This I Believe

Kamaljit - San Francisco, California
Entered on November 17, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I listened to George Bush (junior) proclaim his war on terror considered my own war on terror, that I had been engaged in for 15+ years. I am North Indian and when I was 17 years old my parents’ arranged a marriage for me. This was not somebody I wanted to marry, it was decided for me. I displayed an unexpected feistiness, shocking everyone by running away from home, from my future husband, and all that that entailed. I left behind my family, community, social circle, and all that was safe and familiar to me. I felt the joy of freedom and the pain of being ‘disowned’ by my community.

I have been cheered on by so many people who have heard about this part of my life. It all sounds so empowering, so “western freedom” triumphing over “eastern misogynistic oppression”. So I gained my freedom, and also along with it a deep resentment for the price I had to pay, a seething rage that I could not be accepted for myself, and a wallowing self-pity about being a so-called outcast. Within me was created conflict, fear, rage, misery and suffering. I was terrified I had made a mistake and that I should have got married; that I would fall ill with no support; that I would loose my job and become homeless; that I wasn’t worth anything to anyone which was why my family let me go so easily; or the fear that I would fail so miserably that I would have to return, on my knees and beg for the forgiveness of such cold and hard people.

It was absolutely terrifying being out in the world at 17 years old, on my own, with no backup at all. I found myself constantly reliving the past, and fighting – fighting for freedom, fighting for acceptance, for the ability to be me and for my place in the world. I was hurt, angry and confused – I didn’t know how anything worked in the non-Indian world. Slowly but surely I came to the conclusion that this was just the way the world was – a fight, a struggle, a battle for survival. I noticed that wherever I went, it was the same thing, it didn’t matter how far – London to New York, New York to LA, and LA to San Francisco – still it was the same thing. “This world is messed up and dangerous,” I proclaimed and wrote off the whole planet as doomed. I didn’t realize the common denominator was me – everywhere I go there I am!

I waged a war on all of the injustices that “The Universe”, or whatever you want to call IT that is outside of me and yet controlling my life, had inflicted upon me and asked me to bear. I was in pain and angry that I was in pain. I decided there was some kind of axis of evil somewhere between various family members. I couldn’t go back I had to stay thecourse. Each day I renewed my resolve and commitment; there was an arrogant belief in the rightness of my thoughts, and deeds – to the exclusion of anyone who cared to disagree……..OK, shall I go further or is this sounding familiar? I was actually George Bush Junior in a small, female, brown body.

At the age of 30 I had a crisis. Not something small and slightly uncomfortable, but a really big one. I got sick, couldn’t work, couldn’t pay my rent, had no medical insurance and ended up homeless, just like that – bam! I was left homeless, penniless and jobless. It was all of my teenage nightmares come true.

I told the staff at San Francisco’s General Hospital that I had no insurance and couldn’t pay them and that once discharged, I no longer had anywhere to live so could they just patch me up and set me out as soon as was convenient. I knew America as a place for working, as a capitalist society where you got what you worked for. Since I was seventeen I had always worked.

The hospital staff treated me with dignity, kindness and respect – more than I had ever known from my family. That was the first time in my life that somebody (or some group of bodies in this case) told me to “let go and let someone else take care of things”. That was a pivotal moment for me. At that moment I had begun something new, something called letting go. There was an entire process to follow, but that was my first act of letting go.

The staff took good care of my physical problems, and set me up with housing, a little money, doctors, therapists, counselors, medications – it was extraordinary. I kept thanking them, but they didn’t seem to understand the significance of what they were doing – saving my life. I was profoundly touched by the unconditional giving and care that was extended to me. I walked out of that hospital one month later with what would become an incredible support network.

My work, though, had just started. I was now engaged in the process of letting go and healing. I had to make some space for new things in my life, and let go of the past – allow in the future. It was time to put aside my outrage at the perceived injustices of a life I was at war with. It was time to resolve the conflict between gaining my freedom and losing my family. I engaged in a process that was not easy and was very humbling. I was helped, loved, supported, guided and educated by an incredible group of virtual strangers who are extraordinary people in ordinary peoples clothing. I began learning how to forgive and create peace around difficult events in my life. I learned that forgiveness was not saying the past was OK, but rather about putting the past in the past and seeing the present as the present. It was about letting go so that yesterday no longer ruled today and tomorrow and the day after that. It was a very emotional process of learning how to practice forgiveness in every moment.

Once I learned what an amazing sense of peace and grace I could experience this way I was hooked, what an amazing feeling. Every day, as I forgave a little more, life became a little lighter and I began to experience more peace. It gained momentum and there was no turning back. First, I forgave ants, gerbils, flies and slugs for showing up where I didn’t want them to; cell phones for robbing me of quiet bus rides; my juicer for being so difficult to clean; my roommate for trashing the environment with disposable plates and cups. The more I did it the better I felt and the more I wanted to do it and then the PhD program I forgave my parents for being flawed people instead of perfect Gods; friends, relatives, strangers, and loved-ones for being who they were rather than who I wanted them to be; young boys and old men for touching me in inappropriate ways; and myself for thinking they were my enemies and I had to fight them. Finally, believe it or not, I even forgave George Bush junior for being a war mongering idiot just like I was.