Mrs T. turned 82 in February this year.
She is thin and frail, her face a mask of wrinkles. And yet her ice-blue eyes are lively and sparkle with an absolute zest for life. Mrs. T is unlike any 82-year-old I have ever met. Widowed nearly twenty years ago, she lives on her own in a tiny town-house. Her grown-up kids visit her every few months (Mother’s Day, Christmas and her birthday). I have never seen Mrs. T feel sorry for herself. She basks in her solitude and refuses to call it loneliness. ‘I may be alone, but I’m certainly not lonely,’ she’s heard saying often to whoever will listen.
Mrs. T does her own washing, cleaning, vacuuming and dusting and has never asked for help from any of her children. She still drives and does her own grocery shopping. At the age of 60, she learned belly dancing (just for the fun of it!) and at the age of 72 she did a course in poetry writing (again just for the fun of it). Till date, she has never stopped learning and growing as a person. I have yet to see another human being as warm, gracious and self-sufficient as she is. No task, however difficult or seemingly fraught with obstacles, is impossible for her. She takes on new challenges and refuses to give up until she has mastered whatever new skill she is attempting to learn.
I asked her one day about the secret of her resilience. How come she was never overwhelmed by things life threw at her? Her attitude to life went far beyond the ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ kind of thinking. So, what then was her secret?
‘There’s no secret, my dear. Whatever I am today, I owe it to my dear, departed husband,’ she said, in a voice that shook with emotion. ‘He taught me everything I know. And it’s thanks to him that I can stand on my own two feet today, without depending on a soul.’
‘Really?’ I asked, touched by the love shining in her eyes. It was obvious she had adored her husband. ‘He must have been a fine man, indeed.’
‘Oh he was! And he always said three magic words to me all the time. Those three words have helped me blossom into the woman I am today.’
I smiled at her. Of course I knew what those three magic words were. ‘I love you’. And of course, it made sense that if a woman was told such loving words all the time, she would certainly turn into a secure and confident individual.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
‘I love you?’ she laughed when I tried guessing the three magic words. ‘Oh, no, my dear. He rarely said that to me.’
I was puzzled. So then, what were these three magical words that had brought about so many wonders in Mrs. T’s life?
She leaned forwards and looking me deep in the eyes, she said: ‘The three magic words, my dear, were……”Figure It Out”‘.
I stared at her. ‘What do you mean?’
And she went on to tell me. Mrs T. was raised by conservative, over-protective parents who shielded their kids from all the harsh realities of life. Mrs. T and her siblings were never allowed to go anywhere on their own and were seldom taught the invaluable art of self-sufficiency. By the time, Mrs T got married, she was completely unequipped to deal with all the trials and tribulations that are a part of growing up. She had no clue how to run a house, or do the banking or deal with day-to-day problems. During her childhood, whenever she was in difficulty, there was always someone who came rushing to her rescue. But not so after marriage. Her husband Mr.T , although loving and loyal, nonetheless saw the untapped potential in his wife and refused to spoon-feed her. She told me about how she learned driving at the age of 50. One day, driving to the City, she got lost. She turned to her husband and requested him to show her the way home. He shook his head. ‘No. Figure it out.’ he said. After many a wrong turn and many an anguished tear, Mrs T. finally arrived home.
This habit of saying ‘Figure it out’ continued throughout their marriage. If she didn’t know how to change a light bulb, ‘figure it out’ he told her. If she was stuck doing a tricky crossword, ‘figure it out’ he told her. At first, she hated him for it. Why couldn’t he make things easier for her? And that’s when he said the other three magic words. ‘My dearest, I don’t make things easy for you because I love you. I won’t live forever. Once I am gone, I want you to never depend on anyone. Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. Nothing is impossible for those who truly try to stand on their own feet and try to figure it out.’
Her eyes turned misty as she spoke.
I felt my eyes fill up too.
So often, we depend on others to show us the way. So often, we don’t give ourselves enough credit or have enough faith in ourselves to successfully carry out a task. Mrs T taught me a valuable lesson that day. ‘When life gives you lemons, you don’t go around asking for the recipe for lemonade. You just jolly well figure it out.’ 🙂
Copyright Nim Gholkar 2014. All rights reserved.