It’s impossible to encapsulate the vast works of Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) in just a few sentences. Born in Bengal, he became the voice of India’s spiritual heritage. Tagore was a writer, composer, playwright, essayist and painter whose works were both personal and political. He was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and wrote hundreds of poems, stories and about two thousand songs. What really struck me was the clarity of his thoughts and insight into human nature. Here is a succinct four-minute
of his life.
Speaking of the importance of the written word, Professor Harish Trivedi, who taught English at Delhi University, said,
“Literature cannot explain away or fight off things such as pandemics, even as modern science sometimes can’t, but it does become a source of consolation, and, in its own way, provides the deepest and most insightful record of the events.”
"Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it."
Almost everything I did for my first 18 years revolved around the desire to end internal pain and escape from external threats because I never learned how to filter emotional inputs. I was, in essence, almost completely permeable! So, everything caused me to crash. It wasn’t until my 20s that I began to discriminate between what was useful and what could be ignored. This allowed me to be sad without panic and to enjoy myself even when facing difficulties. This has been particularly important during these challenging times.
"The burden of self is lightened when I laugh at myself." - Tagore
This time of forced isolation is giving me ample opportunity to reflect on the importance of laughing. One of my earliest defense mechanisms was self-deprecating humor and sarcasm. Neither was a very healthy form of laughter. As an adult, I had to learn when and where to verbally express these thoughts. In stressful work meetings this urge to be funny was often useful but sometimes distracting. Eventually, I began (usually) to better manage my spontaneous remarks.
I am also not as critical of myself and can see the humor in my (and other's) sometimes peculiar behavior. In this year of corona-insanity, I have re-discovered how much more at peace I am if I don’t take my thoughts, which have a short shelf life, too seriously.
“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” - Tagore
For several years, my wife, Most Beautiful One, and I contemplated moving for her health from the bothersome heat and humidity of Northern Virginia to the cooler climate of the Northwest. It meant restarting my well-established consulting business in the Seattle area. Truly a leap of faith – for which we are very grateful. When I look back, my most valuable life lessons and personal growth came from the times I stretched beyond my comfort zone.
As I approach (hopefully, not too close) the twilight of my time on this planet, I see the need for each of us to continue to work in our own unique way for peace and equality. And, having recently turned 70, I'm deeply moved by these last recorded words of Tagore right before he passed away at 80 years old:
I'm lost in the middle of my birthday. I want my friends, their touch, with the earth's last love. I will take life's final offering, I will take the human's last blessing. Today my sack is empty. I have given completely whatever I had to give. In return if I receive anything—some love, some forgiveness—then I will take it with me when I step on the boat that crosses to the festival of the wordless end.
Let's respect each other and stay safe out there!