Choosing Hope, Forgiveness, and Love : A Short Story About my Father

A myriad of thoughts and feelings came up during my most recent massage. My therapist dug into my lower back, the structural, supportive area around my sacrum where I have been feeling some aching pain.

This time the memories that came up were about my father, second last born of 7 children. My thoughts went flittingly from his various traumas and the resilience he showed through them – the ones I know were the loss of his brother, the orphanage he attended in Wolverhampton – a racist area at the time he was a teenager, possibly debilitating jealousy and slander from various community members.

It is only my opinion that these were some of the parts of the story that gave rise to his alcoholism and chain smoking 70 cigarettes a day. My mind jumped to how tough it must have been to quit cold turkey as he did one fine day.

That day was August 15 1980, when his wife, my mother, asked him to stop. She was pregnant with me and couldn’t stand the smell of the smoke anymore.

His doctor had advised him to stop or else it would soon be too late, the emphysema was setting in while he was coughing out black tar regularly.

So almost 40 years on now, he doesn’t smoke, he drinks only socially.

He chose to stop harming himself. He chose life.

With his wife pregnant, as many parents-to-be start doing they make changes, they start growing up, they begin to figure out who they truly are.

My dad was faced with the prospect of growing a new family. He chose hope.

It’s not an easy or obvious thing to do when you are in the depth of your addiction, but he did it, he stopped drinking and smoking without skipping a heart beat so to say, without self-doubt, without external help in the sense of group therapies or nicotine patches and so on.

He never gave up. He continued to stand up after every fall.

The emotions around this moment were very likely deep, and painful. I only wish that my dad would share more of these stories with us. His advice to us was always “Don’t look back. Be positive.” He is an eternal positive to the point where it used to stress me out! I couldn’t understand why he rarely shared the stories of his difficulties with us, only his successes.

My massage therapist told me the story of how we all carry a wolf of darkness and a wolf of light within us, how acknowledging them both is key to living happily but that the one we feed more will grow stronger and be more present. So I see now that my dad chose to nourish and nurture the wolf of the light.

As part of his method out of darkness, he became a bit of an “exercise and health freak.” He represented Zambia as a cricket player from the age of 20-24 and then went back into the Zambian national cricket team and played with the team again from 37 to 40, after having taken back his life, fit and healthy.

Zambian National Cricket Team 1972. Ravi Devalia (standing third from the left)

He continues to focus on his healthy habits, “to a fault” is how I used to think of it. But now I see how important that was to him, as a counter to addiction, as he chose to forgive people around him, forgive himself, and chose love.

I don’t doubt now that my father’s one choice at that moment has passed on a legacy of exercise, healthy eating, and self care to the three of us as his children, into our choice of partners and probably will filter through into our children.

Aditya is the pro-footballer, respected coach, well-rounded thinker and healthy eater, Nanu the semi-pro squash champion, squash coach, ex-vegetarian and generally healthy eater, and me the yoga and dance enthusiast.

And then one has only to look to our choice in partners, my husband Maher the marathon runner, independent minded healthy eater, football enthusiast, to Stephanie the teacher, swimming coach, triathlete, and iron woman, and to Chantelle the physiotherapist, marathoner, football player, overall fitness geek and instructor, to see more of him, our father, seeping through into our lives.

Here’s a funny fact: all three of us met our life partners in a gym setting, and to top it off, our poor kids all have relentless “parent-coaches” now on their backs!

So where does this all go? It’s about the generational transmission of intention, to the ripple effect of choosing hope, forgiveness, and love.

When Hips Cry

The tears slip out of my eyes

As she pokes deep into my psoas,

Something is clearly not right

My grandma comes to mind

The one I have never met

The one who left my mother broken-hearted

Both my aunts as little girls

A traumatic passing

I groan and moan in pain, as I squirm,

Possibly trying to escape it all,

But NO!

She keeps me in it, continues as if pitiless

My mind shoots back to my mother

Who carried me in her womb

And to her mother,

And then to my daughter,

Suppressed pain passes down

Transmitted through generations

It’s not purely in the genetics

It’s in the thoughts and in the mannerisms,

It’s in the secrets

The questions begging to be asked

The pain throbs and the tears well up

Ready to flow at the slightest prod

Every thought, every feeling, every image

It’s all part of the experience

On Confidence

I always wondered what having confidence “really looked like”. As a teenager and younger woman people often considered me as confident; possibly because of the way I carry myself. In truth I rarely felt that about myself, perhaps for fleeting moments.

Then a friend of mine in Chengdu once said about confidence – that it is an ever changing experience. That some times it’s there and sometimes it’s not. So I went with that for a while. And I believe that’s true in a sense, but only part of the mystery.

The other day, my questions around confidence surfaced again because I was gradually aware of feeling more and more confident lately. I was curious as to how it would be described in a dictionary, so I looked it up online.

Confidence: a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.

“She’s brimming with confidence.”

Ok, but to me that still seems a little bit shallow, and if it slips into overconfidence there is the risk for pomposity.

Quite recently, what I read somewhere else, struck a chord with me. (I am paraphrasing now and possibly adding ideas and thoughts from other sources too.)

True confidence comes from knowing that you will be able to bounce-back from a failure, set-back, or loss, by taking appropriate action whatever that might mean: asking for help, taking some time for yourself, trying again, changing direction, trying to learn the same thing differently, softening into the difficulty, possibly even doing nothing, and so on. Of course this has to come with the understanding that the path will be challenging, but that the effort made is most valuable, and that things don’t have to end with the problem.

I might be leading up to hope…

But again, most importantly as Dick Moore mentioned in a talk he recently presented to some of us on Mental Health and how it affects our children today, my understanding of confidence for now is having what he calls, “bounce-back ability,” and knowing that you will be able to access it when needed.

“No Shame”

When I mentioned that I would start reducing my medication to a friend of mine a few months ago, he said something that stuck with me and that is saving me today. He said, “Well done for being stable, for succeeding, for being past the worst of it. But remember, there’s no shame in going back on the meds if you need to.”

I was fixated on getting off the meds to the point that I had not before even considered what he said. It sounds ridiculous, but often when we are focused and driven to achieve something at all cost, we can miss the simplest of common sense.

Thankfully, I was open enough to listen, and to absorb his opinion that evening. And thankfully he was willing to offer the advice.

I am quite fine, and coping very well without the anti-psychotics; I haven’t looked back once. A few days ago though, I decided to go back up to the original dose of my anti-depressant.

My psychiatrist did say that she trusted my judgement with such an increase if I felt the need was there. So until my next appointment in a couple of weeks, that’s the way I have chosen to go. My secret wish to be off the meds has been dashed. For the time being. But the realistic side of me, the “no shame” side, the part that wants to stay well and balanced, knows this is the best course of action.

Taking my medication for the last two and a half years has been a learning experience; most especially one of softening the ego. I generally don’t take medication unless I really need it and luckily I have been blessed with a rather strong immune system. The need for it over the years has been minimal. But in this case, it’s different. Looking back over the last two years I feel like a wild animal that has been tamed, but is quite happy now at the same time. I suppose the “wild” never truly leaves. At least that’s what I say in the hope of not being boring!

Reaching out to family and friends for support, “attention”, care and love is a coping technique, as is my practices of dance, yoga, and teaching.

I feel no shame in reaching out this evening or the last days, to the closest of my friends around the world and here on the island.

I feel held by a net of love and understanding.

🙏

Artwork by Beatrice Poggio

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Paris Metro Blues

The struggles of life

Shine through the wrinkles on their skin

In their tired, soft eyes

Dark circles,

Just like mine

Mascara and concealer cover up the truth

They bring tears to mine

All of us from a different place,

Separate,

Yet we share this confined space

For a few minutes of this life,

Together,

Perhaps there’s a smile,

And then we move on,

Never to be in each other’s company,

In this same moment ever again

We Live a Fragile Life

We live a fragile life.

It takes extraordinary resilience and perseverance

To make it,

To be someone who is heard,

Who is seen,

And applauded.

But what is it that sets us apart?

What are we looking for, who are we trying to be?

And why?

We are desperately searching to be a hero, to stand apart from the crowds-

to be the avant-garde artist creating, exhibiting despite and beyond the rules of society,

to be the professional football player who started out barefoot in some obscure village,

or to be the blind musician with sensibility that moves the observer to tears.

There is a mental struggle,

An inner resolve never to give up,

never to allow obstacles to distract us from the fruit.

Are we trying to be meaningful and useful?

Perhaps

We look to be respected, accepted, in this world of treacherous competition, where we hang on by the tips of our nails,

Perpetually sliding.

Sliding down the slopes of love and empathy.

Inequality is the nature of our reality.

So, deal with it

The tears cry down, flooding entire towns and cities leaving them damaged,

Destruction is all around us as buildings collapse and children lie underneath, caught in the rubble.

Maybe they survive, and work through the darkness of factories, collect garbage for pennies, or train hard hoping to one day be compensated for their football or basketball skills,

All this to pay off family debts,

Debts that are there to get these same kids off the streets in the first place.

So that’s why we fight so hard to make it.

Tears stream down the rolling hills.

The fear of living, of loving so deeply sets in, and then the worry takes over,

The anxiety clouds the spaces of freedom that are sometimes created.

Ok, where to next?

To pockets of independent, detached, thinkers and friends living isolated lives.

Together.

Yet alone.

Are we ever deeply touched?

Are we avoiding reality, ignoring parts of the world that penetrate human suffering, that live and manage to laugh regardless of the pain?

So can we have it all, the depth of the suffering, the drive to make it and to stand out, the connected friendships, love, and the tapestry of intertwined lives?

Can we make it big? Big enough to pay off the debts, to patch up the holes of embarrassment and humiliation that came along the way, especially for those who have close to nothing.

Have we sacrificed softness and love for ambition?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Dreams Can Come True

Maher and I met at university in Montreal when I was barely 19 years old. Understandably, (at least from my perspective;)) I wasn’t too serious about the relationship and decided to keep it light, emotionally.

A year after we were together Maher moved to Beirut where he started working. I insisted that I would stay on in Montreal to finish my degree. What was supposed to take me one year took me two to finish due to some mistakes in my understanding of required courses.

I spent the summers in Lebanon and Maher visited me in Canada once or twice a year. On one of those visits I wasn’t in good shape. The long distance was taking its toll on me. I wanted us to be together. I was falling for him more and more. Over time. That’s part of my story with Maher. A slow, long process of falling. Deeply. In love.

So me in my naive, idealistic manner I suggested we move somewhere together right then. Maybe a small town or an island in South America. It was rather close and most importantly, it was warm.

Maher, the grounded practical one entertained my request jokingly, and asked, “And what would we do? With what money do you expect to live?”

“Well,” I smiled dreamily, not really believing in what I was saying, “You can teach sport, maybe a running group, and I can teach dance.”

Maher was running everyday, even through the Canadian winters. His limit for running in the cold was -20 C. He always encouraged me to run with him, motivated, even coached me.

And I missed dancing. I had danced since I was 5 years old and while in Canada from the age of 17, that aspect of my expressive movement life was missing.

“Hmmmmmmm…..” he sighed, and that was the end of that.

At least until about 15 years later.

Now.

We made it to out warm tropical island, albeit in Thailand, the other side of the world, and we are manifesting that long forgotten, distant memory of a dream, Maher with Samui United Academy, his new project for football and sport camps and me with a funky little dance/ fitness/ yoga studio I am taking on.

A friendly, fun, confident dance and fitness instructor, Ashley, whose classes I’ve been enjoying lately walked into his studio one morning. I was the first person there. We bid good morning, kiss each other on the cheeks, and I ask him how he is.

“Well….” he starts as he tells me how he is planning to leave Samui. Suddenly and for good. He says he will sell his studio and do what he loves most, which is arranging weddings. Back in Europe.

I was gutted. It was such a great space and so convenient, so close to my kids new school, a spot where I had met so many wonderful women. In such a short time.

I took what was one of his popular classes, “dancersize” followed by TLTA (tums, legs, and a tight ass!) to hip music, blaring, all of us chattering and clapping, laughing, often speechless from being pushed so hard, but there was the feeling of being part of a tribe that got us through it!

At the end of the class he made the announcement to everyone present, that he was leaving Samui, that he was selling.

My shy self waited for everyone to leave, then practically whispered to him “I am interested in the studio, please send me an email with more info.”

And this was literally two hours after I had heard the news, two days after I told my psychotherapist I felt ready to teach again, and also 2 days after my doctor reduced my meds.

Today, three weeks later, I have been given the green light to get off the medication altogether. Today three weeks later, I gave Ashley a goodbye hug as he handed me the keys to the studio.

I feel that I am flowing with life, that it is intriguing. Full of surprises and love. How different from when I was 14 in Lusaka and a suicide attempt survivor, 20 in Montreal drinking too much, depressed, and dreaming of warm weather and lightness, 26 in Chengdu running my little yoga studio on my own and burning out, to 29 and birthing premature twins, to 35 in Samui and having a complete mental health breakdown, to today!

Manifesting dreams.

I have many, many people to thank for their love and support over the years, but Maher is the one I choose to bring up today. We’ve been together 18 years now, and we made some dreams come true because we came out of the rough times together, stronger, more open, with a trust that we could improve and live our lives in support of each other.

That was a mouthful!

Here’s to more adventures, more connections, more risk, more love and laughter!

From One Woman to Another

The woman with the deep chesty cough,

She exudes sadness through her tears, even through her sweet smiles.

She throws her head back in abandon as she laughs

For a month she’s felt the raw soreness in her throat as she:

Cough cough cough coughs!

Developing a 6 pack that hurts now.

From a separation, to challenging societal norms, unperturbed by the reactions of her grown children.

I caught it from her, took on her pain,

No judgement,

Without words, a visceral connection.

From one woman to another.

My Dragonfly Life

Listening to the sounds all around me

On this land of coconut trees and blue seas

The insects are humming to their fullest

Making the most of their weeks as beings

Flitting from here to there doing what they should be doing

I am pondering on my own story

As I am fluttering from one place to another

And buzzing around in other people’s wonderings

My dragonfly life seems to be continuing on

Moving away from the mindless bouncing around

Into sweet moments of creativity

We’ll be Butterflies

Sometimes alone

Sitting and watching

The breath recharging

At other times included

Feeling safe and together

Belonging in a sense

Living on this land and it’s dreams

Of pirates and no rules

A paradise of stillness in its views

Forgetting the suffering of the confused

Lost in the intricacies

And the fear of being

First the old then the young

Maybe next lifetime

We’ll be butterflies