I was always told that everything comes to an end and when I was young, this always put me at ease. Every time I had a silly fight with a friend, I would think 'it will end soon', knowing that eventually everything would go back to the way it was. And the same went for every time I had to attend a class I didn’t like (ahem, math) or attend a boring meeting or take a 50 hour train from South India to Rajasthan, and every single day I spent cooped up working in an office back in Toronto. I’d just breath and think don’t worry, it will be over soon.
I don’t like this saying anymore. Now that I’ve found a career that I love, have memories I could live in the moments of forever and every time I explore a new and unknown place, I don’t want it to end. The fear of not being able to hold on to something forever and live in my favorite moments until I am ready to move on is what breaks my heart. All I get to leave with is the feeling I felt at that moment and to visualize as best I can all the surroundings that were in sight and sounds that filled my ears, then I close my eyes and outline it all in the darkness behind my lids.
Last Wednesday I spent the afternoon meeting with some women and children from a nearby village we are trying to engage in our project work followed by an hour or so of games in the marginalized community of Gajner, Indra Colony; kabaddi, soccer, “tomato”, Simon says – you name it, we played it. Tina, an adorable young girl around the age of 3 or 4, really wanted to join us for games but she is the tiniest little thing. I couldn’t refuse as she grabbed my hand to bring her, then I ended up carrying her all the way to the meeting spot in the open field just beyond the homes in Indra Colony. I’ll never forget her smile and how happy she looked when I picked her up. She was wearing a burgundy red sleeveless dress with little shorts on underneath. Her feet were bare, her arms were ashy from the sand and dirt that had not been washed off in a couple of days and her eyes were sparkling in the late afternoon sun. She stood beside me the entire hour of playing games, or strapped to my back, suffocating me with her little arms wrapped tightly around my neck and her high pitched, baby voice giggling every time I tickled her to loosen her grip. About 10 minutes before the games came to an end, as we lined up the kids for their routine ‘high-five line’, Tina had fallen asleep in my arms. Her little cheek was pressed up against my shoulder and her skinny arms had loosened from their strong grip. Her sister, who is about 12, offered to carry her home but I couldn’t even bare the thought of releasing the little angel from my arms. Although where her body pressed against mine was wrenched in sweat, I couldn’t put this gentle and loving little creature down. I also have very mixed feelings about such young girls having to care for their young sisters. A 12-year-old carrying her 4-year-old sister two kilometers home to put her to bed and tend to her? That shouldn’t be a 12-year-olds responsibility. She is 12! She should be free to run around and do as she pleases, enjoying her youth. I even look at Jeshrie, another young girl living in Indra Colony and her older sister Dali who are always caring for their two young sisters of 2-years and 6-months of age. They are both always crying and this obviously frustrates the two girls as they never really know what the problem is, and when it continues on for too long, they become tense and sometimes begin to cry themselves. It is so tough on them and you see the heartbreak in their eyes when they aren’t sure of what to do to help calm their young sisters. I even have to step in often and aid with the situation, which always disrupts our weekly English and Hindi classes. It isn’t like their mother isn’t present or doesn’t show them love, she is just busy daily filling her role as a good housewife (as seen in Indian culture), which includes cooking, washing, and cleaning and gathering wood. As I looked into Tina’s sisters eyes, filled with relief that she could just for 10 minutes not be responsible of her young bahin, she grabbed my hand and chatted my head off like all 12-year-olds should do, her mind full of curious questions and silly things to say. As our slow walk came to an end, approaching the door to their two room home with no electricity and their open outdoor kitchen (the roof was blown away in the last sandstorm), I looked over my shoulder to see Tina’s little face still sound asleep, her little mouth open, drooling on my shoulder. A tear rolled out of my eye. I laid her on the one bed the family owns, which sits outside, and kissed her chubby cheeks. As I walked away I thought this is why we cry.
Every special moment that ends too quickly, is why we cry. Every chapter of our life that closes, we cry. This is why breakups are hard too. When it comes to an end, you reminisce about all the good times and how much happiness every moment with that person brought to you. That’s what kills you, that is what makes you cry. It is an ending, an ending that you can only replay in your mind. An ending to a memory that brought you so much happiness. You will learn to live without them, just like you did before them, and you will love again but it will never be the same. It will be different, maybe a better and more powerful love, due to the lessons learnt from your past, but we still cry because it will never be the same. Just like Gajner. It will grow, evolve, more people will come to take on the job that I have done and continue engaging the community and developing sustainable projects. The children will grow up, new children that I won’t know when I return will be born, the eld
ers will grow old and the teenage girls will soon marry and maybe be sent to live in different villages with their husbands. All I have are my memories and the only way for me to experience them again is to close my eyes and let my mind wander. I will never be able to touch, taste, feel or listen to those moments again the way I did when I first experienced them. A film clip will never do them justice and every time another second goes by, I grow older and so does every moment I’ve ever lived.
This is why we cry. We cry because we spend our whole lives chasing happiness and then when we have to move on to find it elsewhere, it is like losing a part of you. Literally. Leaving Gajner is like leaving behind a vital organ. It sounds extremely silly but this is my home. It will always be my home and these people will always be my family. I think of my mothers face when I left in January and how I felt getting on that plane (next to the junior Russian hockey team, remember that? – hubba hubba) and here I go again, with a piece of my heart left in the hands of every person that I have come in contact with in Gajner over the past five months. I know my return later this year with the organization will only bring more warm memories but leaving these ones, right now, are heart breaking.
Sometimes when we cry, we smile because we are so overwhelmed with the happiness and love that is surrounding us, we feel silly letting tears roll down our cheeks. The human body doesn’t know how to handle so much emotion that it has to release some of it through salty tears that can then evaporate and flow through the air around us...
Two more days of goodbyes lay ahead of me and although my smile seems to be disintegrating, it’s there behind my eyes while looking at the village and the people I love.