in response to Daily Post – Handle With Care

 

Laughter Challenge

When it comes to friendship, I consider myself truly blessed. My life, characterized by persistent relocation made sure that I made new friends every three years or so. And in doing this, I realized how profoundly different we are from one another. I feel a little baffled at how different all my friends have been and how much I have reveled in their contrasts. In retrospect, it has been an excellent lesson in accepting varied point of views and finding a way to co exist with harmony and happiness.

I am not the person who likes to remember dates, partly because I don’t really believe in marking milestones. There are a few things regarding which my mind works on a highly abstract level.That is why when people ask me when or how I became friends with someone, I am at an utter loss. For, becoming friends is not a contract which can be signed after which I get a new friend with immediate effect. It is a gradual and a subtle process featuring heartfelt rendezvous; a process which ages flawlessly and which needs to be felt more than seen. I have come to realize that we can find friends when we are least expecting it, in people who seem to be the most ineligible candidates. I can never remember the exact minute I met someone or the words exchanged between us. It is a miracle if I register their face properly. But with time, what stays with me are random moments of companionship, warmth and contentment.

The best part of making so many friends is that I have the perfect person to enjoy different situations with; be it attending lit fests, watching movies, debating on the state of the world, midnight musings, blowing off steam, proof reading my writing or plotting world domination. There is literally one for every occasion. I cannot think of many traits that are common among them. Very few of my friends like to read. Even fewer share my passion for grammar. I am not sure how many friends of mine have the same principles in life that I do (which is a really eye opening experience). However, their is one attribute, an overwhelming undercurrent which runs through all my friendships, which is humour.

I am a fervent believer of the adage that a day without laughter is a day wasted. However, the more I interact with people, the more I am led to believe that we live in a largely humourless world. Maybe this is why I hold on to people in whom I can detect even the faintest sense of humour. For, humour is a gift which keeps us from being dissolved in our own egos. It brightens up mundane days and really does give us hope. I love to make people laugh and in turn love it when others make me laugh. Humour is something I refuse to part with and I like people who also do the same.

If I had to pose one question to anyone who wants to be my friend, I would like to ask them if they loved to laugh. More importantly, if they would make me laugh. If their answer is yes then all I have to say is “when can you start?”.

Written in response to Daily Post – Litmus, Litmus on the Wall

 

Do I Know You?

Familiarity is a wonderful thing; the perfect eraser of imperfections. All lasting relationships culminate in familiarity; in inadvertently finishing sentences, laughing at worn out jokes and reading each other’s thoughts. It is the blissful phase when little flaws become inconsequential and anecdotes are in profusion. Be it family, close friends or long time colleagues, their reassuring presence has comforted me in many situations.

There have been many times when I feel baffled with the friends I have accumulated over the years. Some of my friends are wildly unlike me and the contradictions are uncanny. Not just my friends, even my sister who was born just a minute before me is the polar opposite of me. Reaching a level of harmony with them seems impossible. And yet somehow, we hold on to each other; embracing each other’s qualities and accepting each other’s quirks.

I often wonder if my sister were not my family and we would just chance upon each other at a random situation, would we become friends? I asked the same thing to my sister before I sat down to write this post. Without missing a beat, she replied that we would definitely be friends because both of us are crazy. So that settles that.

I also ponder the same about my friends. Had I met some old friends now, would I still like them? Would I still adjust with the one who is never on time for a movie? Would I still like the friend who conveniently forgets to return my books? Would I still take kindly  to them if they did not return my calls? Would I still patiently counsel them after their latest bout of uncertainty?

However hard I think about it, I can never reach a conclusion. Primarily because this is an exercise in futility. Why question the events which have already transpired? And especially the ones which have brought great people in my life and given me great joy? Why tinker with this delightful balance my wonderful family and friends have knit into?

Written in response to Daily Post – Delayed Contact