When my good friend Su called me a couple of months ago and said, she wants to “talk”, my insides squirmed. Something didn’t feel right. My hands shook and my feet felt cold. But, I dismissed my instincts because my rationale kicked in. “It could be anything”, I told myself.
The one thing that my time on earth has taught me is — instincts are right. They always are. So, when I found myself next to Su in a matter of hours, I heard the word that I never want to hear — the Big C. I played with my fingers and I fumbled for words. “How does one comfort the person who is going to embark on a difficult journey and also inspire the person to not give up?”
I asked myself as I cast a glance over the evening sky. I don’t remember what I said. I tried to shut those dark moments that life throws at you. I blinked away tears and I played some strange music to drown all the noise inside my head.
Feelings, it turns out, don’t shy away. They lift their veil and show up every time someone shares their Big C story. I relive that treacherous phase and muse over all the curve balls and road humps. A slight shiver runs down my spine as my mind gallops over the tough terrain — again. I took a deep breath and grabbed my phone.
Su sounded thoughtful on the other side. I wanted to reach out, find her shoulder and tend her with love, faith and laud her for all the strength. Her voice brimmed with belief and I smiled unconsciously because I saw a shadow of myself — as she pushed herself, digging into her strength and believing in the glorious sunshine of a great morrow.
“You will be surprised to see how strong you truly are”, words found a way to her, “you will be a better version of yourself”, I finished.
“Better?”, she probably wanted to ask, “not good enough at the moment?”, she mumbled. The words settled in my chest. I didn’t have the language to heal the hurt words sometimes inadvertently inflict.
“No”, I said quickly, “You are perfect”, I sounded as reassuring as I could but my comfort words came back to haunt me — “becoming a better version?” “Not good enough at the moment?” — so many pressure points, so many explanations, so many layers to explore.
I picked up the hose pipe in my garden in a meditative mood. I anguished over the crazy thoughts. My heart ached, my chest tightened and my hands struggled. The evening glow lit the great sky and in that fleeting moment I knew the answer. Yes.
We are all our best versions for that moment. But, our pursuit in life is always to better our best versions. We sail, we fly, we run, and when we fall, we not only appreciate our flight, we also carry a scar honouring our journey.
Our struggle to lift ourselves from the depths of any trauma or defeat is our search for the power we have no knowledge of. The joy of finding that strength and vigour is also our discovery of our unique selves. We find that self only when we are in a dark hole and we decide to fight for light. I smiled at that thought. My hosepipe in my hand steadied as fresh droplets of water kissed the new leaflets.
I went back to my phone hopeful — of reaching out to Su and help her see that therein lies within us, deep down, a better version of ourselves, waiting to be found.
I don’t know if I did what I meant to do. But, in this great adventure called life, I have learnt this simple truth for the first time. As Su trudges a path ridden with sharp stones, I discover a part of myself through her struggles and triumphs. While I see a reflection of myself in her, I am sure, she can see herself in me. And, I am sure, that, when we look back and see how far we have travelled, we will smile gratefully.
Sudha Subramanian is an author and writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman