My fight for independence started off with quite a few yanks of my favorite toys. This one’s about the true meaning of independence…read my story on VibeRevive
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My friend and I were among the 800,000 people who attended President Obama’s inauguration last Monday. After standing in various lines and making our way through the security and the crowds, we finally made it to our area by the lawn facing the Capitol. Within an hour, the place was packed. We could see masses of people all the way to the Washington Monument. Many had camped overnight. Some were up since 4:00 a.m. or before. Folks had flown in from California, Florida and all over. Others drove hours to get there. This was one passionate crowd who probably knew exactly why they were there and what they stood for.
I was amused by the excitement around me and respected the concern my fellow beings felt for this country. They stood and listened intently even though the temperature suddenly dropped to freezing a little before the President’s address. He touched upon a range of subjects (although I differ on a few) from the economy to national security and the need for collective effort, and I particularly liked his emphasis on building a path toward sustainable energy sources and preserving the planet. Those words had a special meaning that day, and it wasn’t until later that I discovered why.
After the inauguration ceremony, we decided to head down to the Lincoln Memorial and also relive Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream,” speech by stopping by the spot he delivered it. It was the walk after the inauguration that was unpleasant- not because of the distance or the crowds, but the place was littered from the Capitol to the Monument! Newspapers, dirty plates, paper cups, plastic bags and the list goes on.
President Obama talked about maintaining our environment and preserving our planet, yet how it is that we couldn’t hold that message in our hearts for even a few hours after his speech? Did we all come so far just to attend a show and entertain ourselves? Perhaps not, but it does make one think how dedicated and sincere “we the people” really are.
It takes a leader to inspire us and take a nation forward, but it’s the small contribution that we the people, the masses, the millions make that will truly determine the fate of a nation.
It is the greatest show on earth- the Kumbh Mela. Ash-smeared devotees, wandering holy men with dreadlocked hair, saffron-robed pundits, tourists, gypsies and pilgrims from near and far all gather at the banks of the converging rivers Ganga and Yamuna to purify themselves. The thousands of tents pitched across this large stretch of land are swarmed with tea stall owners, vendors, spiritualists and shelter-seekers. Somewhere in the crowd, the smoke from a bonfire engulfs a groups of folk dancers creating a magical play of mist and movement. Devotional music blares from loudspeakers reminding folks of their religious beliefs, inspiring them to plunge into the sacred rivers.
On this day, masses of humanity wash away their sins in the holy waters of Prayag, now known as Allahabad, in northern India. This massive gathering takes place every 12 years and is known to attract anywhere from 30 to 70 million Hindu pilgrims. After this religious fair, most pilgrims head home satisfied at their purification- a kind of atonement that requires no introspection, no meditation nor rationality but a simple dip in the holy waters to cleanse the mind. Some people take a pill to relieve their worries, others attend gatherings in temples and churches or roam the earth in hopes of self-enlightenment. If Divinity is to be reached through outward rituals whether it be shaving the head, wearing a particular garment, bathing in holy water or roaming in the forest, wouldn’t the fish and animals have found God long ago? The Sufi saint, Bulleh Shah, asked this question a few centuries ago. Yet today, it must be asked again, for, by cleaning the body how does one remove the filth residing in the recesses of the heart?
It may serve us better to forgo the quest for God in the forests and houses of worship if Divinity lies in the truthfulness and goodness of the heart. And even if enlightenment is promising in any place of worship be it a temple, mosque, church or place of meditation, what would it avail if one lacks the desire to ascend and improve? What is it that brings us to these places? It is the temptation of popularity, excitement of socializing, meeting a life-partner, showing-off a talent, fulfilling a ritual or is it the pull of the heart, the search for truth and meaning to one’s existence? At the end, it is the honesty of our quest and how true we remain to ourselves that may be the measure of our worth in the Divine realm.
I grew up with plenty of adventure. Oftentimes I’d go hiking with my friends in thick forests, sometimes following a winding path to a river and at other times running downhill in search of blackberry bushes. Blackberry season was a favorite time of year. The berries were out of the world! We didn’t seem to mind the harsh thorns on those bushes. We’d bear all the pricks and scratches just to get to those delicious berries.
Years later, I moved to Phoenix, but I couldn’t stop dreaming about those berries. Then I met a proud old rancher. He looked more like a cowboy to me. I watched him work hard at his ranch- waking at the break of dawn, cleaning stables, welding fences, exercising his horses and so on. He too seemed to bear all the workload just to see the fruits of his love—happy horses. I must admit my lack of passion for horses even though, back in the day, my mother had won many championships. But I do admire the old cowboy, for he looks past his daily problems and simply enjoys his passion.
Recently, I observed some men shouting at each other in a political debate. They had lost their main focus. They seemed to be entangled in a bush of thorny emotions such as anger, deceit and revenge. They toiled exhaustively, arguing and counter arguing all the issues on their table. The debate led nowhere and their goal was far away. I can’t say I haven’t wasted my time brooding over irrelevant matters too. Whether someone has been unfair or unkind, the goal has never been to focus on that. The goal has been to enjoy myself wherever I am. I think of the cowboy, and I think of the berries. I guess I can shrug of those uncomfortable nicks and scratches for a taste of joy.