Was it the beautiful pictures of the Jefferson Memorial on Freshly Pressed a few days ago that made me nostalgic? Or was it the newspaper column on Sakura in Japan last weekend? Or did the pale pink bougainvillea flower that wafted into my balcony this morning trigger the memories? Maybe it’s just that time of the year when cherry blossom trees all over the world make their debut after a barren winter. And oh, what a debut! So many sweet memories rushed in to fill in the gaps left by time.
I remember the annual ritual that we followed each spring in those years when I lived in Maryland. I would take the train from Baltimore to Union Station and then transfer to the metro. A short walk and then – the breathtaking view of the Jefferson Memorial flanked by blossoming trees! Thousands of cherry blossom trees that dot the circumference of the Tidal Basin in Washington DC flowering in unison, a grand symphony of petals, responding to the baton of the most accomplished of all conductors, Mother Nature.
I still feel a twinge when I see cherry blossoms. Reading about the devotion of the Japanese to sakura makes the memory more poignant. It’s a flashback to a simpler time of my life, a phase of contentment, fulfillment even. I was a full time graduate student then, loving every day I spent in the lab pursuing my Ph.D. I was young, newly-wed, full of promise, in the country where dreams were supposedly routinely fulfilled for a person from India. DQ was not even a glimmer in my eye. We would sometimes pack a picnic dinner, complete with disposable plates, cans of Coke and even a piece of cake. Some years we found a carpet of flowers covering the walkways, ripped from the branches by the cold callous rain. At other times, we would drive down from suburban Maryland on a weekend to showcase the spectacular flowers for friends visiting from New Jersey. We hardly ever watched the parade. There are pictures in old albums stored away now in boxes, proof of happier times.
It doesn’t seem right, almost adulterous, to allow these memories to surface now. After all these years, to smile at the simple pleasures that had made life meaningful before things turned sour. I used to be equally enthusiastic about a regular day at school, a weekend in Atlantic City, a summer job in Delaware or a quiet evening walking around the Washington monument. Trudging around in a silk sari is one of my favorite memories of the Lincoln Memorial. Two weeks after arriving in DC in December, when we steeped out after the office Christmas party, a blanket of snow had covered every street and structure. My first snow! Neither the cold, nor the incongruous boots hidden within the folds of my magenta sari could hold back the sheer delight of stepping into fresh snow.
Am I doing something wrong? Allowing myself to be swept onto this pleasantly nostalgic train of thought? Why is it more acceptable to reminisce about the unhappy ending to my first marriage? In spite of my best intentions to move forward, pictures of innocuous cherry blossoms are sending a trickle of happiness climbing up my spine. It’s a pure unadulterated feeling. No blame for what followed. No regret for what could have been. No guilt for messing up. It’s like unexpectedly finding a family heirloom of special value.
It seems right somehow. There is a phase of anger and finger pointing. There is a time to grieve, for lost relationships, for a future that may have turned out differently. And when all such emotions are spent, there is a time to understand, to forgive. To know that there were good times, folded deep within the reams of memories where the repeating motif was sadness. Life is layered and rich. Every phase that throws up a challenge, also holds within it a lesson. I matured as much from the adversity that came my way as in the moments of calm. I learnt from my academic endeavors and also by handling what transpired outside the centers of education. Wisdom resulted from soul searching but peace arose from the gratitude for times like these.
With honesty and the clarity of hindsight, I find myself today in a place of forgiveness. Self-forgiveness. Like charity, compassion must also begin at home, with the self. As I think back to the younger me, excitedly throwing her arms out to feel the mist of Niagara Falls on my face, I smile indulgently. I am still that same person. Easily enthused by simple pleasures, licking my ice-cream slowly, giggling when caught in a sudden downpour, picking up a smiling infant on a bus.
I give permission to the real me to take charge.