"Why do you do what you do?"

I find it strange when I am asked why I do what I do. 'why not? 'is my reflex response.'I endeavour to be the person I'd want on my side if I were not as blessed with the context I enjoy today'. I have long found it perplexing how we consider a false dichotomy, a norm. A context in which service to society and contribution is perceived as a sacrifice, an opposing force in the face of fiery individual endeavour.

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These Streets

This evening as I walked along streets I've traced countless times before, a thought took hold. 'How wonderfully fragile and changeable the human mind is'. Years ago, upon these same streets I'd nurse tales of woe and be unkind to myself in the basement of my mind. As those streetlights glared back at me, I was a particle of dust , bereft of hope and significance. Even contribution was an act of existential guilt. All this heavy on my spine as I wearily trudged through the days. Yet through the days, the months and years that were to unfold... Came a new way of being. Seemingly through attrition, the roots of despair came to wither. Exposed by questions. Starved by the ascension of gratitude and choice. No longer frivolous intellectual notions but palpable truths of the day to day realities of living .As the grip of victimhood unraveled, there was space for new things to grow. New colours where there was only black and white. New layers above a greedy undertow. A life richer than binary choices. The capacity to receive love.

What contrast upon the same streets, within the same skin. What capacity we have to shape and shift our perceptions. But is not only human to forget this power we wield? How vigilant and compassionate we must be to ourselves and others as we scale the mountains and swim through the oceans of circumstance.

The thing about Birthdays...

My birthday has long been host to my swirling introspection. Mostly the morose, cynical variety that attacks ones state of being like the bite of a tsetse fly. For most of my life, a subconscious torrent of thought held sway. A storm that would likely confuse and infuriate others attempting to understand.

What is a birthday but some contrived celebration of my expulsion from the sanctuary of my mother's womb? What choice and part did I play in all of this ...save showing up? Was it not my mother who laboured for hours and likely coped with the anguish of  potentially losing another baby? Should it not be her that should be commemorated?  The need for actual celebration of this event was often a great source of confusion to me as I grew up, particularly when the novelty of themed cakes, balloons and presents wore off. For in my mind, a celebration implied that I was worthy of another year of life. That somehow, I was more than my reductionist portrait of myself at the time - a sniveling, navel gazing youth consuming far more than he contributed. A celebration would mean that I was of value to people, that I mattered. Perish the thought! It felt fraudulent to even conceive of it.  The extent of my privilege was clear to me, having been exposed to poverty in Africa and Asia at a young age.  Yet this existential guilt only fed the struggle. The painting of "Poor Shanil" relied heavily on a palette of low esteem and sarcasm.  Birthdays were often punctuated peeks at this insidious portrait I carried on my back.

I reflect on this now, not with the intent of showcasing my oddities, but rather out of curiosity towards the roots of this old perspective. Fundamentally, I long viewed life as something to be endured. It was an aimless journey of survival through a desert with but the amenities to survive from mirage to mirage. An unmotivated existence that almost begged for a fast ending for I was a pawn bereft of choice.

Alas the tides of experience and moreover, the sheer weariness of this way of being culminated in an altered perspective of life (a subject to which I intend to devote a novel to).  Had I not done this, I feel certain that I would have taken my life. This repainting of the proverbial self-portrait was no sudden development, but rather hinged upon  the gradual discovery of new colours and techniques to paint with. This marked the ascension of the power of choice, a previously impotent word in my rather unconscious vocabulary. The choice of colours, the choice of strokes, the audacity to re-imagine a learned vision of self. Now a pragmatic reality as opposed to a fanciful, conceptual dead-end. The desert has long made way for more fertile backdrops and I have a compass of purpose that serves me well - a deep intention to be of service. An intention birthed in my weariness with my perceived mediocrity. A shift from a resignation to my lack of utility, to actively seeking contribution in all forms.

Today, on my 29th Birthday, I do not sit here with some romanticized notion of life and its meaning. I see it as a finite time-frame for a myriad of opportunities and experiences.  I am alive to how time will see me changing this palette once again...but I shall speak of what I feel to be true in this present moment. I have long grappled with my perceived lack of choice in being born into a life dominated by suffering. I may have even harbored resentment towards my parents for this reason. My journey to date has been one of uncovering the possibility of me defining the meaning of my life ...even if I was bereft of a choice to exist. For is that not the most poignant choice we have? To wield the brush or to be coloured in by circumstance.

Thus far it would seem as if this active path is a rewarding one. I am blessed with relationships and opportunities I could never have conceived of in my younger years.  I could cite the extensive conversion of my guilt to gratitude but I have indulged in much introspection as it is. I see new meaning and purpose to this anniversary of my birth. I sit here so grateful for the struggles I have faced. The mediocrity I have felt in the marrow of my bones and the intensity of suffering that has plagued my heart to the point of collapse. For without them, I'd be unconscious of my beauty and lack vitality, passion and grit. The tools to seize the day!