Little Life, Giant Joys

5 Jun

Early last year, I began volunteering for a local nonprofit that supports literacy for visually impaired children in developing countries. This is where I was introduced to Sudha. Whip-smart, thoughtful, and uncannily perceptive, Sudha had arrived in the United States from India in 1998. She worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley (surprise, surprise!) until an event occurred that changed her life. Sudha began to lose her sight. The decline was steady and unstoppable, and soon, she could only perceive light and shade, and hazy shapes. Her condition compelled her to quit her profession and I can only imagine how challenging things must have been for the young family.

She took refuge in her immense faith in Sai Baba and spent her days supported and loved by her spouse, daughter, and giant circle of Baba devotees who popped in and out of her home all day to check on her, sing bhajans of praise, and volunteer for worthy causes. A magnet who was never short of goodwill or company, Sudha attracted well-wishers to her by the force of her optimism, faith, and incredible ability to deeply listen to words and the sentiments behind them.

In the course of our work together, we brainstormed, strategized, chatted, laughed and swapped unique cultural nuggets in the manner of people from very different backgrounds. I’d drive her to events, subjecting her to ‘80s American music that must be anathema to someone with a Carnatic vocal background. She’d laugh at my ardent meat-eating ways. I would rant about how most Indians simply don’t consider non-religious charity a part of citizenship. We would talk long and deep about karma, life purpose, and what drove us to believe in an underserved cause. A beautiful singer, she frequently lent her voice and heart to fundraisers for our nonprofit, singing devotional songs that made the audience choke with emotion. I, who didn’t know what a Hari Katha was before we met, was stunned at the energy she generated across the auditorium—not just through her vocal chords, but from a deeper, divine place.

In the later months of last year, I saw much less of her, engaged as I was with family weddings, visits, and travel. This past February, Sudha went to India for eye surgery and treatment, in the hope of improving her condition. The last few months have been a whirl of the everyday, and we weren’t in frequent touch. Until she called 2 days ago. Patiently, she heard all my news, getting excited over the small measure of positive updates I had to share. Finally, when asked how she was, she stated without fanfare–in typical Sudha style—that her surgery had been successful, and she could see her own hand!

Between my exclamations of delight and tears of gratitude and her quiet joy at this restored gift, she asked to see me—for the very first time.
“I want to see you, your face,” she said.
“There’s a lot to see!” I laughingly warned her.
And I haven’t stopped smiling since. We plan to meet next week, along with the wonderful colleague through whom we were lucky to be acquainted, and I can’t wait to celebrate this thrilling blessing that has me sniffling in gratitude and wonder and overall bleeding heart foolishness.

So each time you read about one more horrific rape, or yet another mass shooting, whether the California drought alarms you or the murder of innocents by right wing organizations makes your flesh crawl–or you’ve just had a decidedly crappy day and are perched high on your pity pot–think about Sudha and her miracle, and know that there is joy and justice on god’s good earth.

If you have a message for my friend and colleague, feel free to leave it in the comments space and I’m happy to relay it to her. Now hand me a tissue, will you? Unfortunately, through boon and bane, the consistency of snot remains exactly the same.

*deafening trumpet*

Aah. Much better.

16 Responses to “Little Life, Giant Joys”

  1. Sue June 6, 2014 at 6:00 am #

    Congratulations to Sudha!

  2. dipali June 6, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    How wonderful! So heartwarming to read this, OJ!

  3. Dancing Fingers Singing Keypad June 6, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    Thanks for sharing this positive and heartwarming story! 🙂 Heartiest congratulations to Sudha! I hope she also gets to read this post and all your other posts too just as we readers get to ‘see’ you through your enjoyable words!

  4. Aunty G June 8, 2014 at 1:16 am #

    One dynamic person meets another
    And all barriers are rend asunder
    Then a slight lull
    Which wasn’t dull
    And then, Miracle announced, bolt with thunder!
    Sweet Sudha, very pleased to meet you
    All OJ’s friends win our hearts too
    Your story brings tears
    And then joyful cheers
    You’re a shining example to us privileged few!

  5. sukanyabora June 8, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    What a feel good story. Hope there is a sequel to this- write a post about the meeting, pliss.

  6. Deepa June 8, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    OMG! This is so very inspiring OJ. So very. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed to even write coherently. What a wonderful thing that your mutual love for volunteering brought you guys, such kindred souls, together.

    And Sudha, I’m going to hold your example very close to heart, because you see I’m fighting my own sorry battle with cancer and some days don’t care anymore if it just claims me right here, right now. I need to hold on, just a little more and wait for some light eh? Isn’t that what you’d want to tell me? I think it is:-)

    And what was that drought you’re referring to OJ? You mean to say all the joyful copious tears I’m shedding at this heartfelt post of yours haven’t yet filled up our sorry ass bay area reservoirs!

  7. Aunty G June 9, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    Deepa, my dear, yes, just hang on
    A few hours away is a new dawn
    May The Force be with you
    For strength and courage true
    On Life’s chessboard, refuse to be the pawn!

  8. i*Kan June 10, 2014 at 2:20 am #

    What a lovely story! Congratulations to Sudha! Look forward to hearing about your meeting.

  9. Revathi June 10, 2014 at 2:26 am #

    What a wonderful story of hope, OJ. such a strong woman, please give her a hug. 🙂

  10. Orange Jammies June 10, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    Sue: I’ll pass them on. 🙂

    dipali: Glad you think so too!

    DFSK: We just spoke and she can read font 40! Sudha, bless her, ‘sees’ people–no words required. 🙂

    Aunty G: She made me weep again with her magnanimity of spirit today, until I firmly chided myself on putting my eyes to better use than tears.

    sukanyabora: Hadn’t thought about it, but glad to comply. 🙂

    Deepa: Dear Deepa, save those tears and corral your inspiration toward winning your own battle (says her Lady of Perpetual Weepies). I will share your story with Sudha, and I know she, and everyone else reading this, wants you to emerge successful. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Big hug.

    i*Kan: Will share!

    Revathi: Absolutely plan to. 🙂 One from you and another from me.

  11. Deepa June 12, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    Such a sweet, uplifting ditty from Aunty G. Thank you G, straight from my heart to yours.

  12. Aunty G June 13, 2014 at 10:00 pm #


  13. iamcommenting June 24, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

    Hi, I tried to post a comment – but it did not go through – trying again. Since I loved this post so much. I was having tea after a long day and I happened to come to your post by chance…and it was so heart warming. I enjoyed knowing about your friendship…I sometimes meet people – even Indians – who are so different in the way they grew up, in wave length – that I wonder how can it be that two humans cannot connect in any way – it just needs time/work – in that vein – I could sense the warmth in your friendship despite being from different sub cultures…and I loved the line “I want to see your face” – it was so moving. Your story about Sudha gives me hope for Deepa too – I wonder about her often and I keep hoping she is doing better – and wonder if I will may be bump into her some day etc. I really hope such miracles happen for her too. And for the many others who are going through really tough times in life. It gives each of us who fret about the small things some perspective on life. That there are many blessings – both big and small – to be so grateful for…

  14. Orange Jammies July 15, 2014 at 3:21 pm #

    iamcommenting: Thank you for your warm comment, Noon! I hope for all these things too.

  15. Sumana September 17, 2014 at 6:41 am #

    I got goosebumps reading this. A lovely post about friendship across differences, of courage, faith, hope, and yes, miracles!
    I’ve become a fan of your writing and over the last several months, I’ve read through several posts and enjoyed (and laughed out loud many times) every single one. Yet, this one above stands out among the rest. Congratulations to Sudha!

  16. Orange Jammies October 30, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    Sumana: Thanks, Sumana. 🙂

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