This raw and poignant piece was written by a dear devotee friend of mine. My friend Sudharma has seen her path set with thorns. Yet, she faces each day with a mood of gratitude, despite the difficulties she and her daughter face. I have always admired her strength and determination. And now, I find that this strength has transformed into an ability to yield, and surrender to her Lord, to Krsna. She is looking to find her resolution in a love for a higher power beyond us all, by whichever name we may choose to call it. — Rukmini Walker
–by Sudharma Dasi
There are so many wonderful aspects to life, and so much to be grateful for. Though, surprisingly, sometimes the greatest gratitudes are to be found in the face of sorrow and adversity. Life is not always what it seems. And it never turns out how you think it will.
“A part of us has to die to transform; and a part of us dies if we don’t. Which part will prevail?” –Jett Psaris
I’ve learned this first hand. Throughout my life, I’ve had wonderful opportunities and experiences. I’ve travelled a good portion of the globe, and met incredible people. I’ve met famous people, intelligent people and my most favorite of all, poor charitable people who would literally give you the shirt off their back. I’ve hiked in the Himalayas, partied in England, travelled, swam and ate my way through Italy, lived in Hong Kong, and had incredible friends. Not to mention and most worthwhile of all is that I’ve been able to do all of this while absorbed in devotional yoga, in Krishna consciousness, due to the mercy of my Spiritual Master, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
So you never expect that things can change on a dime, but they do.
I was living with my youngest daughter and husband, when my husband felt a pain in his side and had to go to the hospital. One week later, my husband had passed away as my 14 year old daughter and many family friends stood by his side. It was a devastating experience. I thought life as I knew it had changed and I questioned if i would ever be able to raise my head to greet the sun or smile again. But having had a life of taking shelter of the Lord and feeling his reciprocation, there was also a deep experience of travelling the thin line between life and death and feeling secure that my husband was well cared for. How you feel and sense these things, I don’t know. But it is a genuine experience.
My friends were by my side, and in full support, in ways I could never have imagined. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for more, as we wanted for little, were relieved of all arrangements for my husband’s passing, and were able to go, both my daughter and I, to place my husband’s ashes in India’s holy rivers. Everything and more being cared for by a community of well wishers.
But, when it rains, it pours.
It was only a few short weeks after returning from this incredible journey to Italy and India that my youngest daughter received a diagnosis of a terrible terminal illness.
Trembling in my friend’s home, I could see nothing but evil and suffering ahead in our futures as my young teenage daughter faced a life of tumor growth, hearing loss, spinal surgery and more. How could anything good come from such a predicament? I became very reclusive and spent most of my time at home. My phone stopped ringing and friends stopped dropping by as it seems like the combined loss, culminating in the illness of my child was just more than even my most dedicated friends could absorb. We are all so very vulnerable and there is only so much pain people can take in.
But, one day, on the encouragement of a friend, I went to the temple. It was overwhelming for me to be there. I didn’t want to see anyone as I was afraid people would ask, ‘how are you doing’. So I went and sat before the Deities, present there on the altar, picked up my japa beads, and quietly chanted the Lord’s names. And as I was sitting there, I felt like I was being asked, ‘why aren’t you smiling?” Hmmph, I thought, and turned to my Lord. How could I be smiling?
We may know and have some experience that the Lord is in our heart, and that we can always turn to him. But we may not always experience that every moment of our day. But in that temple room, in that moment, at a time when I most needed it…something happened. The Lord has a way of making His presence felt. And I walked out of that temple room with a smile on my face, rejuvenated, and even happy again, from very deep within.
That feeling stayed with me. And for many years to come, I would be able, time and time again, to recall that experience and again turn to the Lord of my heart, and feel the warmth of his presence, feel uplifted, and take shelter. Krishna, somehow, was letting me know that I was not alone, that he was there for me, and that I could count on Him, and believe in Him, and that everything really was just fine.
It was still to be many years before my friends were in my life on a more regular basis. And this was a painful experience for me. But it also become an important, life changing experience for me, as it was important and necessary to learn where my shelter actually was. I needed to let my faith grow. You can’t fake these things. Not when you face such very real adversity. My heart has softened.
Though, life is still anything but perfect.
My daughter, now 24, is still ill. But through this illness, alongside multiple surgeries, weeks in the ICU, months in rehab hospitals, chemotherapy and radiation, she has travelled to India, South America, England, France, Iceland, Hungary, and Italy several times, She is currently enrolled in a PHd program in the English department at the University of Florida, with an emphasis on the study of disability in literature. and is becoming a voice for understanding disability and disavowing ableism, something we should all understand more of. And, she takes care of me. (and I her, to some degree) People always ask how she is doing in hopes that she is doing better. But there is no cure and little treatment for this progressive, chronic illness and she is having to deal with its effects, every moment, every day of her life.
As for me, the sorrow and stress of these events in my life has caused my heart to fail, and as a result, my kidneys have failed as well. I am on dialysis, and have to be extremely careful how I live each day. But I feel lighter in my heart. My meditations come so naturally, and much more readily. And yes, my friends are back in my life as well. And, did I mention feeling grateful. For this is a genuine experience of almost every moment in my days. I am no longer sure what has been more beneficial in my life, my happiness or my distress. Because through this intense experience that I would not wish on another, or myself again, I have experienced what it means to be confident, at least significantly more so, in my own, individual relationship with the Lord.
We all have our own journeys in life, and we must all walk the path that life has set for us. But on that journey, we will experience and learn many things, as long as we are open to them. I know now that I can take shelter, and turn to the Lord. And I am far more comfortable with my vulnerabilities.
My attitude, sense control and ability to take shelter come to me by the Lord’s mercy, and it is a relief to know I am not the controller of my life and the world around me. And from that position, I can see God in my life more readily. I can easily see and live in the understanding that not a blade of grass moves without the will of the Lord, that he is in the heart of every being, and that he loves each and every one of us most dearly and is guiding us all from within.
It’s not that things are better in this world per se, but they are better in my heart. And these spiritual understandings continue to build within and have a life of their own. I know that the Lord lets me make choices, and it’s not so much now about right and wrong, but rather about cultivating love for Him, our best friend and well wisher, and love for all of you, for everyone of us is special, and has something special to offer, something special to give. And I am grateful for every moment I have, for every well wisher I have, for every word I read from our devotional literature, for every experience in life, and for every utterance of the Lord’s name that I peacefully and happily utter.
I have found, something I hope others can find as well, that the Lord is always there for us. That he overlooks our weaknesses and faults, if we are earnest and just turn to him. That he is only looking for our love. And I would ask, dear reader, that without going through as much tribulation, that we may all share these experiences. That our hearts may soften, our hearts and voices may rise together and that we may all experience a love for the soul in each other and heartfelt devotion to the Lord of us all.