Tuesday, January 4, 2011
New Year Images: Let Them Go
On New Year's Day, I went to visit one of our neighbours. Mrs Agrawal is a good woman: funny, down-to-earth, warm and generous. I brought her some "Mexican Wedding Cakes" - a special Christmas cookie which melts in your mouth and has no eggs. She was thrilled.
We sat in the sun on her verandah and caught up with each other's lives. Though we live right across the road, we seldom have the chance to chat. She told me about her daughter's operation; I told her about Moy Moy's pneumonia.
Then out of the blue, she asked me what another of our neighbors had against me. I knew what it was, but I pretended not to. For months I had watched the other neighbor's husband dump their trash on the vacant lot next to our house. Finally I asked him why they didn't spend the 30 rupees a month to have their garbage collected and disposed of properly. Since that day, no one in that family would even look at me, let alone speak.
"Why?" I asked Mrs Agrawal. "What do you mean?"
"She says you have trunk loads of money coming in for Karuna Vihar and it all goes in your pocket."
I smiled and said there are all kinds of people in this world and changed the subject.
But the accusation stayed with me all day. It came at an odd moment in my life. Due to a cash flow problem, we have literally been living hand to mouth in the Foundation. I have been frantically fund-raising just to meet the payroll and several senior staff have gone without their salaries a few times. Our normal 10% raises are six months overdue. Moy's health issues have been draining, I have given money I don't really have to several people who were also in health crises and, in fact, I can't remember when cash has ever been quite so tight as it is right now.
So being accused of siphoning money meant for the Foundation hit me hard. It was absurd and funny, but it was also painful.
Yet the only option is to try and understand, to step out of the aggrieved innocent's role and become instead the compassionate observer, the one who realizes that this has nothing to do with me and everything to do with her. This is a huge challenge for me - my "image" is important to me and I find it next to impossible not to defend it against detractors.
But being in public life - even in my own tiny sphere - means that this sort of thing will always happen. Small people will always exist and they will always be ready to pull others down. The challenge is to go on doing one's work sincerely and with honor and integrity and with no concern for what "people" might say.
The Tibetan prayer flags are the image I hold on to: fasten your life to the rope of integrity and honor and let everything else flutter by on the prevailing winds.
Image? Let it go.