I haven’t had a chance to sit down to reflect so much on this past year and write in detail about the happenings and lessons learned, but I have reflected a lot on one particular theme (Roots & Wings) that has weaved through 2016. With the arrival of my family in India (everyone except my dad) and having spent the first day of 2017 in my father’s village, I thought it would be nice to write out some of these reflections.
I’ve spent the larger part of the past year and a half using my wings. I’ve spent more time away from my parents and sisters, but have found family again and again in the most unexpected of places throughout the world. What takes me away each time is something I can’t completely explain, but I do know it is a calling of sorts. Sometimes I miss my family so much I wonder why I leave in the first place, but then I remember this calling brings me closer to a truth hidden inside, a truth only I know. This calling brings me closer to my roots each time I use my wings to leave the place I have known best. Each time I leave, I come to know that most of these experiences unveil diamonds I didn’t know I had inside. Sometimes they even bring out the bad and the ugly, presenting many surprises along the way. Of course there’s a scary uncertainty at times and the lingering voice that sometimes says What if this leads to nothing? That’s the point I guess, to grow stronger against that voice. At times it is enhanced and I find myself in a frenzy of internal chaos. However, with faith, that little voice of fear has grown dimmer.
Just a couple of days back, my mom and sisters arrived to India- this was the first time I was seeing them since I left for the Camino de Santiago almost 4 months ago. The evening of their arrival I found myself explaining to my mom that I may just always find myself coming back to my roots. I explained that just as a tree grows and grows, its branches grow so long that they start to grow back into the soil where the roots lie. Similarly, as I grow, I may start to grow back integrated with where my roots lie.
This isn’t unique to just me. I’ve met many people who spend a lot of time away only to return back to their roots. There’s a beauty in this although it can be really confusing in many moments. I know, because I am currently living in one of those moments.
I’m not sure if this is the best way to phrase it, but I have been chasing my roots for as long as I can remember. Until late this year, I didn’t quite realize that this journey of getting to know my roots started when I was only 11 years of age. The years following elementary school, I begged my parents to let me go to India to spend time with my grandmothers to learn the stories of our ancestors. Each year, I would return thinking age would get the best of them. My father’s mother was back and forth between the US and India and I was never particularly so close to her. However, I seemed to share a special bond with my mother’s mother, Amba. Each year I returned during summer breaks for a month or two months to learn more about her and our family stories. Most of the time she would dodge my questions and ask me why I wanted to know in the first place. I think after some years she got used to my questioning.
During the last years of my grandmother’s life, I started returning to India to work on service projects. I didn’t find as much time to sit with her, something I started to regret last August when I flew to India for her funeral. In many ways, those visits signified something deeper emerging. They are what leads me back to India to this day and allowed me to see a side of my parents I would have never known. Those years of back and forth unlocked a sense of urgency to serve, an appreciation for my roots, a deeper understanding of my parents and their lives, and my identity as an American Indian straddling two cultures both inside and outside of the home.
Over the past years, I’ve loved to listen to my parent’s stories as though each word is like the last drop of honey. I’ve felt immensely connected to these stories, mainly because of the broader narrative they tell. A narrative that brings me back farther than the last generation to a time that may soon be completely foreign to the generations to come.
Through the years, these stories have turned into a longer piece of writing. They tell the stories of my parents, my grandparents, the history of our village, and also the Indian immigration to the United States. This narrative took a beautiful turn when my parents immigrated to the United States and will take more turns as our generations navigate the changing world. It took a lot of journeying to understand that although the storyline weaves through parts of my parent’s lives, the story began much before.
Each time I feel like I’m ready to finish collecting stories and details, I find myself going back. I return back to my roots- to my parents to ask a million questions, to our village, to the place I find so much inspiration to learn and know more. Maybe it’s a matter of structure or the fact that I just want to know more. This piece of writing isn’t just a story, I’ve realized. It is a foundation that may be able to provide insight to future children who have grown up seeking and questioning about their roots just as much as I have. I don’t think this longer story will be done anytime soon simply because it deserves so much love and attention. I’ve found the deeper I go; the more heart is poured into this piece of writing. It is a story the tells a tale of generations that brought us to where we are now.
These stories hold a wisdom that brings me back to myself. As I begin to understand more about the simplicity in the way our ancestors lived, I find a wisdom that I think might be disintegrating with our rapidly evolving innovations and technology. Maybe if we find the right balance between the past and what is emerging in the present, a lot of good can be done in the world. I think parts of myself feels a dedication to writing this narrative for the sake of telling the story of my parents. However, a bigger part of me tells me that this story tells a tale of a way of life that integrates all aspects of our being both spiritually and physically.
Through my personal journey and the journey of writing this story, I’ve found many intersections with this ancient wisdom, the life of our ancestors, and the way community was built and sustained so long ago. These understandings only began last year during a transformative moment sitting with my motorbike in the most rural of places in the mountains of Vietnam amongst tribal communities who only, until recently, started to see what exists outside of their communities.
From then, my journey has taken me from India to Nepal to the United States to spend time with my parents to the Camino de Santiago, and finally back to India. Continuously I am brought back to the importance of community, sowing seeds (literally and figuratively), inner stillness, living mindfully, and practicing a life of compassion and gratitude (amongst many other things!). Most importantly, it has led me to people, places, and projects that are working towards sustaining and building communities and ways of life that can be integrated with our rapidly evolving world.
In many ways, my roots have made me realize how important it is to fly away. This winding journey has met many blocks that have, at some point down the road, turned into gifts that have helped push the journey forward. They’ve brought incredible people into my life and those friendships have supported and nurtured me along the way.
I feel most grateful for my parents who gave me the roots and the opportunities to use these wings. As immigrants, they have let go in the most courageous of ways and given my blessings to fly in the direction I wish. My parents have always assured me that there will be a place I can fly back to. There have been bumps along the way and doubt has surfaced at certain times, but our relationship has overall grown stronger. Sometimes I find it unbelievable to think where they began their lives and where they are now. My time back in India always reminds me of the lives they had while they lived here. Their lives in India to our birth in the US and now my returning back to India certainly feels full circle.
This year started off with immense questioning and although the questions continue to flow, they have taken a new turn. This year has brought a lot of extreme emotions which has unlocked a depth of questioning. It’s brought me into a deeper state of exploration and ambiguity, but now that I reflect back, it has brought me to focus in a little more on what I see myself dedicating more time towards in the future. Through this questioning, one thing that has remained constant are my roots and wings. It was questions which made me fly, but it is also the questions which continue to bring me back to the roots.
Note: I found myself writing and realized how long this post was getting. Even more, I realized that there are so many reflections to cover for 2016 that my personal journal still needs to see J I attempted to stop myself many times, but kept writing. If this post ends too abruptly it is because I finally decided many reflections should see the insides of my journal and not the vast internet world :)