Monday, November 10, 2014

{From Holy Cow to Holy Spirit} Loved Into Being

{I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I would begin sharing a little more of my personal story here on the blog. This is the first in a series of posts regarding my life story and own journey of faith. Full disclosure, this post is a little longer than the rest may be as it is the first chapter of a book I began writing last year at the prompting of the Hubs. Working title: From Holy Cow to Holy Spirit. Too much? No matter. So far, this is the only chapter.}

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“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;” Jeremiah 1:5

“For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.” Psalm 139:13-16

[Excerpt From: Bibles, Harper. “NRSV Catholic Edition Bible.” HarperCollins, 2010.] 

You might say I'm a bit of a Ross Gellar. No, not a character on Friends or a paleontologist, but a modern medical marvel. At least that's the way my mom would have you believe it when she is telling the story. An only child of immigrants, the story would be oft repeated, as though they were earning bragging rights with the rest of the immigrant Indian families who often had more children.

My parents were born in the late 1930s in a British occupied India. That sets the framework for much of the way I was raised. Dad was the eldest of eight children, born to a doctor who worked away from home at a tea plantation and his fourteen year old bride. My grandmother would be only sixteen when my father was born. With my grandfather away for work much of his life, dad would become like a father to his siblings, who somehow happened to come in rather regular intervals. It would seem my grandfather was not always absent.

Regardless of how one might think a doctor's family would live, my father's family was actually not well to do at all. With eight mouths to feed, and the standard of living not the best in the Calcutta area, dad did not know luxury or excess. (I can't imagine what it was like when he was growing up, but even as I would visit in my childhood the family home did not have running water or reliable electricity.)

As he got older, my father went to live with his cousins to go to school, and eventually went onto college to earn a degree in engineering. When I think of my dad, I have no doubt that God created him to be an engineer - more on that later. He worked his way through school, always supporting himself and working to support his family. This truly formed the core of my father's being. To his dying breath, he was always responsible for the welfare of his family.

In contrast, my mother grew up the daughter of a wealthy international businessman. It wasn't always that way, especially when she was young. They used to live in a little village in what is now Bangladesh. In her childhood before one of many "wars," it was East Bengal. Her father, my maternal grandfather, grew up quite poor, but had a knack for people and a head for business. He moved his family to Calcutta while my mother was still young to make a name for himself and provide for his family.

Growing up in Calcutta, my mother attended a private school, presumably run by a Catholic order, as I remember hearing many stories about the nuns who taught her. She feared them, but she loved them. They saw a potential in her and encouraged her at a time and in a culture when women were not to be educated too much. The second oldest of five, my mother had a vastly different childhood than my father.

My grandfather being a businessman, would always have foreign clients visiting and staying with them in their home. Let's call it what it was in its glory days - a mansion. Not only did they have running water and European bathrooms (showers and toilets), my grandfather eventually had a room installed that had air conditioning. We are talking about the lap of luxury here. She was most certainly spoiled, but she would say not rotten. The other trait my grandfather possessed was unabashed charity. There are many stories I remember being told of him bringing home people off the street - for a meal, for a bed, for a bath - random strangers he had met during his day. That played a large part in my mother's childhood and perspective of the wealth they had. It was never to flaunt, but always to provide for themselves and others.

As I mentioned, my grandparents were rather progressive allowing my mother not only to complete her education, but also to obtain a graduate degree. However, they were not quite as progressive as she would have liked. She was planning on flying the coop and going to Europe to become a Montessori teacher upon completing her degree. My grandfather had other plans for her.

A few months before she would be sitting for her comprehensive exams to complete her Master's Degree, my grandfather informed her that he had found a young man that he would like her to meet for the purpose of marriage. Yes, that is correct. She was planning on flying away. He was arranging her marriage. In some twist of events whose details I never quite remember, possibly because they change a little every time, my grandfather had run across my dad and knew that he was the husband my mother needed. He knew the family was poor. He knew they were from different worlds. However, he saw in him something that told him he would take care of his beloved daughter.

My grandpa on the right long after the aforementioned story.

My mother has a lively personality. I can only imagine the look she gave her father and the words that were exchanged. This was a different time, though. Out of love and respect for my grandfather, she agreed to meet this man who would be preventing her from what she had dreamed of doing at the time. (I should tell you, the fact that she was able to meet him at all was still quite progressive at the time, and in some instances even today.) Her analysis? "He was so serious!" Like I said, my mother is spirited. She mentioned her concerns to my grandfather who only asked her, "Do you trust me?" This my mom did - implicitly and wholeheartedly. My grandfather went on to tell her about him, that he was kind and responsible, that his seriousness would balance out her spiritedness, that he really felt he was a good man from a good family that would treat her well. So, in 1960, instead of flying off to Europe, my mother married my father in an epic celebration that I still hear about to this day.

Dad and mom on their wedding day.

Indian culture is not unlike Judeo-Christian culture. First comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. For these two crazy young people who were learning to love each other (as my mother noted, in an arranged marriage, love did not come first), a baby did not come. For five years, a baby did not come. They consulted doctors. For ten years, a baby did not come. They lived and they loved, they embarked on many adventures and lived life to the fullest, but a baby did not come. After ten years, they decided it was time to try something else. The doctors there could do nothing more, so they secretly decided to move away from India. They wavered between Australia and the United States, but at the time Australia had strict racially based immigration policies and quotas. The United States would be their new adventure where they would make their home.

My mother couldn't keep anything from her father. When they were having some trouble getting the appropriate paperwork and clearing red tape, my grandfather with his business contacts and networks stepped in to help them jump the hurdles they had to jump. He did all of this with not a dry eye. It would be no small feat. They were moving half a world away with no family, and few connections. When they finally told all the family, there wouldn't be a heaping handful of enthusiasm for them there either. They were leaving, and in his family that just wasn't done. I would feel the impact of that decision in my own childhood years later.

My father, being the protector and provider, had decided he would move first and then have my mother follow once he had settled in and gotten established. My grandpa would hear nothing of it. The man who saw their complementary natures when he arranged their marriage knew they would need each other to survive the transplant into a different world. Besides, he knew my mom's experience with his clients and her spirit would be instrumental in helping them to establish their new life. So, in 1970, with $600 and two suitcases, they came to the United States and settled into New York City.

Mom and dad in Central Park circa 1970-71 (ish)
While a lot could be said about why they moved, my mom is really quite clear. They wanted children and wanted better medical treatment to exhaust all the possibilities. While my dad worked and took classes toward a Master's Degree of his own, my mom went to work on Wall Street. The woman had moxie! Upon door after door closing on her due to her lack of experience (never mind that she had a Master's Degree in Literature), her "spirit" finally broke through when she retorted in an interview that she would never have experience if no one ever hired her. Apparently that got her a job as an executive secretary on Wall Street. Moxie.

Once they were settled in, the search for medical treatments continued. From the stories, it doesn't sound like it took terribly long for a doctor here to figure out the problem. Having spent ten years in heartache over their inability to have a child, my mom for one wasn't immediately hopeful. In fact, she admits that though the doctors had found what they believed to be the issue, she had really given up and was now thinking about the possibility of adoption. Why get her hopes up when everything in her life had pointed to the impossibility of pregnancy? She didn't know the God I know now.

Within a few years, the company my dad worked for would be transferring them out to California. At this point, there was still no baby, and hope was dying. Shortly before they moved, at what would likely be one of her last visits to the doctor, he told her that he predicted she would be pregnant within a year. I'm pretty sure she rolled her eyes if I know her. So they packed everything up, which by now was more than just two suitcases, and off they drove across country to San Diego, California, where I would be born about a year later. Apparently doc knew his stuff.

Two young Hindu kids, from totally different backgrounds, brought together in an unlikely marriage, childless for fifteen years until they moved halfway across the world. What in the world did God have in mind for me?!?

Stay tuned for the next edition, "What's In A Name,: coming next week if I stay on schedule!

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  1. I can't wait to continue reading.

  2. Loved reading your family story - I can't wait to hear more.

  3. Well, my interest is piqued! :) What a wonderful story of your parents, though!

  4. Love it Rakhi! Can't wait to read more about your faith journey :-)

  5. Love it Rakhi! Can't wait to hear more about your faith journey :-)