If only someone could understand my angst at finding fungus growing on my Theobroma Rye bread – An essay on the importance of Understanding

And the extreme pain I felt while throwing the nearly-perfect loaf into the trash can.

Last night, I got home to find a thin layer of fungus growing on my neatly-stored Rye bread. That loaf was particularly tasty, and my almost-2-hour commute back home had been spent imagining eating the rye bread for dinner with all sorts of toppings – a warmed-up slice with a generous slathering of peanut butter, or a sandwich with hummus, cottage cheese, bell peppers and a boiled egg thrown in.

So, while my brain was merely disappointed at finding my Rs. 85-a-loaf bread spoiling, my taste-buds were devastated. They had to settle for oats with milk. And that in itself was punishment – one does not simply swap hummus and rye with oats.

Now the thing with this problem was, if I’d shared it with anyone else, chances are they’d tell me to calm down and just order something. Which, let me explain, IS NOT THE SOLUTION.

I don’t want to order something else. I want my rye bread back, un-fungused. And ready to be heated and layered with peanut butter. But, one can’t reverse fungus-growth, just like one can’t reverse time.

So, let me say it again.

If only somebody could understand my angst at finding fungus growing on my Theobroma Rye bread. 

I don’t want a new rye bread. And I most certainly don’t want to be taken out to dinner as consolation. I just want somebody to understand what I mean when I say I am devastated that my bread has fungus growing on it.

Which brings me to the point of this story.

We all seek someone who understands us without us having to explain ourselves.

There is this powerful quote from Murakami’s 1Q84 – If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”

Let me repeat.

“If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”

Of course there are some things that need explaining. GST for instance. Or the Aadhar card. But that’s not the point of this essay.

So, what do we mean by understanding? Does it mean agreeing, accepting, unconditionally believing?

Not quite.

Understanding is more in the realm of empathy. It’s when you may completely disagree with another’s point of view, but you have the imagination to put yourself in their place, and view the world like them. For a brief moment you’re able to switch places with the person in front of you, becoming them, thinking like them, inheriting their likes, dislikes, and quirks, and therefore being able to emphasize with their feelings – however silly they may be.

Like getting upset about fungus, in my case.

As I meet more and more people, it becomes glaringly clear, that most people are not empathetic. We’re a judgemental class, however much we’d like to claim otherwise. We try and look for flaws in people. And if we can’t find any, we pinpoint the least appealing of the person’s personality (or physical) traits and make it seem worse than it is. Especially when the subject is a smart and beautiful man or woman. Is it jealousy? Is it self-preservation? Is it a manner of boosting our own egos by putting down a seemingly better person?

I don’t know.

But, this lack of empathy is turning us into an unhappy class of people. When you begin to judge people from the place they shop from, the texture of their hair, or the tone of their voice, you’re unknowingly exposing your own insecurities.

You’ll rarely hear a secure and happy person discussing another person’s “disastrous” fashion choices.

Of course, I don’t mean to say, we need to become serial do-gooders, forcing ourselves to feel something alien. Because, that would be dishonest. Sometimes, like in school, or in a disciplinarian workplace, it’s almost cathartic to bond with one’s peers over a particularly tough teacher or boss. Or, with your friends over a particularly horrid ex.

When I say we need to be more empathetic, it simply means putting yourself in anothers’ shoes, understanding their life-experiences, motivations, fears and hopes, and then seeing if you still feel as harshly towards them. Their choice of shoes, style of talking, whatever.

Our opinions of others are subconsciously influenced by our opinions of ourselves.

When we are insecure about certain aspects of ourselves, we unknowingly project these insecurities on the people around us. We disguise our insecurities as their flaws, to make ourselves feel better.

When you begin to empathise with others, you’ll begin to empathise with yourself. And then your own flaws won’t seem so bad either. After all, nobody is perfect.

Understanding helps create stronger bonds.

Ever feel you’re surrounded by friends but can’t seem to discuss your innermost feelings with any of them?

When we empathize and understand the people around us, it helps them break down the walls they’ve built around them. And when they open the floodgates to their honest emotions, that in turn breaks down your own walls. And voila, true friendship is born.

It’s as simple as that.

Today, we are guarded. We are reluctant to share our feelings. We are worried about what others will think, primarily because we, in our heads, have already judged others for those very same feelings we are experiencing. If we don’t judge others, we don’t judge ourselves. And that paves the way for years of self-love and happiness.

So, let us (me included) start understanding others and through them, understanding ourselves.

Enough preaching. Now go have a happy (and judgment-free) Sunday.

Cheers.

 

Why we stay and lose in touch with friends from the past.

Note: While I was writing my first story about laughter and forgetting in my previous blog post, I felt this strange sense of liberation. Like this is what I was meant to write all this while. Like this was the topic I was sifting for, through the folds of my brain during languid train journeys and zoned-out moments at work. And that’s when I realised, I would convert all these snippets into blog posts – move them from memory to blog, where they would serve as reminders of a time long past, a time when happiness was real.

I don’t know what book it was (Milan Kundera’s Identity?), but the book basically says our friends are our tangible connections to our past –  If we lose our friends from the past, we lose our link to the past. And we risk losing a part of ourselves.

So we stay in touch with old friends for the mirror this friend holds out to us. And our friends stay in touch with us for the mirror we hold out to them. The mirror to our shared pasts that shelters shared memories –  a proof of having existed in a certain way in a certain period of time. A window to ourselves. A tangible proof of our existence. A key to our identity.

Which simply means, we need our friends to stay connected to the world and to ourselves.

And so even when we grow up into different people, we still look for those who transport us to our foundation. Who give credibility to our existence.

One of the most painful things is meeting a cherished person from the past and realising you have nothing in common with their present self.

At that point, you feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself with the other person. You feel confused, lost and start scrambling around – looking for your misplaced identity – the part of you that went missing with the other person. And in that confusion, you struggle to rediscover your new self. You are subconsciously thinking, “Okay, so s/he is this. So where does that leave me?” And little by little, the more “changed” old friends you meet, the more discomfort you feel. And after this long and tedious phase (that evolves not ends), you become closer and closer to finding out who you really are.

After the initial enthusiasm in the first few years after graduation – life, career and love swoop right in, tearing us all apart bit by bit. At that time, it gets really tough. For instance, in my case, I would lie awake, missing, hoping with all my heart to go back in time. Back to school when there was so much to look forward to. A time, when there was love in our hearts and fire in our souls. A time, when we were invincible.

And so to connect with the invincible part of ourselves, we call our friends from back in time and make plans. We fix a time and place and arrive there, looking sharp. However, take the setting of the past away, and we’re left incomplete. Two incomplete people staring at each other across the table, wondering what’s missing. Like two halves of different apples wondering how to fit together.

Has the mirror shattered? Are shattered pieces of yourself all you can see?

Sometimes, meeting people from the past is a reminder of all that’s missing. 

Meeting an old friend only to realise they’re nothing like what you remember of them, makes you want to do one of two things:

  1. Shut the door to the past with a firm thud
  2. Wish to time-travel back to the past

However, sooner or later, we all realise that we can’t live with one foot down the back door. We can’t keep hoping for some spell to transport us back in time. And we move on. 

Sometimes, when I meet a friend from the past, it seems as though I am meeting a stranger. A new person with new habits and new tastes, a striking resemblance to somebody I knew a decade ago.

We sit across, exchanging pleasantries, awkward silences dissipating only after a few drinks, when conversation drifts to talks of the past. The past is all we have in common. Our memories the only reason we meet. That’s when the pain gets unbearable. So intense that sometimes I choose to distance myself from this stranger I can’t connect to.

I don’t want my enthusiasm in rekindling the past to end up destroying the past.

I don’t want my memories to be tainted by any awkwardness and disagreements we might face in the present. I want my memories from back in the day to stay sheltered like pink and blue bubbles glowing in the sun. Bubbles I can gaze at as they drift away into nothingness. I don’t want to bring the bubble closer. I don’t want to risk bursting the happiest memories I’ve ever had.

Sometimes, losing touch is all I can do to protect the sanctity of the past.

And so I often find myself losing touch with old friends.

But at the cost of protecting the sanctity of my past, am I losing my identity?

Memories sometimes make life worth living. And stories worth telling.

Maybe, once when I have told all these stories and have shared every pleasant memory from my past,  I can safely attempt to rekindle those ties. To mend the tangible strings tying me to the warm, fuzzy feeling of the past. To repair the bridges now lying damaged by the passage of youth and self-discovery. To gaze at the mirror and hold a mirror out, without fear of it being shattered.

Till then, I am going to write. Write till my fingers hurt, and brain drains itself of every shred of hurt and loss. Write till I am empty of past dues. And filled with knowledge of myself.

Will it be too late then? Well, at least I’ll still have my blog posts.


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